Every Pixar Movie Ranked – From Toy Story To Soul

Toy Story 3

by Ben Travis |
Updated on

Nobody does it quite like Pixar. The animation studio burst onto the scene over three decades ago with a game-changing new 3D animation style, a talent for imagining the inner lives of inanimate objects, and a sophisticated streak that made them a huge hit with adults and kids alike. After the release of Toy Story, the studio continued to go from strength to strength, offering up a succession of beautifully imaginative, incredibly heartwarming, and genuinely hilarious animated classics, from Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles, to Ratatouille and Wall-E.

It’s fair to say that Pixar changed the entire medium of animated movies – pioneering digital techniques that permeated through the likes of DreamWorks and mainline Disney, all while delivering incredible stories and instant-favourite characters. And now in 2021, Pixar turns 35 years old, having become an independent company and released two-minute short Luxo Jr – the one that gave us that little desk lamp and that colourful ball – way back in 1986. To celebrate, Team Empire put its heads together to deliver a definitive ranking of every Pixar movie – from Toy Story, all the way up to Soul, via Cars, Finding Nemo, Brave, Onward, and plenty more. Read the full ranking below, and here’s to many more Pixar classics to come.


Every Pixar Movie Ranked

Cars 21 of 23

23) Cars 2

From any other studio, the empty but colourful whizz-bang adventure of Cars 2 would be perfectly acceptable. But while the film riffs energetically on throwback spy tropes from Bond to The Man From UNCLE, it's not up to Pixar's usual storytelling standards – lacking in charm and character, over-complicated and under-cooked. It does, at least, have visual pop as Lightning McQueen and crew (now including Michael Caine as secret agent Finn McMissile) set off on a globetrotting world tour with bouts of international espionage – but Cars 2 is the rare Pixar film that seems to play solely to young audience members.Buy now on Amazon

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22) The Good Dinosaur

A boy-and-his-dog story if the boy was a dinosaur and the dog was a boy, The Good Dinosaur famously went through much overhauling and retooling – and you can feel the joins. But if it's a relative failure for Pixar, it's at least an interesting one. The emotional weight is brutally blunt (the early death of apatosaurus Arlo's dad is genuinely wrenching), and it's full of weird and wild detours – from cowboy T-Rexs and rustler Velociraptors, to a druggy sequence that sees Arlo and human toddler Spot eat fermented fruit and trip out. Odd, but not without merit.Buy now on Amazon

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21) Cars

For all the build-up, John Lasseter's long-gestating passion project turned out to be oddly by-the-numbers – a perfectly acceptable piece of family entertainment that lacked the snappy comedy and iconic characters of prime Pixar, even if it delivered solid plotting and impressive racing animation. Not to mention the sheer mind-bending logistical questions that its world conjures – one in which there are sentient cars but no humans, and the notion of vehicular reproduction can't help but loom. If it doesn't resonate as strongly for older viewers like the Pixar classics, it at least proved hugely popular with kids – spawning the studio's first proper franchise since Toy Story.Buy now on Amazon

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20) Monsters University

There's a nice idea behind this Pixar prequel – a college campus comedy that's Monsters, Inc. meets Animal House. And it's full of gentle chuckles, cutesy young designs of Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan (Billy Crystal and John Goodman both returning on voicing duties), and a sprightly energy. But it's pretty lightweight stuff, even if it packs in an interesting message: that hard work might not be enough to achieve your dream if you're really not suited for it, but you might find fulfilment in putting your talents to use elsewhere. That's the lesson learned by the young Mike, desperate to become a celebrated scarer before pivoting to a less glamorous logistical role.Buy now on Amazon

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19) A Bug's Life

Pixar's follow-up to Toy Story transplanted the story of Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven into the world of insects. If it's not as memorable as the first adventure of Woody and Buzz, it proved the studio was far more than a one-hit wonder. Flik is the imaginative drone ant who draws in a team of circus bugs to help protect his colony from the evil grasshoppers who try to steal their food stash. It packs considerable laughs (the moths unable to resist the lure of the light, Joe Ranft's turn as hammy German caterpillar Heimlich), but remains surpassed by much of the studio's subsequent output.Buy now on Amazon

