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Best Pixar films according to critics

  • Best Pixar films according to critics

    Pixar is a movie studio that needs no introduction. In its comparatively short 25-year history, the animation giant has churned out an astounding number of smash hits. In the process, it’s also changed the entire landscape of family entertainment by redefining the possibilities of computer animation and storytelling in general. To date, even the studio’s worst efforts achieve the kind of box office numbers and reviews that other films merely aspire to. Nevertheless, not all of Pixar’s movies are created equal.

    It seems that for every “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo,” there’s a movie like “The Good Dinosaur” or “Cars 2.” Meanwhile, the upcoming release “Soul” (co-created by Pixar veteran Pete Docter) looks on track to becoming an instant classic, but one never knows for sure. Its latest offering, “Onward,” left many cold.

    Today marks the 25th anniversary of Pixar's “Toy Story”—the studio's first film and the one that heralded the dazzling arrival of computer-animated technology and talent in the animated film landscape. Three more “Toy Story” films, many more instant classics, and 25 years later, now is the perfect time to revisit Pixar’s many accomplishments and their adjoining reviews. In addition to the highs are the lows—a handful of cinematic efforts that critics perceived as cash grabs, while other films simply fell short of their goals. Still, Pixar has had more wins than losses. The studio has put out several truly iconic releases, which opened to universal acclaim and are now considered modern masterpieces by critics and audiences alike. The “Toy Story” franchise alone remains a masterclass in computer-animated filmmaking. And that’s just one of the studio’s many successful properties.

    To celebrate the studio and its epoch-making oeuvre, Stacker ranked every Pixar film (since March 2020) according to its critical reception, as represented through its Metascore. Ties were broken by IMDb user ratings. There’s a surprise or two in terms of rankings, and #1 isn’t necessarily what the average moviegoer might expect. From worst to first, here are the best Pixar films according to critics.

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  • #22. Cars 2 (2011)

    - Directors: John Lasseter, Bradford Lewis
    - Metascore: 57
    - IMDb user rating: 6.1
    - Runtime: 106 min
    - Domestic gross: $191.5 million

    Despite a devoted fan base, this spy-inspired sequel wasn’t Pixar’s finest hour. Lambasting the paper-thin premise, Slant critic Jaime N. Christley called the film “a crass and uncharacteristically threadbare cash-grab.” Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern was similarly harsh, citing “a lack of variety, originality, subtlety, clarity and plain old charm.”

  • #21. Cars 3 (2017)

    - Director: Brian Fee
    - Metascore: 59
    - IMDb user rating: 6.7
    - Runtime: 102 min
    - Domestic gross: $152.9 million

    Anthropomorphic race car Lightning McQueen is back for a third adventure in one of Pixar’s biggest underperformers. Critics were marginally kinder to this installment than they were to the one before it, though don’t take that to mean there weren’t plenty of harsh reviews. Writing for Movie Nation, Roger Moore called it the “dullest, dimmest Pixar movie ever.”

  • #20. Onward (2020)

    - Director: Dan Scanlon
    - Metascore: 61
    - IMDb user rating: 7.4
    - Runtime: 102 min
    - Domestic gross: $141.5 million

    “Onward,” the most recent Pixar release, finds a home in the bottom rung of the animation studio’s output. But it’s still Pixar, and even its lesser films offer entertaining stories with gleaming animation—this time featuring two elvish brothers discovering magic ability in a quest to bring their dead father back to life for a day. The A.V. Club's A.A. Dowd noted that Pixar “made a movie about looking for misplaced magic in the modern world that, well, kind of misplaces the magic.” Still, the film sinks a landing worthy of the studio's name, with Dowd writing that it “acquits itself quite nicely when it counts, with a finale that offers an unlikely, unintuitive vantage on the cathartic moment of truth.”

