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)

  • Chris  

    I am so sorry, my brother did that.

  • Chris  


  • Chris  

    @Justin S. Nice try, but Rattatouille is about food and food critics, not art and art critics. By the way, it is a great movie, perhaps the best (next to Monsters, Inc., of course).

  • Chris  

    I love Pixar more than DreamWorks. That's that. It's because all Pixar films follow a tried and true formula, for the most part. There is a protagonist. He is in a group. Something happens, and he gets separated from the group, or the group leaves him. He finds a friend in something else, and also has an adventure. He then either leaves the group for good, or comes to love the group again, or the group loves him again. Then, there are bloopers. Funny ones.

  • Justin S.  

    Random musings on this interesting article.

    1) "Ratatouille" - a fine but not exemplary Pixar film- is critically overrated for obvious reasons. The film is about art and art critics. Critics responded more than audiences to the message- either because a) it actually moved them b) they feared that critiquing a film about art critics might seem especially tin-eared. It is a good film- but inferior to Pixar's best films ("The Incredibles" and the "Toy Story" trilogy...) 2) Dreamworks has produced two GREAT films. "How To Train Your Dragon" and "Kung Fu Panda". Both depart from studio formula (typified by "Shrek" of tons of pop-culture jokes, fart jokes, and other low-brow or time-stamped elements that shorten their future relevance / shelf life. Both deserve to be spoken of in the same respectful tone of any good Pixar film.

    3) "Wall-E" and especially "Up" are over-rated films that unfortunately turn into Dreamworks films in their third acts. Especially "UP"- with it's ludicrous and grating "talking" dogs- but also "Wall-E", by reducing all of humanity to fat, ignorant, indistinguishable buffoons. 4) "Toy Story III" is a return to form. I saw a sneak peak Monday and came out of the theater completely surprised and moved by a film I expected to be inferior to its predecessors. That it is the equal of the first two, perfect films- and actually manages to end the trilogy with such a heartbreakingly poignant conclusion truly shocked me and represents something of a miracle in the history of film. It will be a massive box office success- even by Pixar standards. And parents will love it as much or more than their children- maybe even dragging them to repeated viewings. That is all.

  • carlos martinez  

    Pixar wins simply by having a whole lot more quality than their colleagues at Dreamworks. Spielberg maybe a great brand, but heart trumps gimmicks (and it doesn't hurt to have great tech, though).

  • Somajan  

    I Love Pixar movies, they always seem to hit the right combination of writing and voice actors who breathe life into the amazing animation.

    Another feat that I think very few people know about, is that Pixar does not use any motion capture for any of their films. It's pure animation. Ratatouille still stands as my favorite.

  • someone  

    This isn't even a tough call. Nothing against Dreamworks but I'm just calling it how I see it.

  • Ned B  

    i don't konw why everybody seems to be saying something along the lines of 'pixar are better, but dreamworks are more succesful', considering that pixar have a much higher average gross for movies...

  • Hunter Lewis  

    Interesting to note that a dreamworks film has the highest recorded user score with How to Train your Dragon's 9.2

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