Pixar vs. DreamWorks Animation: Comparing the CGI Giants

  • Publish Date: June 16, 2010
  • Comments: ↓ 80 user comments

Is Pixar really the best computer animation studio?

Best-Reviewed Computer-Animated Movies of All Time
1 Ratatouille 96
  Pixar, 2007  
2 WALL-E 94
  Pixar, 2008  
3 Toy Story 92
  Pixar, 1995  
4 The Incredibles 90
  Pixar, 2004  
5 Finding Nemo 89
  Pixar, 2003  

Pixar's 11th feature film, Toy Story 3, arrives in theaters on Friday, hoping to continue one of the more amazing streaks in movie history. The new film -- which returns stars Tom Hanks and Tim Allen in a story set over a decade after 1999's previous installment -- is the second sequel to Pixar's debut, 1995's Toy Story. That movie, and all subsequent releases, have been critical hits, with not a single dud among them. In fact, most of the films have earned glowing reviews, and five of them collected Academy Awards in the best animated feature category. Even more incredibly, every one of Pixar's 10 releases has been a box office smash, averaging over $550 million in worldwide grosses per film. Add in merchandising and home video revenues, and it's enough almost to make you forget that one-time Pixar owner Steve Jobs has another company.

But the Disney-owned Pixar is not the only game in town when it comes to computer-animated feature films. While animation houses such as Blue Sky Studios (part of Fox) and Sony Pictures Animation have made a mark in recent years (at least at the box office; reviewers have been less excited about their films), Pixar's largest competitor by far is DreamWorks Animation, which entered the scene with 1998's Antz and hit box office gold with 2001's Shrek. In fact, DreamWorks is now the all-time box office champion when it comes to CGI features, collecting over $6.4 billion in worldwide grosses.

How does DreamWorks Animation compare to Pixar? Beginning in 2004, DreamWorks has produced two computer-animated films for every one Pixar release. But, as you can see from the head-to-head comparison below, Pixar's less-ambitious release schedule seems to have paid dividends both in terms of quality and per-film box office performance, with Pixar dominating nearly every category.

DreamWorks Animation *   Pixar
Basic stats:
1998   First Release   1995
14 left CGI Films Released   10
4   Oscar Nominations
(Best Animated Feature)
right 7
Quality measures:
65   Average Metascore right 87
7.2   Average User Score right 8.5
7%   Great Films (81 or higher) right 70%
57%   Good Films (61 or higher) right 100%
43%   So-So Films (40 - 60) right 0%
0%   Poor Films (39 or lower)   0%
Shrek 84 (2001)   Best-Reviewed Movie right Ratatouille 96 (2007)
Shark Tale 48 (2004)   Worst-Reviewed Movie right Cars 73 (2006)
Worldwide box office performance (in millions):
$6,451.8 left All-Time Cumulative Grosses   $5,573.4
$460.8   Average Gross Per Film right $557.3
36%   % of Films Grossing > $500 mil right 60%
Shrek 2 (2004), $919.8 left Highest-Grossing Film   Finding Nemo (2003), $867.9
Antz (1998), $171.8   Lowest-Grossing Film right Toy Story (1995), $362.0

* Computer-animated films only. DreamWorks Animation also released several traditionally-animated and stop-motion films, but they are not included in this report.

Film by film comparison

Here's another look at each studio's releases to date. The graph below plots each movie's Metascore and domestic box office performance (all grosses below are adjusted for inflation, to allow for a better comparison between films). Interestingly, audiences seem to be responding (at least in part) to the quality of these films; the higher-grossing releases tend to be the ones with better reviews.

