There was a time when Pixar could seemingly do no wrong. Between 1995's Toy Story and 2010’s Toy Story 3, the Emeryville-based animation studio released classic after classic after classic, across a remarkably broad range of genres. Even the comparatively ordinary Cars had the gas to hit the mark with younger viewers.
Keeping the quality bar so high was always going to be a challenge, however, and the subsequent 13 years have been more of a mixed bag. Sure, there's still been some bona fide classics – Inside Out, Soul and Coco hold their own among the best movies Pixar have ever made – but the period has been dominated by sequels, a prequel, and new stories that just can't compete with what went before. That's why the upper end of this guide to the best Pixar movies ranked is dominated by releases from the studio's ’90s and ’00s glory days.
The first 26 of Pixar’s films – from the Oscar-winning Toy Story through to 2022’s Lightyear – are available to watch now on Disney Plus. The 27th, Elemental is in theaters now in the US, and will arrive in the UK on July 7.
Unsure which one to watch next? Don’t worry because we’ve taken a journey through one of the most impressive back catalogues in Hollywood history in our guide to Pixar movies ranked.
27. Cars 2 (2011)
Despite being the film that interrupted early Pixar’s run of classics, Cars’ decent box office and spectacular merchandising success made a follow-up inevitable. This sequel moves away from the small-town Americana of Radiator Springs, as NASCAR star Lightning McQueen and his tow truck chum Mater head off to the World Grand Prix, and wind up caught up in a globetrotting spy adventure. Michael Caine turns up as British spy Finn McMissile to add an extra half gallon of ’60s cool, but this is a forgettable addition to Pixar’s most middling franchise.
26. The Good Dinosaur (2015)
Even if you removed the famous Luxo lamp from the opening titles, most Pixar movies are so easy to spot that you’d never have any doubt which studio made them. The Good Dinosaur is the contradiction, a rare example of the sort of by-the-numbers storytelling that any animation house on the planet could have come up with.
Based in an alternative timeline where that infamous asteroid never wiped out the dinosaurs, it focuses on the relationship between a young apatosaurus farmer (yes, really) and his tiny human companion. As road trips go it’s amiable enough – and the prehistoric world looks stunning – but otherwise The Good Dinosaur is surprisingly forgettable.
25. Cars 3 (2017)
Having masqueraded as a four-wheeled James Bond in the second Cars movie, Lightning McQueen is back on home soil in this slightly improved threequel. Taking a leaf out of the Toy Story 3 user manual, the movie takes a look at what happens when the lead character has to come to terms with having a few too many miles on the clock. For Lightning McQueen, that means reminding the new kids on the grid that he’s still got it where it counts.
It’s a formulaic movie that overdoes the cameos from NASCAR stars, but it’s worth noting that Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton guest stars as an in-car voice assistant.
24. Cars (2006)
It had to come sooner or later and Pixar’s seventh movie was the studio's first real misstep – though crucially not on the merchandising side of things, where its four-wheeled heroes soon adorned many a child’s lunchbox.
Cars is essentially Michael J Fox vehicle Doc Hollywood crossed with Thomas the Tank Engine, as hotshot racer Lightning McQueen crashes into a small town, and gradually starts to reassess his priorities. Where most Pixar movies have multigenerational appeal, this one’s targeted squarely at the kids – in fact, a world populated by cars, seemingly devoid of human drivers, feels like an assault on common sense and logic.
23. Finding Dory (2016)
Between Toy Story 3 in 2010 and Toy Story 4 nine years later, nearly two thirds of Pixar’s movies were either a sequel or a prequel. This Finding Nemo follow-up encapsulates a decade when the studio’s output was rarely less than watchable, yet often lacked the spark of genius that had been its hallmark throughout those early years.
In Pixar’s second dive into the deep blue sea, Dory – the loveable blue tang with short term memory loss – takes the lead. As she goes looking for her long lost parents, the story trips along, with some memorable supporting players (including Modern Family’s Ed O’Neill as a grumpy ‘septopus’, and The Wire's Idris Elba and Dominic West as a pair of sea lions) to keep things fun. Nonetheless, Finding Dory feels rather soggy next to its classic predecessor.
22. Lightyear (2022)
Lightyear imagines the film that inspired the Space Ranger toy Andy played with in the original Toy Story. And yet despite being based around one of the most meta concepts ever seen in a family movie, the movie manages to be surprisingly run-of-the-mill stuff – even Pixar boss Pete Docter has weighed in on why he thinks the movie didn't strike a chord with viewers.
