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)

  • Daan  

    from 1995 to 2007, pixar was the powerhouse overall, with nearly all perfect movies, while Dreamworks were more video movies , with the expeption of the first 2 shreks. But in 2008 is when it balanced, with Kung Fu panda i believe much better than Wall-E. 2009 was definetly Pixar with UP over Monster vs Aliens. And 2010 was a toss up between Toy Story 3 and How to Train your Dragon (both being some of the best films for both companies). 2011 will be a good one with kung fu panda 2 and cars 2, Puss in boots i believe will be just another film to see

  • Jim  

    I think that there is sometimes a difference between good (contains what the critics look for, ie character development, ingenious plot twists) and entertaining (provides a good time). Wall-e is one of the most overrated movies of all time (TIME Magazine named it the best movie of the decade?) Kung Fu Panda wasn't as good as Wall-e but it was more entertaining. Up was okay but it was a little boring. Pixar makes good movies while Dreamworks makes entertaining movies. Antz was definitely more fun to watch than A Bug's Life. And also, despite the fact that Toy Story 3 made over a billion dollars and the Shrek series has 4 movies, the Shrek series has a higher average than the Toy Story series. Of course Pixar made some of my favorite movies (like Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc.) but so did Dreamworks (How to Train Your Dragon, Antz, Shrek/2, Megamind). So I will disdainfully say that Pixar is the better studio overall but it's really about the individual movies. Still how can people say Pixar is better than Disney (Snow White, Little Mermaid, Lion King, Aladdin)? Of course, that's a whole nother argument.

  • Oscarspaz  

    I think Pixar focuses on excellent story telling thru' CGI medium. Their stories always touches upon deep human experiences like father-son relationship(nemo), tensions or connections between generations(Cars, Up), perspective on life reflected through the subject of cooking(Ratatouille), friendships(Toy Story), family(incrediables), etc. These subject matter are timeless. Paxir's movie grows on you.

    On the other hand the tone of Dreamwork movies are cynical. It seems that the story itself is not very important. The focus is on creating CGI scenes within the story line to solicit laughter by ridiculing(or exaggerating)the characters' narcissistic behavior. They are forgettable.

    Both companies' productions are entertaining but Pixar's will last a long time. I can see myself watching Pixar's movie with my grand kids when I get old. Can't picture that with most of Dreakworks' movie.

  • lucy  

    So we shouldn't find touching and meaningful stories in animation either? I hate the notion that animated movies are just for children-therefore entertaining but without much substance. It should be for adults/ all audiences in general.

  • Chuck  

    I think it's said that when people go to see cartoons they want to see a touching and emotional wreck. What's that about? When I go see cartoons, I look for laughs, adventure, out-of-this-world ideas etc. DW provides that while pixar just goes over the top. Over the top being the fact that someone always dies or nearly dies in an awful way (Up, Toy Story 3, Incredibles, Wall-E) They blow there message up so everyone can see but wind up scaring kids (Toy Story, Incredibles, Wall-E, Up) and there movies are just so dramatic and it urks me to see people look for that in animation. I mean, I think animation should be the one place we look to to find happiness and joy and hilarity. While pixar just reminds me of all the drama of real life. I hate it and lots of litle kids don't like to say it but they do to. DW rules.

  • someone  

    How to Train Your Dragon, Shrek and Kung Fu Panda aside, all Dreamworks releases have been unbearable for me. These 3 stand ad great movies, but they are all that the studio has come forward with so far.

    Pixar on the other hand...! Every single film is engrosing, captivating and an emotional ride! Even Cars (their weakest film, a Dr. Hollywood ripoff) demands multiple viewings.

  • Chris G  

    Dreamworks success is definetly do to their ability to create movies kids like. If I was 8 I might indeed like Madagascar more than Ratatouille, but I'm an adult, and Pixar makes far smarter, more original, funnier, and better written movies for adults. Outside Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon I don't think many Dreamworks movies will be much remembered in 10 years time, but I think 50 years from now a new generation of movie lovers will be in awe of the likes of Wall-E, Ratatouille, Toy Story, and The Incredibles.

  • PixelPixie86  

    Pixar is Lightyears (lol! Bad pun!) ahead of Dreamworks (with the exception of How to Train Your Dragon, which is just as great as a Pixar movie). While Pixar has never made a bad movie, Dreamworks has made a few bad ones (Shark Tale and Bee Movie are the best examples of sucky Dreamworks movies), and Pixar's movies are much more touching and memorable. WALL-E is Pixar's best, IMO, and it's my favorite movie of all time! (Too bad it's insanely underrated like Up; Cars; A Bug's Life; Ratatouille; The Incredibles; and Monsters, Inc.)

  • Reza Farsad  

    i love most of the pixar movies,,,as an animator myself,the technical things goings in pixar movies are always amazing,,but i found its movies,speciay after cars,not that good.the first thng i like to see in an animation movie,is to make me laugh,this is what pixar moviescan do these days,cars,ratatoe,UP and walle werent as much funny as i expected,but more dramatic,on the other side,dream works movies are always in lower CG qualty than pixars,but much more funny,which makes them more watchable for me,apart from that,shrek,over the hedge,kangfu panda and how to train your dragon had very very good stories too,nowdays i'm more intrested to watch a funny enjoyable movie from dreamworks than pixar....although toy story 3 was amazing in every aspect

  • PIXAR fan king  

    I'd have to say PIXAR is the king of animation in general. They are the present day Disney. Dreamworks is cool but yeah it is inferior. I love PIXAR so much. Nearly all of their movies are among my favourites of all time. Up, the whole Toy Story trilogy, Wall-E, Ratatouille, the Incredibles, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, and you get the picture.

    Dreamworks has Shrek and of course Wallace and Gromit. Who doesn't love Wallace and Gromit? They're the best claymation couple ever seen on the big screen. There's also How to Train Your Dragon and that's near perfect. Kung Fu Panda was also a bit of a surprise too. An unexpected gem. Antz is also a child hood memory of mine but not as big as Toy Story. That is my best childhood memory ever.

    There is however the bad side of both studios. For one thing Cars was a passable film but still a huge disappointment for me. Bugs Life was good but really wasn't a PIXAR masterpiece. However, I could go on about the crap at Dreamworks. Monsters vs Aliens was a 2.5/10 experience that was recycled humour to the max. Shark Tale was like a movie made in a toilet cubicle. And let's not even forget for a second Shrek the Third 2.5/10. Man that was a bad one. Bee movie was also very forgettable and I don't remeber the movie that well. Yeah it was bad. 3/10. Megamind also looks horrible. A superhero movie that also looks like it has the production value of a Hollywood ganitor.

    Overall, PIXAR has the upper hand for quality like that of a European chef with their dinner, and Dreamworks tries hard, sometimes succeed but not all the time. Woody and Buzz Lightyear are my childhood heroes. Sorry Shrek you just don't get up there. I still like you though.

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