Movie Features

Here are the 10 best Pixar movies, at least so far

Ranking the Pixar films is a lot like trying to choose between different types of french fries. Sure, everyone has their favorite, and some are even quite passionate about what they like, dislike, or outright worship. But, ultimately, they’re all still fries.

With Pixar, it’s much the same. Since 1995, the Emeryville-based studio has consistently put out wonderfully-animated stories typically based on wholly original concepts, discounting the sequels and a rare prequel, of course. Many have rightfully pointed out that the last decade or so of Pixar films have been remarkably less successful, at least critically, with only the occasional darling to come along and equally charm the most ardent Pixar fans and skeptics.

We’re happy to present a ranking of our ten favorite Pixar films from across the studio’s 26 years of filmmaking and counting. As presented by our former and current film editors. This was an emotionally heart-wrenching list to settle on, but perhaps that’s fitting considering the movies at hand. So here are the 10 best Pixar films, starting with “least best.”

10. Luca

10 best pixar movies
Disney Pixar

The most recent addition to the Pixar canon lands in our top ten not because of how it follows the studio’s well-laid path to success, but in how it goes against tradition. From refusing to adhere to the photo-realism style of animation, to a story beautifully intimate and low in stakes, Luca is a triumph because of its differences. With tremendous performances from the central cast and a coming-of-age story that hits close to the heart, the film from director Enrico Casarosa is proof that even the most established studio can—and, ultimately, should—push the limits of the types of stories they tell. As our critic put it, the film “…blends the timeless quality of Italian cinema—from setting to soundtrack—with a contemporary allegory about the coming out experience, and suffice to say, this is Pixar at its best.” [Allyson Johnson]

9. Toy Story

10 best Pixar movies
Disney Pixar

The first Pixar film is still one of its very best, and even some of its most obvious limitations are what make it all the more impressive to reflect on decades later. Yes, the polygon effects and misshapen human characters are considerably lower-quality compared to today’s hyper-realistic advances in technology being put to great use. But who cares? Toy Story still rules for how seamlessly it takes a somewhat kiddie premise for a computer-animated world and makes it accessible for all ages. This is where the “buddy” formula for almost every Pixar film since really got its start, and we have to give Toy Story a ton of credit for how it captivated hearts and minds so drastically, it effectively sealed the fate of hand-drawn animation as Disney’s go-to style, for better or worse. [Jon Negroni]

8. Up

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10 best Pixar movies
Disney Pixar

Up tends to suffer a bit from its own reputation as a fantastic animated film that arguably peaks in its first ten minutes. Michael Giacchino’s unforgettable score and the masterwork that is the film’s preliminary montage surely get more than enough praise, and if these elements were all Up had going for it, I’d certainly consider leaving it off this list. But the rest of the film is a triumph of imagination and heart, as it sees Carl Fredricksen’s journey really take off with countless balloons and a precocious set of new characters who change his life in unpredictable ways. It’s the exceedingly rare animated film with the courage to center its narrative around an elderly protagonist, and it never wavers in letting Carl be the hero of his own journey. The opening is what people tend to get excited about, but the sweet, effective middle and end are what truly elevate this already heavenly piece of work. [JN]

7. Ratatouille

10 best Pixar movies
Disney Pixar

In some ways, Ratatouille has been a bit of a slow burn for audiences and critics since its release in 2007. Similar to some more recent Pixar films (cough, Luca, cough), its stylistic love affair with its own setting and how that merges with the plight of its main character, Remy, is what truly makes it transportive and an effortless rewatch for those might’ve found it only “fine” the first time around. In other words, its tastes have aged quite well, as Ratatouille experiments with a lot of strong spices and flavors for its filmmaking, tweaking the typical three-act structure in order to advance the true point of its narrative—this is no run-of-the-mill rags-to-riches story, after all. And its lasting, even timeless commentary on criticism itself and the nature of what makes people exceptional certainly complement much of what Brad Bird set out to say in The Incredibles just a few years earlier. For that reason and plenty more, Ratatouille is a dish best served often. [JN]

6. Toy Story 2

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10 best Pixar movies
Disney Pixar

