Nearly 25 years after the release of their first feature film, Pixar is still going strong, creating animated movies that stir critics and audiences alike on a regular basis. Their newest film, Toy Story 4, arrives in theaters this weekend; earlier this week, a “surprise” Pixar film called Soul was given a release date of next summer. If the studio’s past is any indication, it’ll be a good one.
Narrowing their movies down to the 10 best is hard, but hey, shying away from difficult tasks isn’t the Pixar style.
1. Coco (2017)
The story of a music-obsessed young boy who enters the Land of the Dead in order to find his ancestor, a legendary singer, Coco found wide appeal both inside and outside of America. In Mexico, where the film is set, it did particularly well, becoming the highest-grossing film of 2017 by a wide margin. (In the United States, it was the 13th highest-grossing film of the year.) Interestingly, it was also one of the highest-grossing Hollywood films of the year in China. Why is that so interesting? Because China’s government is very strict about what international movies it lets screen in its theaters. One of its rules: No ghosts. Coco? Has a lot of ghosts. Still, censors were reportedly so moved by the film that they let it pass.
2. Finding Nemo (2003)
In 2003, Finding Nemo became the first Pixar film—and only the third film ever, after Shrek and Spirited Away—to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. As is typical with animated films, it has two directors: In this case, Pixar mainstays Lee Unkrich and Andrew Stanton, the latter a relatively new director at the time whose only feature credit was as a co-helmer on Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. It was Stanton who presented an hour-long pitch to Pixar head John Lasseter so that he could make the film. Lasseter, a fan of scuba diving, responded: You had me at 'fish.'"
3. The Incredibles (2004)
The Incredibles was the first outing at Pixar for director Brad Bird, who had previously directed the now-classic animated film The Iron Giant. Subsequently, Bird directed two other films for Pixar: Ratatouille and the long-awaited The Incredibles 2. Fans have always liked reading a lot into Pixar films, a practice the company encourages with its love of Easter eggs. Take Jon Negroni’s famous Pixar Theory, for example. The Incredibles, however, gave rise to a more eclectic form of theorizing that has persisted ever since the film’s release: Whether Brad Bird is a fan of Ayn Rand.
4. Luxo Jr. (1986)
Ok, ok—maybe this cheating. Luxo Jr. is not a feature film, but a short; the first created by Pixar after it became its own company. As a piece of filmmaking, it was highly influential. At the time of its release, Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull noted that, "most traditional artists were afraid of the computer. They did not realize that the computer was merely a different tool in the artist's kit but instead perceived it as a type of automation that might endanger their jobs. Luckily, this attitude changed dramatically in the early '80s with the use of personal computers in the home. The release of our Luxo Jr., ... reinforced this opinion turnaround within the professional community." Luxo Jr. lives on as part of Pixar’s logo. In 2014, it became one of three Pixar films to be included on the Library of Congress's National Film Registry.
5. Ratatouille (2007)
Ratatouille, Brad Bird's second Pixar film, centered around an unlikely protagonist: a rat who dreams of being a world-class chef. The concept of food prepared by a rodent might (ok, does) seem gross, but Ratatouille’s charm made it work. In fact, according to one British pet supply retailer, demand for pet rats increased by 50 percent following the film's release.
6. Toy Story (1995)
This is the movie that started it all. Released in 1995, Toy Story was Pixar's first-ever full-length animated movie. At that time, the Oscar for Best Animated Feature didn't exist, and a five-picture cap on the Best Picture category contributed to a lack of animated nominees. (Only one, Beauty and the Beast, had been nominated for Best Picture up to that point.) However, the Academy was so impressed by Pixar that they gave its director John Lasseter a Special Achievement Oscar "for the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer-animated film."
7. Toy Story 2 (1999)
Toy Story 2 almost didn’t exist. Or, rather, it almost had a much harder road in getting to the big screen. During production, an employee accidentally deleted the film from the internal system. What kept Pixar from having to do everything over is the lucky fact that another employee on maternity leave had saved a backup copy to work on at home. This unlucky—but not nearly as unlucky as it could have been—event is the subject of one of Pixar’s famous Easter eggs in Toy Story 4: one of the cars in the opening sequence has a license plate that reads RM-R-F*—the keyboard command that almost sent Toy Story 2 into oblivion.
8. Toy Story 3 (2010)
For almost a decade, it looked like Toy Story 3 was to going to bring an end to the story of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of the toys that helped usher Pixar into prominence. If it had been the end, it wouldn’t have been a bad one; the third film in the series was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars and became the highest-grossing film of 2010. And who can forget the scene of Woody and the rest, plastic hands clasped, sliding into the landfill incinerator? Kleenex, please.
9. Up (2009)
Ah, Up: The film that caused both children and adults the world over (but let’s be real, mostly adults on this one) to break out into heaving sobs. This, of course, was because of the montage depicting the romance of Carl, the curmudgeonly old man at the movie’s center, and his late wife Ellie. Originally, the scene was a lot less sad and a lot more ... well, violent. That’s because running through the montage was a sort of “punching contest,” established when Ellie and Carl first met as children. “So instead of seeing them sweetly become old, they basically punched themselves old,” co-director Bob Peterson said. “We thought it was the funniest thing.” Test audiences, however, did not, and the scene was changed.
10. Wall·E (2008)
Pixar ventured into sci-fi—or I guess we should say “went to infinity and beyond”—with 2008’s WALL·E, about a trash compactor robot who finds love. At one point during the screenwriting process, the film was going to have even more of a sci-fi feel. In WALL·E , the eponymous robot ends up on a spaceship inhabited by humans that have grown unable to move under their own power or do much of anything without the assistance of machines. In an earlier version of the story, according to director Andrew Stanton, “I actually went so weird I made them like big blobs of Jell-O, because I thought Jell-O was funny and they would just sort of wiggle and stuff. There was sort of a Planet of the Apes conceit where they didn't even know they were humans anymore and they found that out, but it was so bizarre I had to pull back. I needed some more grounding."