movies are the best. Since the release of Toy Story in 1995, Pixar has developed a plethora of movies that tap into the human experience in the most unexpected ways.
Through colorful characters and anthropomorphized toys, cars, animals and robots, Pixar filmmakers have explored our struggles with tragedy, loss and grief (including even the meaning of life), as well as the importance of love, family and friendship.
Each of Pixar's 24 feature films taps into themes of love and loss in different ways, which makes ranking them no easy task. It's inevitable this list will ruffle some feathers, which is a testament to how much these movies mean to audiences. But in determining rankings, five key attributes of each film were examined: plot line, characters, depth, cultural impact and rewatchability. This helped with the incredibly difficult task of figuring out which flicks should top the list.
So, without further ado, here's our ranking of the best Pixar films from the last 26 years.
One Cars movie really would have been enough, but this was when Pixar was (unfortunately) deep in its sequels phase. It's no secret that this film wasn't a hit with audiences or critics, as it's the only Pixar movie so far to get a "rotten" score on Rotten Tomatoes. Cars 2 is one of those sequels that lacks a strong standalone script and instead relies heavily on the success of its predecessor. It also tends to focus more on action scenes than heartfelt moments, leaving viewers without the wonder and depth that have defined Pixar's other films.
Somehow Pixar wasn't deterred by the lukewarm reception Cars 2 received. Thankfully, the third installment in the Cars franchise features a more enjoyable story (and more solid jokes), as we watch Lighting McQueen struggle to stay relevant in the quickly changing world of racing. It still doesn't quite stack up against Pixar's other offerings (it's hard to with sequels anyway), but it's still a pretty good film, all things considered.
Best known for its stellar animation, The Good Dinosaur is an incredibly heartfelt film that will leave anyone who's ever felt like an outcast empathizing with lead character Arlo, the black sheep of the family. It's a solid movie, but because Pixar's other films have set the bar really high in terms of creativity and storytelling, we're placing this one at number 22, as some of the scenes are a bit slower and redundant. (What's this? Yet another animal attack?)
Watching this Finding Nemo sequel felt like experiencing deja vu. (A lost fish looking for its parents? That sounds awfully familiar…) The film borrowed a little too heavily from the winning storyline of its predecessor, and without the same emotional depth. Still, it's a fun journey into what made Dory, a blue tang fish with memory loss, who she is.
Anthropomorphism is Pixar's magic power, which it executes well in Cars. There's a smattering of laughs amid lessons about the dangers of superficiality, as well an underlying commentary on our obsession with celebrity culture. It's one of those movies that seems to appeal more to younger audiences, with its flashy scenes and thinner storyline, but it's still the best pick from the Cars franchise.
While a fun coming-of-age story about a sea monster who yearns to live on land, Luca doesn't offer up the same level of storyline creativity or emotional depth as many of Pixar's other films (that is, I didn't tear up while watching this one, which is always a shame). But it's still a lively film packed with adventure and suspense and beautiful animations of the Italian seaside town where it takes place.
This prequel features a fun, well-structured storyline that allows it to operate as a decent standalone. It does a good job of not feeling forced, and we get an intriguing look into the backstory of beloved monsters Sulley and Mike Wazowski, while also being introduced to memorable new characters like Terri & Terry Perry and Scott "Squishy" Squibbles.
A creative peek into what goes on in the world of insects, A Bug's Life finds strength in its wit and originality. It's a true adventure and an early testament to Pixar's remarkable storytelling.
The long-awaited sequel is packed with the same action and lovable characters that made the first installment such a hit, though it's not quite on par with the original. The plot can at times feel predictable as the superhero family battles against a villain, though there are enough lighthearted and wholesome moments to make this follow-up stand out.
This felt like the sequel that didn't need to happen, especially after Toy Story 3 ended on such a strong (and heartbreaking) note. There are still some fun sequences sprinkled throughout, but this fourth installment lacks the solid comedy and gripping plot that made the first three Toy Story films resonate. Nevertheless, we're introduced to loveable new characters like Forky, who provides a good dose of laughs.
