Movies like Up have found a special place in audience’s lives.


Pixar

When it comes to moving storylines and stellar animation, Pixar stands out among the rest, as evidenced by the studio’s many Oscar wins and rave reviews for its feature films. Pixar’s 1995 release of Toy Story (the first feature-length animated film made with computer technology), has seen a number of movies that explore human experience in unexpected ways.

Through colorful characters and anthropomorphised 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. These films are now part of our cultural landscape and have inspired countless fanclubs, celebrations, blogs, and other media.

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Each of Pixar’s 24 feature films touches on themes of loss and love in different ways. This makes it difficult to rank them. This list will undoubtedly cause some controversy, which is a sign of how important these movies are to audiences. In order to rank films, five key attributes were evaluated: plot line, characters and depth, cultural impact, rewatchability, and depth. This helped us narrow down the difficult task of choosing the best flicks to be on the list.

Here’s the ranking of the top Pixar films over the past 26 years.

24. Cars 2 (2011)

Screenshot by Abrar Al-Heeti/CNET

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 those sequels that doesn’t have a strong script, but instead relies heavily upon the success of its predecessor. It also tends more to show action scenes than the heartfelt moments. This leaves viewers without the wonderment and depth that has defined Pixar’s other films.

23. Cars 3 (2017)

Pixar

Somehow Pixar wasn’t deterred by the lukewarm reception Cars 2 received. The third installment in the Cars series features a more entertaining story (and better jokes), as Lighting McQueen struggles to remain relevant in the rapidly changing world of racing. It’s not quite up to Pixars other offerings, but it’s still an enjoyable film.

22. The Good Dinosaur (2015)

Disney/Pixar

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. While it’s a solid film, Pixar’s other films have set a high standard in storytelling and creativity. We’re placing this movie at number 22 because some scenes are a bit slow and redundant. Yet another animal attack?

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21. Finding Dory (2016)

Pixar

Watching this Finding Nemo sequel felt like experiencing deja vu (A lost fish looking for its parents? That sounds awfully familiar…). The film borrowed too much of the winning storyline from its predecessor and did not have the same emotional depth. It’s still a fun look into Dory, a blue-tang fish with memory loss.

20 Cars (2006)

Pixar Animation Studios

Anthropomorphism is Pixar’s magic power, which it executes well in Cars. There are a few laughs, lessons about the dangers and benefits of superficiality, and a commentary on our obsession with celebrity culture. It’s one those movies that appeals more to younger audiences with its flashy scenes, shorter storyline, but it’s still the top pick from the Cars series.

19. Luca (2021)

Pixar

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 (aka I didn’t tear up while watching this one, which is always a shame). But it’s still an entertaining film full of adventure and suspense as well as beautiful animations from the Italian seaside town it takes place.

18. Monsters University (2013)

Screenshot by Abrar Al-Heeti/CNET

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.

17. A Bug’s Life (1998)

Pixar Animation Studios

A creative peek into what goes on in the world of insects, A Bug’s Life’s strength lies in its wit and originality. It’s a true adventure that demonstrates Pixar’s incredible storytelling.

16. Incredibles 2 (2018)

Pixar

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. Although the plot is predictable, the family of superheroes faces off against a villain, there are enough lighthearted moments to make this sequel stand out.

15. Toy Story 4 (2019)

Pixar

This felt like the sequel that didn’t need to happen, especially after Toy Story 3 ended on such a strong (and heartbreaking) note. Although there are still some enjoyable sequences, this fourth installment does not have the same solid comedy and compelling plot that made the first three Toy Story films so popular. We are introduced to Forky, a new favorite character who brings a lot of laughter.

14. Wall-E (2008)

Disney/Pixar

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 its limited monologue, the film is able tell a compelling story about our actions and our inherent desire for connection.

13. Brave (2012)

Walt Disney Pictures

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 moving tribute to mother-daughter relations and a riveting adventure all the while.

12. Onward (2020)

Pixar

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 is a timely commentary about how technology and modern conveniences have taken the world’s wonder and enchantment away. However, there are ways to rekindle the past and cherish the present.

11. Ratatouille (2007)

Walt Disney Pictures

Here’s a movie I would have loved to hear getting pitched. This story about a rat that dreams of becoming a chef, and who enlists help from a garbage man to make it a reality, brings Paris and its delicious 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.”

10. Coco (2017)

Pixar

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 spectacular, with vivid depictions of the celebrations associated with Dia de los Muertos in Mexico. The story is also enhanced by an incredible plot twist.

9. Soul (2020)

Pixar

Pixar has really defined its ability to tap into life’s deepest questions and struggles, and Soul is a prime example. Through its dreamy vision of the afterlife, the film instills wonder and helps to balance the sadness of death while illustrating the beauty and lasting impact of life. It’s one among a few movies that will make you think about your life’s purpose. This is a deeper lesson than most animated films.

8. The Incredibles (2004)

Pixar

A movie about a lovable family of superheroes? It doesn’t get any better than that. The Incredibles has a perfect balance between adventure and laughs, and some of Pixar’s most beloved characters (Edna Mode is a legend). This film is a cinematic masterpiece because it has just enough action to not overpower the strong plot.

7. Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Pixar Animation Studios

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.

6. Toy Story 2 (1999)

Pixar Animation Studios

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This second installment in the Toy Story franchise maintains the wonder and comedy that made the original stand out. It builds on the original plot without falling prey to sequels that simply repeat the same events and themes.

5. Finding Nemo (2003)

Disney Plus

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 interested in Nemo and Dad Marlin’s adventure through a magically animated underwater world.

4. Inside Out (2015)

Disney

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)

Pixar

While sequels often pale in comparison to the original film, Toy Story 3 is a very strong exception. The film explores both the bittersweet realities and growth of growing up while also highlighting the unbreakable connections we have with those people, places, and moments that shaped and shaped us as children. Keep a pack of tissues handy for this one.

2. Up (2009)

Disney

Nothing compares to that heart-wrenching montage near the movie’s opening (if you know, you know). Up explores feelings of loss, love, and closure throughout the film. It tells a touching story about how to let go, be open, and set your emotions free. Up is not only full of tear-jerking scenes but also has its share of laughs. Russell, who is a bright, curious boy, is paired up with Carl Fredricksen — a cranky, old man — which leads to some unexpectedly 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. Toy Story was Pixar’s first feature length movie and the first fully computer-animated movie. It has had a profound impact on the film industry. It set the stage for many computer-animated films to follow. It is a movie that never fails to amaze, no matter how many times it is watched or how old your age.

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