Shrek smiling unconvincingly in Shrek.

20 of the Best Animated Movies of All Time

The Shrekoning.

You know, I didn’t realize how intensely people felt about animation until I started writing online content. To help get a better, more rounded sense of how people consume and engage with modern media, I started watching video essays of various types, and as it turns out, a lot of people have very, very particular opinions about the state of modern animation.

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And for good reason! Modern animation is suffering from an identity crisis. On one hand, you have people who genuinely do it out of love, and who struggle to gain footing in the capitalistic hellscape that is The Industry. On the other hand, you have moguls who lean into that hellscape to produce a bunch of regurgitated garbage that they know parents with small children will buy into, regardless of quality. For people who grew up with beautiful, creative, and ingenious animated films, it can feel like an insult, and a harbinger of worse times to come for films in general.

So, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the films that have created and established this love within us, and paved the way for similar films down the road. They aren’t ranked in any particular order of quality–that being said, we had to start with a classic…

1. Shrek

Shrek and Fiona embrace in Shrek.

Of course, Shrek is at the top of this list, it couldn’t be any other way. This perfect little movie was created as a “Fuck You” to the studio execs at Dreamworks who shafted some of their most talented artists and writers for insubordination, moving them from working on The Prince of Egypt to. Well. Shrek.

And what a great decision that ended up being, despite The Prince of Egypt being a perfectly fine film. Shrek is the ultimate parody movie that still manages to have more heart than most films out there. It’s clever, it’s funny, you can watch it at any age, and it’s the ultimate worker revenge fantasy—after all, Lord Farquuad is named AND designed after that lead exec who did the shafting. Ha! Get Shreked, guy.

2. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron


I once hung out with a group of very nasty people who put on Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron just to make fun of it. How emotionally numb do you have to be to hate on a movie like this? It’s just pure, unadulterated joy, in horse form.

I just can’t imagine hating this movie. It’s got a really unique take on American history for a children’s movie, being that it honors both natural history and the history of Native Americans, over the traditional “American” narrative fed to us in mainstream cinema. And, for chrissakes, can we as a society move past the hatred of “horse girl media” and just see a good movie for what it is??? Y’all wish you could make something as cool as Spirit.

3. Fantastic Mr. Fox

A Fantastic Fox family portrait.

Wes Anderson set a dangerous precedent in modern indie films. It feels like all of them now have some sort of gimmicky animated portion that tries to emulate this iconic movie. But none of them will ever have the panache that is Fantastic Mr. Fox.

It’s got the same level of genius that Shrek has, being that it’s able to be enjoyable for both children and adults. The writing is almost obnoxiously clever, yet the visuals are utterly gorgeous and captivating to watch. The voice acting is subtle, yet not overtly twee, and the music, oh my god, the music. Anyone who tries to top this one is a fool, because it just cannot be done.

4. Coraline

the other mother in coraline

We have Chicken Run to thank for making stop-motion a mainstream medium for animated films, but we have Coraline to thank for making it goth. Stupid, I know, but Coraline really did leave a fairly impressionable mark on animation as a whole.

It’s undeniably creepy, yet so inventive and fun to watch. Plus, I LOVE how badass Coraline is as a character: she’s constantly undaunted and pissed about the things going on around her, even as frightening as they are.

5. The Nightmare Before Christmas

The nightmare before christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas has steadily become the Nightmare of Hot Topic & Disney Adults, so I think many people have forgotten just how fantastic a film it really is. This was such a genuine and beautiful film, full of character and inspiration—a sort of ghost of Disney’s old creative flames.

6. Spirited Away

Chihiro and No-Face travelling to Swamp Bottom via the The Sea Railway

Alright, yeah, let’s get to the Ghiblis. I’m gonna have to be picky with these, or else we’ll be here all day.

It’s only fitting that Spirited Away be the first Ghibli film listed here. There’s just nothing quite like it: Spirited Away set a standard of creativity for countless other films to come, while also establishing a creative aesthetic for an entire generation of children who grew up with it.

It’s beautiful to look at, the plot beats are compelling (well, for the first two thirds of the film anyways, but that’s just Miyazaki for ya), and the character design is truly inspired. I still look at my dog and think, “Aha! Fat Rat Boy!”

7. Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke, a Studio Ghiblil film

You know how impactful Princess Mononoke is? One of my college professors put it on for us. Granted, it was before finals week, so our sweet professor was giving us a break (shoutout Noriko!!), but it was because Princess Mononoke went beyond a traditional animated film. It had themes embedded in its story and style that embodied Japan as a whole: the struggles between industrialism and the spiritualism of nature, of old ways and new, and the mythos of the wild as a core part of Japanese folklore.

Mononoke was as much a political statement as it was a simple animated film, and considering how powerful Miyazaki is within Japanese media…hey man, hats off, that’s pretty badass.

8. My Neighbor Totoro


Hot take: My Neighbor Totoro is largely nonsensical and silly. I don’t know how well it’d do in today’s hypersaturated market.

…so thank god it came out when it did, because homegirl is an icon! I don’t think I need to elaborate. If you have small kids, follow in my parents’ shoes and introduce them to this movie, so they can grow up believing in the magic of the world, too.

9. Finding Nemo

Bruce from Finding Nemo

And now, Pixar films! Again: gotta be choosy.

I’m introducing Finding Nemo first purely because it’s goddamn gorgeous, even by today’s standards. I still audibly gasp when I put this movie on—how on earth were they able to get the graphics to look as good as they do in 2003???

