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)

  • William Jardine  

    I am a huge fan of all things Pixar and have seen every film several times - with my favourites being Toy Story and Toy Story 2 - whilst Pixar almost always garners more impressive critical acclaim (and individual gross), Dreamworks is not to be discounted as an animation company, they make films that truly are fun for the whole family. However, Pixar films have an innocence and sheer brilliance about them, that, to me, seems absent in Dreamworks more rushed, usually twice annually features. While I am a huge advocate of the Shrek franchise (the third excluded), there are several Dreamworks films that are hard for me to watch, as rife with ribald humour (aimed at parents) as they try to be. Despite their commercial success I believe, that due to the critical acclaim that Pixar, unlike Dreamworks, always recieve, Dreamworks is an inferior company and Pixar is the greatest, not only animated, but in my opinion the greatest of any kind, film company of all time.

  • Dr Theopolis  

    @Dee: 'Iron Giant' was released by Warner Bros. and was traditional cell animation – not CG. Irrelevant on two counts for the purposes of this article!

  • Jordan Rath  

    This is why I come to Metacritic, these types of comparison pages are so interesting. Great job! Between the two, Pixar is FAR superior in almost every way. Whenever a Pixar movie comes out, its an event really; something that you have to go see. Not so fro Dreamworks movies.

  • koblenza  

    just comparing the two in the title of this article is a huge insult to pixar.

  • Keegan King  

    @Wit: Are you kidding? Toy Story 3 is going to end up higher than 90 on metacritic, and probably obtain between 96-100% fresh reviews on rottentomatoes. Pixar has won for what, the last 4 years? Toy Story 3 will win for sure.

  • Rebecca Cormaye  

    'Pixar vs. Dreamworks Animation'?!! really?!!


    it's like pitting PAUL CÉZANNE to ( a VERY popular 'DA User' here ).

  • Dave  

    You might equally compare Rolex and the makers of the fake Lolex... Dreamworks are a poor imitation, while Pixar are real artists.

    Just watch the first ten minutes of Up, and then go try and find anything even slightly comparable in the vastly inferior Dreamworks repetoire.

    And you do seem to be taking Toy Story out of context, given that it was the first major CGI-only release, and many people believed at the time that CGI meant kids-only.

    Granted, Dreamworks do seem to be catching on slowly (Kung Fu Panda was entertaining and I look forward to Dragon, but it seems this only reflects their getting better at imitation, while still lacking the pure innovation and creativity of Pixar.

    But then, Pixar was created to be the best. Dreamworks was created to make money through imitation.

  • lucas  

    hayao miyazaki and studio ghibli are the best. Spirited Away is one of my favorite movies of all time. they are near perfect, but Hayao just seems to have problems ending all his movies (except spirited away) but ya awesome!

  • Jaives  

    funny thing about all this is when kids get surveyed, they actually don't have any preference. they like films from both companies. Pixar just makes more of an effort for the story to be liked by adults too.

  • Carlos  

    Ratatouille is my favorite movie ever. I watch it once every month. It is so exquisite that it leaves me wondering wheter someday a movie will make me feel the same way.

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