The 30 Best Animated Movies Of All Time – Forbes

American movie producer, artist, and animator Walt Disney and the storyboards for the film “Sleeping … [+] Beauty.”
Animated films aren’t just for kids. Animation comes in many genres, from family-friendly to comedy to action to horror. However, the best animated movies are not just great films but also art pieces. Whether it’s stop-motion, cartoon or CGI, the best animated films of all time bring the viewer into new imaginative worlds. This list features both the top animated family films and those for older audiences. So please note that not all of these films are appropriate for kids. However, all of these films deliver great storytelling, beautiful visuals and a showcase of the best animation has to offer.
This list features films from 1940 to 2021. However, animation has been around since at least the late 1800s. While animated shorts have been a staple of the genre, only full-length films are included on this list. Notably, the first full-length animated film was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937.
Studios featured prominently on this list include Disney, Studio Ghibli and Pixar. However, this list also features films from Laika, DreamWorks and independent productions. While the two highest-grossing animated films (controversially), The Lion King (2019) and Frozen II, do not appear on this list, many of the following have seen widespread success both critically and commercially. This list also includes many animation types, including stop-motion, traditional animation and CGI. However, all of them are great animated films.
In many ways, Shrek changed the animated film industry. Not only did it help establish CGI and DreamWorks Animation, but it was also the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
Starring Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy, Shrek tells the story of an ogre forced to help rescue a princess. The film was based on the book Shrek! by William Steig. Shrek has three sequels and two spin-off films, including most recently, the well-received Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. In 2020, Shrek became the first animated film of the 21st century to be chosen for preservation at the Library of Congress. Shrek is currently available on Peacock and fuboTV.
The Prince of Egypt may just seem like a bible retelling, but it stands out not only for its lush visuals but also for its iconic soundtrack. The film has a score composed by Hans Zimmer and songs by Mariah Carey and Whitney Huston. It also features performances by Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin and Martin Short.
The film follows the story of the book of Exodus and Moses. It won an Oscar for Best Original Song, making it the first non-Disney/Pixar animated film to win an Academy Award. In recent years, many have called for the film to be enshrined as an iconic animated film. The Prince of Egypt is available to rent on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play and Apple TV.
The display at the premiere Of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” at Bergdorf Goodman New York City.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of two stop-motion animated films directed by Wes Anderson. Based on the Roald Dahl story of the same name and co-written by Noah Baumbach, Fantastic Mr. Fox follows the adventures of a fox who breaks a promise to his pregnant wife.
The film features the voice talents of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray. It underperformed at the box office but was met with critical praise. It holds a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. Fantastic Mr. Fox is currently available to stream on Max.
The Last Unicorn is a fantasy adventure film by the legendary Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass. The movie follows a unicorn forced to take human form to save her from the genocide of her kind by an unloving king. The film is dark in tone and style. Somewhat dissonantly, it features music from the band America and the London Symphony Orchestra.
While the film initially received mixed reviews, it has garnered a cult following. Some have called it a “secret studio Ghilbil film” and a proto-anime. The studio that handled the animation, Topcraft, went bankrupt after The Last Unicorn’s production, and from that bankruptcy, young Topcraft employee Hayao Miyazaki started his own studio. The Last Unicorn also features voice performances from Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury and Christopher Lee. It is currently available to stream on Peacock, Tubi, Amazon, Hulu and the Roku Channel.
The Thief and The Cobbler is a hard film to describe. The movie itself has issues, the largest being the appropriation and exoticism of Middle Eastern cultures. However, its long and complicated production has given it a cult following. The film is unfinished and started production in the 1960s.
Directed by Richard Williams and starring Matthew Broderick and Vincent Price in his last role, the film was passed between several different studios and was even partially funded by a Saudi Prince. The movie’s production led to the making of the 2012 documentary Persistence of Vision, which boasted the tagline, “The untold story of the greatest animated film never made.” Issues in production often stemmed back to the meticulous detail of Williams and his animation style. The Thief and The Cobbler is available to rent on YouTube, Amazon Prime and Google Play.
Based on the novel of the same name, Paprika is an R-rated animated Japanese psychological thriller. Paprika was the last film directed by acclaimed anime filmmaker Satoshi Kon. It follows a dream detective on the trail of a terrorist who steals a device that can influence people’s dreams.
The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Many have cited Paprika as a possible influence for Inception as the movies share many plot elements and themes. However, Christopher Nolan has not supported these claims. The film is highly creative and highly visually stimulating. Paprika currently holds an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and is currently streaming on Tubi.
