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The 25 Best Animated Movies Ever Made

This medium has produced so many masterpieces across almost every genre.

Animation is often thought of as being just for kids, but the medium has so much to offer to audiences of any age. Yes, many of the best "cartoons" are aimed at children, but animation, whether hand drawn or created with a computer, gives storytellers the tools to craft narratives that would be impossible to share with audiences as effectively any other way—a fact well illustrated (no pun intended) by this list of 25 of the best animated movies ever.

RELATED: Every Disney Animated Movie, Ranked From Worst to Best.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

Still from The Adventures of Prince Achmed
Comenius-Film GmbH/Milestone Films

The oldest surviving animated film, this 65-minute curio is both historically significant and beautiful to look at. Filmmaker Lotte Reiniger pioneered a handcrafted animated style involving paper silhouettes to tell a story pulled from the pages of One Thousand and One Nights.

Akira (1988)

Still from Akira

Japanese filmmaker Katsuhiro Otomo managed to cram his own sprawling manga series into this dense, confusing, visionary sci-fi epic, set in a futuristic version of Tokyo inhabited by roving motorcycle gangs and super-powered teenagers.

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Still from Beauty and the Beast
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

This was the first animated film to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, and it's easy to see why: It's the perfect embodiment of the classic Disney formula. It brings a classic fairytale to vivid life (thankfully giving the titular Beauty a lot more substance than poor Snow White), helped along by one of the greatest song scores of all time.

Bambi (1942)

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Where earlier Disney movies created memorably cartoonish characters, this heartwarming and harrowing adaptation of the Felix Salten's 1923 novel strives for natural realism in all things. Today's CGI animation may be able to create blades of grass that look picture-perfect, but the flora and fauna of Bambi will always be more real to me.

Coraline (2009)

Still from Coraline
Focus Features

Based on a novella by Neil Gaiman and brought to the screen by the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline follows a young girl who discovers a hidden door in her new home that leads to a parallel world that initially seems superior in every way, but soon reveals sinister secrets—though they should have been obvious, given her "Other Mother's" creepy button eyes. Coraline is the rare children's film that isn't afraid to scare its young audience silly.

RELATED: 30 Travel Movies to Help Inspire Your Next Trip.

Frozen (2013)

Still from Frozen
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Disney reinvigorated the princess feature with this tale of two sisters, Elsa and Anna, whose close childhood relationship is torn apart when Elsa's special powers (shooting blasts of ice from her hands when she's upset) put Anna in danger. Years later, when a shady prince swoops in to scam the lonely Anna into engagement, Elsa accidentally plunges her kingdom into eternal winter, and the adventure leading to their reconciliation begins.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Still from Grave of the Fireflies

Hailed by the late Roger Ebert as "an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation," this gut-wrenching wartime tale follows orphaned siblings Seita and Setsuko as they struggle to survive in the midst of devastation and loss following the bombing of Japan during World War II. While director Isao Takahata refused to call the film "anti-war," its humanist message is undeniable.

The Iron Giant (1999)

Iron Giant
Warner Bros. Pictures

Director Brad Bird made one of the highest-grossing animated films ever with his superhero epic The Incredibles 2, but his best film is this beloved-but-underseen gem. Set amid the paranoia of the Cold War-era space race, The Iron Giant follows a young boy who happens upon a crashed meteor that turns out to be a giant robot from space. What begins as a rollicking E.T.-esque adventure matures into a thoughtful examination of how the choices we make shape who we are.

The Last Unicorn (1982)

Still from The Last Unicorn
Jensen Farley Pictures

Hand-drawn by many of the same animators who would go on to work for Hayao Miyazaki at Studio Ghibli, this adaptation of Peter S. Beagle's beloved fantasy novel about a lonely unicorn who sets off on a quest to find more of her kind is strange, surreal, and unforgettable. (But your mileage may vary on the folksy song score, from '70s rockers America.)

The Lion King (1994)

Still from The Lion King
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Any success of Disney's recent "live-action" remake of The Lion King happened because the original is already a perfect film—so good even lifelike-to-a-fault CGI animal effects couldn't screw it up. The 1994 version, a loose update of Hamlet set on the African savannah and starring an all-animal cast, is iconic on every level, from the detailed hand-drawn animation to the indelible Elton John, Tim Rice, and Hans Zimmer soundtrack.

RELATED: 24 Feel-Good Movies to Lift Your Spirits.

Millennium Actress (2001)

Still from Millennium Actress

Japanese director Satoshi Kon died of pancreatic cancer in 2010 at just 46 years old, cutting short a brilliant career that encompassed four films, including a tense Hitchcockian thriller (Perfect Blue) and a mind-bending sci-fi thriller (Paprika). But his masterpiece is 2001's Millennium Actress, a mature drama in which a reporter interviews a world-famous actress in the twilight of her career, her life story playing out in flashbacks that slip and twist into scenes from her film—suggesting that reality exists somewhere between actual lived experience and the memories we make of it.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Still from My Neighbor Totoro

The beloved coming-of-age story from Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki excels both as a gentle tale of two sisters struggling to come to terms with their mother's hospitalization and a fantastical fable stuffed with imaginative creatures, from the fearsome but cuddly Totoro to the galloping Cat Bus (which is exactly what it sounds like).

