Every generation has its own best animated movies: Your grandparents probably loved Pinocchio, your parents loved Watership Down and you? Well, your picks probably include at least some of these best Pixar movies. It’s almost sad to think that prior generations had to make do without ingenious action movies, sophisticated plots, and characterizations that could make adults cry (and do). Pixar has a boatload of Academy Awards by now; they’ve all but become the gold standard. But they’ve got their 10 best movies of all time. We rank them below.
Best Pixar movies of all time
Fourteen years in development and costing a reported $180 million, Wall-E was Pixar’s biggest risk to date: a politically charged story of a lonely robot cleaning up a devastated, trash-covered Earth and falling in love with the first sentient being he meets. And for the first 45 minutes, there’s no dialogue at all. But the result is delirious—romantic but technological, funny but sad, and the peak of Pixar’s craft.
It’s the Holy Grail for all franchise seekers: a sequel that enriches—and some would say improves upon—the original. While the first film addressed kid-friendly ideas of friendship and trust, this time the themes are far more grown-up: It’s all about self-worth, beautifully and simply expressed through the concept of “collectability.” The fact that Toy Story 2 is also filled with witty asides doesn’t hurt a bit either.
Firing on all cylinders, Pixar’s first film to earn a PG rating signaled a grabbing of the brass ring: Yes, the studio’s computer animation was peerless, but could it also do marital malaise, middle-aged belly spread and sneakily ambitious philosophy—all of it tucked into spandex? Brad Bird’s masterpiece makes us believe in heroes, but more importantly, it reclaims the virtue of heroism itself: a blessing, an ideal, a curse.
Nothing less than the first shot in what would become a revolution, John Lasseter’s simple tale turned adults into happy children, naysayers into believers, and computer animation into the dominant expression of an entire industry. Pixar’s debut feature is its most beautiful thing, emphasis on thing: The genius idea here was to embrace the stuff of toys—to imbue plastic and cloth with solidity and tactility.
Even after Ratatouille, even after The Incredibles, even after Wall-E, we weren’t expecting this. Up is Pixar at its most profound and risk-taking, opening with a devastating montage of love and loss before proceeding with the tale of a grouchy elderly man who makes the decision to fly his entire house to South America using helium balloons. En route, the movie flits from stoner humor to genuinely affecting age-gap bonding.
We expect sophistication from Pixar—they make animated movies for the parents, not the kids. And still, even competing against its own daunting back catalogue, the studio emerged with one of their all-time greats: daring, honest, psychologically complex. Not merely a movie about the voices in a girl’s head, it’s about the inevitability of sadness. It suggests we should savor that ache as part of our whole selves.
Pixar’s beloved shaggy-fish story may not have managed to crack the top slot at the box office—it was up against The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King—but its success both at the multiplex and on home video (it’s still the best-selling DVD of all time) heralded a new age of animated blockbusters. And it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving film, the warmest, most universal of all the Pixar home runs.
It took 11 years for Pixar to make a third visit to the playroom. Much of the original team went back to the drawing board and came up with a narrative that saw Andy, the toys’ owner, about to go to college and the toys escaping the terrible fate of the attic and heading instead to a day-care center—which turns out to not be the paradise they’d hoped for. The mix of darkness, energy and emotion was as sophisticated as ever.
Perhaps there’s no better example of the boldness of Pixar’s approach to story and character than this one: Ratatouille tells of Remy, a food-obsessed French rat washed down a sewer only to emerge in Paris, where he begins to help an awkward young kitchen worker cook incredible food in a top restaurant. The story is as mature and original as the animation—which, as ever, is groundbreaking.
Perhaps more than any other Pixar flick, Monsters, Inc.—particularly in its 3-D version—plays havoc with the possibilities of animation, harking back to the golden age of Looney Tunes for its wild, dimension hopping action sequences and wealth of background gags, cramming the screen with color, life and wit. And the script is packed with memorable one-liners and fuzzy warmth.