The existence of Pixar marks one of the remarkable points in human history in which the greatest works of art are also the most commercially successful. It has happened before: with Shakespeare, J.S. Bach, Michaelangelo, The Beatles. But throughout the modern course of our pop-ridden lives, it surely seems the exception more than the rule: Jersey Shore, Britney Spears, Michael Bay, to name too many.
I don’t know how history will treat cinema as an art form, either hold it to the standard we now hold canvas painting, or ridicule it as passing pulp. I do know Transformers will never be watched in a classroom in a century. And I hope no one will write a book about how a Dumb and Dumber sequel came to pass. But the beauty of 2001, the mystery of Vertigo, the insanity of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World – I believe these have lasting appeal. And Pixar has potential to be the greatest of all figures in this pantheon of filmmakers: every one of their movies has been good or great. Some better than others. Some favorites and less favorites. You might love most the dystopian slant of WALL-E, the humor of the Incredibles, or the score of Up – but if you’ve seen any Pixar film, I’d wager you love something.
And the amazing part is that they’re appreciated in their time. Below are films since 1980, comparing their domestic gross to their reported production budget. The line represents the average (the regression line), and Pixar has beaten the average every single time – a feat no other studio has come close to matching:
And in case you believe that animation, in general, is more successful, I’ve provided a second chart. As evident here, animation is no more likely than live-action films to have a high return on investment (in domestic markets):
Notes on the data: both axes are inflation adjusted (according to the CPI, rather than ticket prices), and all numbers are courtesy of the-numbers.com.