The first act targets the highbrow end of sci-fi, as the OG Buzz Lightyear (Marvel star Chris Evans pulling on Tim Allen’s space boots) is thwarted by some troublesome Interstellar-style time dilation. But as soon as Buzz hooks up with a team of comedy sidekicks to face old enemy Emperor Zurg, you can’t help feeling this is Pixar on autopilot.
21. Monsters University (2013)
Pixar has made numerous sequels, but this campus comedy remains the studio’s only prequel to date – with the possible exception of Lightyear, which is probably too out-there to count.
It's essentially ‘When Mike Met Sully’, as the movie reveals how Monsters, Inc’s top scaring duo went from sworn enemies to firm friends. There are a lot of laughs to be had filling an Animal House-like college with students who roar, slither and slime their way through each semester, but the stakes are never quite high enough to justify Pixar’s decision to go back to school. Ultimately Monsters University falls into the trap many other prequels have before and since – telling a story that didn’t really need to be told.
20. Elemental (2023)
Fresh from voicing Sox the robot cat in last year's Lightyear, Peter Sohn goes back to his day job as the director of this high-concept riff on Romeo and Juliet. Set in an alternative world where everyone's defined by the four classical elements – fire, water, earth and air – it tells the story of an unlikely love story between fiery Ember and watery Wade.
There's no question the sparks fly in Pixar's first ever romantic comedy, as the lead couple try to overcome their fundamental differences. Sadly, however, the movie's beautiful animation and touching celebration of immigration can't mask the fact the world of Element City feels woefully underexplored, and that the plot is wafer thin.
19. A Bug’s Life (1998)
The same year that Deep Impact and Armageddon vied for global-killer asteroid supremacy, another battle royale was taking place on a considerably smaller scale. Animated insects were a big deal in 1998 – their hard exoskeletons are easier to animate than the fleshy, hairy people and animals – and DreamWorks’ Antz and Pixar’s A Bug’s Life both went underground to showcase ant colonies fighting back against larger predators.
While considerably less accomplished than Toy Story (let's be honest, most films are), Pixar’s second movie is a fun, microscopic take on ¡Three Amigos!, where a troupe of circus performers become the unlikely saviors of the nest. It’s also the film that introduced the legendary ‘blooper’ reel that made everyone want to stick around for the credits of early Pixar movies.
18. Brave (2012)
Brave’s hero, Merida, technically counts as a Disney Princess but – as you’d expect from Pixar – this isn’t your traditional story of handsome princes and happily ever afters. Instead, it follows the daughter of a Scottish king – the studio’s first female lead – who has rather less interest in being the perfect royal than perfecting her archery skills. When a magical mishap inadvertently turns Merida’s mom into a confused bear, the movie deftly mixes slapstick with a heartfelt examination of the relationship between teenagers and their parents. Unfortunately it never quite manages to roar into life.
17. Onward (2020)
Pixar set off on a fantastical quest, but the results couldn’t be further from The Lord of the Rings if they tried. Onward is packed with Pixies, Centaurs, Manticores and other mythical creatures, but – in a reality where magic has been all-but-forgotten – the world looks suspiciously like the USA of the 21st century.
It’s the story of two Elf brothers – played by Marvel regulars Tom Holland and Chris Pratt – who take their trusty steed (okay, an RV) on a Dungeons & Dragons-inspired mission to resurrect their late father. While it’s slightly bogged down in coming-of-age clichés, Onward wears its geek credentials with pride – and its unexpected, emotionally powerful final act rekindles some of the old Pixar magic.
16. Luca (2021)
Luca doesn’t have much of a plot to speak of, but that really shouldn’t be seen as a negative. This Italian Riviera-set adventure is as much about mood as story, as two sea monster friends masquerade as humans, and set their hearts on winning a second-hand Vespa.
The stakes may be unusually low for a Pixar movie, but the heartwarming coming-of-age story makes you yearn for long-hot summers spent doing nothing with your friends. And whenever the weather’s looking gloomy outside, popping Luca on your TV can give you an instant dose of warm Mediterranean sun.
15. Turning Red (2022)
Pixar’s take on the Incredible Hulk is funny, sweet and genuinely groundbreaking. Thirteen year-old girls are rarely the focus of blockbuster movies, but Turning Red finds comedy and empathy in Chinese-Canadian Mei’s unconventional growing pains – this high-performing, straight-A kid’s world is flipped upside down when she starts turning into an oversized red panda whenever her emotions run riot.
With anime-inspired visuals and brilliantly choreographed slapstick, Domee Shi’s accomplished debut has loads of fun with Mei’s transformations. But she also finds the humanity in the bizarre situation, from the beautifully drawn relationships to a genuinely positive message about choosing your own path.
