Trying to compare the Pixar films according to quality and personal affection is a pointless task, in my opinion. Of course, I could easily tell you what my favorite films are and rank them, but how does that really help anyone?
Everyone has their favorites, but everyone also loves lists and comparisons. So for the sake of this post, I’m pointing out how successful each one was compared to the other. Prepare to be surprised.
To crunch the numbers, I added the domestic and foreign totals to provide the worldwide figures. I also adjusted everything according to inflation in 2014, so you’re really seeing which films made the most value in their day.
I did not rank these in order of profitability, as in I don’t point out how much it cost to make the film versus how much it made. Instead, I kept it simple and only pointed out how much money the film made overall.
#1. Finding Nemo
How much it made: Many assume that Toy Story 3 was the first Pixar film to make over $1 billion worldwide, and they’re technically right. In 2003, Finding Nemo just barely came short of the billion mark with $936 million made worldwide. But when you adjust for inflation, the underwater animated film actually made $1.2 billion worldwide, easily surpassing the threequel.
Why? This is pretty impressive considering the fact that Finding Nemo had fewer advantages than more recent Pixar films. This was before foreign markets were becoming the brunt of Disney Pixar’s audience. In fact, I’d argue that it opened the floodgates to how well U.S. films can perform overseas.
Put simply, Finding Nemo benefitted from having extremely wide appeal. While movies about toys, superheroes, and balloon houses are fun concepts, many people of different ages found a reason to check out this film about a father finding his lost son in an endless ocean.
#2. Toy Story 3
How much it made: The possibly final entry in the Toy Story franchise is also its most successful. It was the first Pixar film to make $1 billion worldwide ($1.1 billion adjusted for inflation), and unlike Finding Nemo, its gap between money made domestically and foreign is much narrower.
Why? Waiting a decade to finish the franchise was a smart decision on Pixar’s part. Strong word-of-mouth, the return of the original cast, and an emotionally wrenching premise made this a can’t-miss film for the countless people who fell in love with Toy Story over the course of 15 years.
How much it made: It didn’t just collect Oscars. Up pulled in an impressive $731 million worldwide. Adjusted from 2009, that’s over $812 million.
Why? The film had broad international appeal thanks to its setting, and it came at a time when Pixar was hitting its stride with back-to-back hits. It also benefitted from a strong opening that had critics raving over the score and memorable characters. That, and this was also the first Pixar film to reap the benefits of 3D ticket prices.
#4. The Incredibles
How much it made: Following the success of Finding Nemo was an impossible task, so leave it to the superhero film to accomplish just that. The Incredibles made a whopping $631.million worldwide in 2004, which is actually $795.8 million by today’s standards.
Why? One of the main advantages of mashing up several genres like superheroes, family drama, comedy, animation, and spies is that you can generate a ton of interest in your movie. Families and young adults came out to this film in droves, and it didn’t hurt that audiences were still enamored with the success of Finding Nemo.
#5. Monsters University
How much it made: This 2013 prequel to Monsters Inc. narrowly surpassed its predecessor by raking in $743.5 million worldwide ($760 million adjusted for inflation). It’s important to note that it made the bulk of its money overseas, like many of the recent Pixar films.
Why? As a rule, sequels and even prequels tend to build upon existing audiences, no matter the downgrade in quality. Plus, the film was quite enjoyable and a step up from Pixar’s previous outings (Cars 2 and Brave).
#6. Monsters Inc.
How much it made: This is the Pixar film that showed critics just what the studio was capable of, as it was the first of the films to spike in profit. The 2001 film made an impressive $562.8 million worldwide ($756.4 adjusted), with an almost even split between domestic and foreign markets.
Why? This film came out after a 1-year hiatus for Pixar, and it had been three years since the studio had released a non-sequel. Thanks to Monsters Inc., the momentum for Pixar as it entered the 21st century was set early, and high.
How much it made: Only Pixar can make a film about a rat learning to cook in Paris a huge success with over $623 million made globally ($716.7 million adjusted).
Why? Foreign markets definitely carried this film, representing about 2/3 of the profits. Also, audiences who were displeased with Cars were happy to see a Pixar film with more traditional storytelling (even though it was anything but).
