Animation has come a long way from its early beginnings over a century ago. What started as simple hand-drawn shorts designed to entertain children has evolved into an entire industry centered around animated blockbusters that capture the hearts and minds of audiences of all ages. In recent years, major animation studios like Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks and Illumination have elevated the artform to new heights, using cutting-edge technology to create vibrant fantasy worlds and lovable characters that resonate deeply with viewers.
As animation quality has improved exponentially, so too have box office returns. Computer animation in particular has been a driving force behind some of the highest-grossing films of all time. Since 2010, eight animated features have joined the exclusive Billion Dollar Club – an elite group of films that have grossed over $1 billion globally. From sequels to smash hits like Frozen and Minions to original gems like Zootopia, animated films have tapped into a formula for success that other studios enviously try to replicate.
In this article, we’ll be counting down the 10 highest-grossing animated films ever. As we make our way to number one, we’ll explore what made each of these movies so financially successful. From the cultural phenomena they inspired to the critical reception and franchise records they earned, we’ll analyze the key ingredients that catapulted these animations into the box office stratosphere. So without further ado, let’s jump right into the list – starting with an adorable city of anthropomorphic animals that took the world by storm in 2016.
10. Zootopia (2016)
- Box Office: $1.026 Billion
When Zootopia premiered in 2016, no one could have predicted the wild success this plucky animated film would go on to achieve. Weaving a timely tale tackling prejudice through a mammalian metropolis, Zootopia won over critics and crowds alike on its way to the billion dollar club.
The film follows Judy Hopps, an optimistic rabbit who moves to the bustling city of Zootopia to become a police officer. To prove herself, Judy takes on the mysterious case of missing predator citizens, teaming up with a cunning fox named Nick Wilde to crack the conspiracy. Along the way, Zootopia explores heavy themes like bias and discrimination with nuance and heart, using the relationship between predator and prey as an ingenious analogy.
Bolstered by strong word of mouth, Zootopia earned rave reviews from critics who praised its timely message, sharp humor and gorgeous visuals. It took home the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2017, beating out fellow Disney smash Moana. But even more impressively, Zootopia utterly dominated at the box office. Against a modest $150 million budget, the film earned over $1 billion globally. Beyond positive reviews, Zootopia managed to capture the cultural zeitgeist, sparking vital conversations about equality and understanding. It cemented itself as a new Disney classic for the modern age.
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9. Finding Dory (2016)
- Box Office: $1.029 Billion
13 years after we first fell in love with the forgetful Blue Tang fish Dory, everyone’s favorite sidekick finally took center stage in 2016’s Finding Dory. The long-awaited sequel reunited audiences with the underwater gang on an epic search for Dory’s missing parents. Along the way, Finding Dory brought all the heart and hilarity that made its predecessor so iconic, plus delivered Pixar’s biggest opening weekend ever at the time.
Finding Dory picks up one year after Finding Nemo, with regal blue tang Dory living happily alongside clownfish Marlin and his son Nemo. But when Dory suddenly recalls repressed memories of her long lost parents, she embarks on a quest to track them down, joined by her loyal friends. The rip-roaring aquatic adventure takes our heroes to a marine rehabilitation center and beyond as they follow the scattered clues of Dory’s past.
Reception for Finding Dory could not have been better, with critics praising its emotional weight and dynamic animation. And the box office told an even brighter story. Finding Dory smashed records with a $135 million opening weekend in North America. It went on to become one of the highest grossing films of 2016 with $1.029 billion worldwide, making it one of only a handful of animated films to join the Billion Dollar Club. Not bad for a fish who can’t always remember her own name!
8. Despicable Me 3 (2017)
- Box Office: $1.035 Billion
In 2017, everyone’s favorite reformed supervillain Gru returned for another madcap adventure in Despicable Me 3. With beloved characters, Minion mayhem and a fresh villain, the threequel brought more animated magic to build the box office highest of the franchise.
The Despicable Me series introduced Gru and his adopted daughters Margo, Edith and Agnes back in 2010, becoming a surprise smash. While the 2013 sequel explored Gru’s origins as a supervillain, Despicable Me 3 sees him fired from the Anti-Villain League for failing to catch the flashy and vengeful Balthazar Bratt. When Gru learns he has a long-lost twin brother named Dru, the duo team up to foil Bratt’s Hollywood domination scheme. And amidst the chaos, those scene-stealing, banana-loving Minions provide plenty of slapstick laughs.
