The 12 Best Pixar Movies

Movies Lists Pixar
Share Tweet Submit Pin
The 12 Best Pixar Movies

Since launching with the revolutionary Toy Story in 1995, Pixar has released two dozen movies and the studio’s consistency has been astounding, delivering hit after hit. With its origins as the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm in 1979, it was spun off into its own corporation funded by Steve Jobs seven years later with the release of a short animated film called Luxo Jr., featuring Pixar’s now iconic desk lamp.

But it was Toy Story, a movie about a toy cowboy named Woody and his newly arrived rival, Buzz Lightyear, that made Pixar a household name. Anthropomorphic bugs, monsters, ocean creatures and cars followed, eventually leading Disney to purchase the company for a whopping $7.4 billion in 2006.

Not every Pixar movie has been a masterpiece, but thanks to the imaginations of people like John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton, the studio has made a habit of delighting audiences of all ages—never an easy task. We’ve ranked the top half of Pixar’s feature-length output.

Here are the 12 Best Pixar Movies:


12. Toy Story 4

toy-story-4.jpg
Year: 2019
Director: Josh Cooley
Stars: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michal Key, Jordan Peele
Rating: G
Runtime: 90 minutes

Watch on Disney+

We were all concerned about Toy Story 4. How could we not be? This is perhaps the most beloved animated franchise of the last 50 years, and, in the eyes of many, each movie has been a little better than the last one. That final one, Toy Story 3, ended in such a perfect, emotionally devastating fashion that trying to follow it up felt like the ultimate fool’s errand. And in the nine years since that installment, Pixar, as a company, has changed, becoming more corporate, more sequel-focused, more …Disney. What a relief it is, then, that Toy Story 4 is such an immense joy. Like its protagonist, it’s less concerned with trying to do something revolutionary just because it’s done it in the past and instead worries about what comes next …what the next logical progression is. It finds the next step, for Woody (voiced as ever by Tom Hanks in what honestly has always been one of his best roles), and the franchise, while still being as hellzapoppin’ and wildly entertaining as you have come to expect from this franchise. The overarching theme in Toy Story 4 isn’t as much death as it is loss—loss of purpose, loss of meaning, loss of value. What do you do with yourself when the best thing you’ll ever be a part of is already over? How do you find drive in life when your lifelong goal has been accomplished? How do you handle getting old and not being needed anymore? If these seem like heady concepts for a Toy Story movie …you’ve never seen a Toy Story movie. —Will Leitch


11. Soul

soul-poster.jpg
Year: 2020
Directors: Pete Docter, Kemp Powers
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton
Rating: PG
Runtime: 100 minutes

Watch on Disney+

Pixar’s best in years, Soul matches its musical deftness with character and locations designs that are true love letters to New York City and its inhabitants. That’s the way it should be for a movie all about learning to look up once in a while and enjoy the life that’s happening all around you. Less heady than Inside Out, thanks to its grounded roots in barbershops and tailor back rooms, Soul is still one of Pixar’s most existential. A focus on jazz is a natural fit. Jamie Foxx’s obsessed music teacher/jazz pianist wannabe Joe flirts back and forth with death, getting a little It’s a Wonderful Life lesson while an unborn soul (Tina Fey) learns about all life has to offer alongside him. With plenty of jokes and impressive visual creations to plaster over some unwieldy plot decisions (Why are Black people always being pushed out of their bodies in animations?), Soul still sings. It’s got some of the most impressive lighting I’ve ever seen in an animated film, with skin, hair and metallic instruments glistening with a complex, near-photorealism that invites you to reach out and touch them. As Pixar’s premium offering in 2020, its tears flow early and often as crushing montages and inspiring instrumental performances prove over and over again how much joy there is to appreciate in this world—and how much joy Pixar films have the potential to capture. Soul is one of the closest yet to fully achieving that potential on an intimate, human scale. —Jacob Oller


10. Inside Out

inside-out.jpg
Year: 2015
Director: Pete Docter
Stars: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, Phyllis Smith, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
Rating: PG
Runtime: 94 minutes

Watch on Disney+

When Pixar is at its best, the studio’s films aren’t just massively entertaining and wonderfully funny—they’re almost piercingly emotional, touching on universal sentiments with such clarity, such honesty you feel they’re speaking directly to you, and you alone. (This may be why people’s favorite Pixar films are so fiercely defended: We take these movies personally.) Inside Out may be the best Pixar has released in a while, especially after a string of disappointing and underwhelming efforts, but what’s most cheering about the film—and most like Pixar’s celebrated classics—is that it’s so emotionally astute. You cry because it makes you happy, and you cry because it makes you sad, and you cry because it’s all true. —Tim Grierson


9. Monsters, Inc.

monsters-inc.jpg
Year: 2001
Director: Pete Docter
Stars: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Mary Gibbs
Rating: PG
Runtime: 92 minutes

