Special Report

The Highest-Grossing Kids’ Movies Since the Original ‘Toy Story’

In 1995, Pixar Animation Studios released “Toy Story,” its first feature film. The computer-animated movie was ostensibly geared towards children but like many of the best kid’s films, it had widespread appeal, grossing $192,523,233 ($403,493,031 when adjusted for inflation) worldwide.

Since 1995, fictional movies aimed at children have nearly tripled as a percentage of total box office receipts. In 1995, kid’s fiction films made up 6% of ticket sales. That number climbed up to 22% by 2019, though it fell to 15% in 2022, likely due to reduced overall moviegoing induced by the pandemic .

Some of the highest-grossing kids movies weave in universal ideals like friendship, love, and childlike wonder. Plus, they may take viewers on emotional rollercoaster rides – though they almost always end well. Many of these movies have set box office records, making their producers massive amounts of money. (These are the 40 most profitable kids’ movies of all time.)

To compile a list of the top-grossing kids movies since “Toy Story” came out, 24/7 Tempo ranked all children’s movies released since 1995 by their worldwide box-office gross, using data from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by Nash Information Services.

Almost all of these films are animated and only four animation studios appear on this list – Disney, Pixar (now owned by Disney), DreamWorks, and Illumination Entertainment (the latter two both connected to Universal Pictures). These animation production companies have evolved into massive businesses over the years. Disney bought Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006; Universal paid $3.8 billion for DreamWorks a decade later.

One thing these companies have done well is build off the success of films to create lucrative franchises. “Toy Story,” “Despicable Me” and “The Incredibles” all have sequels that did even better at the box office than the originals. These films managed to retain the unique elements and magic of their franchises while adding new characters and fresh stories. (Numerous animated franchises are on the list, but interestingly enough, Marvel barely makes the top 10 best movie franchises of all time.)

Click here to learn about the highest-grossing kids’ movies since the original “Toy Story”

Besides doing great at the box office, many of these films also found success with critics and award shows. In 2002, the first-ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature was won by “Shrek.” Since then, several other films on this list have won Oscars.

While most of these movies are animated, there are also a few live-action films that did well. “Night at the Museum,” makes the list but its sequels were unable to repeat this success. Jim Carrey’s version of “The Grinch,” also managed to bring in serious ticket sales.

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

24. A Bug’s Life
> Box office: $162,798,565 (inflation-adjusted: $314,349,012)
> Release date: Nov. 20, 1998
> Main cast: Kevin Spacey, David Foley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
> Directed by: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton
> Production company: Disney-Pixar; Walt Disney Pictures

Based on ancient Greek fabulist Aesop’s “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” “A Bug’s Life” is about an anthropomorphic ant trying to fight back against a group of exploitative grasshoppers. The film was part of a feud between Disney and former Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg who left the company to start DreamWorks and make the film “Antz,” a strikingly similar animated film about anthropomorphic ants struggling to save their colony. However, “A Bug’s Life” did almost twice as well at the box office.

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Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

23. Cars
> Box office: $244,082,982 (inflation-adjusted: $341,716,171)
> Release date: June 9, 2006
> Main cast: Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Paul Newman
> Directed by: John Lasseter, Joe Ranft
> Production company: Disney-Pixar

Owen Wilson voices a car named Lightning McQueen in a world made up of anthropomorphic talking vehicles. McQueen is a brash racing rookie looking to dethrone longtime champ Strip “The King” Weathers in the Piston Cup racing series. John Lasseter, the director of “A Bug’s Life” and the first two “Toy Story” movies, directed the film.

Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

22. Night at the Museum
> Box office: $250,863,268 (inflation-adjusted: $342,140,394)
> Release date: Dec. 22, 2006
> Main cast: Ben Stiller, Carla Gugino, Ricky Gervais
> Directed by: Shawn Levy
> Production company: 20th Century Fox; Ingenious Film Partners; 1492 Pictures; 21 Laps Entertainment

Live-action “Night at the Museum” follows Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), a man who gets a job as a night security guard at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. However, he quickly learns that at night the exhibits come to life and it’s his job to keep them under control. “Night at the Museum” was the highest-grossing film on its opening weekend and was shown in many IMAX theaters that were connected to museums of science and natural history.

