The 100 Greatest Animated Films of All Time (10-1)

“[Animation is] not a genre! A Western is a genre! Animation is an art form, and it can do any genre. You know, it can do a detective film, a cowboy film, a horror film, an R-rated film, or a kids’ fairy tale. But it doesn’t do one thing. And, next time I hear, ‘What’s it like working in the animation genre?’ I’m going to punch that person!” Brad Bird

Two of the worst camps of people are: 1) People that automatically dismiss animation as a children’s medium; and 2) People that argue that film isn’t art because it’s the byproduct of multiple collaborators and not a singular vision. This is ironic considering the process of making an animated film consists of a rapid succession of hand-drawn images in a sequential order. This is to say, every frame of an animated film is a work of literal art. And it might be the most important art form because as Bird put it, an animated film can be anything.

Not only is every genre available, but animation also affords artists the canvas on which to create anything. There’s always a level of suspension of disbelief when it comes to live action that animation never suffers from. Animation taps into the primordial part of our brains that separates the real and the unreal, the logic and the surreal. We subconsciously understand that since real people aren’t involved, the rules are different. There’s no other art form that speaks to every generation and culture. Because imagination is universal. And this list will be a celebration of the makers of imagination.

These are the 100 Greatest Animated Films of All Time.

10. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a tale as old as time, filled with a captivating cast of characters that have left an indelible mark on audiences worldwide. At the heart of this enchanting story, we find Belle, a strong-willed and intelligent young woman who defies societal expectations. The Beast, once a prince trapped under a curse, embodies both ferocity and vulnerability as he learns to find love within himself.

Lumière, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and Chip bring humor and charm as the castle’s enchanted household objects. Gaston, the arrogant antagonist, represents vanity and toxic masculinity. These iconic characters weave together to create an unforgettable narrative that teaches us about inner beauty, acceptance, and the transformative power of love. Not to mention the amazing music, composed by Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman. It’s difficult to imagine a world without this score, and iconic songs like Be Our Guest and, of course, Beauty and the Beast, sung so brilliantly by the late Angela Lansbury. There’s no question why Beauty and the Beast was the first animated feature nominated by the Academy for Best Movie, and this was back when there were only five nominations instead of ten. The movie holds up so well, even today in the age of enhanced computer animation, and it remains one of the genre’s greatest.

Romona Comet

9. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

In the realm of animated films, one title stands as a timeless masterpiece: Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Released in 1937, this groundbreaking film marked a significant turning point in cinema history. It was not only Disney’s first full-length animated feature but also introduced pioneering animation techniques that had never been used before.

Snow White’s appeal can be attributed to its timeless storytelling and innovative techniques, such as Disney’s use of Technicolor animation, which brought vibrant colors to the screen, adding depth and beauty to each scene. The charming personalities of the seven dwarfs added humor and warmth, resonating with viewers of all ages, not to mention the romance of true love’s kiss. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was a commercial and critical success and prompted the Academy to present Walt Disney with an honorary award for innovation, which was well deserved, as Snow White undoubtedly changed the course of animation for the better.

Romona Comet

8. Princess Mononoke (1997)

Princess Mononoke revolves around the clash between the industrialized Iron Town and the spirit world of the forest — that the animation is stunning goes without saying, what sets Mononoke apart is that it is arguably the most mature of Ghibli film to date, both in terms of its unflinching depictions of violence and its handling of its complex themes. The film also garnered critical acclaim internationally, paving the way for Spirited Away to become a true global phenomenon.

D.N. Williams

7. WALL-E (2008)

Wall-E is not only one of Pixar’s crowning achievements, but it’s also one of the best science fiction movies ever made. The depth of this movie’s heart blew me away during my first viewing. It completely shifted my perspective on what a children’s animated movie could be. It made me realize that Pixar is in the business of making emotionally rich movies that tackle complex issues in ways that respect both adult and child viewers. The space dance sequence is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed. Who would’ve thought that a little robot guy would bring out so much human emotion?

Raf Stitt

6. It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012)

Don Hertzfeldt is a fucking genius. That word gets thrown around a lot but in this case, it actually might be an understatement. He’s been producing hand-drawn masterpieces for over 20 years and has gotten better with each new project. Starting off as three stand-alone shorts: Everything Will Be Ok, I Am So Proud Of You and It’s Such A Beautiful Day, Hertzfeldt wisely decided to put them together to form one long story. And what a story it is. The story is about Bill. Bill is just a normal, run-of-the-mill guy. Nothing spectacular or extraordinary about him. He gets up, does his morning ritual, and then goes to work. Wash, rinse, repeat. That is until Bill starts hearing things. And then he starts seeing things. The film is about mental illness. How the mind can turn on us and how we can fight back. The film is about Bill’s fight against his own mind. Does he win? Does he lose? I can’t say but what I can say is, regardless of the outcome, everything will be ok.

Sailor Monsoon

5. The Iron Giant (1999)

There’s simply nothing wrong with this film. It’s no secret that this former box office flop has gone from cult classic to bonafide classic recently as the Iron Giant himself has crossed over to make multiple appearances in modern movies— from an actual role in Ready Player One to a cameo in Space Jam 2 to a mention in Ted Lasso. While the friendly giant gets all the love these days, I believe it is Hogarth Hughes that really makes this story one of the best of all time, with absolutely hilarious moments and a childlike wonder we can all relate to.