“The Mitchells vs. the Machines”
The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a sci-fi comedy from Sony Pictures Animation. The film was written by Mike Rianda and follows a family as a college road trip is interrupted by the robot uprising.
The movie stars Danny McBride, Abbi Jacobson, Maya Rudolph, Rianda and Eric Andre. The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the distribution of the film, however, it received a limited theatrical run and distribution through Netflix. The film earned critical praise as well as praise from the LGBTQ community for the inclusion of a main LGBTQ character in a family film. Parasite director Bong Joon-ho listed it among his favorite films of 2021. The film is currently available to stream on Netflix.
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a stop-motion animated film directed by Nick Park and Steve Box. The movie is part of the Wallace and Gromit series and is the first full-length film in the series.
In the film, Wallace and his dog, Gromit, must use their pest control business to stop a giant rabbit from attacking the town. The film holds a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. It is currently available to stream on Peacock.
Joanna Maleszyk hangs up recreations of Vincent van Gogh paintings at a film studio working on … [+] “Loving Vincent.”
Loving Vincent is a film about the death of Vincent Van Gogh. While the picture’s plot is heartbreaking and poignant, it is more notable for its style. The film is made up of 65,000 frames of oil painting on canvas. The style is similar to Van Gogh’s and took 125 artists six years to complete. The film sells itself as the “world’s first fully painted film.”
Loving Vincent was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and currently holds an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The co-directors of Loving Vincent, DK and Hugh Welchman, recently released another fully painted film, The Peasants, in 2023, based on the artwork of young Polish artists from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Loving Vincent is currently streaming on AMC+.
Your Name follows two high school students who swap bodies during the lead-up to a rare comet. This Japanese animated film has a great twist, catchy soundtrack and unique approach to narrative. The film is both a sweet teen romance and a rumination on the themes of culture and disaster.
The film has two versions: the original Japanese and an English dub. The film was well-received for its story and style and holds a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Japan’s Toho Studios is also working on a live-action adaptation. It is currently available to stream on Crunchy Roll.
“The Nightmare Before Christmas,” a stop motion musical fantasy film written and produced by Tim … [+] Burton and directed by Henry Selick.
Directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas is both a Halloween and holiday classic. The stop-motion animation film follows Jack Skellington, the King of Halloween Town, as he tries to co-opt Christmas as part of a midlife crisis.
The musical features a score by Danny Elfman and the voice talents of Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara and Paul Reubens. The film was based on a poem that Burton wrote while working as a Disney animator in the 1980s. The Nightmare Before Christmas has a dedicated cult following. It has garnered concerts, spin-off comics, video games, toys, a behind-the-scenes podcast and even a seasonal amusement park ride overlay at Disney’s Haunted Mansion in Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland. The film is currently available to stream on Disney+ and Hulu.
Toy Story is the first of three Pixar films on this list, the first feature film made by the studio and the first fully computer-animated feature film. One of the top movies of the 90s, Toy Story follows a group of sentient toys after a new astronaut toy, Buzz, dethrones a cowboy, Woody, as their owner’s favorite toy. The movie features voice performances by Tim Allen and Tom Hanks and was directed by John Lasseter.
The film has garnered three sequels, and Toy Story 5 is in the works. The original trilogy is especially well-regarded. The original Toy Story and Toy Story 2 both currently hold 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and Toy Story 3 holds 98%. Toy Story is currently available to stream on Disney+.
“Coraline” presented by Focus Features.
Laika Studios has produced several fantastic stop-motion animated films, including ParaNorman, Kubo and the Two Strings and Missing Link. However, its first feature film, Coraline, directed by Henry Selick, is a children’s horror masterpiece.
The film, based on a YA novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, follows a young girl, Coraline, as she discovers a sinister alternate universe behind a secret door. The film has become a cult classic with 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. Coraline is currently available to stream on Max.
Based on the graphic memoir of the same name, Persepolis is a biographical drama about writer and co-director Marjane Satrapi’s life after the Iranian revolution. The film is notable for its mainly black-and-white style, which was true to its graphic novel roots.
The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize. It was also nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. The film holds a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. It is available to rent on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play and Apple TV.
Conductor Ludwig Wicki leads his orchestra which includes the American composer, Michael Giacchino, … [+] during the “Ratatouille Cine Concert” at Le Grand Rex.
“Anyone can cook,” and this movie, about a rat who dreams of being a chef, proves it. Ratatouille stars Patton Oswalt and was directed by Brad Bird. While many films from Pixar could have taken this spot, Ratatouille delivers the emotional storytelling and beautiful visuals that the studio is known for.