Source: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

21. Zootopia
> Box office: $341,268,248 (inflation-adjusted: $361,783,790)
> Release date: March 4, 2016
> Main cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba
> Directed by: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
> Production company: Walt Disney Pictures; Walt Disney Animation Studios

“Zootopia” is a tale about an anthropomorphic rabbit named Judy who moves to the city of Zootopia to follow her dream of being a big city cop, and finds herself leading an investigation into the disappearance of several animals. The Disney production became the fourth animated film to pass $1 billion at the worldwide box office and won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

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Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

20. Minions
> Box office: $336,045,770 (inflation-adjusted: $365,544,453)
> Release date: July 10, 2015
> Main cast: Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton
> Directed by: Kyle Balda
> Production company: Universal Pictures; Illumination Entertainment

“Minions” is the spin-off prequel to “Despicable Me” and the third film in the franchise. The movie tells the history of the little yellow guys, who have served supervillains since time immemorial, leading them through some of history’s biggest moments. At the time, it was only the third animated film to pass $1 billion at the worldwide box office, along with “Toy Story 3” and “Frozen.”

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

19. Minions: The Rise of Gru
> Box office: $369,695,210 (inflation-adjusted: $369,695,210)
> Release date: July 1, 2022
> Main cast: Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Alan Arkin
> Directed by: Kyle Balda, Brad Ableson, Jonathan del Val
> Production company: Universal Pictures; Illumination Entertainment

The second film in the “Minions” spinoff series and fifth in the “Despicable Me” franchise tells the backstory of Felonious Gru, played by Steve Carell, growing from a kid with aspirations of villainy to one of the world’s most infamous supervillains. The film gave rise to the #Gentleminions social media trend of mostly young men going to watch the movie dressed in suits.

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Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

18. The Incredibles
> Box office: $261,441,092 (inflation-adjusted: $385,606,340)
> Release date: Nov. 5, 2004
> Main cast: Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter
> Directed by: Brad Bird
> Production company: Walt Disney Pictures; Disney-Pixar

The first “Incredibles” introduced a family of superheroes living during a time when the general public has soured on superhero vigilante justice. In turn, the family and all other superheroes are forced to hide their powers and live as normal citizens. However, villainy is still afoot. The film won Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Sound Editing.

Source: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

17. Inside Out
> Box office: $356,461,711 (inflation-adjusted: $387,752,533)
> Release date: June 19, 2015
> Main cast: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black
> Directed by: Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen
> Production company: Disney-Pixar

“Inside Out” takes complicated psychological concepts and portrays them in a fun and easy to understand story. Emotions are transformed into anthropomorphic creatures that must go on an adventure to help adolescent protagonist Riley cope with the challenges of moving to a new city. “Inside Out” debuted in 2015 and then returned to theaters during summer 2020 for screenings at mostly drive-in theaters during earlier parts of the pandemic. It won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2016.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

16. The Secret Life of Pets
> Box office: $368,384,330 (inflation-adjusted: $390,529,970)
> Release date: July 8, 2016
> Main cast: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart
> Directed by: Chris Renaud
> Production company: Illumination Entertainment; Universal Pictures; Chris Meledandri; Dentsu Inc.; Fuji Television Network

What do pets do when their owners are away? Max the dog spends most of his unsupervised time socializing with other animals in the New York apartment building where he lives. However, things change when his owner adopts a dog named Duke. A rivalry quickly grows between the two pets and leads to them to get lost out on the city streets. This is the only top-grossing film by Illumination Entertainment that’s not in the “Despicable Me” franchise.

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Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

15. Despicable Me 2
> Box office: $368,065,385 (inflation-adjusted: $415,148,165)
> Release date: July 3, 2013
> Main cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt
> Directed by: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
> Production company: Universal Pictures; Chris Meledandri; Illumination Entertainment

The “Despicable Me” franchise follows supervillain Felonious Gru and his minions on his goofy plots to become the most infamous crook in the world. While both spinoff “Minions” films make this list, the only film from the main trilogy is “Despicable Me 2.” It follows Gru as he’s reluctantly drawn back into the world of villainy after leaving it all behind. At one time, this was the most profitable film in the history of Universal Pictures.