  • #19. Monsters University (2013)

    - Director: Dan Scanlon
    - Metascore: 65
    - IMDb user rating: 7.3
    - Runtime: 104 min
    - Domestic gross: $268.5 million

    This long-delayed prequel received a Metascore of 65, indicating “generally favorable” reviews. The studio itself had come a long way in the time between “Monsters University” and “Monsters, Inc.,” with a sharper computer animation style to show for it. Still, those advances weren’t enough to please everybody. “What hasn't advanced is the plotting,” panned critic Bob Mondello in his review for NPR.

  • #18. The Good Dinosaur (2015)

    - Director: Peter Sohn
    - Metascore: 66
    - IMDb user rating: 6.7
    - Runtime: 93 min
    - Domestic gross: $123.1 million

    Pixar’s biggest flop to date (not including “Onward,” which came out during the COVID-19 pandemic with a subsequent low but outlier box office) was also something of a critical disappointment, at least when compared to the studio’s other output. Imagining a world in which dinosaurs never went extinct, “The Good Dinosaur” pairs an overly familiar buddy premise with stunning set pieces. Taking note of the film’s fully realized backdrop, Empire’s Olly Richards wrote, “It’s a pity that the story happening in front of it is so familiar and safe.”

  • #17. Brave (2012)

    - Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
    - Metascore: 69
    - IMDb user rating: 7.1
    - Runtime: 93 min
    - Domestic gross: $237.3 million

    Chronicling the adventures of a headstrong princess and her well-meaning but traditional family, this Scottish-based fantasy remains something of a contested artifact. It was released on the heels of “Cars 2,” prompting critic Mike Scott to claim that “the magic is back at Pixar.” Taking a far less favorable approach, Time Out’s Keith Uhlich called it “Pixar on preachy autopilot.” Despite mixed reviews, “Brave” remains favorable in the eyes of the powers that be at Disney. In 2018, the film’s heroine Princess Merida had a cameo in Disney Animation Studios’ “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”

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  • #16. Cars (2006)

    - Directors: John Lasseter, Joe Ranft
    - Metascore: 73
    - IMDb user rating: 7.1
    - Runtime: 117 min
    - Domestic gross: $244.1 million

    The “Cars” franchise got off to a promising start, even if this film doesn’t pack the same emotional wallop as Pixar’s better efforts. William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was head-over-heels, calling it a “knockout.” Other critics were likewise impressed, though most agreed that the film was a discernible notch below its predecessors.

  • #15. A Bug's Life (1998)

    - Directors: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton
    - Metascore: 77
    - IMDb user rating: 7.2
    - Runtime: 95 min
    - Domestic gross: $162.8 million

    Pixar’s second outing wasn’t a total dud, but it didn’t reach nearly the same critical or commercial heights as “Toy Story.” It was released the same year as “Antz” from Dreamworks, meaning comparisons were inevitable. Drawing upon both films in his pun-laden review, Time’s Richard Corliss wrote that “Pixar's dream works” and “when 'A Bug's Life' hits its stride, it's fantastic.”

  • #14. Finding Dory (2016)

    - Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
    - Metascore: 77
    - IMDb user rating: 7.3
    - Runtime: 97 min
    - Domestic gross: $486.3 million

    A forgetful fish named Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) takes center-stage in this blockbuster sequel to 2003’s “Finding Nemo.” “Finding Dory” raked in over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. While reviews were generally favorable, the film never quite lived up to the status of the original. “Finding Dory” boasted an impressive voice cast including Albert Brooks, Idris Elba, Ty Burrell, and many more. Critic Lou Lumenick was particularly wowed by DeGeneres’ voice performance, claiming that it “even surpasses Robin Williams in ‘Aladdin.’”

  • #13. Monsters, Inc. (2001)

    - Directors: Pete Docter, David Silverman, Lee Unkrich
    - Metascore: 79
    - IMDb user rating: 8.0
    - Runtime: 92 min
    - Domestic gross: $289.9 million

    Anchored by its fully realized world and two lovable lead characters, this classic Pixar flick pulls back the curtain on the monster in the closet trope and brings the fun for adults and kids alike. While not a critical smash on the same level as “Toy Story,” it still managed to win over plenty of critics. That included David Ansen of Newsweek, who wrote it was “smart, inventive, and executed with state-of-the-art finesse.”