14. Incredibles 2 (2018)
Every successful superhero movie needs a sequel, and writer/director Brad Bird went back to Metroville for this highly entertaining sequel. Picking up exactly where the first movie left off – the good thing about animation is that the characters don’t age – it plunges the Parr family into an all-new adventure, where the tech-savvy Screenslaver is using mass hypnosis to take over the world.
It’s a clever extension of the original that expands the roles for the kids (shapeshifting baby Jack-Jack finally gets to join the team), while embracing the fact that audiences had become rather more superhero savvy than they were back in 2004. The movie’s smartest move, however, is making Holly Hunter’s Elastigirl the focus of the story – she’s so much more capable than her accident-waiting-to-happen husband, Mr Incredible.
13. Up (2009)
In most circumstances, it would be incredibly damning to say the first 12 minutes of a movie are its best. In the case of Up, however, it’s simply a massive compliment to an opening that encapsulates decades of marriage in a beautiful-but-tragic, dialogue-free montage.
Once the inevitable tears are out of the way, there’s a spectacular gear change when lonely widower Carl Fredericksen hooks his house up to a load of helium balloons, and flies off to explore the legendary Paradise Falls, fulfilling a promise to his late wife in the process. Featuring a stowaway boy scout, talking dogs and a bird named Kevin, it’s a gloriously offbeat take on Indiana Jones-style adventure.
12. Ratatouille (2007)
Talking animals have been a fixture in animation since Walt Disney put Mickey Mouse at the wheel of Steamboat Willie, but few cartoon critters have been quite as improbable as Remy, a rat who longs to be a gourmet chef. Although he never communicates verbally with human BFF Linguini, the duo develop a symbiotic relationship, the rodent using subtle tugs of his partner’s hair to unleash his inner Gordon Ramsay – a process referenced across the multiverse in the recent Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Ratatouille evokes a wonderful picture book Paris – you can almost smell the cooking – and the filmmakers deserve extra credit for resisting the temptation to use UB40’s ‘Rat in mi Kitchen’ on the soundtrack.
11. Soul (2020)
Aspiring 40-something jazz musician falls down a manhole, dies and spends the rest of the movie trying to get home – all while contemplating where his life went wrong. Imagine the pitch meeting for this one…
If anyone could pull off an animated movie about midlife crises and death, however, it was going to be Monsters, Inc, Up and Inside Out director Pete Docter, and his film is predictably smart, weird and philosophical. Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey make a memorable double act as the late Joe Gardner and cynical, unassigned soul 22, on the run from the freaky talking line drawings who police the "Great Before". This is Pixar’s answer to A Matter of Life and Death, and one of the boldest movies it’s ever made.
10. Finding Nemo (2003)
Beyond the storytelling, early Pixar movies could also be defined by the way their settings and characters reflected breakthroughs in CG technology. And so, after the fur revolution of the previous year’s Monsters, Inc, Finding Nemo showed they’d well and truly mastered water, too.
Luckily, there’s more to this aquatic tale than a technical showcase, because writer/director Andrew Stanton (co-scripter on the Toy Story movies) crafted a heart-warming tale of a clownfish crossing oceans to find his missing son. It’s more sentimental than its Pixar predecessors, but that doesn’t mean it forgets the gags or fun supporting players. And unlike DreamWorks’ Shark Tale, it makes sure its fish look like fish, rather than nightmarish alien sea people.
9. Toy Story 4 (2019)
Toy Story 3 was such a beautiful trilogy closer that this fourth entry in the franchise never felt strictly necessary – until we saw it. While not quite as perfectly moulded as its predecessor, this fourquel more than justifies its existence.
Although most of the regulars, even Buzz Lightyear, are relegated to supporting players – memorable new characters such as Forky and Canadian stuntman Duke Caboom (brilliantly voiced by Keanu Reeves) fill the void – Toy Story 4 gives Woody his most satisfying arc. No longer top dog in the playroom, he makes some seriously dodgy decisions as he struggles to come to terms with his new lot in life. Luckily, newly kick-ass old flame Bo Peep is on hand to help him work things out.
8. Monster’s, Inc (2001)
Pixar riffs on the age old theme of the monster lurking under the bed, but with a twist. Where things going bump in the night are usually confined to the realms of horror, Monsters, Inc reveals that the weird and wonderful creatures who give children nightmares are just ordinary folks trying to generate electricity for their civilisation.
Although the first hints of a Pixar formula are starting to emerge – most notably in the decision to pit two mismatched buddies against the odds – the studio’s fourth outing is also a triumph of character design and invention. The final act’s door-hopping set-piece is a truly groundbreaking piece of action direction, while the relationship between the bear-like Sully and human kid Boo is genuinely touching.