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

14. Shrek the Third
> Box office: $322,719,944 (inflation-adjusted: $430,136,897)
> Release date: May 17, 2007
> Main cast: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy
> Directed by: Chris Miller, Raman Hui
> Production company: DreamWorks Animation; PDI

The first “Shrek” film was released in 2001 and created a hit franchise that follows a grumpy green ogre who just can’t get some peace and quiet. The third film finds Shrek and his wife Fiona, happily married when they get word that Fiona’s father, King Harold, is dying and in need of the couple to succeed him on the throne. In 2007, the film set a record for the best opening weekend by an animated film. The “Shrek” films are the only DreamWorks films on this list.

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Source: Courtesy of DreamWorks Distribution

13. Shrek
> Box office: $267,655,011 (inflation-adjusted: $433,638,947)
> Release date: May 18, 2001
> Main cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz
> Directed by: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson
> Production company: DreamWorks Animation; PDI

The original “Shrek” movie is based on a fairy tale picture book of the same name by William Steig. Protagonist Shrek is disturbed when ruler Lord Farquaad begins exiling fairy-tale creatures to the ogre’s swamp. To regain his former peace and solitude Shrek sets out to see Farquaad, accompanied by a talking donkey. The film won the first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

Source: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

12. Toy Story 4
> Box office: $434,038,008 (inflation-adjusted: $434,511,849)
> Release date: June 21, 2019
> Main cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts
> Directed by: Josh Cooley
> Production company: Disney-Pixar

Nine years after “Toy Story 3,” Buzz, Woody and friends return for another adventure. The plot in “Toy Story 4” picks up where the third left off and the toys head out on a road trip with their new owner Bonnie. They meet new and old friends along the way, trying to adapt to a world that continues to change without them. The film set a record for the highest-grossing opening weekend for a G-rated film and won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

11. Toy Story 2
> Box office: $245,852,179 (inflation-adjusted: $439,953,785)
> Release date: Nov. 19, 1999
> Main cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack
> Directed by: John Lasseter, Ash Brannon, Lee Unkrich
> Production company: Disney-Pixar; Walt Disney Pictures

The return of the “Toy Story” franchise saw the addition of several new characters and a new adventure. Originally, the film was set to be a direct-to-video sequel but someone at Disney saw the light before sending the box office hit-to-be directly to VHS. Domestically, it was the third-highest grossing film of 1999.

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Source: Courtesy of Universal Studios

10. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
> Box office: $260,348,825 (inflation-adjusted: $442,175,988)
> Release date: Nov. 17, 2000
> Main cast: Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Jeffrey Tambor
> Directed by: Ron Howard
> Production company: Universal Pictures; Imagine Entertainment; Brian Grazer Productions

Jim Carrey stars as the green guy who hates Christmas in the live-action version of one of Dr. Seuss’s most famous works. This retelling of the book gives some of the Grinch’s backstory and explains how he came to be a happiness-loathing pariah living on the edge of the town of Whoville. The film was produced by Imagine Entertainment and ended Disney’s six-year streak of having the top-grossing film on Thanksgiving weekend.

Source: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

9. Frozen
> Box office: $400,953,009 (inflation-adjusted: $451,641,344)
> Release date: Nov. 22, 2013
> Main cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff
> Directed by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
> Production company: Walt Disney Animation Studios

The animated musical that took the world by storm, “Frozen” was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen.” It follows a princess who sets out on an adventure with an iceman, a reindeer, and a snowman. The movie passed the $1 billion mark worldwide and it set records when it went to DVD and Blu-ray, selling 3.2 million discs in one day. It also won the Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song.

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Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

8. Monsters, Inc.
> Box office: $290,149,425 (inflation-adjusted: $453,322,801)
> Release date: Nov. 2, 2001
> Main cast: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Mary Gibbs
> Directed by: Pete Docter, David Silverman, Lee Unkrich
> Production company: Walt Disney Pictures; Disney-Pixar

In Pixar’s “Monsters, Inc.” the monsters under the bed aren’t scaring children out of malice but rather because their world is powered by their screams. This means they need professional scarers working in a corporate environment to extract enough screams to keep the lights turned on. But is all this trauma really necessary? The film won an Oscar for Best Original Song but lost Best Animated Feature to “Shrek.”

