Since its debut release Despicable Me in 2010, Universal’s animated studio arm Illumination Entertainment has forged a path for itself as one of the industry’s most lucrative animated film producers, earning over $5.7billion in worldwide box office receipts from only 8 movies and establishing one of the biggest franchises in all of Hollywood, the Minions.
Financially, Illumination is already a legitimate rival to the animation powerhouses Disney, Disney Pixar and Dreamworks Animation, but how do their movies shape up? In this edition of Ranked, we order every Illumination Entertainment feature-length cinematic release from worst to best.
Have an opinion? Leave a comment.
8. Hop (2011)
Worldwide Box Office: $184million
Starring: James Marsden, Kaley Cuoco, Russell Brand, Elizabeth Perkins, Hugh Laurie, Gary Cole, David Hasselhoff, Hank Azaria
So far Illumination’s only step into the world of live-action/animation hybrids, Hop was a flop critically and with good reason. The movie, starring James Marsden (X-Men; Enchanted) and ‘Big Bang Theory’ actress Kaley Cuoco, as well as a slew of famous names including Russell Brand, Hank Azaria and Hugh Laurie, was unremarkable in almost every aspect apart from how cheesy it was, with the high-end list of actors seemingly knowing how bad the movie was destined to be and therefore playing it like a purposefully terrible spoof movie.
Hop was an early misfire for a studio looking to prove its credentials, and though it does still pass as an acceptable movie for children to enjoy, it doesn’t even come close to the rest of Illumination’s catalogue and is by far the worst of their releases to date.
7. Minions (2015)
Worldwide Box Office: $1.16billion
Cast: Pierre Coffin, Steve Carell, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Coogan, Geoffrey Rush, Jennifer Saunders
A review of this film, published by The Film Magazine, described it as follows:
“The only way to accurately describe Minions to any reader of this review over the age of 18 would be to suggest to them that the story is so bizarre that it’s almost fixating despite its ridiculousness, and that the only conceivable way to understand the processes of the writer are to assume he – Mr. Brian Lynch (Hop; Puss In Boots) – was on some kind of acid trip when he wrote it.” – Joseph Wade (read the review here)
Minions was the sort of movie that made even less sense than the language the popular little creatures use to communicate, yet it was beautifully animated and almost charming in how frighteningly random it was. It was hardly a good movie, but it gave fans of the Minions all they could have asked for: more Minions. Besides, it wasn’t as bad as Hop, so that’s something… and did you know that it’s the 2nd highest grossing animated film of all time?
You do now…
6. Despicable Me 3 (2017)
Worldwide Box Office: $1billion
Starring: Steve Carell, Trey Parker, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Pierre Coffin, Dana Gaier, Steve Coogan, Jenny Slate, Julie Andrews
The third movie in the central series of Despicable Me movies and by far the third best, Despicable Me 3 is in fine company as one of only several $1billion grossing animated movies, though much of that is due to the Minions (of course).
It’s not that Despicable Me 3 is a bad movie, because it isn’t, it’s just that it felt lacking in originality and some of the nuanced moments of cuteness and/or creativity that pushed its predecessors to such heights. This iteration of the central story still features a buzz of energy that people can associate with the franchise and, though it relies a little too heavily on slapstick humour to entertain, it’s far from an arduous task to consume it.
Despicable Me 3 may have less going for it than 1 & 2, but it’s certainly has a lot more to offer than its more hollow spin-off Minions.
5. Sing (2016)
Worldwide Box Office: $634million
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Nick Kroll, Jennifer Hudson, John C. Reilly, Nick Offerman, Garth Jennings, Jennifer Saunders, Leslie Jones
What do you get when you cross popular reality TV shows with animated animals and a whole heap of licensed music? Sing.
Illumination’s 2016 animated release starring the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and Scarlett Johansson was hardly a ground-breaking success for the art of animation, nor did it feel like a must-have addition to a child’s DVD collection, but it did have a little something about it even if it did seem like a movie created by committee in the search for profit rather than by artists in the search of truth.
