From Toy Story to Finding Dory, which Pixar movies found the most financial success with audiences?
A few years ago, I did a ranking just like this in the year leading up to Inside Out. It was simple: I took the worldwide box office returns for each Pixar movie and adjusted for inflation, though I measured the numbers according current rates of inflation (2014 at the time). A faulty metric, now that I take a second look.
Honestly, it’s hard to rank these movies on the same playing field, because so many circumstances determined their profits. 3D ticket sales and a widening international market make it harder to define which Pixar movies were more “successful” than others based on their own terms and fair context.
So this time, I’m only looking at two factors: domestic box office and a rate of inflation with 1995, the year that Toy Story came out. So all of the numbers you’re about to see bolded are NOT the actual numbers you’ll find online, but rather they’ve been modified to match what they were worth 22 years ago. For obvious reasons, I’ve left out Cars 3 for now (though you can watch my video review now to find out what I think).
Let’s start at the bottom of the list this time with…
#17 The Good Dinosaur – $77 million
Wow. Going into this list, I expected The Good Dinosaur to at least be in the same zone as the other Pixar movies, but adjusted for inflation, this 2015 movie made only a little more than half of the next film on this list. Worse, there are seven Pixar movies total that made more box office domestically than Good Dinosaur did internationally, only eking out $208 million overall.
#16 Cars 2 – $130 million
Even internationally, Cars 2 wasn’t very impressive at all, earning only about $382 million overall in 2011, which is still in the bottom tier of this list. But thanks to 3D and merchandising, Pixar got their money’s worth with this unfortunate sequel, often hailed the worst of the Pixar films. We’ll see soon how Cars 3 does in response.
#15 A Bug’s Life – $150.3 million
In my 2014 list, A Bug’s Life was actually at the bottom of this ranking, which leads me to believe this new system is a fairer way to evaluate these numbers (Cars 2 was actually a lot farther up, for example). Releasing in 1998, A Bug’s Life wasn’t much of an international hit with $335.4 million overall, but it’s telling that the next closest film is Good Dinosaur with $120 million less than that so many years later and in more markets.
#14 Ratatouille – $151.7 million
It may not be underrated, but I think we can safely say that Ratatouille was vastly under-watched in its time, just barely making more than A Bug’s Life did almost a decade earlier. That said, its international run was vastly more impressive with a full $456.3 million, which is why it was #7 on my 2014 list. And most would agree that it’s the best film in the bottom tier of this list.
#13 Brave – $156.3 million
Though it’s one of the lowest performers internationally with $356 million overall, Brave was clearly neck and neck with these other films in the bottom tier based on its domestic run. Was it the Disney princess tradition in America that brought audiences out? Was it the fantasy premise? Personally, I credit more to the fact that audiences were unprepared for a new half-decade ushered in by Cars 2.
#12 WALL-E – $160 million
Unfortunately, WALL-E fares slightly worse here than it did in my 2014 list, though not by much. Its worldwide return of $381 million would bump it up the rankings a little bit more, but the message is clear. While it wasn’t a huge commercial success, it’s still one of Pixar’s most beloved films, especially during the years when all was thought lost after Disney bought Pixar.
#11 Monsters University – $173.2 million
This is one of the starkest differences between this list and the 2014 one, because Monsters University was such a hit internationally ($480.2 million total), it managed to crack the Top 5. Here, it doesn’t make the top 10, though it does sit somewhat comfortably between #10 and #12. Releasing in 2013, Monsters University didn’t exactly take the world by storm, but it was an enjoyable, occasionally poignant college film that held its own and then some.
#10 Cars – $185 million
Scratch that, Cars might just be the biggest change on this list, helped significantly by the strange fact that its domestic run in 2006 was far better than its international run ($350.8 million total) compared to the rest of the Pixar films. It’s almost exactly switched with Cars 2 in the 2014 list, though it’s at least consistent in the sense that it clearly didn’t resonate with international audiences, while delivering something satisfying for Americans, though that may have more to do with the lack of Pixar movies in 2005 following a legendary run from Toy Story 2 to The Incredibles.
