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16 days til Oscar. Ranking the 16 Animated Feature Winners

by Nathaniel R

which movies willed this category into existence?

With just 16 days to go until Coco wins Pixar its 9th Academy Award for Best Animated Feature let's look back over the first 16 years of the category. (Yes, that's right math geniuses, Pixar has won a full 50% of the animated Oscars thus far.)

The History, Chronologically

1988-2000 The category didn't exist until 2001 but it wasn't just created on a whim. The previous dozen years which included the renaissance of Disney, the sizeable popularity influence and beauty of what was happening in Japanese animation, the explosion of new animation studios all over the map, and the rise of Pixar in particular, all led us to the inevitable: an Oscar category for animated features...

2001 Shrek took the first animated Oscar with Monsters Inc in (probably distant) second place. This seems insane now as Monsters Inc has aged so beautifully but the world went abso-bonkers for Shrek in its year and some thought it might actually snag a Best Picture nomination. Thankfully it did not. The other nominee that year was Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.

The rules haven't changed much over the years and 16 films have to be eligible to trigger a five wide and opposed to three nominee category. For the first 10 years the category jumped back and forth between 3 and 5 but now it's clear that it will be 5 nominees each year. If you think about it 16 is ludicrously low to trigger 5 nominees. You have a ridiculously high percentage chance of being nominated if you even exist! Imagine if that same percentage applied to Best Picture. We'd have like 90 Best Picture nominees a year. 

2002 Spirited Away by animation legend Hayao Miyazaki becomes the first and only foreign language winner of the category (though it was also released in a dubbed version). It was the first year with five nominees which probably helped it to win with the other films, all American mainstream pictures, struggling to feel anything like distinctive with that great Miyazaki picture in their midst. The runner up was surely Disney's Lilo & Stitch  and the other nominees were Ice Age, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and Treasure Planet. 

2003 Finding Nemo becomes Pixar's first winner. It's funny that the category which was, in part, prompted by their elevation of the game for animated films took them three years to win! The other nominees were the semi-forgotten Brother Bear and Sylvain Chomet's delicious oddity Triplets of Belleville. 

2004 The Incredibles wins and surely by a huge margin over Shrek 2 and, it pains me to type this, Shark Tale.

2005 Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbitfrom the UK's wonderful Nick Park, wins. It's one of the very few non-American winners. Its competitors were also super: Howl's Moving Castle and Corpse Bride. This year of the category is notable for being the only year in which a a mainstream CGI picture was not nominated. We had two stop motion efforts and one hand drawn nominee. 

2006 Happy Feet takes it in one of the category's most competitive years with the underappreciated Monster House and the box office smash Cars as its competition.

2007 Ratatouille wins, starting a big run of Pixar champs. The unique foreign entry Persepolis and, uh, Surf's Up were the other nominees.

2008 WALL•E, which obviously should have been nominated for Best Picture, takes the prize with Kung Fu Panda as its chief competition. Disney's Bolt was also nominated. 

2009 Up, which is also nominated for Best Picture, gives the Oscar to Pixar again in what is surely one of the the finest quality years for this annual shortlist. The other nominees were Coraline, Fantastic Mr Fox, The Secret of Kells, and The Princess and the Frog.

2010 Toy Story 3 finishes Pixar's four consecutive year run as champ of the category. This was also the final year date with only 3 nominees in the category and the final animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. The Illusionist and How to Train Your Dragon (the latter of which would have won in most years) were the other nominees. 

2011 Rango wins! And probably by a lot with A Cat in Paris, Chico & Rita, Kung Fu Panda 2, and Puss in Boots as the other nominees. (Trivia note: This is the first year in which Pixar missed the nomination as voters turned their noses up, rightly so, to Cars 2)

2012 Brave takes the Oscar in what is, we'd argue, the single most competitive year of the category. It was something of a nail-biter with Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, Wreck-It-Ralph all enjoying strong support and Pirates! Band of Misfits also nominated.

