Lightyear is the 26th movie from Pixar – but just where does it fall in our ranking of the best Pixar movies? Usually, when it comes to ranking movies, there’s a bit of a mixed bag in the list: some films excel, while others would be better left forgotten. However, with a studio like Pixar, which has landed 23 Academy Awards and 11 Grammy Awards over its 27-year run, it’s fair to say that there are not many duds. The studio started all the way back in 1995 with Toy Story, changing the animation game as the first computer-animated feature film – and Pixar has been pushing boundaries ever since.
The studio’s huge success means it’s all the more difficult to narrow down the best Pixar movies in a definitive ranking. Just where do you put classics like Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc.? And how do they match up against new releases like Luca and Turning Red? Here at GamesRadar+ and Total Film, we’ve attempted the impossible with our list of the best – and worst – animated releases. So here we go – these are the best Pixar movies, ranked!
26. Cars 2
The first Cars movie concerns an arrogant racecar who learns humility from a ragtag group of small-towners; a heartfelt take on the returning-to-your-roots trope. Its lesser sequel, however, drives a lesser gone path. Cars 2 takes the side-character Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, and puts him front-and-centre as he becomes an unassuming spy. As a result, the series loses its found-family values – and its heart. Cars 2 became the first “rotten” Pixar movie on Rotten Tomatoes. Kachow?
25. Cars 3
The third and final chapter in the Cars saga finds Lightning McQueen in an existential stench. The former champion grapples with mortality after realising he can’t be the best race car forever. Confronting his own privilege, McQueen returns to his roots, saying one final “kachow!” to his hotshot persona. Whilst the Cars movies are far from the best Pixar have to offer, it’s hard not to be moved as McQueen takes one final victory lap. Cars 3 remains an exceptionally animated movie and marks a fitting conclusion to the tad forgettable series.
The studio’s first attempt at a Disney Princess tale, Brave follows Scottish heroine Merida as she fights back against her kingdom’s expectations as to who she “should” be – including dodging an arranged marriage. This journey leads to Merida accidentally turning her mother into a bear and the two learn a whole lot more about each other. Merida ends up perhaps one of the most fully realized of the Disney Princesses, and the stakes feel suitably high as the future of the kingdom rests on her shoulders. Unfortunately, though, compared to Pixar’s catalogue of innovative stories, Brave feels a little familiar.
What if toys could talk? Sure! What if ants could talk? Yeah, that’s fine. And cars? You’d be forgiven for thinking Pixar had run the imagination well dry by the time Cars screeched into sight in 2006. However, despite its shortcomings – including a plot that never leaves second gear – the genuine heart on show from an ensemble of instantly-memorable racers shows that the studio can still keep up with the best of ‘em. Cars also marks Pixar’s last movie before being snapped up by Disney and, as finish lines go, it’s far from being forgettable, despite not quite being worthy of a place on the podium.
22. The Good Dinosaur
An anomaly of sorts in the Pixar catalogue, The Good Dinosaur remains perhaps one of the studio’s more forgettable movies, only landing 76 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes. However, while lacking a truly engaging story, The Good Dinosaur certainly makes for one of the most beautiful Pixar movies. Vast, photorealistic backdrops elevate the journey of a young boy travelling across the American West with his dinosaur companion.
Lightyear follows the adventures of the titular Space Ranger, Buzz – but not the plastic toy as we know and love him. Instead, it’s a whole new take on the character: as the opening text explains: Andy received a Buzz Lightyear toy for his birthday, and that action figure was based on his favorite movie. Lightyear is that very same movie. The animation is gorgeous, robotic cat Sox steals the show, and there’s a heartwarming tale of teamwork to enjoy… but there’s also the sense that the movie could have been bigger, bolder, and gone for more powerful emotional swings.
20. Finding Dory
While you would never typically call those imaginative brains as Pixar “predictable”, Finding Dory treads that thin line ever so slightly. The long-awaited sequel to Finding Nemo is pleasant enough, with the story certainly packing a familiar emotional punch as Dory seeks her own parents. The plot may veer towards the fantastical a little too much, but thankfully that doesn’t undermine Dory’s heartfelt search, and the ocean looks pretty spectacular.