Ratatouille won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and was nominated for four others. 13 years after its release, it inspired an unauthorized social media-led fan musical, which led to a virtual concert that raised over $1.9 million to benefit The Actors Fund during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ratatouille has been referenced in many other movies and TV shows, including a parody called Raccacoonie in the film Everything Everywhere All at Once. The film is currently available to stream on Disney+.
Anastasia is a musical, historical fiction and romance film about the end of the Romanovs and the escape of the youngest daughter of the deposed tsar. While the film includes a few true-to-life events and characters, it is far more fairytale than history.
Anastasia stars Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Kelsey Grammer and Christopher Lloyd. The film was directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. Bluth started as an artist at Disney but went on to classic movies like The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go to Heaven. While many critics compared the film to Disney films of the time, Bluth teamed up with Fox Animation Studios to produce Anastasia. However, Anastasia has been added to the Disney catalog after Disney purchased 20th Century Fox in 2019. The film is currently streaming on Disney+.
“Fantastic Planet,” 1973.
Fantastic Planet is an adult sci-fi animated film. The film is an allegory about humans living on a strange planet overrun with giant humanoid aliens. It is experimental in its animation and storytelling.
​​The film won the Special Prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and has a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. It was the first animated film to receive a PG rating by the MPAA in the U.S. and is the shortest film on this list with just a 71-minute run time. It is available to stream on Max, Plex and the Roku Channel.
Anomalisa is a psychological stop-motion comedy-drama by Charlie Kaufman based on his 2005 audio play of the same name. Starring David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anomalisa is a haunting and introspective take on modern loneliness and connection.
The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and was nominated for a Best Animated Feature Film Oscar. Critics championed the film, and it currently holds a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie is available to rent on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play and Apple TV.
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki and animated by Studio Ghibli, My Neighbor Totoro is the story of two sisters and their run-ins with the spirits of the forest in rural Japan. Set in 1950s Japan, My Neighbor Totoro captures the magic and dreaminess of childhood in the countryside.
The film was first dubbed in English in 1989. In 2004, the film was re-dubbed in English and featured the voice talents of Dakota and Elle Fanning as well as Timothy Daly. Totoro, the titular spirit of the forest, has become a cultural icon and also serves as the mascot for Studio Ghibli. The film is available to stream on Max.
“Fantasia” lobbycard, 1940.
Fantasia is possibly the most experimental film that Disney has ever released. Instead of a singular plot, the film features eight pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski and interpreted by Disney’s animators. Each piece contains no dialogue and is accompanied by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The film is most remembered for its version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas, featuring brooms and Mickey Mouse. However, many of the other works are far less narrative. Fantasia enjoys a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes but has also drawn controversy. While early controversies included a plagiarism suit and anger over scientific depictions of the birth of the universe, later critiques have been over racism. Walt Disney personally oversaw the removal of a racially insensitive centaur character in the 1960s for the film to be re-run. Since the late 1960s, the edited version has been the only one to be released. Disney followed up Fantasia with the sequel Fantasia 2000. However, it fails to capture the experimental nature of the original. The film is currently available to stream on Disney+.
Premiere of Disney Pixar’s “Coco” at El Capitan Theatre.
Another film from Pixar, Coco, follows a young boy trapped in the land of the dead during Dia de los Muertos. The film explores the themes of generational trauma, the power of music and the bonds of family.
Coco features an all-Latino principal cast, including Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt and Edward James Olmos and many of the actors returned for the Spanish language dub. The film won two Oscars for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. It was also named Best Animated Film of 2017 by the National Board of Review. The film is currently available to stream on Disney+.
Also sometimes called My Life as a Zucchini, My Life as a Courgette is a French-Swiss stop-motion animation film about a young boy’s childhood in an orphanage. While the characters are colorful and the film is filled with whimsy, it isn’t afraid to explore weighty topics like abandonment and belonging.
The film boasts a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. The film also won two Cesar Awards for Best Animated Film and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film is available to rent on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play and Apple TV.
“Sleeping Beauty” poster, 1959.
Disney’s golden and silver ages saw the addition of many classic animated films, including Snow White, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmations and Cinderella. While many of these films could be considered among the ranks of the best animated films of all time, Sleeping Beauty is maybe the most visually rich of these films, with an art style based on pre-renaissance tapestry art.
The film took almost a decade to produce and was originally a box office bomb, partially due to its high budget of $6 million. However, its re-releases and cultural imprint have more than made up for its initial release, and it remains a top Disney princess movie. The film also introduced the character Maleficent, who received her own live-action film series with 2014’s Maleficent and 2019’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Sleeping Beauty is currently available to stream on Disney+.
