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 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.
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, which is especially useful as there’s a Monsters Inc. spin-off on the way…
4. 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 favourites 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.
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 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.