#8. Toy Story 2
How much it made: That’s right, one of Disney’s first forays into a sequel (they’re notorious for not doing big screen sequels at all) was a Pixar film. And it totally paid off. Toy Story 2 ran away with $485 million worldwide. These days, that’s nearly $700 million. Keep in mind that this was in 1999; a time when the box office competition was fierce.
Why? As we now know, the film was just as good if not better than the original, and that prompted millions of people who loved the first film to go see this one. And it helped that VHS sales build a lot of hype for this film four years after the original. The lesson, of course, is that there should be a lot of time in between sequels for the sake of direction and precision. Not many people have learned this lesson, sadly.
#9. Cars 2
How much it made: Pixar’s follow-up to the record-breaking Toy Story 3 was yet another sequel. And they suffered for it. Cars 2 brought in about $559 million worldwide, or $593 million adjusted for inflation. A little more than half of what Pixar made the previous year.
Why? Some are wondering why it made so much when it shouldn’t. Others may be wondering why it didn’t make as much. Both questions are answered by the fact that the film was both helped and hurt by its predecessor, Cars. Yes, it had plenty of interest from fans of the original, but the problem was that there weren’t that many fans anyway. But it still made good money, especially overseas. This was partly due to the various locales seen in the film and Disney’s expertise at managing foreign markets by 2011.
How much it made: This may surprise a lot of you, but WALL-E only brought in $521 million worldwide. Adjusted for this year, that’s only about $576.8 million.
Why? Oddly, this is celebrated as one of Pixar’s best films, both by audiences and critics. And yet it is one of the least successful. Sadly, this is mostly because the film came out during the onset of Great Recession, which badly hurt money made domestically. On top of that, many moviegoers were put off by the film’s lack of dialogue, especially in the early parts of the film.
#11. Toy Story
How much it made: The first of the Pixar films performed pretty well for a forerunner. It made $362 million worldwide, with most of that money being domestic. Nowadays, that translates to about $566 million, which is nothing to scoff at.
Why? Unlike its successors, Toy Story didn’t have the luxury of Pixar being a household name. It earned its success solely from being a good film and shattering expectations as the first computer-animated film ever. In fact, I’m more surprised that this isn’t lower on the list considering the risk that was put into making it. Toy Story truly is a miracle of film.
How much it made: Still hurting from the disappointment that was Cars 2, this 2012 film also disappointed with a meager $539 million worldwide total ($559 million adjusted). That’s still pretty good, though it is certainly low compared to the rest of the Pixar family.
Why? Entire research papers could be written about the mystery surrounding Brave‘s underwhelming premise. I’m not sure I fully understand why it fell short for me, personally. Whatever the reason, Brave just didn’t click or resonate with people as deeply as previous Pixar films, which made this an animated outing for only a certain group of moviegoers (kids and their parents looking for a getaway).
How much it made: Released in 2006, Cars didn’t really deliver for Pixar as much as they hoped with a decent $462 million worldwide ($546 million adjusted). Of course, it was still incredibly profitable for Pixar, seeing as it only cost $120 million to make.
Why? You know a film has problems when it falls so short after two massive hits like Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. It even had the benefit of coming along after a 1-year hiatus. Still, audiences weren’t impressed with the premise, and Cars ultimately suffered. Strangely, the sequel was still green-lit and made a bit more money years later.
#14. A Bug’s Life
How much it made: Pixar’s second film was great in its own right, even though that didn’t necessarily translate to box office sales. It made just $363 million worldwide, which is about $530.5 million adjusted for inflation. Interestingly, it made more money overseas than Toy Story did, and it was the first of the Pixar films to make most of its money in foreign markets.
Why? Put simply, the novelty of computer animation had worn off a bit. So A Bug’s Life had to rely on just being a good movie. That’s why it made as much as it did, but the basic fact is that a film about toys coming to life was more appealing than a film about bugs fighting grasshoppers.
One of the most interesting things about this list is that even the lowest entry of Pixar’s films is a box office success that stands up to most of the films that are coming out today. That means in 14 films over the course of 19 years, Pixar hasn’t had a single flop. No other studio in history can compare to that kind of consistent success.
In the years to come, we’ll see if Pixar can maintain the status quo or make another huge leap forward. Inside Out premieres next summer, and it could prove to be the next Monsters Inc. in terms of reviving the studio’s creative fortunes. And with new sequels like Finding Dory and The Incredibles 2 on the horizon, along with some other originals like The Good Dinosaur, Pixar may be poised for its first renaissance.
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