Pixar became its own company in 1986 after working for several years out of a Lucasfilm computer division, and began making feature films with the release of Toy Story in 1995. Since then, the studio has cranked out a total of 19 movies, was bought by Disney for several billion dollars, and at this point seems to release a feature film almost every year. The kicker? Even Pixar’s worst movies are tolerable. Yes, even the Cars movies. That makes counting down the studio’s best movies a little difficult. There’s just so much good from which to pick.
Here are the top 10 Pixar movies.
The studio’s most recent movie, Coco, is an adventure movie set around the Mexican holiday called “The Day of the Dead.” It sees a young boy get trapped in the land of the dead, where he seeks the help of his relatives in order to get back to the living.
It’s a gorgeous film that will likely make you cry by the time it ends. Its songs are great, it does the whole “importance of family” theme better than most, and because it touches on something that we don’t often see in movies, that makes it feel fresh. Its story isn’t fundamentally different than many others, but because it takes place in Mexico and is about this holiday and culture, it feels new to us because we haven’t seen it on film a dozen times.
A father searching for his child has been at the core of so many movies that it could be its own list. Finding Nemo is one of the best of those. When little clownfish Nemo goes missing, it’s up to his father, Marlin, to swim all the way across the ocean to find him. The determination at play, the love of the father, and all of the interesting characters Marlin meets along the way make Finding Nemo a classic. Who can forget the “friends, not food” sharks or Crush, the sea turtle?
It’s also gorgeous. It takes place primarily underwater, which allows the animators to go wild designing this world and its creatures. It’s a sight to behold. It’s also sweet, and funny, and exciting. Finding Nemo is awesome.
I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me and claim that The Incredibles deserves a higher spot on the list. Just look at how fans reacted when its teaser trailer was released just about a week ago. People love this movie. And I like it. It’s a clever superhero movie that contains a lot of satire, solid action, interesting characters, and fantastic animation.
Like I said, I like it. It just doesn’t stay top-tier material throughout. Its second half loses a lot of the satirical and comedic elements, becoming far more of a pure action movie. Its heart and brains get largely ignored in favor of the action. That’s fine, but it’s not the excellence that is shown earlier on.
Inside Out has a fantastic premise. It uses anthropomorphic emotions to show the inside of a person’s head. They control the person whose head they’re inside of, with the dominant at the emotion at the time taking over the controls and acting in a way that emotion is known for. If Anger is in control, the human will act angry. It also creates an entire world full of memories for these emotions to explore. It’s a difficult movie to fully explain, but when you watch it you’ll get the gist pretty quickly.
It is very smart. It is very funny. It will move you emotionally. It will make you remember your childhood, make you think about the way you act now, and make you care about a stupid imaginary pink elephant. That last one will make sense once you watch it. Inside Out is one of those rare movies that works regardless of your age; adults will take different things from it than children will, but everyone will have a good time. I almost made it #1 on this list.
It’s hard to believe that Monsters, Inc. was Pixar’s fourth movie, and was released more than a decade and a half ago. The movie imagined a world in which monsters existed and powered their world with the screams of children. You know, the whole “monster hiding in the closet” thing was a reality. It provided us with great characters, a lot of funny moments, and the eventual idea that fear is subservient to joy; that the latter is what we should aim for as people.
It was followed up with a prequel, Monsters University, which is kind of fun but largely disposable. It didn’t expand upon its lead characters, it wasn’t as funny or fresh, and it contained a lot of the cliches that movies set on university/college campuses struggle to overcome. It’s not horrible, but it’s not worth a place on this list and you don’t have much reason to watch it.
I know at least one person whose love of movies – true love of movies as something beyond mere entertainment to pass the time – started with Ratatouille. Yes, a movie about a rat who wants to be a chef is that great. It offers viewers something simple at its core: chasing a dream. But the various directions it takes, the surprising depth to its characters – both animal and human – and just how fun and moving the entire movie is.
Look, I laughed at the idea of Ratatouille before watching it. It can be a hard sell, even for people aware of its strong critical reception and Pixar’s reputation. It might not be the best Pixar movie ever, but it’s pretty close.
Toy Story was Pixar’s first feature-length animated film. It was the first feature-length computer animated film ever. If you care at all about film history, it’s a necessary watch. Chances are you have already seen it, or at least clips of it. But, if you haven’t, it’s something you need to experience. Yes, the kid’s movie about talking toys is something that every adult should see, too.
And Toy Story isn’t just a must-watch because of the history attached to it. It’s a clever movie with strong vocal performances, a well-crafted world, some laughs, and a good heart. The animation doesn’t hold up against more recent films, but this was 1995 – and it isn’t terrible. It’s not like playing a PS1 game nowadays; it holds up a lot better than that.
Toy Story 2
Toy Story 2 lacks a bit of the freshness of the original and the heart of its sequel. Does that make it bad? Of course not. It’s a wonderful movie – entertaining, funny, and its animation is solid.
Where else isn’t it as good? Its story and characters aren’t as engaging as one might hope, given the other two movies in the franchise. It’s fine, but a bit of a letdown. Still, it’s a great movie and one that you absolutely need to watch.
Toy Story 3
For my money, this is the best of the trilogy, the best Pixar movie ever, and one of the top animated movies of all time. It takes characters we’ve fallen in love with over the course of two previous films and forces them to explore their own mortality. In a children’s movie. I know, right?
It’s especially affecting if you grew up with the movies and your age mimics Andy’s – the human who owns most of the main toys. The toys wind up working as a metaphor for your own childhood toys and memories. But even if you didn’t grow up with them, they’re still great movies; and Toy Story 3 is a perfect conclusion to the series.
Yes, I know Toy Story 4 is in production. It should not be. This is one of the best trilogies of all time. Let it be.
If you aren’t incredibly touched by the first 5 minutes of Up, you probably don’t have a soul – or it’s so black that nothing will ever awaken it again. In just a 5-minute montage, Pixar brought many people to tears. And then there’s still a whole movie waiting, which sees an elderly man and a child travel a long way and have a great adventure.
Look, Up is worth watching just for its opening montage, but the movie that follows is a lot of fun, too. It has some memorable characters, a bit of danger, a talking dog, a lot of laughs, and several shots so gorgeous that they’ll likely never leave your mind.