7. Toy Story 2 (1999)
This bigger, more ambitious sequel ups the ante and neatly reverses the character dynamics of its predecessor – this time it’s Buzz Lightyear who’s on a mission to bring Woody back to Andy’s playroom.
The script is every bit as witty as the first film, with call backs galore and plenty of sly movie references. But it also introduces the deeper themes that would become a hallmark of later entries in the franchise, as Woody contemplates a potential future as a collector’s item in a museum, and the realisation that toys don’t stay played with forever. Toy Story 2 also introduces Lightyear antagonist Emperor Zurg to Buzz's mythology.
6. Coco (2017)
While Pixar has never come close to building a film around a photo-realistic human – a surefire route to the dreaded Uncanny Valley – that doesn’t mean its animators ever skimp on detail. Coco is lesson in how to transport a viewer to another world, from 12-year-old Miguel’s intricate guitar-playing to the visually stunning Land of the Dead – a spectacular afterlife populated by multiple generations of the deceased.
That technical prowess would all count for nothing, of course, if the film didn’t have a beautifully told story at its heart, and through Miguel’s unexpectedly uplifting adventure in the underworld, you start to believe that death might not be so bad after all.
5. The Incredibles (2004)
The Iron Giant director and The Simpsons vet Brad Bird was arguably ahead of his time when he satirized the superhero movie genre which – back in 2004 – was still in its infancy.
The superheroics are memorable enough – the movie skilfully riffs on familiar DC/Marvel heroes in a way that won’t attract the ire of copyright lawyers – but The Incredibles comes into its own when it’s showing off its supers’ alter-egos. This movie works best as a comedy about a suburban family who just happen to be super, making their way in a society that has made their powers illegal. Bird’s brilliant retro-futuristic aesthetic only adds to his film’s timeless class.
4. Toy Story (1995)
The pioneering movie that did for CG animation what Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had done for pen and paper remains a bona fide classic. While the animation has inevitably dated, the writing has certainly not, thanks to an Oscar-winning script that announced Pixar’s arrival in spectacular style. It also reminded the world that cartoons released under the Disney banner don’t have to rely on fairytales or show tunes. Cowboy Woody and deluded Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear instantly earned a spot among cinema’s greatest double acts, and the world of animation would never be the same again.
3. WALL-E (2008)
Lightyear wasn't Pixar’s first voyage into the worlds of sci-fi. Back in 2008, Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton created an unflinchingly bleak future, where the human race has departed planet Earth, and a lonely robot diligently fulfills his mission to clear up the mess they left behind. Out of this very un-Disney setting comes an uplifting story of hope, as the eponymous WALL-E – effectively R2-D2 given star billing – falls in love with a futuristic science droid, and becomes the unlikely savior of humanity.
Few movie studios would have dared to make a family movie as unconventional as WALL-E – even fewer would have turned it into a classic.
2. Inside Out (2015)
Pixar was busy churning out a glut of sequels and prequels when it rolled out one of the cleverest, most original movies on its impressive resumé.
Imagining a human body run by little people isn’t a new idea – it’s as likely to be seen in a TV commercial as in an Oscar-winning movie – but the genius of director Pete Docter’s story is the way everything makes sense within its own meticulously crafted internal logic. As five emotions take control of the adolescent Riley’s actions, the story becomes a heartfelt, relatable take on growing up – and even manages to make the death of a clownish pink elephant called Bing Bong into an incredibly poignant moment.
A sequel is due for release in 2024.
1. Toy Story 3 (2010)
Having raised the bar for animated movies with the first two Toy Stories, it felt like a massive risk when Pixar returned to Andy’s toy box after more than a decade away. We needn’t have worried, because the third Toy Story is arguably the best movie the studio has ever made.
In this superior threequel, Woody, Buzz and the gang find themselves relocated to a daycare center which – thanks to the iron-fist rule of a bitter old teddy bear – is more prison camp than land of make believe. The movie’s plot is as precision-engineered as you’d expect, and even manages to extend the lifespan of the Buzz Lightyear gags by resetting him to his original factory settings. But the real triumph is the story’s subtext about ageing and becoming surplus to requirements – few live-action movies can match Toy Story 3 when it comes to delivering pure emotional punch.
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Richard is a freelance journalist specialising in movies and TV, primarily of the sci-fi and fantasy variety. An early encounter with a certain galaxy far, far away started a lifelong love affair with outer space, and these days Richard's happiest geeking out about Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and other long-running pop culture franchises. In a previous life he was editor of legendary sci-fi magazine SFX, where he got to interview many of the biggest names in the business – though he'll always have a soft spot for Jeff Goldblum who (somewhat bizarrely) thought Richard's name was Winter.