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10 best stop-motion animated movies of all time, ranked

A girl smiles outside in Coraline.
Laika

Stop-motion animation is one of the most creative and beloved subgenres — and it only seems to get better with time. The greatest movies in this category showcase the hard work and artistry of the inventive minds behind these stories, which often take a long time to commit to film. Each frame is a painstakingly crafted work of art, all aimed at creating immersive worlds full of unforgettable narratives and characters.

From obscure modern classics like The Wolf House to genre-defining masterpieces like The Nightmare Before Christmas, the best stop-motion animated movies highlight the full potential of the medium to deliver complex stories alongside gorgeous and distinct visuals. The craftmanship on display in these films is a testament to the power of animation and those who boldly push the genre’s boundaries to create enchanting realities.

10. James and the Giant Peach (1996)

James faces a spider in Disney's James and the Giant Peach.
Walt Disney Pictures

James and the Giant Peach is a musical fantasy film that depicts a one-of-a-kind journey across the ocean. It follows James Henry Trotter (Paul Terry), a young orphan who lost his parents to a flying rhinoceros on his birthday. Tired of living with his oppressive aunts, Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Sponge (Miriam Margolyes), James decides to escape to New York City by befriending a group of anthropomorphic insects living inside a magical giant peach.

Three years after the success of The Nightmare Before Christmas, director Henry Selick released this 1996 genre classic. The director brings Roald Dahl’s children’s book to life in a bright and inspiring, yet still slightly dark and emotional way. It may not have been a box office success, but the stop-motion animated film undoubtedly has a special place in the hearts of fans who regard it as a magical part of their childhoods.

9. Mary and Max (2009)

Max using his typewriter in Mary and Max.
Icon Entertainment International

Director Adam Elliot’s first animated feature film, Mary and Max, gained international acclaim and is now counted among the best Australian movies to date. It tells the story of a lonely eight-year-old named Mary Daisy Dinkle (Toni Collette), who strikes up an unlikely pen-pal relationship with 44-year-old Max Jerry Horovitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an obese man living with Asperger’s syndrome in New York City.

Mary and Max explores some truly dark subject matter in its attempt to depict its raw and authentic characters, who grapple with mental health issues, loneliness, and loss as their connection evolves in unexpected ways. The 2009 film manages to be both disturbing and heartwarming, which is a contradiction that’s complemented by its contrasting palettes. Max’s stark black-and-white world and Mary’s sepia suburbia also underscore the differences between the two characters’ lives and daily realities.

8. Anomalisa (2015)

Michael Stone running down a hallway in Anomalisa.
Paramount Pictures

Anomalisa is a psychological comedy-drama written and directed by Charlie Kaufman that follows the experiences of lonely and disillusioned customer service expert Michael Stone (David Thewlis). The protagonist has the unique problem of perceiving everyone around him as having the same face and voice, until he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Their brief encounter in a Cincinnati hotel sparks a new energy in Michael, who desperately tries to cling to it.

Like many of Kaufman’s works, Anomalisa can be interpreted and characterized in many ways. Depending on the viewer, it could be a tragicomedy, a portrait of narcissism, or even a great existential movie that reminds audiences to break through the mundanity of daily life. Whichever the case, there’s no denying that Anomalisa is a work of art that will appeal to anyone who appreciates surrealism and ambiguity.

7. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)

Pinocchio holding flowers in Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio.
Netflix

Set in fascist Italy during the 1930s, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio tells the classic tale of a wooden puppet brought to life by the kindly toymaker Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley). As Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) embarks on a series of misadventures, he soon learns that the quest for true humanity is harder than he initially thought and will require sacrifices he may not be ready to make.

In drawing from Carlo Collodi’s 1883 Italian novel The Adventures of Pinocchio, co-directors Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson present a dark, unique, and enchanting reimagining of the puppet’s journey. Veering far from the more popular cheery and inspiring hand-drawn animation by Disney, del Toro’s rendition of the story leans into Geppetto’s loneliness, and includes a tragic backstory that involves the death of his son in an aerial bombing, which sets the tone for the entire film.

6. Chicken Run (2000)

The chickens in Chicken Run.
DreamWorks Pictures

Aardman Animations’ partnership with DreamWorks Animation would result in the massively popular Chicken Run. Directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park, the comedic adventure film is centered on a group of determined chickens who organize a thrilling escape from Tweedy’s Egg Farm. Led by the courageous Ginger (Julia Sawalha) and the talented Rocky (Mel Gibson), the chickens must learn to to fly before they meet their doom as pies.