This movie came out after a long history of animated musicals and fairy tales, and there was not a lot of expectation for anything else. Historic director Brad Bird, whose classic quote adorns our list, swerved that and delivered something entirely new in the animated medium. This story is mature—it doesn’t downplay the adult situations, and the adults occasionally even swear (including the good ones). Kent Mansley is an all-time great animated villain and representative of the paranoia of the cold war. Mansley is intimidating, which makes it even more fun to watch him lose a chess match to a pre-teen boy. And the final line from the Giant has brought many a grown man to tears: “I. AM. SUPERMAN.”

Jacob Holmes

4. The Lion King (1994)

The Lion King is the peak of the Disney Animation Studios Renaissance of the early 90s. It’s probably also the peak of Disney Animation Studios. It’s one of the last great instances of hand-drawn animation. The opening sequence of animals gathering at Pride Rock is one of the most iconic opening scenes in movie history. From that moment, you know you’re in for something special. Almost every moment of this movie feels like one that will exist in your memory for all time. The characters are endlessly iconic – from Mufasa to Timon and Pumba. The original songs are among the best ever put to screen. Even if you just can’t wait to be king, sometimes you just have to sit back and remind yourself not to worry for the rest of your day.

Raf Stitt

3. Akira (1988)

Nothing had prepared me for Akira. Despite seeing a few “adult” animated films like Heavy Metal and watching a ton of Star Blazers as a kid. The artist in me was immediately taken in by the level of detail in the animation. It’ll sound stupid now, but just seeing multiple levels of the city moving at different rates in the background was amazing.

Then it was the music – the soundtrack by Shoji Yamashiro was minimalistic and powerful and like nothing I’d heard before. Then it was the horror – that moment in the hallway when Tetsuo obliterates the doctor and the two guards was as horrifying as anything I’d seen with Freddy or Jason. Maybe more so, as it was merely an aside, a throwaway instead of a set piece. Finally, it was the story, the first cyberpunk narrative I’d ever seen. A tale of friendship and psychic powers and the apocalypse. (And maybe a bit too much about a teen trying to get laid.)

I was not, to be clear, the same person at the end of Akira that I was at the beginning. It opened up a new world of storytelling and created a fascination with anime and manga that continues to this day. (Definitely check out the original manga by Katsuhiro Otomo – the film stands on its own, but the full story is worth reading and the art is fantastic.) People coming to Akira now have no idea, just like people watching the original Star Wars or Night of the Living Dead or Frankenstein don’t really know how much impact they had, because they’ve seen a hundred things that were inspired by them. It was a pivotal and foundational film. I’ll argue that it is just as important in its own way as those other classics.

–Bob Cram

2. Spirited Away (2001)

Studio Ghibli is often regarded as the Disney Studios of Japan. Unfortunately, this distinction takes away from the singularly masterful quality of the films Ghibli has produced. The best from Ghibli, and acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki, is Spirited Away. This is among the most charming movies of all time. The heart absolutely jumps off of the screen. You could watch this with the sound off and still be absolutely amazed. However, if you do choose to watch as intended with the sound on, you’ll be equally, if not more amazed. Like many great films, Spirited Away is operating on a myriad of thematic levels. All readings are more interesting than the last, but the one reading that we can all take is that this is among the best movies ever made. (BTW please watch this subbed, not dubbed)

Raf Stitt

1. Toy Story (1995)

It’s impossible to oversell the importance of this film. Snow White might’ve helped legitimize the animation artform but Toy Story singlehandedly killed the old Gods of technology. No longer were we tethered to a pen and ink, now we could create anything inside of a computer. This film didn’t just change how animated films were made but the industry as a whole. CGI had been around for at least a decade at this point but nothing even close to this scale had been accomplished, let alone attempted at this point.

Technological breakthroughs don’t keep you in the public’s eye, however. Thanks to the best writing team ever assembled for a Pixar film, it’s never waned in popularity. All your fancy-ass groundbreaking don’t mean shit if the audiences don’t care about the characters and thankfully, that’s not a problem. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Woody and Buzz are the next Bugs and Daffy, or Mickey and Goofy, but they’re undeniably iconic. Both have also sold more merchandise than those four combined. And it’s easy to see why. While Warner Bros. and Disney’s flagship characters are ubiquitous within pop culture, they aren’t any deeper than the stock character traits that they represent. Mickey is good, Daffy is scheming, Etc. Woody and Buzz on the other hand are fully realized characters complete with wants, needs, and even an arc. Pixar knew being the first full-length CGI film would only get them so far. In order to prove themselves a legit competitor to the House of Mouse, they would need to craft a story filled with beloved characters, genuine pathos, and heart and humor to spare and they did so in spades. They may not be the powerhouse they once were but there was a time they were the greatest studio on the planet (not just animated), and their dominance started here.

Sailor Monsoon

20-11 | Rewatch?

What are some of your favorite animated films that didn’t make the cut? Share them with us in the comments!