Can Pixar catch lightning (McQueen) in a bottle a third time?
That’s what the animation juggernaut will find out with the release of Cars 3, out June 16, which is only the second property in the Pixar toolbox to receive a three-peat. How does it stack up against Toy Story 3 (the other threequel and, certainly, a tough act to follow), not to mention all the suburban superheroes, starry-eyed trash robots and forgetful tang fish? Here are all 18 Pixar films, ranked from “worst” to best.
Trust us, this was no easy feat. There really is no “worst” Pixar movie.
18. Cars 2
Except there is a worst Pixar movie. And it is Cars 2. Pixar succumbed to the usual sequel trap here, trying to make everything bigger! Flashier! With more explosions! But leaving Radiator Springs behind for international espionage also abandoned most of what made the original charming. (And yes, we realize we just called Larry the Cable Guy, who voices the buck-toothed tow truck, Mater, charming.)
17. Monsters University
Maybe our expectations were simply too high, considering how much we loved Monsters, Inc. The prequel added a handful of compelling characters (Helen Mirren as the menacing Dean Hardscrabble was an inspired choice) and had its share of laughs. In the end, it was just…fine.
Brave gets a raw deal. It’s widely considered a misstep on Pixar’s part — and true, it’s not their best movie — but it’s not bad. We even tear up a bit during the climax. Anyway, it’s a children’s movie that intones the message that princesses can save themselves, thank you very much, and for that alone it’s worth a watch.
15. Cars 3
You know how a franchise will take an action star a few decades out of his prime and pair him with a younger, hotter protégé to inject some fresh blood into the film and potentially have someone to pass the mantle to? That’s pretty much what happens here, which seems bizarre since it’s only the third film in the series and the Cars franchise itself has only been around for a decade. (Also, because it’s animated, literally no one ever needs to age.)
Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) still has his need for speed, but when faced with a new generation of “younger, faster” racers, he must prove that racing requires more than fancy tech and the right branding, while also forming a bond with a fledgling racer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). Cars 3 manages to get things back on track after a lackluster sequel (see: No. 18), but still feels like a bunch of pretty sheen without much under the hood. Especially after watching the short which precedes the film, Lou — a strange but original bauble about an anthropomorphic lost and found — Cars 3 ends up feeling even more factory produced.
Cars might not be Pixar’s most, uh, brilliant work — Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is a big fish who winds up in a small pond and learns to love it anyway — but it’s a fun, downright quaint romp. Bonus points: The Cars ride at California Adventure is the best ride in the park.
13. A Bug’s Life
A Bug’s Life is low-key hilarious. They get a lot of mileage out of the bug circus, and Heimlich the caterpillar is still one of the most memorable characters from our childhood. Also, it will always be better than Antz, the DreamWorks movie that was not A Bug’s Life but came out the same year.
12. The Good Dinosaur
To be fair, it’s hard to follow something as near perfect as Inside Out. But the biggest problem with The Good Dinosaur is how sad it is! It’s one thing to tug at our heartstrings — it’s another to actually depress us. It’s Bambi meets The Lion King meets ohmygodwhhhyyy? (Even Anna Paquin — who is in the movie — admits that it’s “too intense” for her 3-year-old twins.) That said, it’s a very, very pretty movie. Visually stunning, even!
Ratatouille could have — and probably should have, all things considered — been a dud. It’s about a rat that works as a chef in France. And though Pixar has always made movies for kids that grownups enjoy just as much, this one really seemed more suited for the adults. Still, the overwhelming joyfulness of Patton Oswalt as Remy and the sheer beauty of Paris in the movie, along with laughs to satisfy the little ones, made it a success.
10. Toy Story 3
You may be surprised that Toy Story 3 didn’t place higher — everyone loved Toy Story 3! And we did too. But you also have to admit the threequel benefited from nostalgia, doubling down on that wistfulness to eke out a few extra sobs from adults in the audience who were just kid themselves when the first one came out. Nonetheless, a great installment in an all-around great franchise.
9. Finding Dory
How do you follow up a movie as beloved as Finding Nemo? Thankfully, Pixar didn’t try to carbon copy the original. Instead, they switched things up completely, leaving behind the ocean for the Marine Life Institute and a new cast of characters (wonderfully voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy, Modern Family stars Ed O’Neill and Ty Burrell, and a standout cameo by Sigourney Weaver). Dory’s story gets an added dose of pathos absent from the first film, making this go-around equal parts heartbreaking.
8. The Incredibles
The Incredibles should be the bar all superhero movies are held against, live-action or animated. (We’re looking at you, Batman v Superman.) There are the requisite big action set pieces of any blockbuster, but they are never at the disservice of what’s most important: The characters, each as equally interesting and fleshed out as the next. Even the supporting characters. Even the baby! Plus, Edna Mode!
7. Toy Story 2
Pixar doesn’t have the greatest track record with sequels (see: No. 14 and No. 15 above), which is interesting, because their first attempt at a sequel was as good as — some might argue better then — the original. Toy Story 2 managed to capture everything we loved about the first movie, while giving us a whole new adventure that expanded the scope of the world. Cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack) was introduced in Toy Story 2, that’s how seminal it is. You probably didn’t even remember that Jessie wasn’t in the first.
6. Inside Out
Maybe in another decade, we’ll look back on Inside Out and realize it should have ranked higher on this list. But for now, we’re being cautious and paying respect to the oldies but goodies. Still, Inside Out isn’t just heartwarmingly emotional — obviously! It’s a film about emotions! — but it’s so clever. A wholly unique idea that is exceptionally executed.
The first five minutes of Up alone secure its spot in the top five. And those first five minutes — in which we see Carl and Ellie’s decades-long love story unfold, at times equally beautiful and heartbreaking — are a tough act to follow. Up has enough up its sleeve (Action! Adventure! More spirit than all of the Cars movies and spin-offs combined! That dog that looks mean, but talks with a super high voice!) to make the remaining hour and a half just as worthy of watching.
4. Monsters, Inc.
Monsters, Inc. might be Pixar’s funniest movie so far, which makes sense because, behind the bells and whistles of Monsters, Inc., the corporation, it’s fundamentally an odd couple-buddy comedy. Add the infinite and undeniable adorableness of Boo, and it’s a no-brainer.
WALL-E basically sums up everything we love about Pixar: There’s so, so, so much heart…in a movie about robots. We’re taken to a world we’ve never seen before and wowed with originality. This movie also takes some big risks — the first third is basically a silent film — that mostly pay off — we’re still a bit iffy on Fred Willard’s live-action cameo in the otherwise gorgeously animated feature. And that’s not even mentioning that one of the best onscreen romances of that year was between, basically, a trash compactor and a drone.
2. Finding Nemo
The lesson to be learned is fairly simple: You can’t always protect the ones you love. How the movie gets there though — with some of the silliest “bits” in Pixar history, as well as true scares, and enough tenderness to make you want to call your own parents when it’s all over — puts it a notch above the rest. The voice cast, maybe more so than any other film on this list, is exceptional, with Ellen DeGeneres absolutely stealing the show as Dory. No wonder Pixar decided to center the sequel around her.
1. Toy Story
It’s the original. It’s a classic. What more can we say? Toy Story is the best.