Reviews for Despicable Me 3 were mixed, with some critics feeling it fell short of previous franchise highs. But one area it did not disappoint was the box office. Building on its predecessors’ success, Despicable Me 3 brought in over $264 million domestically and $770 million internationally for a mighty global take over $1 billion. It ranks among the top 10 highest grossing animated films and as Illumination’s #2 top earner behind Minions. Audiences simply couldn’t get enough of Gru and his family of friendly misfits.
7. Toy Story 3 (2010)
- Box Office: $1.068 Billion
Nine years after Jesse and Bullseye joined the gang in Toy Story 2, Pixar resisted the urge for a cash grab sequel, waiting for just the right story before returning to Andy’s toy chest. And in 2010, that patience paid off with Toy Story 3, a profoundly emotional installment that became the first animated feature to cross $1 billion worldwide.
Woody, Buzz and the rest of the toy troupe face their darkest adventure yet in Toy Story 3 when a college bound Andy donates them to Sunnyside Daycare. But their new home soon reveals a dark side, forcing our heroes to plot a great escape. With poignant themes about loss, loyalty and confronting mortality, Toy Story 3 concludes Andy’s story on a bittersweet note, now under the care of young Bonnie.
Critics showered Toy Story 3 with acclaim upon its 2010 release, won over by its narrative risks and resonant messages. The Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature remains one of Pixar’s most awarded films. And in becoming the first animated entry in the billion dollar club, Toy Story 3 also set a new high benchmark for financial success in animation. Its achievement built anticipation for 2019’s Toy Story 4 while cementing the status of Woody and Buzz as timeless icons who appeal across generations.
6. Toy Story 4 (2019)
- Box Office: $1.074 Billion
After Toy Story 3 wrapped up the trilogy with a nostalgic farewell to Andy, Woody, Buzz and the gang unexpectedly returned in 2019’s Toy Story 4. Catching up with the toys as they adjust to new owner Bonnie, Toy Story 4 brings laughter and tears as Woody reunites with lost love Bo Peep on a road trip rescue mission. The hugely successful fourth installment became Disney’s fifth animated film to join the billion dollar club.
Toy Story 4 takes place shortly after the last film’s poignant ending. While Woody struggles to connect with arts and crafts toy Forky, he reconnects with porcelain shepherdess Bo Peep at a carnival midway. When Forky goes missing on a family road trip, Woody sets out to rescue him with old and new friends alike, rediscovering his sense of purpose along the way.
Critics welcomed back Woody, Buzz and co. in this fourth adventure, though some felt it hit familiar story beats. But Toy Story 4 was still amongst 2019’s best-reviewed animated films. And audiences turned out in droves, powering it past $1 billion globally. Toy Story 4 outgrossed the previous two films to become the highest grossing title in Pixar’s crown jewel franchise. Nine years after closing the book, Pixar showed Woody still has plenty of gas left in the tank to fill theater seats.
5. Minions (2015)
- Box Office: $1.159 Billion
Of all the eccentric supporting characters from Illumination’s smash Despicable Me franchise, none captured the cultural conversation quite like those gibberish-spouting yellow corn kernels known as Minions. So a solo spotlight film for the breakout buffoons felt inevitable. When Minions finally arrived in 2015, it tickled funny bones worldwide on its way past $1 billion.
Spinning off from the Despicable Me films, Minions serves as a prequel centering on the perpetually mischievous creatures. Here, we follow three hopeful Minions named Kevin, Stuart and Bob who embark on an adventure through history seeking an evil boss to serve. From the dinosaur age to 1960s Orlando, there’s no limit to the mayhem with Minions around every corner.
Reception from critics was mixed, with some praising the visual comedy while others felt the concept didn’t quite carry a full film. But general audiences worldwide wholeheartedly embraced the non-verbal yellow derps. Minions absolutely dominated the global box office in 2015, outgrossing the Despicable Me movies. With $1.159 billion total, Minions ranks among the top 5 highest grossing animated films ever. It just goes to show how a little bit of charm – even from side characters – can go a very long way.
4. Incredibles 2 (2018)
- Box Office: $1.243 Billion
Fourteen years after The Incredibles first introduced the crime-fighting Parr family, Pixar finally unveiled the long-awaited sequel in 2018’s Incredibles 2. With cutting-edge animation, thrilling superhero action, and plenty of heart, the follow-up claimed Pixar’s crown for highest grossing animated film ever at a mighty $1.243 billion.
Incredibles 2 picks up shortly after the 2004 original left off, with the superpowered Parrs still striving for normalcy after battling the Underminer. When Helen aka Elastigirl gets recruited for a publicity operation to restore the reputation of Supers, she takes center stage while Bob tackles stay-at-home Dad duties. But a new villain named Screenslaver quickly emerges, forcing the Parr family to suit up together against the high tech threat.
