Animated movies have been a staple of moviemaking since its inception, with filmmakers constantly finding inventive ways to update the medium. From Disney’s Toy Story to the newly released Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verseanimation has produced countless movie classics. While it’s entirely true that many — if not most — animated movies are hits among younger audiences, numerous films have proven over the years that the limits of animation don’t stop at childhood entertainment.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse recently proved that those limits are almost boundless, showcasing how the art form can include anything from strokes of watercolor to comic book pop. Although the well-liked and universally praised sequel didn’t make the cut in Rotten Tomatoes’ top 10 animated films of all time, the film still sits at an impressive 96% (its predecessor, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Versehas a 97% rating). According to the online review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, these 10 films proved that they are the best of the best in animation.
10. Finding Nemo (99% rating)
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Pixar’s Finding Nemowhich came out in 2003, is one of those animated movies that has likely been played on repeat in countless households ever since its release on DVD. The film follows an overly cautious clownfish named Marlin, who has raised his son Nemo by himself ever since Nemo was an egg. When Nemo swims too close to the surface and is caught by a diver, a horrified Marlin must set out to find him. Along the way, Marlin befriends a friendly blue tang fish named Dory, fights off a group of sharks (who swear that fish are friends, not food), and cruises on the back of a super-chill sea turtle.
Finding Nemo is full of heart and emotion, a beautiful story about the importance of family. Each scene is overflowing with color and beauty, from stunning coral reefs to treacherous shipwrecks. The film is as funny as it is touching, and it will always be remembered as some of Pixar’s best work.
9. Tower (99% rating)
Tower is a fascinating and immensely powerful documentary that incorporates animation in a fashion unlike any other. The 2016 movie follows the story behind the 1966 shootings at the University of Texas at Austin that killed 14 people and wounded more than 30 others. It’s a harrowing true story, one that still holds a profound resonance over 55 years later.
Director Keith Maitland employs animation in Tower to devastating effect, intertwining the medium with archival footage and interviews. While its subject matter is a nightmare, Tower is able to render the unbelievable and horrifying into a tender, profound story. The style is integral to the film’s emotional core. For those who think animation is a genre for kids, Tower is here to prove you wrong.
8. The Tale of the Fox (Le Roman de Renard) (100% rating)
From here on out we begin the extremely rare and noteworthy 100% club. The first entry in that group is The Fox novela 1937 stop-motion animated film from filmmaker Ladislas Starevich. The Fox novelwhich can be translated as The Tale of the Foxtells the story of Renard the Fox. In Medieval literature, the tale of Renard the Fox is a classic; the fox is a trickster who is constantly causing trouble. When King Lion orders Renard’s arrest, the fox is forced to trick his way out of his predicament
The Fox novel is an enchanting feat of stop-motion animation that stands the test of time. Modern animation has pushed the envelope of the medium to unbelievable lengths, yet it’s because of films like The Fox novel that the medium was able to evolve. Starevich is one of the great pioneers in animation, and The Fox novel is an ambitious exhibition of his immense influence and sheer talent.
7. It’s Such a Beautiful Day (100% rating)
A collection of three shorts by Don Hertzfeldt in his feature film directorial debut, It’s Such a Beautiful Day is an astounding piece of animated art. The 62-minute movie combines Hertzfeldt’s three shorts — Everything Will Be OK, I Am So Proud of Youand the titular It’s Such a Beautiful Day — into one full-length movie. The shorts follow Bill, a man who suffers from an unnamed illness.
In taking viewers through Bill’s failing memory and surreal visions, Hertzfeldt creates a stunning portrait of the human psyche. It’s a profound, moving, and darkly hilarious reflection on depression and humanity that is supremely unique. Released in 2012, the movie has since been recognized on many lists as some of the best animated work ever seen.
6. Mind Game (100% rating)
Masaaki Yuasa’s 2004 film Mind Game is a psychedelic trip to heaven and back — literally. The movie follows Nishi, a loser who has a crush on a girl from his childhood. After a deadly interaction with two yakuza, Nishi goes to heaven and back, setting off a weird journey toward self-discovery.