The plot is simple, sure, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I actually think it’s a worse writing sin when writers try to make a movie more convoluted than it needs to be for the sake of “uniqueness,” because oftentimes, they end up circling back to mediocrity. N’est-ce pas Nemo: this film took a core premise and created something absolutely phenomenal with it.

10. Up


Up is masterful in its balance between mature subject matter and lighthearted adventuring. Even as a child, I felt completely comfortable watching every emotional high and low in this movie. And haven’t we all had fantasies about a skyship at some point or another? Don’t let age stop you—if Carl could do it after all those years, you can, too!

(Disclaimer: do not try to make a skyship out of your old house that’s at risk of being demolished because of gentrification, we are not liable for your poor decisions)

11. Ratatouille

a rat dances with a carrot in ratatouille

Ratatouille is a bop and I’m loving this cultural turning point where everyone’s finally acknowledging it. I’ve been a Remy the Rat stan since day one. Look at this ratboy. Iconic.

Seriously though, Ratatouille is just so…cool? So fun? So fresh? Pixar is already a nexus of creativity in the biz, so it’s truly telling that Ratatouille took that reputation and ran with it. Nay, it scurried, on all-fours, into the most prestigious dining promenades in Paris. God yes! Rat-patootie!!!!

12. Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse

Into the Spider-Verse
(Photo: Sony Pictures)

Sorry guys, I’m a sinner: I only just watched this movie! My friend was hyping it up all day, so we hunkered down on the couch and I gave it a dubious try, having not harbored any interest in superhero media whatsoever since the days of my youth.

Spiderverse reminded me of the pure joy, creativity, and heart that made these superheroes exist in the first place. Not only was Miles such an endearing protagonist, and Peter was the loser boyfriend of my dreams, it was just so obviously a product of love, and infectiously so. I get the hype now!

13. The Iron Giant

(Warner Bros.)

Aside from this being one of the films that kickstarted Wes Anderson’s journey in filmmaking, The Iron Giant is just a titan of its time, unlike anything else and beautifully so. I used to watch this movie over, and over, and over again as a kid, and I never got sick of it.

Damn. Thinking about this movie makes me want to watch it again. It’s difficult to explain why the best things are the best, so it’s probably in your best interest to join me (in spirit) and put it on today.

14. Akira

Akira in Akira, is getting the live-action treatment from taika waititi.


I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about this movie (because the plot was so esoteric, and I was nineteen and belligerently drunk), but I do remember having an absolute blast watching it. There was a magic to early-era anime that I think is lost to time, and Akira is the pinnacle of that time. Akira inspired all manner of creatives, and horrified the rest with how literally big-brained it was.

All that in mind, I feel comfortable considering Akira to be the godfather of modern sci-fi films.

15. Perfect Blue

Perfect Blue Cover

I knew from the start that Perfect Blue was going to mess me up in a good way, and it did. It most certainly did. This is one of the most hauntingly grounding films I’ve ever seen, and I can see how it’s influenced so many films ever since.

Perfect Blue follows a pop idol as she moves her career away from singing to acting, yet there’s nothing rosy or charmed about her life in the slightest. Her life is claustrophobic, both physically (in her small, messy apartment) and socially (with the way people suffocate her, from coworkers to fans, including a stalker). It’s a dark, unsettling film that deals with issues like identity and psychosis, but it’s handled in a way that leaves a permanent impression.

16. The Sea Beast

Netflix's official banner for The Sea Beast

While the plot of The Sea Beast juggles a few different tropes, it all manages to work quite fantastically, creating a classic adventure story that reminds me of the sorts of movies I grew up with. It’s also just one of the most visually gorgeous films I’ve seen in a long time, and worth watching for the animation alone.

17. Treasure Planet

treasure planet is good actually

Only real ones remember Treasure Planet. At the time, it was something of a sleeper hit for Disney, but it’s grown quite a substantial cult following since. That’s because it’s a creative banger, pure and simple.

Treasure Planet was its own thing in its entirety, from the visuals to the story. If someone compares another work to this film, what they’re saying is that it’s got a unique, captivating vision. Or maybe they’re just reaching because they still have a crush on Jim.

18. My Life as a Zucchini

Originally in French (titled as My Life as a Courgette), this stop-motion film is both a heartbreaker and a heart warmer. The titular Zucchini finds himself suddenly orphaned, and the film follows his time in the new orphanage he comes to call home. You’re constantly worried for the well-being of these kids, yet the friendships and sense of community they build with one another will make you cry with love and laughter.

It’s also just stylistically a very neat film.

19. Mirai

Mamoru Hosada’s got a brilliant mind for creative plotting and visual innovation, and honestly, so many of his films could go on this list. I debated on whether or not to include Belle, his most recent masterpiece, instead of Mirai, but ultimately I felt Mirai carried the most heart of any of his films (although you should definitely watch all of them!).

In Mirai, a little boy suddenly finds himself with a sibling, and he really just cannot hang with that. But fate decides he has no choice but to try, and what results is a series of absolutely delightful misadventures.

20. The Garden of Words

Yukino in the garden, drinking her morning beer.

This film took me by surprise, I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. Knowing the way anime can be, I was initially worried they’d take the high schooler’s crush on an older woman too far, but they really didn’t. Instead, The Garden of Words created one of the most humanistic narratives I’ve seen in an anime film in a long time.

Sure, at times it gets a little too saccharine and dramatic in tone, but overall it works beautifully. And the animation itself is utterly astounding, especially considering this film was released ten years ago.

(featured image: Dreamworks)

This story has been updated from its original version.

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Image of Madeline Carpou
Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).