Box Office Performance vs. Metascore

Here are each of the films plotted in the chart above (Pixar films are in the shaded rows):

All Pixar and DreamWorks Animation Releases
Year Title Metascore Users Inflation-Adjusted Domestic Gross
1995Toy Story928.9 $348.8Mbar
1998Antz 727.8153.6bar
1998A Bug's Life778.6271.4bar
1999Toy Story 2888.7380.3bar
2001Shrek 848.6376.0bar
2001Monsters, Inc.788.7358.5bar
2003Finding Nemo898.6447.9bar
2004Shrek 2 757.9564.9bar
2004Shark Tale 485.3205.9bar
2004The Incredibles908.7334.1bar
2005Madagascar 576.2240.1bar
2006Over the Hedge 678.2188.2bar
2006Flushed Away 746.978.3bar
2007Shrek the Third 585.6372.9bar
2007Bee Movie 54 5.0146.2bar
2008Kung Fu Panda 737.9238.5bar
2008Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa 617.3199.3bar
2009Monsters vs. Aliens 566.8211.4bar
2010 How to Train Your Dragon * 749.2214.5bar
2010 Shrek Forever After * 587.4211.9bar
2010 Toy Story 3  

* Two DreamWorks releases (How to Train Your Dragon and Shrek Forever After) are still in theaters.
Box office figures are accurate through June 15, 2010. Source: Boxofficemojo.com

An animated discussion

What is your favorite Pixar movie? Do you prefer DreamWorks movies instead? Have you liked any of the recent films produced by some of the other computer animation houses? Let us know in the comments section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (80)

  • Wit  

    Yeah, as far as quality goes, Pixar > Dreamworks, but I'd say they each have a different model for success. Pixar makes roughly one, typically highly-praised film a year. Dreamworks puts out a slew of films that aren't typically as good but are cheap and easy to watch. I think Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon are steps in the right direction. I wouldn't be surprised to see Dragon beat out Toy Story 3 for best animated picture at the Oscars this year.

  • Corina Mackay  

    I really love Pixar movies, so I'm glad they take longer to release them than Dreamworks, to ensure a high standard of quality. My favourite is Wall-e, and I'm surprised that Ratatouille has a higher metascore!

    The Dreamworks pictures have some great stories though. I especially love the Shrek and Madagascar films.

    I don't understand why Pixar isn't making a sequel to Finding Nemo though, if it's their highest grossest film ever!

  • Henri Mertens  

    In terms of quality it's not even close, Pixar is far superior. They don't rely on famous voices and pop culture gags like Dreamworks does, they care more about the story. But Dreamworks movies are still alot of fun, just not as imaginitive and clever.

  • a  

    Pixar rules! Dreamworks is pretty cool, too, but overall inferior to dreamworks. The best animated film, though, is Kung Fu Panda.

  • Garrett  

    @Corina, Pixar is not making a sequel to Finding Nemo because the story was perfectly wrapped up in one film and it doesn't need a sequel. There is nothing left for them to explore in that universe. I'm thankful that Pixar hasn't just gone for money and made sequels to everything that has been successful, though the fact that 3 of the next 4 Pixar releases will be sequels is a little troubling.

  • Robert  

    Pixar is far, far superior. I think their biggest competitor and friend is by far Studio Ghibli in terms of quality. Though, Ghibli never does 3D animation. It's still a competitor IMO just because they're both animation studios.

    Ghibli ftw!

  • Sara  

    While I think that Pixar has a cleaner (and more impressive) track record than Dreamworks, I've been really impressed lately with the stuff Dreamworks has been producing. "How to Train your Dragon" was a fantastic movie. I was thoroughly impressed by it, and "Shrek Forever After" wasn't bad, either.

  • dkash  

    i love pixar movies, but when cars 2 is on the horizon, i'm thinking they jumped the shark with "Up". Toy Story 3 could be awesome, but it won't "new". then "newt" comes out next year followed up by cars 2. not really inspiring. ts3 and cars2 should be dvd releases.

  • Justin  

    Pixar is far superior. Dreamworks has some okay stuff, but nothing compared to Pixar's gold.
    Oh, and why does the Dreamworks picture link to Iron man? The Pixar picture links to Iron Man 2. Funny.

  • Dee  

    I'm really not a fan of Dreamworks movies. Iron Giant and Shrek were great movies but the rest of their movies feel like they were made for Kids only. There's just something amazing about Pixar movies. There's great comedic timing with the humor and the depth of their movies is second to none.

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