Chicken Run would go on to become a critical and financial success, with its $106 million worldwide gross cementing its spot as the highest-grossing stop-motion animated movie ever made. It’s easy to see why it’s so well-loved, as it’s impossible not to root for Chicken Run‘s quirky characters, who come up with wild ways to escape death. It even earned a fun sequel, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, which is one of the must-see animated movies of 2023.

5. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Mr. Fox, Badger, and their friends all stand in a sewer together in Fantastic Mr. Fox.
20th Century Fox

Director Wes Anderson dipped his hand in the world of animation with the gorgeous Fantastic Mr. Fox. The comedy film, another adaptation of a children’s book by Roald Dahl, follows the clever Mr. Fox (George Clooney), who, tired of living a mundane life, returns to his wild and cunning ways by stealing from three mean and wealthy farmers. However, his actions endanger his family and the entire animal community, driving them underground, where they plot their next move.

Anderson creates a vibrant world full of weird, yet lovable anthropomorphic animals, brought to life thanks to distinct voice performances by Clooney, Meryl Streep, Willem Dafoe, and others. The director’s trademarks translate wonderfully into the medium, with the 2009 movie’s satisfyingly symmetrical, colorful, and whimsical world considered among the auteur’s very best. He would later work on another stop-motion animated movie, 2018’s Isle of Dogs, which is also worth checking out for fans of the genre.

4. Alice (1988)

A girl stands in the middle of a room in Alice (1988).
First Run Features

Alice strips away any cheeriness or lightheartedness that audiences might associate with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Instead, director Jan Švankmajer leans into the dark aspects of the story, using a combination of live-action and stop-motion animation to follow Alice’s (Kristýna Kohoutová) journey into Wonderland.

Whether it’s taxidermied rabbits or bizarre puppets, there’s always some sort of unsettling element in this version of the tale, which has Alice herself making questionable decisions as she ventures deeper into the magical world. Beyond being a bold interpretation of Carroll’s work that many would agree is the more accurate version of the story, the surrealist Czech film is also just visually stunning. With its meticulously designed set pieces and unexpected transitions, the animated ’80s movie has aged incredibly well and is still worth discovering for the first time today.

3. Coraline (2009)

Coraline crawls through a dark tunnel.
Laika

Based on Neil Gaiman’s eponymous novella and directed by Henry Selick, Coraline is a dark fantasy horror film that follows the curious and somewhat rebellious titular character (voiced by Dakota Fanning). After moving to a new home, she explores and discovers a secret door that leads to a parallel world. In this eerie alternate reality, Coraline meets her Other Mother (Teri Hatcher) and Other Father (John Hodgman), who seem perfect at first, but are soon revealed to have sinister plans.

Coraline is best remembered for its frightening character designs and creepy moments, with the parents with buttons for eyes undoubtedly responsible for countless nightmares. Coraline helped put it studio, Laika, on the map, with the 2009 movie is still largely considered to be its best work to date. With its incredibly detailed sets and well-written story, Coraline is an endlessly rewatchable film that fans can keep coming back to.

2. The Wolf House (2018)

Characters around a dinner table in The Wolf House (2018)
Globo Rojo Films

A creative tour de force and a modern art-horror classicThe Wolf House plays out like a dark fairy tale set in the woods. It follows a young girl named Maria, who is on the run from her isolated colony and ventures deep into the forest, where she finds an abandoned home. She mistakes it for refuge and seeks shelter inside, only to find that it’s inhabited by sinister forces.

To understand and appreciate Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña’s brilliant masterpiece, it’s best to know the event it draws on and heavily references throughout. The Wolf House is inspired by the case of Colonia Dignidad, a colony established in post-World War II Chile that became known for its brutal treatment of dissidents. The terror, injustice, and pain from this period are reflected in the creative, yet repulsive stop-motion art in the 2018 film, which features genuinely disturbing imagery and avant-garde symbolism. It stands as one of the greatest and most important works in the subgenre.

1. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Jack Skellington in Nightmare Before Christmas.
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

A spooky annual tradition for many fans around the globe, The Nightmare Before Christmas takes viewers to the magical realm of Halloween Town where Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon), the Pumpkin King, reigns supreme. Tired of the same routine year after year, Jack stumbles upon Christmas Town and becomes enchanted by the holiday’s festive spirit. He’s determined to bring Christmas to Halloween Town, concocting a plan that ends in disaster.

Directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton, the film was a critical success that would later go on to amass a massive cult following. It introduced a completely new world that mixed Christmas cheer with Halloween fright, which was an odd blend that worked surprisingly well for audiences of all ages. The macabre holiday classic has earned its place in cinematic history as an enduring masterpiece that underscored what was possible through stop-motion animation.

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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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