The shining example of how to make a sequel, Toy Story 2  took what worked about its predecessor and built on it. Bringing in the character Jesse (a pitch-perfect Joan Cusack) gave the series a whole new thematic well to dip into, with a backstory more tragic than any of the toys thus far. While Toy Story 3 is most notable for its emotional manipulation of viewers, the second installment delivered the same impact with more subtle touches. Action-packed, gleefully working on viewers nostalgia, and beautifully animated, Toy Story 2 might not tap on the emotional core that connected the third in the trilogy so strongly to millennial viewers, but it had enough laughs and even tears to still be a worthy marker between the beginning and end of the story. [AJ]

5. Finding Nemo

10 best Pixar movies
Disney Pixar

Finding Nemo came out at just the perfect time for Pixar. It was still early days for them in 2003, and many people knew that a Pixar movie was practically guaranteed to have sharp, comedic writing and an enjoyably thoughtful story that is as fun for adults as it would be for kids. Finding Nemo brought all those golden touches to the surface with a globe-trotting adventure that still gets quoted today. It also showcased Pixar’s rapid evolution in terms of technology, revealing an undersea CGI world that felt truly alive and unending, a feat no other mainstream animated film had managed to pull off since perhaps The Little Mermaid. To this day, Finding Nemo is probably the quintessential Pixar film, in that it has a little (or a lot) of all the best things we can hope to see from one of these movies. [JN]

4. WALL-E

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10 best Pixar movies
Disney Pixar

It’s hard to find a Disney movie—let alone one from Pixar—that is as unrelentingly bold and audacious as WALL-E, Andrew Stanton’s symphony of a space romance that devotes almost its entire first half to being essentially a wordless short film about the beautiful tragedy of life on Earth after people are essentially done with it. The secret weapon of WALL-E is its ability to avoid preaching, while still feeling like a surprisingly entertaining cautionary tale about not just losing our connection with people, but with the true nature of what it means to be human and a caretaker of our own homes. There just aren’t enough modern movies like WALL-E daring to take these types of cinematic risks, while also paying such an authentic tribute to the many films that inspired it. [JN]

3. Coco

10 best Pixar movies
Disney Pixar

Directed by Adrian Molina and Lee Unkrich, the studio struck gold with this generational family drama and musical comedy about a young boy who aspires to be a musician but is banned from doing so by his parents. This leads him to an otherworldly adventure, and it’s a testament to the film that the scenes set in the Land of the Dead and in the world of the living are both as captivating as the other—even if the former is certainly allowed to express itself more vibrantly. It’s an earnest and empathetic story about achieving your dreams, long-mourned loss, and the hopes and demons we pass down. It’s startling, visionary, and, despite the plot, one of the most colorfully alive films the studio has ever done, setting their bar once again impossibly high. [AJ]

2. The Incredibles

10 best Pixar movies
Disney Pixar

Superhero movies weren’t always the supreme rulers of the box office like they are today. Years before the rise of the cinematic universe, Pixar just showed up and gave the world one of its all-time superhero movie classics with The Incredibles. While obviously borrowing a good bit from other superhero families like The Fantastic Four, Brad Bird and his creative time whipped up a seriously inventive and idiosyncratic universe of their own, teeming with an alternate 1950s/1960s world where retired “supers” hide in plain sight. It was a stroke of genius to mix in the sensibilities of a James Bond movie to complement this time period, providing this world such a unique edge from everything like the villain’s excessively convoluted lair to the art-deco mania of Edna Mode. There are so many little things that make The Incredibles the knockout punch that it still is today, including its clever riff on giving an aging superhero a midlife crisis. But what makes it truly, ahem, super is its audacious message about celebrating individuality without sacrificing what makes the collective experience so necessary for everyone, even people who can do the most incredible things. [JN]

1. Inside Out

10 best Pixar movies
Disney Pixar

Dedicated to expressing a young girl’s emotions with delicacy, grace, and humor, Inside Out reinvigorated Pixar after a few uninspired creative choices (ahem, Cars 2). Amy Poehler delivers one of the all-time best and most befitting vocal performances as Joy in a world lush with color, characters who inspire some near crippling emotions (Bing Bong!), and an adventure jam-packed with creativity. It’s the studio unabashedly leaning into everything viewers have come to know of them. There were the high concepts, the colorful array of characters, the detailed worlds, and expected moment of emotional catharsis. But despite understanding the blueprint of what enabled this story, they still managed to surprise viewers with its heart and outdo even their best before it. The animation is tactile and expressive in its movement, which manages to make Inside Out not only the best example of Pixar’s storytelling, but their art direction as well. It’s the peak the studio will always need to aim to clear. [AJ]

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