A haunting rendering of what our world could look like if we continue to disregard the environment and become further consumed by technology, Wall-E is a pertinent and compelling story about Earth's last robot, who embarks on a journey into space with shiny probe Eve. Despite the minimal monologue, the film tells a captivating story about the consequences of our actions and our innate desire for connection.
There are plenty of stories centered on a headstrong child longing to carve their own path, but Brave levels up that oft-repeated narrative with a powerful female lead, hilarious characters and sprinklings of magic. It's a touching tribute to mother-daughter relationships and a gripping adventure all the way through.
A touching tribute to sibling bonds, this is one of those films that'll catch you off guard and have you reaching for a box of tissues. Onward serves as a timely commentary on how modern conveniences and technology seem to have stripped the world of enchantment and wonder, yet there are ways to reconnect with the past while cherishing the present and those around us.
Here's a movie I would have loved to hear getting pitched. This story, about a rat who dreams of becoming a chef and enlists the help of a garbage boy to try to make that a reality, brings the beauty of Paris and its food scene to life. It plays well into the irony of a rat yearning to be in the kitchen -- a place he's least wanted -- and delivers a touching message: "Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere."
One of Pixar's most vibrant movies, Coco touches on themes that resonate with a range of audiences: family, culture and chasing a dream against all odds. The animation is breathtaking, with vivid depictions of the celebrations that accompany Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico. It also features an epic plot twist that makes the story all the more intriguing.
Pixar has really defined its ability to tap into life's deepest questions and struggles, and Soul is a prime example. The film instills a sense of wonder through its dreamy concept of the afterlife, delicately hedging the heaviness of death and illustrating the beauty of life and our lasting impact. It's one of a handful of movies on this list that will make you reflect on your life's purpose, which is a much deeper takeaway than you'll get from most animated films.
A movie about a lovable family of superheroes? It doesn't get more fun than that. The Incredibles offers up a perfect balance of laughs and adventure, as well as some of Pixar's most memorable characters (Edna Mode is nothing short of legend). There's just enough action not to overpower the strong plot that makes this film a cinematic masterpiece.
Turning a common childhood fear of monsters into a surprisingly touching film is nothing short of storytelling genius. Monsters, Inc., about a scare factory powered by the screams of human kids, follows the unlikely bond formed between two monsters and a little girl dubbed Boo, setting the stage for yet another intriguing and heartwarming story.
This second installment in the Toy Story franchise maintains the wonder and comedy that made the original stand out. It also effectively builds upon the plot, avoiding the pitfalls of many sequels that simply regurgitate the events and themes of their predecessors.
This film balances meaningful lessons on the complexities of child-to-parent relationships with fun, lively characters and memorable catchphrases ("Just keep swimming…"). The many plot twists will keep viewers invested in Nemo and dad Marlin's journey through a spellbindingly animated underwater world.
Pixar's imagination kicks into high gear in Inside Out, one of the deepest, most thought-provoking films out there. The movie poignantly characterizes a range of human emotions and illustrates the impact and importance of each one, both the good and the "bad." This is one of those rare films that's as amusing and stimulating for younger audiences as it is for older viewers, and will leave you pondering its meaning long after the credits roll.
While sequels often pale in comparison to the original film, Toy Story 3 is a very strong exception. The film explores the bittersweet realities of change and growing up, while tapping into the unbreakable bonds we have with the people, places and moments that shaped us growing up. Keep a box of tissues close for this one.
Nothing compares to that heart-wrenching montage near the movie's opening (if you know, you know). Throughout the film, Up taps into feelings of love, loss and closure, creating a touching story about the power of opening up, letting go and setting your emotions free. In addition to some tear-jerking scenes, Up also offers its fair share of laughs by pairing Russell, a jubilant, curious boy, with Carl Fredricksen, a cranky old man -- which also leads to some surprisingly tender moments.
With a cast of memorable characters, a touching storyline, strong punchlines and animation that's aged remarkably well, Toy Story is as timeless as it gets. The film, about toys that come to life when humans aren't looking, compellingly taps into childhood wonder and imagination. As Pixar's first full-length feature and the first fully computer-animated movie, Toy Story has also had an undeniable impact on the film industry, setting the stage for the countless computer-animated films that came after it. It stands out as a movie that never gets old no matter how many times you watch it, or how old you are.