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18) Cars 3

The final instalment of the Cars trilogy is the best of the three – with a more introspective tone and deeper characterisation than either of its predecessors. Yes, it's the Logan of the Cars world – one in which Lightning McQueen is running out of steam and questioning his future, as a new generation of racers speed up from behind him. It's still not Pixar at its peak, but Cars 3 provides a satisfying closure on the remarkably popular franchise – and even nods to a more inclusive future with Cristela Alonzo's incoming racer Cruz Ramirez.Buy now on Amazon

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17) Brave

The story of flame-haired Scottish Princess Merida feels more akin to the recent mainline Disney output (the likes of Tangled and Frozen) than a Pixar film – not a criticism, but a recognition of how tonally different it feels to the studio's usual fare. For one, the humour (mostly involving Merida's trio of young brothers) skews younger, playing a little broader, a little less refined, and the story is a little more generic. But character-wise it's beautifully done – exploring a complex mother-daughter relationship rendered even trickier thanks to a magic spell with unexpected consequences. If the gorgeous early concept art teased something more mystical and contemplative, Brave is nevertheless beautiful inside and out.Buy now on Amazon

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16) Finding Dory

If its title hints at a lazy spin-off, the Nemo follow-up is a real surprise – proving that the first film's comic relief side-kick could anchor a whole movie of her own. Taking in loss and abandonment, it packs an emotional punch while also delivering huge laughs, thanks particularly to oddball side characters like monobrowed sea lion Gerald and boggle-eyed bird Becky. It's a little overstuffed with new characters – though Ed O'Neill's grouchy octopus Hank is a mind-bogglingly impressive piece of animation – and if it goes a little wild in the final act (did it really need a car chase, as funny as this one is?), it's far more than an empty cash-in.Buy now on Amazon

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15) Toy Story 4

After delivering a near-perfect trilogy that ended with a near-perfect finale, Pixar dared to go back to its old toys. And they mostly got away with it, giving us an emotional coda that felt welcome, if not strictly necessary. If the plotting is a tad hectic (it's a road trip that turns into a pit-stop at a fairground next to an antiques shop), it's full of delights – Tony Hale's suicidal, existential arts-and-crafts spork Forky ("I'm trash!"), a much more satisfying incarnation of Bo Peep after her absence from Toy Story 3, Keanu Reeves as Canadian daredevil Duke Caboom, and a poignant pay-off for Woody and Buzz. Just don't push it with a Toy Story 5, ok?Buy now on Amazon

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14) Incredibles 2

Not quite as dazzling as the original, Incredibles 2 (no 'The', for reasons that remain vague) is at least a natural Pixar continuation – a superhero sequel in a box office landscape saturated by them, that once again proved animation as a natural medium for portraying superpowers. Taking place in the aftermath of the first movie, it smartly foregrounds Holly Hunter's matriarch Elastigirl, venturing back into the crime-fighting fray in the wake of Jack-Jack's birth while Mr. Incredible turns stay-at-home dad. Its domestic scenes are smartly observed, Jack-Jack remains comic dynamite (his battle with a raccoon delivers huge laughs), and it pulls off zippy action with an expanded roster of heroes.Buy now on Amazon

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13) Soul

After interpreting the complexities of human emotion in Inside Out, director Pete Docter went even bigger for his follow-up – delivering an existential odyssey about life, death, and the 'Great Before'. Soul begins as the story of Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a jazz teacher desperate to become a full-time musician – but on the day he finally gets his big break, he falls down a manhole and, er, dies. Sort of. Faced with the prospect of 'moving on', his soul escapes and ends up somewhere else, kicking off a metaphysical romp as Joe and unruly soul 22 (Tina Fey) return to Earth in unusual circumstances. It's an exploration of humanity and art and Black lives, with all the freewheeling imagination you'd expect from Docter, while co-director Kemp Powers brings a specificity and authenticity to the evocation of Black communities in New York. It's gorgeous to look at too, from the jaw-dropping lighting in the Earth-bound street scenes, to the living line-drawings of the Jerrys, to the black-and-white visual freak-out that accompanies Joe's initial demise. Soul aims high and swings big – and despite its ambition, it doesn't always connect. Still, it's still a mind-boggling (and emotional) work that only Pixar could have made.Watch on Disney+