While not as universally beloved as the original, Incredibles 2 earned strong marks from critics who praised its visual spectacle. And 14 years of pent up anticipation from fans powered the film to astronomical box office heights. Incredibles 2 set the record for the biggest opening weekend ever for an animated film with $182 million, a mark that still stands. It ranks not only among the highest grossing animated films at $1.243 billion total, but also as the #6 top earner among all PG-rated releases.
3. Frozen (2013)
- Box Office: $1.284 Billion
In 2013, Disney brought their winning princess formula into the 21st century with Frozen. Updating tropes that felt worn out, Frozen resonated like few films before it. Anchored by the earworm anthem “Let It Go,” Idina Menzel’s power vocals turned Frozen into a cultural phenomenon that earned over $1.2 billion.
Loosely adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, Frozen centers on sisters Anna and Elsa, princesses of the kingdom Arendelle. After Elsa’s icy magic plunges the kingdom into eternal winter, Anna sets off to bring back summer and reconnect with her estranged sister. With an empowering emphasis on sisterly bonds trumping traditional romantic love, Frozen felt fresh and progressive.
Propelled by Menzel’s iconic musical number “Let It Go,” Frozen captivated kids and adults alike in 2013 on its way to box office glory. It earned widespread critical acclaim along with two Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. Cementing its crossover appeal, the Frozen soundtrack also dominated the Billboard charts for months. And earning over $1.2 billion globally, Frozen still stands tall as one of Disney Animation’s highest grossing releases ever.
2. The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)
- Box Office: $1.362 Billion
Over 35 years since Mario first smashed bricks and bounced on Goombas, everyone’s favorite plucky plumber finally made the leap to his own animated theatrical adventure in 2023’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Lovingly bringing the Mushroom Kingdom to life with vivid animation and charm, Illumination’s video game adaptation swung to new box office heights for the genre.
Transporting audiences straight out of a classic Mario game, the film follows hapless Brooklyn plumber Mario who discovers a mystical pipe gateway to the magical Mushroom Kingdom. Upon arriving, Mario teams with the brave Princess Peach and his sibling Luigi to save the realm from the villainous President Koopa. It’s a family-friendly affair filled with callbacks to Mario’s rich history, from iconic platforms and question blocks to playful references longtime fans will appreciate.
Critical reception was mixed, with some praising the faithful adaptation while others felt the story played it safe. But while ratings from critics were lukewarm, The Super Mario Bros. Movie utterly smashed records on its way to historic box office numbers. Scoring an mammoth $185 million over its 3-day domestic debut, the film claimed the best opening ever for an animated movie. And in the weeks that followed, Mario mania showed no signs of letting up. zooming past $1 billion globally in swift fashion. With a final tally of $1.362 billion, The Super Mario Bros. Movie ranks not only among the most successful animated films, but also as the highest grossing video game adaptation ever.
1. Frozen 2 (2019)
- Box Office: $1.453 Billion
When Frozen unleashed Elsa’s icy magic in 2013, no one could have predicted the absolute cultural domination that would follow. With billions in merchandising and a Billboard chart-topping soundtrack, Frozen fever swept the globe. So six years later when the royal family of Arendelle finally returned for Frozen 2, the film conjured box office magic to become the highest grossing animated movie ever.
Picking up three years after the original film, Frozen 2 finds Arendelle at peace under Queen Elsa’s rule alongside sister Anna. But when Elsa begins hearing a mysterious voice calling that only she can hear, the two embark on an enchanted forest quest for answers. Along the way, the origins of Elsa’s powers are revealed as our heroes confront mystical spirits of air, fire, water and earth.
Reception for Frozen 2 continued the franchise’s critical success. While some felt the plot rehashed the original’s beats, dazzling animation and showstopping musical numbers wowed reviewers. And eagerly awaiting fans turned out in record numbers, powering Frozen 2 to astronomical heights. The film crushed the previous Thanksgiving opening weekend record with $126 million over the holiday frame. In just six weeks, Frozen 2 blazed past $1 billion worldwide.
When all was said and done, Frozen 2 stands mightiest among all animated films with $1.45 billion total globally. Building on the original’s popularity, it outgrossed the first by over $150 million. Frozen 2 also ranks as one of Disney’s most profitable modern releases with an estimated net gain of $599 million. Critics may be divided, but to fans everywhere, the Frozen phenomenon is still going strong as one of Disney’s most lucrative franchises currently running.