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10 best animated movies of all time, ranked

Russell, Dug, and Kevin stand around Carl Fredricksen in a scene from the Pixar film Up
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Animation has come a long way since its early roots, with the genre evolving from painstakingly hand-drawn scenes to innovative digital creations. The medium has also evolved from being associated with family-friendly flicks to now feature movies crafted with adults in mind. The most important animated films reflect these changes and more, spanning different genres, aesthetic styles, and stories.

From the groundbreaking Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Spirited Away, the best animated movies of all time are genre-defining classics and enduring favorites that prove animation can be diverse and imaginative. Whether it’s the pioneering films, computer-generated marvels from Pixar, or stop-motion artistry, there’s something for every kind of viewer in the world of animation.

10. Persepolis (2007)

A still of a girl holding an ABBA album in Persepolis.
Diaphana Distribution

Based on Marjane Satrapi’s eponymous autobiographical graphic novel, Persepolis tells a coming-of-age tale about her as a young girl growing up in Iran. It chronicles the different stages of her life set against the backdrop of pre- and post-revolutionary Iran before she moves to Europe. Directed by Satrapi herself alongside Vincent Paronnaud, the 2007 movie captures the protagonist’s rebellious youth and transformative path toward becoming a brave woman still fighting for her rights.

One of the best biographical dramas ever made that viewers may have never heard of, Persepolis is a gorgeous adaptation of the source material. It fearlessly tells an intimate story of one woman’s journey, while commenting on larger political issues. The film’s high-contrast black-and-white visual style perfectly complements its powerful narrative, which is one worth learning about.

9. Coraline (2009)

Coraline crawls through a dark tunnel.
Laika

A spooky stop-motion classic that likely scared many young viewers, director Henry Selick’s Caroline is a dark fantasy horror film adapted from Neil Gaiman’s eponymous novella. It tells the story of the curious and somewhat rebellious young Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning), who discovers a secret door in her new home leading to an alternate reality. In this parallel world, she meets “Other” versions of her family and neighbors, who initially seem perfect, but are soon revealed to have sinister motivations. Coraline must soon courageously save herself and her real family from the evil Other Mother.

Coraline is remembered for starting as a charming adventure before becoming a nightmarish experience. The film’s clever use of colors to differentiate the two worlds, small clues about the characters, and meticulous set design show how much work went into the tiniest details. All this work pays off, as Coraline enjoys a reputation of being a beloved creepy animated movie for the entire family to enjoy.

8. Up (2009)

Carl Frederickson looks at an empty chair where his wife, Ellie, once sat.
Walt Disney Studios

Pixar movies can make viewers cry, and no other film from the studio proves this more than 2009’s Up. Directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson, the film follows 78-year-old balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), who fulfills his late wife’s dream of adventure by attaching balloons to his house and flying to South America. He also accidentally brings young Wilderness Explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai) along for the ride. As they venture deep into the jungle and meet the talking dog Dug (Peterson), they encounter a giant bird named Kevin, who’s in danger of being killed by Carl’s old idol, the explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer).

The infamous sequence that made countless fans cry happens at the start of the film, which establishes Carl and Ellie’s (Elie Docter) beautiful relationship throughout the years before showing her death from an illness. With such an emotional gut punch for an introduction, the rest of the film invites audiences to root for the now-jaded Carl, who soon finds the true meaning of adventure.

7. Shrek (2001)

Shrek talks down to Donkey in Shrek.
DreamWorks Pictures

The film that turned DreamWorks into a worthy competitor for Pixar, Shrek is an iconic blockbuster from the early 2000s that parodies fairy tale adaptations, particularly from Disney. Directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, the film takes place in the fictional kingdom of Duloc, where the ogre Shrek (Mike Myers) finds his solitary swamp home invaded by fairy tale creatures banished by the villainous Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow). To reclaim his land and peace, Shrek strikes a deal with Farquaad to rescue Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a dragon-guarded tower.

The journey that follows is full of comical moments, bizarre versions of familiar characters, and quotable lines, and that’s not even mentioning Shrek’s hilarious companion Donkey (voiced by Eddie Murphy). As Shrek enacts the classic heroic tale, there are twists and turns that highlight how the film subverts these established tropes. It does so with wit and sneaky adult humor that helped start the thriving franchise that’s still beloved by many fans today.

6. Toy Story (1995)

Buzz and Woody in Toy Story.
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Toy Story is the animated film that started the fan-favorite franchise that has had highs and lows over the years. Directed by John Lasseter, the film is centered on cowboy doll Woody (Tom Hanks), who has a rivalry with a new toy, the shiny action figure Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen). Woody is threatened by Buzz’s arrival and what it could mean for his status as Andy’s (John Morris) favorite toy. Woody goes too far one night and accidentally causes him and Buzz to get lost, forcing the two of them to work together to get back to Andy.