Mind Game is something that has to be seen to be believed. The animation is unbelievably goofy and dynamic, constantly evolving and changing as the film continues. The sheer level of imagination and invention in Mind Game is truly unbelievable; Yuasa is somehow able to strike the perfect balance between awkwardness and poetry. Every moment counts, resulting in a fantastically powerful final montage. Mind Game may not be for everyone, but nobody can deny that it is a bold and unique artifact highlighting the potential of animation.
5. Only Yesterday (100% rating)
Of course, there had to be a Studio Ghibli movie on this list. However, likely to the surprise of some, it’s not directed by Hayao Miyazaki, whose films like Princess Mononoke, Spirited Awayand My Neighbor Totoro have mesmerized moviegoers for years. Only Yesterdaywhich first released in 1991, is one of two movies on this list from director Isao Takahata.
Based on the 1982 manga of the same title, Only Yesterday is a Studio Ghibli movie that deserves a larger spotlight. The film follows 27-year-old Taeko Okajima, an unmarried career woman who is taking her first extended trip outside her native Tokyo as she travels to rural Yamagata. During her trip, Taeko reminisces about her childhood in Tokyo and what life could have been. Only Yesterday is a wonderfully powerful meditation on life, a mature and sophisticated gem of a movie. To celebrate the film’s 25 year anniversary, GKIDS released the film for the first time in an English-language format featuring the voices of Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel in 2016.
4. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (100% rating)
Isao Takahata makes his second appearance on Rotten Tomatoes’ top 10 animated movies with The Tale of the Princess Kaguyareleased in 2013. The movie is an adaptation of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutteran old Japanese literary story. It follows a tiny nymph who was found inside a bamboo stalk. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, the Princess Kaguya orders her suitors to prove their love by completing a series of near-impossible tasks.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya proves once again that Studio Ghibli is one of the finest animation houses in all of the world with its powerful and beautiful story. The movie is graceful and beautiful, a touching display of outstanding animation. Each frame looks like a painting, a stunning portrait swimming in watercolor imagery.
3. Toy Story (100% rating)
As one of the most innovative animated movies ever made, it’s hard to underestimate the impact that 1995’s Toy Story had on animation — and filmmaking as a whole. Toy Story is the first-ever feature film from Pixar, which is still producing animated classics to this day. However, some of its best work is also its first.
Toy Storyas most of us know, follows the touching story of, well, a bunch of toys. When a spaceman action figure named Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) starts to take over as the top toy in kid Andy’s bedroom, toy cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) is profoundly threatened. Toy Story is a classic, a feat of animation that reinvigorated a genre. However, it’s not even the highest-ranked movie in the Toy Story franchise on the Tomatometer.
2. Pinocchio (100% rating)
There are so many Disney classics that could have made this list, but, according to Rotten Tomatoes, 1940’s Pinocchio stands above the rest. We all know the story: Pinocchio is a wooden puppet who just wants to be a real boy. Created by Italian woodcarver Geppetto and brought to life by a fairy, Pinocchio labors to become a real boy, leading him into a host of obstacles and meetings with memorable characters.
Pinocchio is the second Disney animated feature film — only 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs predates it — and it has been a classic ever since. With its ambition, heart, and sense of humor, it makes sense why Rotten Tomatoes users see Pinocchio as a perfect movie. It’s a weirdly disturbing movie that continues to stand the test of time, as well as a technical marvel that is nothing less than awe-inducing. If Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs proved that animation can indeed produce compelling and profitable feature-length films, Pinocchio proved that the medium can reach the annals of high art.
1. Toy Story 2 (100% rating)
The Toy Story franchise has always been a Pixar classic, and according to Rotten Tomatoes, its first sequel deserves the crown for best animated movie of all time. Toy Story 2 hit theaters in 1999, a year packed with dozens and dozens of amazing movies. The sequel follows our favorite gang of toys (who are some of the best Pixar characters ever) as they attempt to rescue Woody from a toy dealer named Al McWhiggin. While Buzz Lightyear and friends try to rescue the toy cowboy, Woody learns more about his past, connects with new friends, and questions if he really wants to go back to Andy’s toybox.
Toy Story 2 hits all the emotional chords one could ever want, and its animation is as lively and colorful as ever. It’s difficult to appeal to both adult and children in an animated movie, but thanks to Toy Story 2‘s heart and character, Pixar caught lightning in a bottle.