Watch on Disney+

Monsters, Inc. may very well be the most lovable film in the illustrious Pixar canon. And, based on everything from the exhilarating door-chase sequence to the brilliant decision of naming its colorful monsters run-of-the-mill things like Mike Wazowski, it might be its most inventive, encapsulating the spirit of childhood unlike any other of the company’s singular creations. Billy Crystal and John Goodman make an endearing and iconic odd couple. And that ending? Perfection. —Jeremy Medina


8. Up

up.jpg
Year: 2009
Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
Stars: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai
Rating: PG
Runtime: 89 minutes

Watch on Disney+

The public hadn’t balked at a Wall-E, a film whose first two acts were essentially dialogue-free. How would it react to a film whose protagonist is an elderly widower with a hearing aid, dentures and back pain—who looks like and is voiced by Ed Asner? Thank God for Pixar and good storytelling. Asner’s character, Carl Fredericksen, isn’t just the grumpy, old man we expect, but a kind-hearted and devoted husband adrift after the loss of his wife. His first 78 years are condensed into the film’s beautiful first ten minutes, as we see a young boy with dreams of adventure fall in love with a fellow dreamer. Though childless, the couple live full lives until Carl is left alone. After his wife’s death, he clings on to every memory of her, including a house that stands stubbornly in the way of a high-rise development. He has a single regret (an unfulfilled promise of a trip to Paradise Falls), but even less purpose, and when cornered, he does what any wistful balloon-maker would do: Fly his house to South America. The resulting Andean adventures snap him from his self-pitying funk by providing him with a goal to pursue, but it’s not his childhood dream that provides ultimate fulfillment. In a culture that devalues its elders, tucking them away in nursing homes and occupying their time with leisure pursuits, it’s refreshing to be reminded that, regardless of age, meaning can always be found in both relationships and story—that glorious struggle to overcome adversity in the pursuit of justice. That the reminder comes in the form of a cartoon would be more surprising if not for the depth of Pixar’s track record. Sure, the film has its adorable characters for the kids—the dogs with innovative collars that allow their thoughts to be communicated through speech, the wilderness scout who tags along for the ride, some cute baby birds. But what makes Up such a satisfying film is the story of an old man deciding that he still has life left to be lived. And that life is an adventure. —Josh Jackson


7. Coco

coco.jpg
Year: 2017
Directors: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Stars: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguia, Alanna Ubach, Jaime Camil, Sofía Espinosa, Selene Luna, Alfonso Arau, Edward James Olmos
Rating: PG
Runtime: 109 minutes

Watch on Disney+

Thanks to its story and, most importantly, its setting, Coco may count as one of Pixar’s clearest successes—and for many who long to see their culture center stage instead of just a flavor sprinkle, the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) as he struggles to pursue his dreams could prove the studio’s most meaningful yet. The implicit contract between films like Coco and the audience is a simple one: Sit back and let us immerse you in a world you haven’t seen before, or one you’ve only imagined. Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina do just that. Coco’s underworld is richly textured and imagined, but so is the “real world” where we start and end up. Sure, by now it’s what we expect from Pixar, but it’s notable nonetheless. And the lasting accomplishment of Coco lies in the reverence and joy with which it depicts another culture’s celebration. Dia de los Muertos isn’t used as some convenient, exotic setting or explored through the eyes of someone from the United States (though early iterations of the script did just that, apparently). Instead, the film represents a full embrace of a culture and its people, as well as a celebration of family, both present and past. As such, it’s difficult to imagine healthier holiday fare. —Michael Burgin


6. Toy Story

toy-story.jpg
Year: 1995
Director: John Lasseter
Stars: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn
Rating: G
Runtime: 80 minutes

Watch on Disney+

The one that started it all. Still to this day, Toy Story is a remarkable technical achievement (the first computer-animated film) and a flawless blueprint for all of the Pixar films that followed: start with a litany of standout characters (Woody, Buzz, Potato Head, Slinkie, Rex, and more); add a decidedly-sinister villain (in this case, the skull-shirted bully Syd); and top it off with a well-rounded, awe-inspiring adventure, and you’ve got the makings of an enduring classic. Few films can capture the true essence of childhood without featuring a kid as the main character, but that’s just what Pixar did in 1995 with Toy Story. The film’s hilarious (and heartwarming) competition between longtime toy-favorite Woody and flashy newcomer Buzz Lightyear wasn’t only entertaining—it explored themes of friendship, family and ultimately growing up. The film gave us our first peek into the legacy that Pixar solidified with classics like Up and Wall-E, not to mention three fantastic sequels. —Jeremy Medina and Tyler Kane


5. WALL-E

wall-e.jpg
Year: 2008
Director: Andrew Stanton
Stars: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin
Rating: G
Runtime: 97 minutes

Watch on Disney+

Opening with 45 sublime minutes of almost no dialogue, WALL-E was a significant gamble for Pixar, whose remarkable string of successes to that point fell within a pretty narrow range. WALL-E rests firmly in the realm of children’s fantasy, but writer-director Andrew Stanton shooed the celebrity voices away from the center of the film and was clearly reaching toward something new. In a post-post-apocalyptic world where humans have gone into space and left behind an army of machines to clean up the place, 700 years have passed without much progress, and even the machines have fallen into ruin, except for one, a dilapidated ottoman-sized trash compactor named WALL-E who’s still honoring his directive and pining for a lost world. When WALL-E meets a gleaming white probe named Eve, their tentative relationship, like the rest of the film, evolves with few words. Even as the setting shifts to the ship containing the aforementioned humans and the rhythm shifts to action sequences with hazy goals, he film’s promise reduced to a well-executed but ordinary need for adrenaline, WALL-E is a noble experiment, lingering in the mind long after movies like Cars have faded. —Robert Davis


