October 3, 2022

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


Pixar

When it comes to moving storylines, 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.

Pixar filmmakers explore our struggles with loss, tragedy, and grief. These films are now part our cultural landscape and have inspired many fanclubs, celebrations and blogs.

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Each of Pixar’s 24 feature films touches on themes of loss and love in different ways. It is therefore difficult to rank them. This list will be controversial, which is a sign that these movies are important to audiences. Five key attributes were used to rank films: plot, characters and depth; cultural impact; rewatchability; and depth. This helped us narrow down our difficult task of selecting the best flicks to be included 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 would have been enough. However, this was when Pixar (unfortunately) was deep in its sequels stage. 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 to show more action scenes than 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 of the Cars series has a more entertaining story (and some better jokes) as Lighting McQueen struggles in racing’s rapidly changing world to stay relevant. 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. Another animal attack?

21. Finding Dory (2016)

Pixar

It was like watching the Finding Nemo sequel. That sounds awfully familiar…). The film borrowed too many of the winning storyline and didn’t have the same emotional depth. It’s still a fun look into Dory, a blue-tang fish with memory loss.

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20 Cars (2006)

Pixar Animation Studios

Anthropomorphism is Pixar’s magic power, which it executes well in Cars. There are many laughs, lessons on the dangers and benefits, and a commentary about 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 has a well-written storyline that can be used as a standalone. It doesn’t feel forced and offers a fascinating look into the backstory behind beloved monsters Mike Wazowski and Sulley. We also get to meet memorable new characters like 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. While the plot is predictable and the superhero family faces off against the villain, there are enough lighthearted moments for this sequel to 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. While there are still some fun sequences, this fourth installment lacks the same solid comedy and compelling story that made the first three Toy Story films so beloved. Forky, our new favorite character, brings a lot more 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 short monologue, the film is able to tell a compelling tale about our actions and our inherent desire to connect.

13. Brave (2012)

Walt Disney Pictures

There are many stories about a child who is determined to make their own path. Brave elevates that story with a strong female lead, funny characters, and a touch of magic. It’s a moving tribute to mother-daughter relations and a riveting adventure all the while. 

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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. There are ways to restore the past and preserve the present.

11. Ratatouille (2007)

Walt Disney Pictures

Here’s a movie I would have loved to hear getting pitched. This story is about a rat who dreams of becoming a chef and who hires the help of a garbage man in order to make it happen. It brings Paris and its wonderful 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 stunning, featuring vivid depictions of Mexican celebrations for Dia de los Muertos. An amazing plot twist also adds to the story. 

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. The film’s dreamy visions of the afterlife help to instill wonder and balance the sadness of loss, while also illustrating life’s beauty and lasting effects. It’s one among a few movies that will make you think about your life’s purpose. This movie is more profound than most animated films.

8. The Incredibles (2004)

Pixar

What movie is about a family of superheroes that loves each other? 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 not to overwhelm the strong plot.

7. Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Pixar Animation Studios

A common childhood fear of monsters is transformed into a touching film by storytelling genius. Monsters, Inc., a horror film that uses the screams from human children to power its scare factory, explores the unlikely bond between two monsters, Boo, and her little girl. It sets the stage for another fascinating and heartwarming story.

6. Toy Story 2 (1999).

Pixar Animation Studios

This sequel to the Toy Story franchise keeps the magic and humor that made the original standout. It continues the original plot without succumbing to sequels that repeat the same events or themes. 

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5. Finding Nemo (2003)

Disney Plus

This film balances important lessons about the complexities of child to parent relationships with fun, lively characters. It also includes memorable catchphrases and memorable characters.“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 film poignantly depicts a range human emotions and shows the importance and impact of each one, the good and the bad. “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

Toy Story 3 is a strong exception to the rule. While sequels are often inferior to the original film’s, it is still a great movie. The film explores both bittersweet realities and growth as a child, while also highlighting the unbreakable relationships we have with those people and places that shaped us as children. This one is a good opportunity to grab a few tissues.

2. Up (2009)

Disney

Nothing compares to that heart-wrenching montage near the movie’s opening (if you know, you know). Through the film, Up explores feelings such as loss, love and closure. It tells a touching and moving story about how to let your emotions go, be open, & let go. Up is full of heart-warming scenes and also has its fair 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 had a profound effect on the film industry. It was the beginning of many computer-animated films. It is a movie that amazes no matter how many times it has been viewed or how old you get.

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