As the firstcomputer-animated film, Toy Story played an important role in introducing the new technology to the world, and it did so thanks in large part to a heartwarming story and lovable characters. All of these make Toy Story one of Pixar’s best and most significant movies, not to mention one of its highest-grossing ones. While its sequels and spinoffs have received uneven receptions, there’s no denying the lasting impact and positive legacy of the first and finest entry in the franchise.

5. Fantasia (1940)

Mickey Mouse in Fantasia.
RKO Radio Pictures

Hailing from a team of animators under the guidance of Walt Disney, Fantasia emerged as one of Disney’s boldest and most intriguing experiments of its time. The animated musical anthology film features a series of segments set to classical music pieces conducted by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Each of these segments showcases the fusion of cutting-edge visuals and awe-inspiring symphonies, whether that’s through the graceful ballet of fairies or Mickey Mouse’s magical journey.

It’s incredible that Fantasia even exists, as Disney took a brave move away from straightforward fairy tale narratives to deliver this blend of experimental imagery set to classical music. The film also featured a pioneering sound system called Fantasound that was developed specifically for Fantasia and eventually served as a precursor to surround sound. It’s a big risk that reaped big rewards for the company, as it boosted Mickey Mouse’s reputation and is now known as one of the best from the genre’s early years.

4. The Iron Giant (1999)

Hogarth and the Giant in Iron Giant.
Warner Bros. Animation

Who could forget the heart-wrenching classic that is The Iron Giant? Adapted from Ted Hughes’ Cold War fable and directed by Brad Bird, the animated sci-fi film revolves around the story of 9-year-old Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal), who one day discovers a massive robot from outer space. Despite initial fear and misunderstanding from the townsfolk and the government, Hogarth befriends the gentle giant (voiced by Vin Diesel), teaching him about humans and their ways. When the military arrives to destroy the giant, Hogarth must rally his friends to protect this new one.

The Iron Giant humanizes its titular robotic character effectively, with the huge hunk of metal revealed to have a heart as he and Hogarth share exciting experiences. The film’s vibrant visual style makes it easy to watch even today, but it isn’t too unique, as it’s The Iron Giant‘s tear-jerking story that makes it so unforgettable and gives it a special place in many fans’ childhoods.

3. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Snow White holding an apple from the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
RKO Radio Pictures

The film that started it all, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the first full-length animated feature. Based on the Brothers Grimm’s 1812 fairy tale, the legendary Disney movie follows the story of Snow White (Adriana Caselotti), a young princess who flees into the forest to escape her jealous stepmother, the Evil Queen (Lucille La Verne). There, she befriends seven lovable dwarfs and is temporarily safe. Eventually, the Evil Queen, disguised as an old hag, tricks Snow White into eating a poisoned apple, leading to a deep slumber from which only true love’s kiss can awaken her.

Despite premiering almost 90 years ago, Snow White remains one of Disney’s best animated movies, thanks in large part to its monumental role in introducing the medium and setting a high standard while doing so. It showed animation’s potential on the big screen and is an unbelievably stunning and timeless effort that has enchanted several generations.

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

The alternate versions of Spider-Man from "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse."
Sony Pictures Animation

The superhero genre has been struggling to find its footing because of oversaturation, but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was the rare exception that reminded fans what they love about those types of stories in the first place. Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, the film serves as an origin story for Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a teenager from Brooklyn who gains new abilities after being bitten by a radioactive spider. Miles soon teams up with various versions of Spider-Man from different dimensions to stop the Kingpin’s (Liev Schreiber) sinister plot to tear apart the fabric of reality.

Loosely based on the Amazing Spider-Man story arc Spider-Verse and other Ultimate Marvel comics, Into the Spider-Verse became an instant classic thanks for its clear love for the character and source materials. Its dynamic visuals and gorgeous, frenetic art styles make it feel like viewers are watching the comics come to life. Miles’ genuinely touching story is just the cherry on top. Now, fans are looking forward to the final part of the trilogy, Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse.

1. Spirited Away (2001)

Chihiro sitting with No-Face in Spirited Away.
Toho

Director Hayao Miyazaki’s best movie to date, Spirited Away is a beautiful animated fantasy film that follows the misadventures of 10-year-old Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi). The young girl stumbles into a mysterious world of spirits while moving to a new neighborhood with her parents, who are turned into pigs. Separated from her family and trapped in a magical bathhouse run by the witch Yubaba (Mari Natsuki), Chihiro must face her fears and frightening creatures to free herself and her family from the spirit world.

Undoubtedly the most popular Studio Ghibli film, Spirited Away became an international sensation thanks to its one-of-a-kind world-building that incorporates Japanese myth and culture. This is paired with mesmerizing, dynamic, and unique visuals, in the signature Ghibli style that has become recognizable around the world. At its core, of course, is a profound coming-of-age tale about a girl who finds her courage in the most unexpected place. Her heartfelt story and the film’s technical marvels make the movie the best of the best.

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Saab Hannah
Saab whips up SEO-optimized articles as a writer for Digital Trends and updates top-performing articles on Collider.
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