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12) Onward

After a string of sequels, Pixar's return to original stories is a total blast – hilarious, emotional, and imaginative, presenting a contemporary fantasy world that has long lost its magic. At its heart are elf brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot (Tom Holland and Chris Pratt), who never got to grow up with their deceased dad. When their attempt at a 'visitation spell' goes wrong, they set off on a race-against-time quest to re-try the magic. The result is one of Pixar's outright funniest films, stuffed with uproarious sight gags, peppered with propulsive action, and with a rollocking tone nicely balanced out by a tug of emotional loss. Add in a glut of D&D references and a beautiful brotherly relationship, and it's a critical hit.Watch on Disney+

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11) Coco

With Coco, Pixar distilled its propensity for extraordinary emotional punch into just two words: 'remember me'. The film's journey into the Mexican Land Of The Dead is breathtakingly colourful and drop-dead gorgeous even by the studio's own monumental standards – but its the thematic explorations of grief, remembrance, and family ties that stands above it all, with a finale sure to have all viewers in pools of tears. With a vibrant and vital portrayal of Mexican culture at a crucial point in history, it's a modern classic – even if, to nitpick, you can hear the gears creaking a little when attempting to propel the adventure plotting.Buy now on Amazon

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10) Finding Nemo

The studio's first fish-fuelled adventure was a technical breakthrough at the time – conjuring a believable underwater world complete with refracting light and floating aquatic debris. The big blue is as epic an adventure environment as you could wish for – with floundering clownfish father Marlin (Albert Brooks) encountering sharks, giant turtles, and a maze of jellyfish as he searches for his missing son Nemo who's been nabbed by tropical fish traders. Andrew Stanton's solo directorial debut is packed with memorable dialogue ("Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!"), resonant familial themes, and an ocean's worth of loveable characters – not least Ellen DeGeneres's memory-challenged Dory, later granted her own spin-off.Buy now on Amazon

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9) Toy Story 3

For kids, the (then) final Toy Story instalment was another fun adventure with Woody, Buzz and the gang, The Great Escape in a nursery. For adults and anyone who had grown up with the series, it was a tearjerking farewell to childhood, with a climax that evoked racking sobs and bulbous tears barely hidden behind 3D glasses. From that fiery furnace scene, to the passing of the torch from Andy to Bonnie, Toy Story 3 is so emotional that it's easy forget its joys – Spanish-language Buzz Lightyear, Timothy Dalton voicing luvvie hedgehog Mr. Pricklepants, and a Ken doll fashion show. A five-star finale to a consistently five-star trilogy.Buy now on Amazon

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8) Ratatouille

Only Pixar could hit on the pun potential of a rat cooking ratatouille and turn it into something this sumptuous and sensory. A culinary odyssey, Ratatouille managed to make cooking cinematic – visualising scents and flavours as dazzling light shows that sing on the screen. If it's recognisably set in Paris, there's gloriously surreal stuff happening here too, as furry wannabe-chef Remy finds a novel way of controlling hopeless kitchen hand Linguine. Downright delightful, with a pitch-perfect Michael Giacchino score and a climactic scene involving a cold-hearted critic that brings goosebumps galore.Buy now on Amazon

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6= Toy Story 2

Just as surprising as the original Toy Story was its supremely confident sequel – so good that Disney upgraded it from a planned straight-to-video continuation to a proper cinematic release. Toy Story 2 doubles down on the core of Woody and Buzz while introducing properly loveable new characters in the Woody's Round-Up gang (Jessie! Bullseye! Not you, Stinky Pete) and taking the toys out into the big, bad world. From its Star Wars-riffing opening, to its airport action finale, via the aisles of Al's Toy Barn, the characters, narrative and gags of Toy Story 2 remain in perfect harmony, with deeper explorations around abandonment, collectorship and the true purpose of toys. And don't even get us started on Jessie's song.Buy now on Amazon

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6= Monsters, Inc.

