The Ice Age franchise has been around for 20 years, but ranking the Ice Age movies from worst to best is far from straightforward. The quality of the Ice Age films varies significantly over the six installments released so far, but at their peak, they were among the best family movies released in their respective years. In addition to the movies, the Ice Age franchise has spawned a number of short films and television specials, and is also among the most financially successful movie series of all time, with a combined worldwide box office of $3.2 billion. This makes establishing their respective quality a challenge in and of itself.
The first movie, Ice Age, was released back in 2002 by Blue Sky Studios as their first feature-length film. The movie centered on a trio of prehistoric animals, Ray Romano’s woolly mammoth, Manny, John Leguizamo’s sloth, Sid, and Denis Leary’s saber-tooth tiger, Diego, as they set out to return human baby Roshan to his tribe. Unlike today’s overstuffed marketplace, computer animation was still a novelty for audiences back then. Adopting the tried-and-tested buddy road movie formula, Ice Age was a critical and commercial success. Ice Age was directed by veteran animator and Blue Sky co-founder Chris Wedge, who also voices fan-favorite squirrel Scrat in the movies. Wedge passed the directing duties to Carlos Saldanha (Rio, Rio 2) for the next two entries, 2006’s Ice Age: The Meltdown, and 2009’s Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, which saw the cast of characters swell in tandem with the series’s accumulating billion-dollar box office.
Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012) continued to draw in family audiences, but the final theatrical entry, Ice Age: Collision Course (2016) was the lowest-grossing in the franchise. It was also the final Ice Age movie produced by Blue Sky Studios, which were owned by 20th Century Fox. Following the Disney/Fox merger, Disney shut Blue Sky Studios as it was redundant to have a third animation company (after Disney’s own animation house, and Pixar). With the latest entry in the franchise, The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild released on Disney+, it’s time to rank all the Ice Age movies, from worst to best.
6. The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild (2022)
Unfortunately, the latest Ice Age movie is also its worst. While Manny, Sid, and Deigo are present in the margins of the movie, Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary wisely chose to bow out of this Disney+ animated effort. Simon Pegg tries his best as Buck (a character he clearly has an affinity for), but despite the movie’s title, he’s not the focus of the film. Instead, two of the series’ more annoying (and kid-friendly) characters, Crash and Eddie, are the stars. The film aims for a younger demographic than the previous movies, largely alienating older audience members that grew up with these characters. A few of the gags land, but most don’t, and the complete exclusion of Scrat from the movie is a bizarre creative choice given his popularity.
Perhaps its biggest fail though in the context of the Ice Age series is that the animation itself (both in terms of the movement and rendering) is egregiously bad. While branded as a Disney+ movie, the animation was outsourced to Bardel Entertainment, and the step down from Blue Sky’s high animation standards is obvious and distracting. Prior to this, even the bad Ice Age movies were visually impressive. Overall The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild is catering to a very young audience, with little to offer anyone over single digits.
5. Ice Age: Collision Course (2016)
Being the last Ice Age movie to get a theatrical release, Ice Age: Collision Course collapses under its own weight. There are so many characters in the series at this point that its short runtime doesn’t have space to dedicate enough time to any. The main trio is lost in the mix, and new characters are underused and underdeveloped. A small consolation is found with the welcome return of star Simon Pegg from Ice Age 3, but unfortunately, even he can’t elevate a series that by this point is running out of ideas. While the Ice Age series was never known for its realism, Scrat going into space in an alien ship is a step too far. The prehistoric animal designs remain visually pleasing and everything looks very appealing, but the narrative content can’t match the action.
4. Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012)
Ice Age: Continental Drift was the movie that really started to show the series’ signs of fatigue. Despite continuing to expand the character roster, Ice Age 4‘s water-based setting is constraining and visually less interesting than Dawn of the Dinosaurs’ lush underground environment. Peter Dinklage’s villainous pirate is the standout among both the returning and new characters, and Ice Age 4’s Scrat scenes still entertain (to a point). But with Manny and co. adrift on icebergs for much of the runtime, the action is equally sparse and the jokes can’t really make up for it. Despite the dip in quality, the movie was a massive success, but really the Ice Age franchise should have stopped here.
3. Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)
Ice Age: The Meltdown started the series tradition of adding new characters to the herd. Manny is given a love interest in the form of Queen Latifah’s Ellie, who brings along her adoptive opossum brothers Crash and Eddie. Having to escape from a valley before an ice dam bursts, the ticking clock element gives the film some urgency despite its bizarre movie logic (in particular, the internally melting ice). Scrat continues to be the movies’ most valuable asset though, with his Looney Tunes-style antics stealing the show. The increased budget compared to the first movie provides the characters and the world with a digital makeover, and the animation is really engaging. Composer John Powell joins the series (his first of three Ice Age scores) and gives the movie a warm and exciting soundtrack. The film does take a while to get going and don’t know what to do with Deigo (an issue that repeats itself throughout the sequels), but overall Ice Age: The Meltdown is a fun family movie and a worthy follow-up to the first film.
2. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009)
When making the first movie the filmmakers consulted scientific experts in an effort true to the time period. The one request they had for the Ice Age movie was “please don’t put [in] any dinosaurs.” Their inclusion in Ice Age 3, therefore is as ironic it is inevitable. Kids (and adults) love dinosaurs, so it was only a matter of time before they were included in a prehistoric franchise. It turned out to be a great idea though as the lost-world-beneath-the-ice premise offers fresh environments for the herd to explore and the designs of the dino’s themselves are suitable impressive and fun. Similar to Ice Age: The Meltdown the first act is largely set up, but once the characters arrive in the dinosaur world, the movie never lets up on its prehistoric rollercoaster ride.
1. Ice Age (2002)
The original Ice Age movie is still the franchise’s best. It was deservedly nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar (though didn’t stand a chance against Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away). Similar to other early computer-animated movies, the film’s age is sometimes telling, but its rough-around-the-edges look is part of its charm, and Peter de Sève’s appealing character designs fit the stylized animation perfectly. Manny, Sid, and Deigo are brought to life by spot-on voice casting, and unlike some of its bloated sequels, Ice Age‘s straightforward plot is a virtue, leaving plenty of room to establish the characters and jokes (the cast were encouraged to improvise their lines to increase the humor). More importantly, Ice Age is an emotional movie. The cave painting scene depicting the loss of Manny’s family is heartbreaking and is balanced beautifully with his growing bond with baby Roshan. It’s a shame that the series hasn’t managed so far to fully recapture the simple magic of the first Ice Age, which remains one of the most fun family-friendly movies out there.
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