Here we are at the good part. We’ve gone through the bottom six films in the Pixar roster as well as the middle of the pack. Now, it’s finally time to unveil the greatest movies in Pixar history. Grab shell, dude. We’re going in.
6. Monsters, Inc.
It was tough for me to exclude Monsters, Inc. from the top five. I love this movie. It takes a fascinating concept (personifying the boogeyman in the closet) and produces a fleshed-out original world that mirrors our own corporate machines. We enter the world of monsters at its most pivotal and volatile point, the time of greatest interaction between that world and ours, and we get to watch as the driving force of their world is forever changed. I’ve always been extremely fascinated by Monsters, Inc.
And of course, if you don’t care about all that, there are also quirky and compelling characters, a well-paced plot, and loads of laughs along the way. Mike Wazowski and Boo are all-time great Pixar characters. Waternoose and Randall are good villains in their own ways. Monsters, Inc. is jam-packed with entertaining and thought-provoking little interactions that make this early Pixar effort one of its best yet.
Wall-E is a fantastic movie for different reasons than most other Pixar films. It’s not among the funniest in the lineup. There isn’t a huge amount of good dialogue. In fact, it tackles an entirely new genre for the franchise: dystopia. And that’s a big part of what’s great about it.
This Pixar film presents the American dream in ruins from the opening moments. Throughout the adventures Wall-E and EVE, we see a society adrift in space and enslaved to technology. These themes may not be unprecedented in cinema, but they’re certainly new ground for a kids movie like Wall-E. This is basically an adult science fiction dystopia novel packaged inside a children’s film.
Wall-E also executes an impressive amount of character development and interaction, all with almost no dialogue. Somehow these two robots with hardly any recognizable features can provoke more emotion and wonder in an audience than many human characters do. Between the movie’s stunning visuals and the enjoyable main characters, kids can easily fall in love with Wall-E even without understanding the grander themes involved.
4. Toy Story
Toy Story is not only the first Pixar film, it’s the poster child for the franchise. When people think of Pixar movies, they usually think of Toy Story first, and rightfully so. This film set the standard for what Pixar would be known for: above-average animation, stellar voice acting, and wonderfully unique premises.
What if toys had a life apart from their owners? This simple thought, one that could cross the mind of any random individual, became the driving force for the trend of concepts that Pixar still follows today. Almost every Pixar story centers on a unique personification, whether it’s of toys, fish, or even emotions. Toy Story started that, and it started it right.
Woody and Buzz Lightyear, thanks in part to the amazing talents of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, will forever be two of the greatest and most popular animated characters in film history. They’re witty and hilariously engaging to young audiences, but they also grapple with issues of identity and purpose with which adults can easily relate.
No film studio could ask for a better standard-setting opening act.
3. Inside Out
I was born two months after Toy Story‘s release. For more than half of Pixar’s tenure, I was in their primary target audience. I liked their movies for the fun, low-brow reasons. Inside Out is by far the best Pixar film that released after I became old enough to think critically.
Inside Out offers plenty for the kids to enjoy: colorful characters, physical humor, and an overall sense of wonder and joy.
That’s not what caught my attention as a nineteen-year-old in 2015, though. When Inside Out hit theaters, I was captivated by its concept. How can feelings have feelings? How can a film studio personify emotions? I couldn’t imagine it working out well. I was so wrong.
Inside Out beautifully executes its fascinating concept. Lead emotions Joy and Sadness each go through convincing character arcs that run parallel with their host Riley’s arc. Each of these stories of growth feeds off the others in a way that feels more symbiotic than simply a progression of cause and effect. Somehow the writers pulled off a story about a girl combined with a story about that girl’s emotions without ever making things confusing or farfetched. I’m still a little bit in awe more than two years later.
Needless to say, Parks and Recreation hero Amy Poehler is incredible in her lead role, and Phyllis Smith plays a pitch-perfect Sadness as well. The film’s portrait of a preteen’s emotional state is often hilarious in its accuracy. I don’t claim to be an expert, but what I’ve read seems to indicate that it’s also very accurate from a psychological standpoint.
There’s so much to like about Inside Out. Bing-Bong is an absolutely legendary character. The glimpses into the parents’ emotions are as eerily observant as they are comedic. I don’t have a single complaint with this movie. And somehow it’s still No. 3.
2. The Incredibles
I’m tempted to just post the greatest scene in Pixar history and leave it at that.
I’m a sucker for superheroes. If The Incredibles were just a hero movie, I’d still like it. But it’s much more than that.
The background story is eerily similar to that of Marvel’s Civil War, but The Incredibles came out two years before the Civil War comic arc began. This 2004 Pixar film presents the same issues that Marvel would tackle later but in an impressively succinct and efficient manner.
Attentive viewers of The Incredibles have to grapple with some weighty stuff. The film is about a minority group who has to hide who they are, fearing that society will not accept them. While presented in a palatable superhuman setting, the concepts are very real and still applicable to our world today. What do we do when groups of people with traits different than our own seem to present a threat to society? How much liberty are we willing to exchange for security? The Incredibles explores these realities without letting them seep out of the background, lest we forget we’re watching a children’s movie.
In front of these hefty philosophical and political thoughts, The Incredibles deals with even more relatable issues: marriage conflicts, the monotony of suburban life, and the overwhelming desire to fit in. The amount of accurate and relatable social commentary packed into this children’s film without lowering the entertainment value is extremely impressive.
The Incredibles is equally impressive on the surface as well. The characters are believable and funny, especially Frozone and Dash. As with the best superhero films, the movie’s action is plentiful and well-executed without drowning out the other elements. This is so much more than a well-animated-explosion movie, but there are some of those, and that’s not a bad thing.
As a sequel finally approaches, The Incredibles still lives up to its name more than a decade later.
1. Finding Nemo
I can’t imagine that Pixar will ever produce a film that I appreciate more than Finding Nemo. The animation, voice acting, concepts, writing, humor… it’s all great. I’m not sure if I can explain it, but I’ll try.
Some other Pixar films (Inside Out and Toy Story come to mind) may have a more interesting overarching concept, but no other movie executes each little segment of its concept as well as Finding Nemo. Each animal Marlin and Dory encounter on their travels is portrayed perfectly, and you can see the writers’ comedic and/or dramatic intent just flowing out of them. Just think about all the little bursts of imagination viewers meet throughout the 100-minutes runtime.
Crush the surfer-esque sea turtle is spot-on. The single-minded seagulls are hilarious. Standoffish crabs, a nosy pelican, ventriloquist moonfish. The list of pitch-perfect minor character portrayals is endless. Don’t forget Bruce and company, the AA group disguised as vegetarian sharks. I especially love that bit, and I can’t quite explain what makes it so genius.
Even when you peel off the background elements and supporting cast, what you’re left with is a meaningful story of heartwarming characters. Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks are captivating in their lead roles. The story is one of the best in Pixar’s lineup at making you forget the inevitability of the good guys’ triumph and allowing you to truly engage in the emotion of the piece. For Marlin, Dory, and Nemo, finding home isn’t just about crossing an ocean or escaping a dentist’s office. Home is about finding who you love, doing what you can for them, and learning to trust them in return.
Finding Nemo is one of my favorite films to discuss, quote, and rewatch. It looks great, it sounds great, and it tells a great story wrapped in a great concept. True Disney magic runs through these waters. There’s nothing else I can say.
That concludes our rankings of all 18 Pixar films to date! Be sure to check out the other two segments of these rankings, and let us know what you think of the selections on social media. Stay tuned when Coco hits theaters, and you might see it squeeze into the list somewhere!