It seemed unlikely that Pixar could dream up a duo as iconic as Woody and Buzz – until Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan entered the building. The creativity on display in Monsters, Inc. is Pixar in full-flow, with the city of Monstropolis, decked out with sight gags and fuelled by the screams of terrified children, among its most dazzling locales. There's tender emotion too as Sully comes to discover that human toddler Boo isn't the toxic terror he was led to believe ("Kitty!"). But it's the script that really soars – full of zingers and bickering, brilliantly brought to life by Billy Crystal and John Goodman. When do we get the all-singing all-dancing stage version of 'Put That Thing Back Where It Came From, Or So Help Me'?Buy now on Amazon

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5) The Incredibles

An unlikely mash-up of The Simpsons and Watchmen, The Incredibles lives up to its name – a thrilling, action-packed comic books-meets-vintage Bond blast. Depicting an alt-universe in which outlawed superheroes are forced into quiet domestic lives, leading into a mystery around the deaths of former costumed adventurers, it saw the studio aim at a slightly older audience – and delivered with glorious super-powered team-up sequences under the guidance of director Brad Bird. There's genius comedy too in fashion-forward costume designer Edna Mode, but this is Pixar pulling off a proper action movie – in fact, it's the best Fantastic Four film ever made. Your move, Feige.Buy now on Amazon

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4) Up

It's impossible to discuss Up without addressing that opening sequence, distilling the life of childhood sweethearts Carl and Ellie into a mercurial montage of marriage, miscarriage, and mortality – human, heartbreaking, and beautifully handled. In fact, it's such powerful stuff that it's easy to forget how bonkers and vibrant the film is as a whole – with dogs flying planes, houses floating away on balloons, and a giant tropical bird called Kevin. That Up manages to combine all of those those elements into a meditation on grief and the process of letting go with an octogenarian protagonist is astonishing – the sort of feat only Pixar can pull off.Buy now on Amazon

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3) Inside Out

For a studio full of bright ideas, Inside Out might go down as Pixar's most dazzling – exploring the feelings behind our feelings, it's a film of genuine emotional intelligence wrapped up in a story of intelligent emotions. It takes barely 30 seconds for the tears to start flowing – as baby Riley is born, sees her parents for the first time, and experiences pure joy. And it only get stranger, funnier and more beautiful from there – as a relocation to San Francisco and the approach of puberty sends Riley's inner world into chaos. There's delightful creativity (the abstract thought sequence), witty observations (brief trips into Riley's parents' heads) and a vital concluding message: that sadness is a necessary part of life, and needs to be embraced when the time comes. A miracle of a movie.Buy now on Amazon

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2) Wall-E

There's a duality to Wall-E – a film that begins quietly and entirely dialogue-free before shifting into a race-against-time adventure, and a Pixar movie that's simultaneously swooningly romantic while positing a bleak-as-hell fate for humanity. As deeply charming as our titular robot is, he's trapped in a future hellscape of our creation – a literal world of trash, littered with remnants of our consumerism and ravaged by global warming. But it's delightfully old-fashioned too, paying homage to Hollywood history with music nabbed from Hello Dolly. There's a spark of hope thanks not only to the arrival of Apple-esque love interest EVE, but the discovery of a single piece of viable plant life, and as for Wall-E himself, he rivals Gizmo and Baby Yoda in the so-cute-I'd-die-for-them stakes. Deeply loveable, narratively bold, and already a vital piece of cinema in the climate crisis age.Buy now on Amazon

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1) Toy Story

All movies are made against the odds – but the ones stacked against Toy Story were monumental. Despite tussling with revolutionary technology and considerable tonal changes to the screenplay throughout production, the finished film became an instant classic, an all-new kind of animated movie. Not only was there the game-changing 3D animation that set the template for several decades to come, but the film worked for kids and adults simultaneously on different registers – not just one-for-them-then-one-for-you jokes, but on a deeper level of conception and characterisation. If it's arguable that Pixar has since outdone it, think again – Toy Story remains the nucleus of everything that makes the studio great, from the indestructible buddy-duo of Woody and Buzz, to the zinging script with surprising emotional depth, with the darkness of Sid's cracked creations and an exciting action finale, all delivered in 80 minutes. In this case, the original really is still the best.Buy now on Amazon

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