Lightyear tells the story of the space ranger who inspired Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear.
has been in the business of making incredible movies since 1995 — films that tap into the human experience in unexpected, humbling and beautiful ways. Its filmmakers have explored our struggles with tragedy, loss and grief (including even questions about the meaning of life), as well as our experiences with love, family and friendship.
Ever since the first Pixar Animation Studios film, the creators have delved into themes of love and loss in different ways, which makes ranking their flicks no easy task. Each of Pixar’s 26 feature films, from each stand-alone movie to all the sequels, has something that keeps us coming back. The best Pixar movies for adults and children alike hit different people in different ways, so it’s inevitable this list will ruffle some feathers. But it’s a testament to how much these movies mean to audiences. In determining rankings, we examined five key attributes of each film: plotline, characters, depth, cultural impact and rewatchability. This helped with the tough task of figuring out which flicks should top the list.
Here’s our ranking of the best Pixar movies in order of least crowd-pleasing to the most beloved.
Screenshot by Abrar Al-Heeti/CNET
26. Cars 2 (2011)
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.
25. The Good Dinosaur (2015)
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 24, as some of the scenes are a bit slower and redundant. (What’s this? Yet another animal attack?)
24. Cars 3 (2017)
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 a pretty good film, all things considered.
23. Finding Dory (2016)
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.
22. Lightyear (2022)
Lightyear is hands-down the most visually stunning Pixar film to date. Epic animations of the vastness and beauty of space make for an alluring sci-fi movie that takes Pixar in a direction it’s never been before. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of spin-offs, and it’s hard to feel like this wasn’t just an opportunity for Disney/Pixar to milk the hype around the Toy Story franchise. But it was nonetheless enjoyable to see the studio venture into new territory and push the limits of animation. Also, embarking in a new thematic direction means we get fewer of the tender moments that characterize other Pixar films like Inside Out, Up or even Toy Story. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you prefer a more action-focused storyline.
Pixar Animation Studios
21. Cars (2006)
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 as 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.
20. Luca (2021)
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.
Screenshot by Abrar Al-Heeti/CNET
19. Monsters University (2013)
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.
Pixar Animation Studios
18. A Bug’s Life (1998)
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.
17. Incredibles 2 (2018)
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.
16. Toy Story 4 (2019)
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.
15. Wall-E (2008)
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.
Walt Disney Pictures
14. Brave (2012)
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.
13. Onward (2020)
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.
Walt Disney Pictures
12. Ratatouille (2007)
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.”
11. Coco (2017)
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.
10. Soul (2020)
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.
9. The Incredibles (2004)
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.
Pixar Animation Studios
8. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
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.
7. Turning Red (2022)
I can’t remember laughing as much during a Pixar movie as I did watching Turning Red. The film follows the story of Meilin Lee, a 13-year-old girl who suddenly starts turning into a giant red panda when she’s stressed or excited (a metaphor for strange bodily changes during puberty). Because this movie is set in 2002, it taps into nostalgia via details like Meilin’s Tamagotchi and 4*Town, the hottest boy band. It’s also incredibly wholesome, highlighting the importance of culture, family and strong female role models. The story was gripping, the jokes were funny and the takeaways were moving. What more could you ask for?
Turning Red debuts March 11 on Disney Plus.
Pixar Animation Studios
6. Toy Story 2 (1999)
This second installment in the Toy Story franchise maintains the wonder and comedy that made the original stand out. It also effectively builds on the plot, avoiding the pitfalls of many sequels that simply regurgitate the events and themes of their predecessors.
5. Finding Nemo (2003)
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.
4. Inside Out (2015)
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.
3. Toy Story 3 (2010)
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.
2. Up (2009)
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.
1. Toy Story (1995)
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.
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