19. Monsters University
This college-set prequel to Monsters Inc. centres on the pivotal moment when Mike Wazowski and James P. “Sulley” Sullivan first met. Pixar brings the college green of Monsters University to vivid life, with fraternity parties and late night study sessions abound. Interestingly, the iconic pair don’t get along to begin with, and their fierce rivalry results in the two being expelled from the Scare Program, leading to a reluctant team-up. Monsters University packs a punch with its message: that hard work isn’t always enough to achieve your dreams. A little bleak for Pixar, but wrapped up in the whimsical world of the Monsters means it’s easy to stomach.
In Onward, two elf brothers attempt to bring their late father back to life for 24 hours using a spell. However, things don’t quite go to plan as they only get half of their father – and the bottom half at that. Cue a perilous journey with some dismembered legs to add a body to those pins. It sounds bizarre, but – like all the best Pixar movies – it truly tugs at the heartstrings. Onward’s setting is what really makes this fantastical adventure stand out: a world where magic has faded away, centaurs have forgotten how to run, and sprites have forgotten how to fly. The two brothers’ quest takes some fun turns, and the finale is expectedly tear-wrenching.
17. A Bug’s Life
A Bug’s Life was Pixar’s second film – and while it doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of Toy Story, the charming movie is a firm favorite among viewers. It tells the story of a world beneath our feet. Flik is an ant whose dreams of helping his ant colony often don’t turn out the way he wants them to. After another mishap leads him needing to defend the colony, he sets out to recruit a band of warriors. Instead, he finds a band of circus insects to much hilarity in the Pixar classic. Sure, A Bug’s Life it more muted than some of the studio’s other hits, but it has a whole lot of heart. It all culminates in a rip-roaring final act, featuring a fist-pumping showdown and a dogfight (antfight?) as the rain lashes down.
Set on the beautiful Italian coastline, Luca tells the story of a young sea monster who takes human form whenever he’s above the water. In this charming coming-of-age classic, he embarks on a summer adventure with his new friend Alberto Scorfano. The beautiful palette of Pixar’s 24th movie takes inspiration from director Enrico Casarosa’s childhood summers on the beaches of Genoa. As such, it feels like it captures the warmth and wonder of the Italian coast. What holds Luca back is the slightly unimaginative story that takes center stage as our hero battles it out to win the Portorosso Cup. It all feels a little tried-and-tested for a studio we’re used to seeing break new ground.
15. Incredibles 2
Incredibles 2 puts Elastigirl front and centre as she takes part in a new initiative to make superheroes legal again. However, where Elastigirl drives away on a flashy motorbike, Mr Incredible looks after the children at home. These domestic scenes are both self-aware and utterly hilarious, as Jack-Jack discovers his superpowers – which Bob has to deal with alongside a teenage daughter who’s dating for the first time and a bored pre-teen son. Most parents will contest this is just as hard as saving the world. The seamless action scenes and catchy score aid the whip-smart script in bringing the Incredibles to life once more, making this a worthy sequel.
14. Turning Red
Turning Red tackles a previously unexplored idea in Pixar – puberty. Our hero is Meilin, a 13-year-old Chinese Canadian living in early 2000s Toronto. She’s a hard-worker, doing her best to make her strict mother proud. However, she has one big problem: every time she gets emotional, she turns into a big red panda. The charming movie is one of Pixar’s biggest recent successes. It also marks a historic moment for the studio, finally branching out its remit as the first movie helmed by a female filmmaker and with an Asian-led cast. Funny, enjoyable as well as an original concept? This is a shoo-in for the top half of Pixar’s releases.