2013 Frozen, a juggernaut, wins the Oscar in what was surely a landslide despite the sentimental pull of honoring Hayao Miyazaki's final film The Wind Rises. The other nominees were The Croods, Despicable Me 2, and the sweet delightful Ernest & Celestine

2014 Big Hero 6 takes the Oscar for Disney in a competitive year with The Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya as nominees. No matter what you think of Big Hero 6 this year is noteworthy because you have to start questioning what Laika and Cartoon Saloon will have to do to actually win the prize. They have stupendous track records for quality and they're always nominated and yet they never win! 

2015 Inside Out marks a comeback for Pixar after their first two nomination snubs (Cars 2 in 2011 and Monsters University in 2013) and wins the gold. The other nominees were Anomalisa, Boy and the World, Shaun the Sheep Movie, and When Marnie Was There. 

2016 Zootopia wins in one of the highest quality years for this category. Laika's Kubo and the Two Strings put up a respectable fight for Laika, some wondering if it might prove a winning dark horse. The other nominees were Disney's musical Moana (which we'd argue only "disappointed" because expectations were too high), and two beautifully made foreign pics that reminded us yet again that animation should be a medium, not a genre, My Life as a Zucchini and The Red Turtle

AND THAT'S THAT UNTIL MARCH 4TH. The nominees for 2017 are Boss Baby, The Breadwinner, Coco, Ferdinand, and Loving Vincent, and they're charted up right here

Here's how I'd rank the winners (thus far). How would you rank them and do you think the category needs any rule changes?

Nathaniel's Rank of the Animated Winners


  1. WALL•E (Pixar)
  2. The Incredibles (Pixar)
  3. Spirited Away (Studio Ghibli)
    🔺 all masterpieces up in there
  4. Ratatouille (Pixar)
  5. Inside Out (Pixar)
  6. Frozen (Disney)
  7. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Aardman)
  8. Toy Story 3 (Pixar)
    🔺great movies all
  9. Zootopia (Disney)
  10. Up (Pixar)
  11. Rango (Paramount)
    🔺enjoyable treats
  12. Finding Nemo (Pixar)
  13. Brave (Pixar)
  14. Happy Feet (Warner Bros)
  15. Big Hero 6 (Disney)
    🔺good to decent
  16. Shrek (Dreamworks)
    🔺 no thank you



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Reader Comments (30)

We should practice poststructuralism and not rank Spirited Away with the other American 3D animations. You can't judge it the way you judge Wall-E.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

Where will Coco land on your list? (It will be the biggest landslide win in this Oscar year, I think.)

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCash

Not sure how I'd rank the whole list, but my top 4 would be - 1) Spirited Away, 2) Ratatouille, 3) Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, 4) The Incredibles. After that point my ranking could vary by the hour.

I don't have rules changes in mind, I'm simply happy this category exists so that excellent films like those listed above, The Triplets of Belleville, ParaNorman, Howl's Moving Castle, Coraline, and even Wreck-It-Ralph will go down in history as Oscar nominees.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

This category is one of the most infuriating for me, especially everytime I see Pixar or Disney winning so undeservingly this award and so easily! And to add insult to injury the only time I'd say they were worthy of the award they don't get it (Monsters Inc.)! Though to be fair I'd rank Shrek over almost of Pixar movies (and I'm not that fond of it). Wall-E has to be the worst offender considering is such a boring film and Kung Fu Panda ranks among the best. Persepolis losing to Ratatouille and The Tale of Princess Kaguya to Big Hero 6 are hurtful. Overall, Dreamworks movies and the foreign nominees have been superior to the Pixar and Disney ones.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMe34

I remember watching The Red Turtle in the (now closed) Landmark Sunshine and being incredibly affected. I probably sat in the theater for 5 minutes after credits not knowing what to do next. I was rooting for it hard but I can't get mad at Zootopia for winning as it's also great.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBushwick

My choices:
2001: Monsters Inc
2002: Spirited Away
2003: Triplets of Belleville
2004: The Incredibles
2005: Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit
2006: Cars
2007: Persepolis
2008: Wall-E
2009: Coraline
2010: Toy Story 3
2011: Puss 'n' Boots
2012: Brave
2013: The Wind Rises
2014: The Boxtrolls
2015: Inside Out
2016: My Life as a Zucchini
2017: Coco

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterken s

Ratatouille and Up are such low-grade Pixar for me that I'm surprised to see them ranked above Finding Nemo, which is so great narratively and emotionally. But different strokes for diff'rent folks.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCal

I probably like Shrek more than N does, but there are still several years where ALL the nominees are much better than Shrek: 2016, 2014, 2012, 2010 (resoundingly), 2009, 2005.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCash

Pssst 9 out of 16 is not 50%. It's 56%

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAlexD

My rankings:


1. Inside Out
2. Spirited Away
4. Ratatouille
Great elements, but not quite masterpieces:
5. Finding Nemo
6. Zootopia
7. Frozen
8. The Incredibles (Let's just say "Tomorrowland doesn't help this one" and leave it at that.)
Enjoyable treats:
9. Rango
10. Toy Story 3
11. Happy Feet
12. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Decent nominees, but why a winner?
13. Big Hero 6
14. Brave
Why!? Even as a nominee...Why!?
15. Shrek
16. Up (The category is Best Animated Feature, not Best Animated Short, and everything outside of that first ten minutes is, sorry, TERRIBLE. (I'd even go so far as to say that, if you took out the first ten minutes, Up would be about as bad as Cars 2.) Shrek is a terrible winner too, sure, but Shrek doesn't have that dishonest pretence of earnestness Up does (a movie whose primary theme is the trauma and grief of growing older shouldn't feature a climax where the protagonist has to battle a 100+ year old jungle explorer. I don't know if the result of that, where the main villain might have been a talking doberman with a malfunctioning voice box, would be great either, but, though that would be goofier, at least that choice doesn't break the theme over its knee) and isn't the studio's FIFTH WIN like Up was for Pixar. "Main" Dreamworks still hasn't won since, which oddly makes Shrek's win seem more excusable.)

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I know it's early yet but it The Isle of Dogs seems primed to become the next winner, against another Pixar sequel (outside of Toy Story they haven't responded to those), and what looks like an unimpressive further slate.

Plus it would be a chance to give Wes Anderson an Oscar, and as Miyazaki and Park have shown, having something of a name in the race can prove a boon.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDuncan Dykes

Spirited Away is my favorite of all movies, animated or not.
I would say Ratatouille, Inside Out, and Finding Nemo are also master pieces in addition to The Incredibles and Wall-E.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRicopolo

Remember when Waking Life wasn't nominated in that inaugural year? Still mad about that.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterParanoid Android

Michelle Pfeiffer's new film has a poster.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMARKGORDONUK

Didn't Shrek also get an Adapted Screenplay nom? I think Shrek 2 is a much better film, and *love* that it got a Best Original Song nom for Accidentally in Love.

I remember at my Oscar pool, my Grandma Jeanne, who *always* got last place, was the *only* person who had Happy Feet winning over Cars. Was it that big of an upset, or were we all drinking Pixar Kool-Aid?

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

Jakey -- i remember it being an upset yes, but a happy one, no pun intended.

Alex D -- but I count only 8 winners from Pixar thus far from those 16 competitions.

Ken S -- since you're doing it I'd go like so
2001 monsters inc
2002 spirited away
2003 triplets of belleville
2004 the incredibles
2005 wallace and gromit
2006 monster house
2007 ratatouille
2008 wall•e
2009 coraline
2010 how to train your dragon
2011 rango
2012 frankenweenie
2013 frozen (i want to be cool and say ernest & celestine which I adore but I do love that behemoth disney pic)
2014 The Boxtrolls
2015 Inside Out
2016 Zootopia

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

My ranking:

Toy Story 3

The Incredibles

Finding Nemo
Wallace and Gromit
Inside Out

Spirited away
Big Hero 6

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered Commentereduardo

Remember how Waltz with Bashit was nominated for Best Foreign Language but couldn’t make the animated shortlist? I mean, Bolt beat it?

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJames from Ames

Alex D: Coco winning would make their record 9/17. 8/16 is what they're currently at. 50% becoming 53%. Will they win again next year? I'd say that's possible. Looking at the animation list, only three movies seem like plausible winners: A Disney Sequel, a Pixar Sequel and Isle of Dogs. I'd call those three locks and Early Man is probable. But the final slot is probably a toss up between Illumination Grinch, which...sigh... and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a movie that dropped a trailer with animation that looked incomplete. Freaking really. I don't want to be "down" on a Miles Morales movie, but that's next level incompetent and NOT a good sign.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

OMG, Bashir. With an R. Sorry, everyone.