It’s one of those films you can’t help but to smile at sometimes, and that’s okay.
4. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (2012)
Worldwide Box Office: $349million
Starring: Zac Efron, Danny DeVito, Taylor Swift, Ed Helms, Betty White, Rob Riggle, Jenny Slate
Following the atrocities of the live-action Dr. Seuss adaptation The Cat in the Hat (2003), the Dr. Seuss estate vowed to never let another live-action movie version of the author’s famous novels be released again. As such, the rights to the stories were farmed out to various animation studios with Illumination nabbing the rights to “The Lorax”, which they released in 2012 to divisive opinion.
The Lorax featured the sort of message that Dr. Seuss’ stories have become iconic for, with the allegory for this film being the destruction of habitats and the effects of global warming, and it certainly didn’t fail on the levels of many other Seuss adaptations. Even so, the fact remained that this was an adaptation of the Dr. Seuss magnum opus, his best and most Seuss release, and anything short of spectacular was always going to feel a little underwhelming. Unfortunately, The Lorax wasn’t anything more than good, with its crisp and creative animation being praiseworthy but its handling of the material rubbing some people up the wrong way. With more sub-text than your average Illumination film however, and with its fair share of memorable and/or noteworthy moments, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is still leaps and bounds beyond those that have come before it in this list.
3. The Secret Life of Pets (2016)
Worldwide Box Office: $875million
Starring: Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Lake Bell, Ellie Kemper, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress, Chris Renaud, Steve Coogan
Much like Sing was the amalgamation of what a movie by committee would look and sound like, The Secret Life of Pets was very much of the same ilk with its mix of cute animals headlining the film, though Pets actually turned out to be much better.
The talents of Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate and company at the head of the voice cast were most praiseworthy for bringing life, energy and at times heartfelt emotion to the piece and it’s arguable that The Secret Life of Pets was perhaps the most pure and emotional of Illumination’s releases outside of their Despicable Me franchise.
This was one of those movies you expected cute animals and easy jokes from, but what resulted was actually much more than that, and easily the 3rd best film in Illumination’s filmography.
Look out for the sequel in Summer 2019.
2. Despicable Me 2 (2013)
Worldwide Box Office: $971million
Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher, Benjamin Bratt, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, Ken Jeong, Kristen Schaal, Vanessa Bayer
About as good of an animated sequel as you can get, Despicable Me 2 not only offered more of what people loved about the first one – notably Minions – but also offered a little more information on the characters that populated the original and made it such a breakout hit.
Featuring the same level of great, modern movie animation on offer in the original and pushing home some of that movie’s key values regarding friendship and family, Despicable Me 2 is a faithful sequel worthy of its own praise. Unfortunately for this film however, it will always be living in the shadow of our number 1…
1. Despicable Me (2010)
Worldwide Box Office: $543million
Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher, Chris Renaud, Julie Andrews, Russell Brand, Jason Segel, Ken Jeong, Will Arnett, Jack McBrayer, Mindy Kaling, Jermaine Clement, Danny McBride, Rob Huebel
The movie that started an empire is still the undisputed greatest release in the short history of Illumination Entertainment.
Despicable Me was a four-quadrant hit that made the kids laugh, made the adults laugh (and care) in totally different ways, and appealed to everyone in between who still remembered those innocent adventures from their youth.
Heartfelt, cute and creative, the original Despicable Me was arguably one of the better animated releases of this century and certainly this decade, and became a cultural phenomenon thanks to how quotable it was and the creation of the Minions (love them or hate them).
There is simply no better Illumination release than Despicable Me, the movie that put the company on the map. It is movie number 1 in their filmography and movie number 1 on this list.
And there goes our list. Where do you think upcoming releases The Grinch (2018) and The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019) will rank? Do you agree with our order? Are Minions overrated? Let us know in the comments!