Ratatouille proves that Pixar movies don’t require high stakes to maintain their usual brilliance. The 2007 flick excels at cooking up several rib-tickling moments of breathless intrigue – revolving around whether Remy, the rat-turned-chef, will be caught – and ties them together with a heartwarming tale about what it means to break out of the box. Each scene with Remy guiding Alfredo ranks up there with some of Pixar’s best physical slapstick, and shows that the studio can do anything – action, adventure, comedy, and everything else in-between – without missing a beat. Toy Story may have put Pixar on the map, but Ratatouille ultimately broadened its horizons.
12. Toy Story 4
Nothing Pixar does is pointless – especially not Toy Story 4. After the Toy Story trilogy seemingly wrapped things in a neat bow, the announcement of a fourth movie was met with some understandable consternation. But this epilogue is far from a quick money-grab, offering up a sweet farewell to Woody and Buzz, while also giving Bo-Peep a much-needed chance to shine. It’s also probably the funniest of the Toy Story quartet, with Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key’s Ducky and Bunny providing just as many laugh-out-loud moments as the first three movies combined. Two words: plush rush.
Soul tackles a surprisingly macabre topic for Pixar as it focuses on Joe, a teacher who finds himself on the way to the afterlife amid a tragic accident. This all happens before he could realize his dreams of becoming a great jazz musician. He’s desperate to keep living, leaving him in limbo in The Great Before before he hatches a plan to make it back to his old life. Soul is a beautifully told, poignant tale of missed dreams, legacy, and our own mortality. But it retains Pixar’s feeling of levity despite the dark topics in its warm approach, hilarious moments, and Jamie Foxx’s wonderful voice performance as Joe. Steel yourself though, this is an emotional one…
10. Finding Nemo
It says a lot about Pixar’s outstanding oeuvre that Finding Nemo barely cracks the top 10. It has all the hallmarks you’ve come to expect from the studio, plus the added backdrop of an aquatic world that lets the design team fully embrace eye-popping visuals for the first time. With Finding Nemo, they honed their animation craft while also hitting upon another magical component to their enticing formula: let the plot do the heavy lifting. The characters – from the amnesiac Dory to the ever-worried Marlin – stand out, but the thrill comes from the hunt for Nemo as the pair fizz through seabound set-pieces and a memorable detour into an aquarium before finally arriving at the promised land.
Coco may be deeply entrenched in Mexican culture, yet the story and emotions are completely universal. The movie centres on the music-mad Miguel celebrating the Day of the Dead alongside several generations of his family. Something goes awry, and Miguel ends up heading into the Land of the Dead on a journey to find his great-great-grandfather. Each scene, somewhat ironically, bursts with life and, as this story about family and what it means to follow your dreams draw to a close, you will have laughed, danced, sang, and been surprisingly moved in equal measure. Trust in Pixar to make a tribute to one culture universally beloved, with an Academy Award-winning song tucked away in there to boot.
8. Inside Out
Following the huge success of Toy Story 3, Pixar became somewhat fixated on pumping out sequels. Between 2010 and 2017, they released Finding Dory, Cars 2, Monsters University, and Cars 3. Meanwhile, the studio’s original works failed to land with critics, as Brave and The Good Dinosaur received muted reviews. There was, however, one exception: Inside Out, a shining star among Pixar’s output at the time.
Inside Out centres on a young girl, Riley, whose emotions are personified as colourful anthropomorphic characters that work the controls within her brain. After some family struggles and a new start, Sadness becomes… sad… and goes missing, leaving Joy to search deep within Riley for Sadness. Meanwhile, Anger, Fear, and Disgust take control of Riley, and things quickly get out of hand. As with every great Pixar movie, there’s a wonderful message at Inside Out’s core – one that will strike differently with children, teenagers, and adults alike.
7. Toy Story 3
Goodbyes are never easy. Toy Story 3 achieved the impossible, though, and delivers an emotional gut-punch of a finale (so we presumed). Woody, Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, and the rest of Andy’s playthings have to deal with letting go, taking in a brand-new locale at Sunnyside Daycare in the process. Those who grew up with the franchise, too, had to face the fact that all our old favorites wouldn’t be around forever, and those two aspects work in unison throughout. Yes, we cried at the furnace fake-out, and we cried even harder as Andy gave his toys away. There have been better Pixar movies – though not many – but none were able to pull on the heartstrings quite like this.