#9 Toy Story – $191.8 million
Another big change is Toy Story’s place on this list, moving from near the bottom to the bottom of the middle tier. Not bad, especially considering only a modest worldwide take of $373.5 million. Plenty of credit should be given to Pixar’s first film, of course, for pioneering the art form and establishing the brand that other movies would benefit more from. That said, Toy Story did have the weight of the Disney Renaissance guiding its box office, and it shows.
#8 Up – $201.7 million
Internationally, Up was definitely a much bigger hit with $506 million overall, so it surprised me to see its domestic returns so low, though it should be noted that it outperformed the previous three Pixar films: Cars, Ratatouille, and WALL-E by a hefty margin. Up isn’t exactly the first Pixar movie you think of when you consider Pixar’s most successful movies, but I’d argue it is one of the first Pixar movies you think of, period.
#7 The Incredibles – $210.6 million
Both domestically and internationally, The Incredibles is only slightly higher than Up, and it suffers the same fate of being pushed down the list without the strength of that $510 million. Like Up, it was in the Top 5 before, but now it has to settle for the middle ground, despite being one of Pixar’s highest rated films (and arguably its best film, period).
#6 Inside Out – $223 million
I had higher hopes for Inside Out, suspecting a spot closer to #3 or at least the Top 5. Still, it was a juggernaut for Pixar in 2015 right when they needed it, and internationally, it does take the #4 spot with $536.7 million. Its success also leads me to believe that the disastrous response to The Good Dinosaur had as much to do with timing (it was also released in 2015 and shortly before Star Wars: The Force Awakens) than it did the quality of the film. Several Pixar films have been released in November, but it’s safe to say that the biggest earners have all been summer releases.
#5 Toy Story 2 – $223.5 million
The Top 5 kicks off with just a slight edge given to Toy Story 2 over Inside Out, though its international run is noticeably much lower with a middling $452.2 million overall. Still, that’s quite good for 1999, and we are dealing with Pixar’s first few films, shortly before the studio would go on to cement its reputation. Many also argue that this is either the best Toy Story film or the second best, so making the Top 5 sounds about right.
#4 Monsters Inc. – $249.5 million
In the 2014 list, Monsters Inc. barely got left out of the Top 5, so it’s clear this one was a bigger winner with American audiences, even for 2001. Its overall $497 million take was definitely impressive for 2001, same as Toy Story 2, but it’s also interesting to note how far away this one is from Monsters University domestically, despite the two films being neck and neck internationally.
#3 Toy Story 3 – $286.6 million
That’s right, Toy Story 3 has been unseated from the #2 spot internationally (which it still holds with $736.8 million). Toy Story 3 had a lot of legs with audiences here in the US, and its numbers signify just how far the international market grew from 1999 to 2010, especially in the aftermath of Avatar’s record-breaking run that same year thanks to the rise of 3D.
#2 Finding Dory – $304 million
No surprise here. Finding Dory obliterated the domestic box office last summer and did pretty well overseas, too, with $643 million overall. This definitely proves the staying power of the Finding Nemo franchise, which with two films has proven to be Pixar’s preeminent property, or at least neck and neck with Toy Story and Cars if counting merchandise.
#1 Finding Nemo – $313.8 million
At this point, I truly wonder what it will take for Pixar to top Finding Nemo. Will there ever be another original Pixar film that outdoes this one both domestically and internationally? To be fair, Finding Dory came darn close, and Toy Story 3 is within spitting distance of Nemo‘s $775 million (while not all that close at all, really, especially for a 2003 movie). Until that next lightning in a bottle comes, I think it’s safe to say this #1 spot is well guarded.
Discounting international box office certainly puts the financial success of many of these movies in a dramatically different light. Films like Cars and Toy Story were obviously bigger hits in the US, and of course, the studios get a nicer cut of the profits from domestic returns than they do international. But in a filmmaking environment where more studios are counting on cumulative success internationally to become less reliant on those pesky domestic runs, I do wonder if Pixar will unlearn its lesson from Finding Dory. Only time will tell as we see Coco this November and Incredibles 2 in 2018.