Director Brad Bird has the rarity of never having really directed a bad movie throughout his career. Even his worst movie is still decent and filled with bright spots. After acquiring a dream job at Disney following college, Bird's experience soon turned sour as he experienced a Disney in decline. Bird was eventually fired but the studio, but that was arguably his true launch pad to become the master storyteller he is today. From there, Bird served as a TV animator in the 90s on everything from King of the Hill to Rugrats to The Simpsons before he would finally get his chance at his own feature film.
With his latest film, Incredibles 2, now out in theaters, there's no better time than to take a look at Brad Bird's filmography to find the cream of the crop. However, when your resume is full of winners, that's a really hard thing to do and the majority Bird's films are only a hair's width apart from each other in terms of quality. When you sit down for a Brad Bird joint, you can rest assured knowing that you're in for something good. With that in mind, here are all six of Brad Bird's films, ranked from least to best.
The only Brad Bird film to really land with a thud. Tomorrowland has all the pieces of a typical Bird movie (throwback feels, clever action, spectacle, powerful message, Disney) but none of it really ever comes together the way it should. Co-written with Damon Lindelof, the movie follows a teenage science whiz (Britt Robertson) as she teams up with a grumpy inventor (George Clooney) to reach a futuristic city meant to be an incubator of scientific ambition and discovery. The movie has several great ideas with lots of imagination and cool action. Part of the problem, however, may be that the movie is a weird seesaw of pessimism and idealism. On one hand, Tomorrowland is the warning of giving into fear, violent media, and abandoning the need for true scientific discovery. Not a bad message at all, but the movie lays it on really thick and it's exceptionally hard to miss the I've Learned Something Today moral at the heart of the story. Tomorrowland isn't outright bad, but it's the weakest of Bird's body of work.
5. Incredibles 2
After 14 years of keeping fans on the hook, Brad Bird and frequent collaborator Pixar finally made Incredibles 2 a reality. It was definitely worth the wait as the sequel picks up with the Parr family literally right where they left off, swinging back into the family super heroics like no time had passed at all. The movie doesn't even try to address current tropes of the superhero genre and sticks to what it knows best: portraying a realistic family in the most fantastical setting. The sequel opts to split the Parrs up for the majority of the time, with Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) out in the spotlight to give superheroes a good name and Mr. Incredible (Craig Nelson) staying behind to look after kids and relearn math. It's a great setup that has a nice payoff on both ends (Jack-Jack steals the show, obviously), but the sequel's many ideas don't unify satisfyingly the way the original did. Incredibles 2 is trying to say a lot (stand up for who you are, fight for what's right, rely on family, screens are bad), but ultimately it all melts away as the Incredibles save the day once again. The humor, heart, and spectacle are all still there, but one wonders if the movie losing a year of production time affected the fine-tuning.
4. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Brad Bird's live-action debut was a tall order, but the filmmaker proved he could handle it just as capable as his animated films. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is a movie that is firing on all cylinders almost right from the start with a stunning escape from a gulag. From there, Bird takes us from one breathless action scene to the next, each one topping itself until we reach the big daddy of the whole movie: Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. From the second Tom Cruise and team arrive on the front steps, this sequence is absolutely thrilling, from Ethan Hunt's death-defying climb up the outside of the tower to an excellent chase sequence through a sandstorm. It's hands-down one of the best action scenes in the history of the franchise and that's saying something considering Brian De Palma, John Woo, and Christopher McQuarrie have all directed entries. The only real downside is that the story is not up to Bird's usual level, but that blame more falls on the franchise itself than him. I can't remember for the life of me what the impossible mission actually is in this movie or why it's important, but ultimately, it's the thrills you're supposed to walk away with and Ghost Protocol has that in spades.
3. The Incredibles
Back before the superhero genre had really exploded in popularity, Pixar released The Incredibles. Written and directed by Brad Bird, the film was a golden age throwback about a world full of superheroes that decides it doesn't want them around anymore. The story follows Mr. Incredible, a once-great superhero who has been unable to get over his glory days, even after settling down and starting a family. When he receives the chance of a lifetime, Mr. Incredible leaps at the opportunity and unknowingly jeopardizes himself and the lives of his family. That's kind of a depressing synopsis, and while the film has some surprisingly dark moments in retrospect, this movie is no Dark Knight. It's full of wonder and humor with a real beating heart at the center of it all. The Parr family are amazingly relatable, with marital disputes, money problems, and everything else a typical family would experience. They also just happen to have superpowers, and Bird puts the human problems right at the forefront. That's not to say that Bird doesn't indulge on the spectacle. His movie is overflowing with the spirit of old-school comics and adventure flicks, and his action sequences are some of the most thrilling and entertaining of the entire superhero genre. Period! The Incredibles is very fitting of its title.
Brad Bird would return to Pixar to helm one of it's most underrated movies: Ratatouille. Bird was not the original director of the movie and was actually brought on to replace Jan Pinkava, but Bird made the project his own. The tale of a French rat (voiced by Patton Oswalt) with a refined palette who dreams of becoming a professional chef is Bird at his most heart-warming. Ratatouille is all heart, but that just makes it a great feel-good movie. Through the lens of cooking in Paris, Ratatouille is really about the importance of creativity and embracing change, whether that means changing your outlook on life or accepting that true talent can come from anywhere. The movie ruins the risk of coming off a little elitist, as it somewhat demands people to get out of the way of those with extraordinary talent, but the silly premise of a rat cooking in a five-star restaurant really helps deflates those particular tires. Mix in a few chase scenes through the streets of Paris, some genuine warmth, and a few cups of goofiness, and you've got a recipe for Pixar's secret gem.
1. The Iron Giant
In 1999, Brad Bird came out swinging with his feature film debut and in the process created his best film. The Iron Giant does not have some of the sharpness that Bird would hone in later films, but everything that makes a Brad Bird movie was born here. Set in Cold War-era, a lonely boy befriends a giant robot from space and government paranoia pursues them at every turn. The Iron Giant is firing on all cylinders on every level. It has a beautiful combination of 2D and computer-generated animation and Bird uses it to his full advantage. If the director disliked his time at Disney because they wouldn't take risks, then it's easy to see what he was talking about. The Iron Giant has a strong anti-gun/violence stance that it expresses through the friendship between a boy and his robot, not to mention it's meditation on the nature of death and nuclear paranoia. The Iron Giant's declaration of "I am not a gun" and his idolization of Superman are especially powerful moments in a film that examines the roles we are born into and our ability to resist them. The movie debuted to excellent reviews, but practically no box office dollars. Nowadays, The Iron Giant has been embraced as a true classic and earned its place in the animation hall of fame.