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Pixar must have known what it was doing when it scheduled Toy Story 3 for Fathers’ Day weekend 2010, over a decade after the release of Toy Story 2. For as much as kids were eager to catch up with Woody and Buzz, it was the fathers who inevitably stayed in their seats during the film’s closing credits, trying to compose themselves before their children noticed dad’s cheeks were wet. Adult conversations about the film that summer often began with, “Sooo… Did you cry?” or rather, “How hard did you cry?”

Toy Story 3 cracked a lot of adults’ armor, piercing emotions that many had long buried or simply forgotten. Andy, the little boy the toys adored, had grown up and was going to college. He didn’t need them anymore, and they were erroneously discarded, sent to a toy Terminus of sorts that tested their bonds of friendship and Andy’s ultimate reluctance to say goodbye to his childhood.

Of course it was a huge summer blockbuster, dwarfing its nearest box-office rival in 2010 (Alice in Wonderland) and more than doubling the worldwide grosses of Toy Story 2. It was also a critical smash that cemented Pixar’s reputation as Hollywood’s most prestigious filmmakers.

With Captain America: The Winter Soldier poised to launch this year’s blockbuster season, April is Summer Blockbuster month at Entertainment Weekly. Toy Story 3 starts our countdown. It’s No. 20 on our list — but it might be No. 1 in your heart.

Rank: 20

Release Date: June 18, 2010

Box Office: $415 million domestic ($110.3 million opening weekend); $1.063 billion worldwide

There may have been bigger animated box-office hits before Disney/Pixar’s heralded threequel (adjusted for inflation, anyway), but Toy Story 3 became the first to break the billion-dollar mark around the world and only recently gave way to Frozen as animation’s top all-time grosser. Greeted with critical adulation and pounced upon by a public that had waited 11 years for another Woody/Buzz adventure, TS3 crushed the competition in its opening weekend with $110.3 million, more than $40 million more than any previous Pixar movie.

The Competition: Jonah Hex never had a chance. That flop opened the same day as the Pixar juggernaut, which also essentially chased Shrek Forever After out of theaters — or at least limited DreamWorks’ ogre to his lowest box-office take. Grown Ups and Knight & Day had the misfortune of following in Toy Story 3‘s wake, and it wasn’t until Twilight: Eclipse debuted that Pixar’s opus was dethroned as No. 1. It remained in the weekend top-10 for eight weeks.

What EW said: “Fifteen years after Toy Story, its heroes look more old-fashioned and analog than ever. They really are relics in a world of techno gizmos. Yet all they’ve ever wanted is a home, and in the supremely moving final scenes of Toy Story 3, their simple desire to be played with is the furthest thing from selfish. It mirrors a child’s own essential need to indulge her imagination through play. Toy Story 3 is a salute to the magic of making believe. A“ — Owen Gleiberman

Cultural Impact Then: Pixar was already the gold standard in animation, and the original Toy Story was their Steamboat Willie. The studio was on a creative hot streak, following Ratatouille, WALL•E, and Up, but the third Toy Story simply raised the bar on what animation could deliver and how it could make audiences feel.

In the film, Andy’s collection of toys is mistakenly given away to a childcare center as his mother prepares for his move to college. Woody and co. quickly realize that they’ve been dumped into a new two-tiered social order that has them at the mercy of Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear and his minions. The gang plots their escape and are determined to get home to Andy. On the way, they almost end up in the furnace, where they bravely join hands and face their fate together… Is it getting dusty in here?

Cultural Staying Power: Toy Story was a revolutionary leap forward in animation and rightly heralded as a classic when it was released in 1995. Some critics and fans thought its 1999 sequel was even better. But the threequel was instantly crowned as the greatest, nonpareil, a masterpiece. Think if Francis Ford Coppola had somehow surpassed the first two Godfather films with his 1990 sequel, and you have an idea of how impressed audiences were by the achievement of director Lee Unkrich and Pixar’s John Lasseter.

While other studios had caught up with Pixar’s CG animation, especially at the box-office, Toy Story 3 underscored Pixar’s unwavering dedication to Story. There were 11 years between Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, and it felt like they didn’t waste a single day. This was a master’s class of storytelling, character, dialogue, and pacing — things that have nothing to do with great animation but everything to do with great filmmaking.

Pixar mapped out our childhood imagination and obsessions, and in one final scene, as Andy teaches a shy little girl how to pretend-play with his old friends, they push a button that unleashes a wave — or was it just a river of tears? — of nostalgia for our own beloved dolls, action figures, and teddy bears. I’ll never listen to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” the same way. Toy Story 3 is the rarest of things: an animated film that could’ve won Best Picture, a threequel that was as good, if not better, than its predecessors, and a movie that defines the childhoods of boys and girls, moms and dad, alike.

Toy Story 3
  • Movie
  • 102 minutes