February 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJames from Ames

Small quibble: Only Ice Age was an American CGI film the year Spirited Away won. But, carry on.

February 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan.

The best years were clearly 2005, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016.



February 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Spirited Away is definitely my favorite among all of those winners, and one of my favorite films ever. It's magical.

February 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJJM

Ranking (with my choice of the nominees, if different from winners, in parenthesis)
2. Ratatouille
3. Finding Nemo (The Triplets of Belleville)
4. Spirited Away
5. Up (Coraline)
6. Inside Out (Boy and the World)
7. Toy Story 3 (The Illusionist)
8. Rango
9. Happy Feet
10. The Incredibles
11. Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Corpse Bride)
12. Brave (ParaNorman)
13. Frozen (Ernest & Celestine)
14. Zootopia (The Red Turtle)
15. Big Hero 6 (The Tale of the Princess Kaguya)
16. Shrek (Monsters, Inc.)

February 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDan's the Man

Morgan -- you're absolutely right. the complete decimation of american 2d animation hadn't happened yet in 2001. Fixed.

February 17, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Inside Out
Finding Nemo (Pixar's two best works)
Zootopia (love)
Big Hero 6
The Incredibles
Up (worth revisiting)
Spirited Away
Wallace & Gromit
Toy Story 3
Happy Feet
Rango (fine, but not my cup of tea)

Shocked that no one seems to like Shrek much. I thought it was clever and would still vote for it over Monsters Inc.

February 17, 2018 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I just wish to add my love for Wallace & Gromit - Curse of the Were Rabbit, it is an exceptional film and I'm glad it rates in a lot of peoples top 3 or 5.
I just want to stick up for Brave & Frozen. So many of these animated films have males as the main character, the mother & daughter scenes in Brave make it a much better film than it's getting credit for. Ditto the sister to sister conflict in Frozen.
Pixar & Disney didn't give female animators, directors, & writers much of a chance during the past 16 years. I'm hoping the next 16 years will see a marked difference.

February 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

I haven't thought about it in years, but I remember being amused that the first two Oscars in this category went to non-Disney films (though Disney's Buena Vista did distribute Spirited Away). Well, it turns out that while Disney has done well as the corporate parent of Pixar, actual Disney, non-Pixar projects have only won the award three times (2013, 2014, and 2016).

February 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBrevity

2001: Waking Life. Fine, pass
2002: Spirited Away
2003: Triplets of Belleville
2004: The Incredibles
2005: Wallace and Grommit, though really the three nominees are all B/B+ for me
2006: n/a (haven't seen Monster House, don't love the other two)
2007: Persepolis
2008: WALLE
2009: Fantastic Mr. Fox
2010: Toy Story 3
2011: Rango
2012: Paranorman
2013: Ernest and Celestine
2014: Song of the Sea
2015: Inside Out
2016: Kubo and the Two Strings
2017: The Breadwinner

February 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

I like Shrek. It was fun, even thou Shrek 2 is better.
Spirited Away is simply a modern masterpiece.
Love nearly all Pixar wins so far, without having watched Coco. The only Pixar winner I didn't like is Brave, but mainly because I'd love to have watch Wreck It Ralph win. *sigh*
Everything Else actually really good to great. They all appear in my favorite Pixar movie list, with Finding Nemo and Inside out on top. The rest is hard to rank....
If Finding Nemo didn't exist in 2003, I'd voted for Triplets of Bellville for sure.
Happy Feet makes the bottom line, but still thank god Cars didn't win.
Frozen is overrated and has many flaws imo, but I understand why it won.
I forgot The curse of the Were-Rabbit won. Don't mind it much, but I'd either prefer Corpse Bride or Howl's Moving Castle tbh.
Big Hero 6 and Zootopia were nice. Rango was quite good too.

My Ranking would be:

1. Finding Nemo
2. Inside Out
3. Sprited Away
4. Ratatouille
6. The Incredibles
7. Toy Story 3
8. Up
9. Shrek
10. Wallace&Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
11. Big Hero 6
12. Zootopia
13. Frozen
14. Rango
15. Brave
16. Happy Feet

February 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

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