I Lost My Body is not for kids. It is even viscerally disturbing at times. This French animated horror drama follows a severed hand through Paris as it tries to find its body: a Moroccan delivery boy named Naoufel who lost it in a carpentry accident.
I Lost My Body is macabre, but it is also beautiful in its examination of community, place, and belonging. Directed by Jérémy Clapin and based on the novel Happy Hand by Guillaume Laurant, the film premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival Critics’ Week. During the festival, it became the first animated film to win the Nespresso Grand Prize. I Lost My Body went on to win 2 César Awards and be nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It is currently only available on Netflix.
Grave of the Fireflies is one of the darkest films from Studio Ghibli. Directed by Isao Takahata, the film follows two children struggling to survive the horrors of war in 1940s Japan.
Grave of the Fireflies is not for children and is a deeply sad movie. However, the film was initially shown as a double feature with the much lighter My Neighbor Totoro. It is the only theatrical Studio Ghibli film before From Up on Poppy Hill in 2011 that Disney never had the North American distribution rights to. Roger Ebert said it is an “emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation.” Unfortunately, it is not currently available to rent or stream currently in the US.
Disney had played around with adapting Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s fairytale, Beauty and the Beast, in the 1930s and 1950s. However, it wasn’t until the Disney Renaissance era (1989-1999) that the studio made an animated musical version of the classic story. The Disney Renaissance saw many iconic films such as The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Aladdin, Mulan and Hercules.
Beauty and the Beast follows Belle, the beauty, as she falls in love with a prince cursed to live as a terrifying beast in the French countryside. The songs for Beauty and the Beast were composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman. The two had previously worked on The Little Mermaid. Ashman died of AIDS-related complications six months before the release of the film, and the film was dedicated to his memory. Beauty and the Beast went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Score and Best Original Song. It is available to stream on Sling and Disney+.
Bob Hoskins and Jessica Rabbit in a scene from the film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” 1988.
Is Who Framed Roger Rabbit an animated film? There is an argument to be made that it is not. The film, directed by Robert Zemeckis, was groundbreaking for its combination of animation and live-action. While it is not fully animated, it brought renewed interest to animation as a genre.
The film is based on the novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit and is a noir-style crime comedy about a cartoon falsely accused of murder and the human private investigator on the case. The film features live-action performances by Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd and Stubby Kaye, and voice performances by Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner and Mel Blanc. The film has a cult following and, in 2016, was added to the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It is currently available to stream on Disney+.
The Iron Giant is an animated science fiction film and the directorial debut of Brad Bird, who went on to direct films like The Incredibles. The film follows a lonely kid who makes an unlikely friendship with a giant alien robot in 1950s Maine. The movie features the voice talents of Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr. and Vin Diesel as the robot.
The film has some weighty inspiration and design choices. The Iron Giant is based on the 1968 Ted Hughes’s The Iron Man, which he wrote for his kids after the death of their mother, Sylvia Plath. The film also features a score by the Czech Philharmonic, and the style is inspired by the art of Norman Rockwell, Edward Hopper and N.C. Wyeth. However, the overall film is deeply heartwarming and has a strong anti-gun message. It is available to stream on Sling and Paramount+.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an animated superhero film chronicling the origin story of Miles Morales and the other Spider-Men he meets as he saves the city and reality itself from the evil Kingpin.
The film features performances by Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, John Mulaney, Nicolas Cage and Liev Schreiber. A sequel to the film, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, was released in 2023, and Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse was set to release in 2024 but has been delayed due to the SAG AFTRA strike. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film, and the film gained widespread acclaim for its storytelling and animation. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is available to stream on Hulu with Live TV and Fubo.
A display of No-Face, from the film “Spirited Away,” in the Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse area during a … [+] preview for the Ghibli Park.
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away is a fantasy film from Studio Ghibli. The film follows a ten-year-old girl, Chihiro, as she is trapped in the spirit realm and must save her parents from the evil witch, Yubaba.
Spirited Away held the record for highest-grossing film in Japan for 19 years and was the first, and so far only, non-English-language animated film to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Walt Disney Pictures distributed the film in North America at the behest of John Lasseter, and an English dub of the film features Daveigh Chase, Michael Chiklis, Tara Strong, Susan Egan and John Ratzenberger. It is currently available to stream on Max.
Bottom Line
From painstaking stop-motion to groundbreaking CGI, animated films make art come to life. While some see animated films as “for kids,” many are so much more. These films capture beauty, heart, emotion and so much more.







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