Animated films have come a long way from the hand-drawn slideshows of the early 1900s. Nowadays, we’re blessed with 3D worlds filled fictional characters capturing every nuance of human expression and emotion. As a result, these movies have become a multi-billion dollar venture, proven by the earnings of the highest-grossing animated films.
Another reason that ensured animated films inevitably become financial juggernauts is how they’re usually made for people of all ages, from the most weary adults to the most innocent children. Hence, their timelessness and charm have proven to be hits for a wide audience, and the following highest-grossing animated films are at the forefront of this genre—regardless of critical reception.
Finding Dory (2016)
As the sequel to Finding Nemo, Finding Dory had a big fishbowl to fill, but once again, Pixar Studios has managed to hit a home run with this one. Finding Dory earned a little over $1 billion USD in revenue worldwide.
The movie explores the origin story and biological family of the titular secondary protagonist in the first film.
Apart from that, it was a rather important milestone for animated films since Finding Dory is one of the first few movies in Hollywood featuring a person with a disability as its protagonist.
Despicable Me 3 (2017)
We’d be lying if we claimed that people watched this for Gru and his rag-tag trio of adopted daughters. It’s the minions who are the real stars of the show in Despicable Me 3 and practically all Despicable Me movies.
Those yellow bacteria creatures bring more money and film solidarity than the average MCU movie. Despicable Me 3 grossed $1.034 billion USD worldwide.
On the off-chance you’re more interested in Gru’s misadventures, the film follows the retired supervillain dad’s exploits in finding his lost-lost twin brother. But his past life keeps catching up to him, and new villains arise to challenge Gru’s peace and family—also, minions.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
Toy Story 3 is more than just a belated sequel for a lot of millennials who were raised by Pixar. It’s also a sendoff and a coming-of-age story for people who must now move on to the next chapter of their lives, letting go of old hobbies and leaving their comfort zones.
Old faces, along with new villains and our favorite lovable sentient toys in Toy Story 3, propelled the film to a $1.066 billion USD worldwide success.
As we stated earlier, Toy Story 3 is about Andy, the owner of most of the protagonist toys in the film, growing up and getting ready for college, practically uprooting the very existence of Woody and his friends. Woody and his friends must now find new purpose and footing in an unfamiliar world.
Toy Story 4 (2019)
With the nostalgic success of Toy Story 3, naturally, the House of Mouse grew bolder with another sequel. This time around, it’s the final send-off to the send-off, maybe. Toy Story 4.
It grossed at around $1.073 billion USD and featured Woody, Buzz, and friends as they traverse their new life as Bonnie’s toys. The plot is lighter for the fourth film, but the main theme still explores the usual Toy Story affair of existential crisis and the beauty of imperfection.
Toy Story 4 also solidifies the franchise’s future direction; some rather important decisions were made by the end of the film, and this may or may not be reversible in case Disney or Pixar decides once again to create a belated sequel a decade later.
As expected, here’s a movie dedicated to the minions of Despicable Me. Unsurprisingly, Minions actually earned more than just about any Despicable Movie, though its $1.159 billion USD earning is not that far off compared to Despicable Me 3.
Regardless, Minions is naturally an origin story for Gru’s most lovable “evil” henchmen and how they came under service to the villain. The film features a younger Gru and, of course, the most notable minions (even though they all look alike).
Incredibles 2 (2018)
The emerging pattern for Pixar films and animated films, in general, is that the belated sequels often make more money than the original. Here’s yet another case with the Incredibles 2, which grossed around $1.24 billion USD.
It’s an unexpected superhero movie whose stakes were less grand or dire compared to the first Incredibles film. Nevertheless, it had the heart and the hilarious superhero family dynamics.
For this sequel, the film places focus on Elastigirl after a media company reaches out to her for a partnership to put superheroes into the spotlight once more. But underneath that plot is a more sinister scheme and an intriguing new villain.
Frozen was a loose adaptation of the Danish Snow Queen fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. Hence, Frozen is a film whose target is mostly the younger demographic of filmgoers, particularly girls, since it’s also a bonafide Disney musical.
Grossing in at nearly $1.3 billion USD, Frozen tells the tale of sisters Elsa and Anna. Elsa was both blessed and cursed with the power to control snow and ice and has doomed her kingdom to be trapped in a perpetual winter. It’s up to Anna and her unlikely allies to break the spell and rekindle her relationship with her sister to prove that her coldness never bothered her anyway.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)
The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) is also a video game movie, and based on history, a lot of movie and video game fans expected this one to flop like most other video game movies. But it’s-a surprise-a, The Super Mario Bros. Movie make-a the big bucks!
All in all, it earned $1.36 billion USD, which is a commercial success that Nintendo won’t scoff at. Now, a sequel is presumably on the way.
There were a few alterations to the storyline and the franchise universe since Mario practically got transported to another world where he obtained superpowers by consuming mushrooms. But there’s no denying that it’s-a him in all his Italian mustache glory.
Frozen 2 (2019)
See? Animated films and their sequels make more money compared to the originals.
Frozen 2 made $1.45 billion USD, which is considerably more compared to the first film. The sequel focuses more on Elsa, who is now on good terms with her sister, Anna.
Elsa decided to set out on an adventure across the horizon and beyond her kingdom after hearing a mysterious voice call (which could have been an email instead). This journey becomes a bid for self-discovery after struggling to find her identity and sense of belonging in the kingdom which she almost destroyed (gee, I wonder why).
The Lion King (2019)
It might have been critically panned, but the animated and semi-realistic The Lion King remake of 2019 was a huge hit. The Lion King (2019) is now the current highest-grossing animated film.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past three decades, The Lion King is about a succession drama for a pride of lions after a vicious outcast lion named Scar killed his brother Mufasa and left his nephew, Simba, for dead in order to be “king.”
But nature had other plans for Simba, and after a period of escapism and growth, he must then return to his old kingdom and rescue his pride from Scar’s paws. It’s the story we all know and loved from the 1990s, now in an HD faux-BBC documentary style.