6. The Incredibles
Superhero movies are ubiquitous nowadays, but The Incredibles arrived when spandex-clad do-gooders still felt fresh and provided a twist on the genre that remains timeless today. Fantastic Four, this ain’t, as Mr. Incredible settles down from being a superhero to working a white-collar job while juggling home life, the kids, and a nagging sense that he could be doing some more. Enter Syndrome: the red-headed supervillain that draws The Incredibles back into action. Rewatching now, you’ll be overjoyed to see just how little it falls into the trappings of traditional genre fare. Instead, it – whisper it – ranks up there as not only one of the best Pixar movies of all time, but one of the best superhero ones, too.
5. Monsters Inc.
Before Monsters Inc., Pixar pretty much kept things rooted in our world. So, diving headfirst into a reality filled with one-eyed neurotic goofballs, a big, cuddly monster that’s scare-averse, and a society powered on children’s screams felt like a huge risk. Instead, the team uses it as an opportunity to take the shackles off, filling the screen with as many silly visual gags, creative designs, and side-splittingly funny, offbeat jokes as monsterly possible. The unique premise, centering around the timid child, Boo, also carries with it enough heart to keep your Disney Plus subscription running for years to come.
4. Toy Story 2
It’s easy to look back now and consider Toy Story 2 as one of the greats. But it was no sure thing at the time, especially when coupled with the pressure of following up an original movie that made the world notice what computer animation could do for the first time. So, how did it attempt to top Toy Story? By being bigger – introducing Jessie and Stinky Pete helps flesh out Woody’s personal struggle to belong – and, in some places, simply better.
While it’s not as well-rounded as the first, bouncing from set-piece to set-piece like a Slinky taking a tumble down the stairs, it has some of the best action sequences Pixar has ever produced, thanks mainly to Buzz and Zurg’s showdowns. There’s also a killer Randy Newman-penned soundtrack (try not to cry at ‘When She Loved Me,’ I dare you). Whether you prefer the original over this or not, you can’t deny Toy Story 2 is a flashier, looser, and more energetic bout of Pixar magic.
Up is more than its tear-jerking opening sequence. But there’s a reason that lump-in-your-throat lead-in lives long in your memory. Carl and his betrothed, Ellie, live out a rich, full life in the first few minutes. Then it’s all gone. Up grabs your attention like no other and refuses to let go during its rapid 96-minute runtime. It makes Carl’s journey to live out his dreams alongside the cheerful Russell and a talking dog an even more poignant one, and ultimately lifts the viewer up just as high as the balloon-fuelled house where Carl and Ellie once walked through the threshold.
2. Toy Story
It may be a more than a quarter of a century old, but that doesn’t stop Toy Story being just as funny, clever, and overwhelmingly creative today as it was back in 1995. In fact, it’s incredible just how much Pixar gets right on its first go. The success of this film wasn’t guaranteed: the technology was new, the premise a little weird, and it was unlike anything we’d seen before. But there’s a reason Pixar remains a household name. And this is it. It’s at once scary, surprising, and bursting at the seams with invention. Bonus points, too, for ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me,’ the earworm to end all earworms.
Here it is. The best Pixar movie. Why? All the evidence you need is in the opening half-an-hour. Pixar scraps the rulebook and strips it for parts, giving us an outstandingly brave tour-de-force silent film that follows the robotic WALL-E around a post-apocalyptic Earth. His curiosity is soon chipped away by a larger (fully-voiced) tale revolving around the remnants of the Earth’s population surviving in space, but it loses none of its charm and appetite to tell a genuinely meaningful story about environmentalism, and much more. This is Pixar at the peak of its powers and its most affecting. We’ve all wanted to live in a Pixar world – let’s just hope it’s not this one.
Want more Disney goodness? Then check out our lists of the best Disney movies, best movies on Disney Plus, and best shows on Disney Plus.