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Still from The Nightmare Before Christmas
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Tim Burton's stop-motion musical melds the dark and the heartwarming as Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon/Danny Elfman), the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, discovers the magic of Christmas…and gets it horribly wrong. Though initially ignored at the box office, it has since become an indelible seasonal classic, whether you choose to watch it in October or December.

Persepolis (2007)

Still from Persepolis
Sony Pictures Classics

Based on Marjane Sartrapi's autobiographical novel of the same name and directed by the author, Persepolis charts her coming of age against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. Through black-and-white illustrations, Sartrapi brings to life both history and personal conflict as the adolescent main character struggles to stay true to herself in different political landscapes.

Pinocchio (1940)

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Guided by the Blue Fairy and his loyal conscience, Jiminy Cricket, the wooden puppet Pinocchio journeys through vice and the literal belly of a whale to become a real boy. Featuring kidnapping, enslavement, and a scene where the puppet's wayward friend is turned into a donkey while screaming for his mother, the second feature from Disney has haunted childhoods for years.

RELATED: 70 Best Disney Quotes About Love, Life, and Wishing Upon Stars.

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

Still from The Secret of NIMH
MGM/UA Entertainment Co.

Animator Don Bluth left a struggling Disney in the early '80s, determined to make animated films on his own terms. One of his best from a run of classics (including The Land Before Time and An American Tail), this adaptation of the children's book about a group of super-intelligent mice that escape from a science lab contains greater depth, complexity, and darkness than your average kiddie flick starring talking animals.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

snow white and the seven dwarfs
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The first ever full-length animated feature produced in the U.S. was a revelation in 1937, became one of the highest-grossing films of all time, established the Disney legacy, and still holds up today. Though its thin but faithful rendition of the classic fairy tale isn't exactly laudable when it comes to modern gender politics, the painstaking, innovative animation remains impressive more than eight decades later.

Song of the Sea (2014)

Still from Song of the Sea

This animated feature out of Ireland is an unusual fable about a young boy whose mother went missing shortly after the birth of his younger sister. He resents the girl, but nevertheless sets off on a quest to rescue her after learning she (and his mother) are both shape-shifting skelkies of Irish legend. Underneath the fantasy trappings, it's a moving story about the pain of loss and the bonds that can pull you back together.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Still from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Sony Pictures Releasing

Given their comic book roots, it only makes sense that the best superhero movie of all time is an animated feature. This Academy Award-winning adventure introduced the wider world to Miles Morales, a very different version of your friendly neighborhood web-slinger than the Peter Parker most moviegoers knew, and brought CGI animation into a new age. Its freewheeling style packs decades' worth of comic book aesthetics into a reality ripping tale that hops across dimensions but never loses track of its well-drawn characters.

Spirited Away (2001)

Still from Spirited Away

Doubling (or tripling) down on the surreal elements that made My Neighbor Totoro so memorable, Miyazaki's Oscar-winning masterpiece Spirited Away is a portal fantasy about a stubborn young girl named Sen who wanders into dilapidated amusement park styled to resemble a Japanese bathhouse and populated with a bizarre assembly of talking animals and river spirits, lorded over by the cruel, shape-shifting witch who has transformed Sen's parents into giant pigs. The dreamlike narrative will put you under a spell too.

RELATED: 27 Movies With Shocking Twist Endings You Won't Recover From.

Toy Story (1995)

Still from Toy Story
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Every bit as groundbreaking an achievement as Snow White was back in 1937, the first feature-length computer animated film reveals the secret inner lives and jealous insecurities of your favorite childhood toys. It's a richly imagined world—instantly endearing characters and a perfectly constructed plot set the stage for dozens more classics to come from animation studio Pixar.

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

the triplets of belleville
Sony Pictures Classics

Amid the Tour du France, an old woman and her dog set off to rescue her kidnapped grandson, with an assist from the titular trio—three elderly (but lively) women who were once a song-and-dance act. Blending animation styles and unfolding with minimal dialogue, it's a silly and inventive homage to silent films, bicycling, and French culture that will make you want to give a hug to your most eccentric aunt.

Wall-E (2008)

Still from Wall-E
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Set in 2805, Wall-E tells the tale of a lonely little robot left behind to clean up the mess on an Earth long made uninhabitable after humanity trashed it. With a score by Thomas Newman (cousin of Randy) and a weirdly touching robot love story, Pixar's dystopian tale charms, despite unfolding virtually dialogue-free throughout its first half.

Yellow Submarine (1968)

Still from Yellow Submarine
United Artists

Despite appearing in a brief live-action sequence at the end, the Beatles barely participated in the making of this animated feature inspired by their music, which is a shame—it's the best encapsulation of their mid-'60s pop art aesthetic: light on story but heavy on style, a series of psychedelic music videos strung together via a weird narrative about music-hating Blue Meanies.

Your Name (2016)

Still from Your Name

Plenty of U.S. moviegoers still think of animation as mostly kids' stuff, but Japanese anime casts a far wider net—for example, with this funny, sexy, sci-fi rom-com (briefly the highest-grossing Japanese film ever) following a teenage boy and girl who inexplicably find themselves jumping between bodies and across time. It's not every love story than can succeed even when its characters don't meet until the final frame.

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller is a pop culture writer living in New York. Read more
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