Source: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
7. Frozen II
> Box office: $477,373,578 (inflation-adjusted: $477,865,316)
> Release date: Nov. 22, 2019
> Main cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad
> Directed by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
> Production company: Walt Disney Animation Studios

The second film based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale continues the story of Princess Elsa and her mysterious magical powers. The film ran in theaters from November 2019 until March 2020, when it was put on streaming service Disney+ earlier than expected, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

6. Toy Story 3
> Box office: $415,004,880 (inflation-adjusted: $482,331,399)
> Release date: June 18, 2010
> Main cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack
> Directed by: Lee Unkrich
> Production company: Walt Disney Pictures; Disney-Pixar

Turns out we’re not the only ones that aged as Andy, the owner of toys Woody and Buzz, is headed off to college. “Toy Story 3” was released nearly 11 years after “Toy Story 2” and was still a massive success. The movie adds new characters and brings back the old while keeping the story refreshing and drawing in audiences of all ages. During its theatrical run it set the worldwide record for highest-grossing animated film which has since been surpassed.

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Source: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

5. Finding Dory
> Box office: $486,295,561 (inflation-adjusted: $515,529,514)
> Release date: June 17, 2016
> Main cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill
> Directed by: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
> Production company: Disney-Pixar

Thirteen years after “Finding Nemo,” Pixar came out with a sequel to that aquatic adventure. This time, the plot focuses on telling the backstory of regal blue tang fish Dory and how she came to meet clownfish Marlin and Nemo in the first film. Voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, Dory begins to have flashbacks of her parents and sets off to find them. Upon release, “Finding Dory” broke the record for highest debuting animated film in its first weekend with $135.1 million at the North American box office.

Source: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

4. The Lion King
> Box office: $543,638,043 (inflation-adjusted: $544,231,531)
> Release date: July 19, 2019
> Main cast: Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Seth Rogen
> Directed by: Jon Favreau
> Production company: Walt Disney Pictures; Fairview Entertainment

The 2019 remake of the 1994 movie of the same name was a massive hit. It used photorealistic computer animation and an ensemble cast of voice actors to retell the story of the original film. While the film is second at the domestic box office, worldwide “The Lion King” set records for the highest-grossing remake and animated film by Disney of all time.

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Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

3. Finding Nemo
> Box office: $380,529,370 (inflation-adjusted: $563,632,537)
> Release date: May 30, 2003
> Main cast: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould
> Directed by: Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
> Production company: Disney-Pixar; Walt Disney Pictures

“Finding Nemo” is a story about how far a father will go to find his missing son. However, both are clown fish and they’re separated by the massive Pacific Ocean. The aquatic adventure takes the protagonist through varying underwater environments and dangers while introducing him to a quirky array of marine characters voiced by big names like Ellen DeGeneres and Willem Dafoe. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards and won Best Animated Feature.

Source: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

2. Incredibles 2
> Box office: $608,581,744 (inflation-adjusted: $612,589,966)
> Release date: June 15, 2018
> Main cast: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell
> Directed by: Brad Bird
> Production company: Disney-Pixar

Fourteen years after the premiere of the first movie, the Incredibles family returned to the big screen for this action-packed sequel. The story picks up where the last left off and sees the family of superheroes once again having to navigate family life, public opinion, government laws and ever-threatening super villains. The film debuted to make $183 million in its opening weekend in North America, smashing the record that “Find Dory” previously held

Source: Courtesy of DreamWorks Distribution

1. Shrek 2
> Box office: $441,226,247 (inflation-adjusted: $651,536,982)
> Release date: May 19, 2004
> Main cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz
> Directed by: Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon
> Production company: PDI; DreamWorks Animation; DreamWorks Pictures

“Shrek 2” premiered in 2004 and when adjusted for inflation, is the highest grossing kid’s movie on this list. Everyone’s favorite ogre is dragged back into the action as he sets off to meet the parents of his wife, Princess Fiona. At the time, the movie’s opening weekend was the second-largest of all time, only trailing 2002’s “Spider-Man.”

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