4. Finding Nemo

finding-nemo.jpg
Year: 2003
Directors: Lee Unkrich, Andrew Stanton
Stars: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould
Rating: G
Runtime: 100 minutes

Watch on Disney+

Pixar delivered a gem in Finding Nemo. The film follows the clown fish Marlin’s trek across the ocean to find Nemo, his son who was captured by a diver and deposited in a dentist’s aquarium. The journey takes us from the breathtaking beauty of the Great Barrier Reef through alternatingly perilous and humorous encounters with deep-sea life. Meanwhile, Nemo and his new cohorts scheme to escape the aquarium, throw themselves out the dentist’s window, cross a highway, and jump into the ocean. Visually, Finding Nemo is spectacular. The animators render theses scenes with exquisite detail and vibrant color, reaching beyond mere CGI-wizardry to artistry. The voices of the film, anchored by Albert Brooks as the neurotic Marlin and Ellen DeGeneres as the frantic and forgetful Dory, help bring these characters to life. The script is witty, and the pacing serves to keep the audience engaged. Thematically, the film examines friendship and family, especially the complicated dance of dependence and independence between father and son. Finding Nemo is a thoroughly entertaining classic. —Tim Regan-Porter


3. Ratatouille

ratatouille.jpg
Year: 2007
Director: Brad Bird
Stars: Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano
Rating: G
Runtime: 110 minutes

Watch on Disney+

Up until Ratatouille, the driving idea behind every Pixar movie seemed like the kind of thing that might result from that legendary 1994 brainstorming lunch between John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Joe Ranft and Pete Docter: The toys of Toy Story, the bugs of A Bug’s Life, the monsters of Monsters, Inc., etc. Ratatouille was something completely different, a smaller-scale tale about a rat with a dream. Brad Bird, who’d begun his career as an animator before writing and directing beautiful films like The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, created this underrated gem. None of his fellow rats understand Remy’s passion for flavor and his belief, inspired by celebrity chef Auguste Gusteau, that “anyone can cook.” He teams up with a hapless restaurant worker named Alfredo Linguini to follow his passion and save Gusteau’s legacy in the process. It’s a charming, funny and heart-warming celebration of food and the memories it can conjure. —Josh Jackson


2. Toy Story 2

toy-story-2.jpg
Year: 2012
Director: John Lasseter
Stars: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack
Rating: G
Runtime: 92 minutes

Watch on Disney+

Toy Story was a revelation of technology. Its sequel was simply a revelation. When Woody is stolen by Seinfeld’s Newman, it’s Buzz Lightyear’s turn to save the day. The toy store scene with Tour Guide Barbie (“I’m a married spud, I’m a married spud”) and legions of Buzz toys is priceless. Improving on the original in almost every way, Toy Story 2 took the characters we grew to love in the first film and separated them—usually a recipe for disaster. But in this case, with Woody discovering the rest of the round-up gang, the new characters are integrated impeccably, and the larger scale of the story allows the sequel to have more gravity. —Josh Jackson & Jeremy Medina


1. The Incredibles

the-incredibles.jpg
Year: 2004
Director: Brad Bird
Stars: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson
Rating: PG
Runtime: 115 minutes

Watch on Disney+

With all the leaps and bounds taken in the genre in the last ten years alone, it should not be possible that the best superhero film ever is an animated film that came about separately from Marvel, DC or any of the companies in the business of making comics. Yet, here we are. Twelve years after Bob (Craig T. Nelson), Helen (Holly Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Spencer Fox) dealt with some rather serious Buddy (Jason Lee) issues, The Incredibles remains the gold standard—a deft balance of heart, humor and superheroics. The Pixar film is suffused with wit and wonder, with the oh-so-familiar family dynamic of the Family Parr being just as crucial to the final product as Syndrome’s Bond-worthy supervillain hideout and dastardly plan. In hindsight, The Incredibles deserves an additional accolade—Brad Bird’s film shows just how one can include dark themes in a superhero film yet not jettison all the other things that make the genre fun and awe-inspiring. The Incredibles takes place in a world where superheroes have been banned by the government. Syndrome’s plan has already claimed the lives of at least 15 supers by the time Mr. Incredible becomes involved. (And there’s that little aside from Edna Mode regarding capes and the crusaders undone by them.) And yet, this is still a world where the danger and darkness, as well as the all-too-human traits of our protagonists, can exist side by side with the wonder inherent in a reality where people have super frickin’ powers. Take note, Warner Bros., and anyone else driven by the need to inject a comic book property with “grit” and “realism.” (Please.) —Michael Burgin