Special Report

Discover the 20 Best Animated Films of All Time!

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Though animated films are a mainstay of modern cinema, techniques of creating animation have existed long before movies. Be it puppets, shadow play, or even flip books, people have been creating moving pictures for thousands of years.

Cinematography burst onto the scene in the 1890s, but it took another two decades before animation saw its way into movies. The first animated feature is arguably, “The Haunted Hotel” by J. Stuart Blackton in 1907. This short film inspired Emile Cohl to create what is considered the first hand-drawn animated movie with “Fantasmagorie” in 1908.

From there, animation saw a slow, but steady incorporation into the movie industry. What started as crude stop-motion has evolved into multi-million-dollar, computer-generated animation epics.

To determine the best animated movies of all time, 24/7 Tempo developed an index using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, as of October 2023, weighting all ratings equally. We considered only movies with at least 5,000 audience votes on either IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes. Directorial credits are from IMDb.

Some are funny, some are heartbreaking, but all of them are testaments to the illusive, magical power of animation. (Explore the best Disney movies of all time.)

20. Finding Nemo (2003)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.1/10 (984,204 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 86% (33,356,856 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 99% (268 reviews)
  • Directed by: Andrew Stanton

The film follows clown fish Marlin, who is overly protective of his son Nemo due to the child’s shortened fin. Soon, Nemo swims too close to the water’s surface and is captured by fishermen. To save his son, Marlin must undertake a perilous journey. Along the way, he enlists the help of amnesiac blue reef fish Dorey, along with a motley crew of sea creatures to help find Nemo.

What makes “Finding Nemo” a great animated film is the illustrious beauty Pixar creates for its underwater odyssey. The movie is bright, colorful, and enchanting. It also succeeds in incorporating riffs on contemporary culture with a timeless story of family and adventure. (Learn about the best Disney movie not part of a franchise.)

19. Aladdin (1992)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.0/10 (386,940 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 92% (939,996 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 95% (74 reviews)
  • Directed by: Ron Clements & John Musker

Charming street kid Aladdin meets the beautiful Princess Jasmine. After being invited to her palace, Aladdin stumbles upon a magic oil lamp and unleashes a powerful Genie. Befriending this supernatural character, Aladdin and the Genie set out on a dangerous mission to stop the evil wizard Jafar from taking over Jasmine’s kingdom.

“Aladdin” is one of the best animated films of all time because it works on multiple levels. Fun for both children and adults, its animation is crisp and breathtaking, and it features some classic song-and-dance numbers. Ultimately, “Aladdin” is a witty story of love and triumph that reminds us of the magic hidden in all of our hearts.

18. Castle in the Sky (1986)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.0/10 (157,473 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 91% (79,551 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 96% (26 reviews)
  • Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki

The film follows orphan Sheeta after she is kidnapped by Colonel Muska. While flying her to a military prison, they are attacked by a gang of air pirates. Sheeta escapes, however, due to a magic crystal around her neck. Soon she meets fellow orphan Pazu and together, they discover the magical floating city of Laputa.

A strong showing from famed director Hayao Miyazaki, “Castle in the Sky” is a breathtaking visual feast. Featuring unique details and an epic backdrop, the film is entertaining, imaginative, and resolves into one of the better adventure stories for children made in recent decades.

17. Monsters, Inc. (2001)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.1/10 (850,959 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 90% (1,254,638 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 96% (197 reviews)
  • Directed by: Pete Docter

Set in an alternate dimension populated by monsters, “Monsters, Inc.” tells the story of the scare factory. There, monsters enter children’s dreams to source energy via children’s fear. After a young girl manages to slip into the monster’s dimension, two of the top-scoring monsters must reckon with her unprecedented visit.

“Monsters, Inc.” has been lauded since its release due to a combination of energy, imagination, and fun. Though ostensibly a spooky story, the film humanizes even the scariest monster, resulting in a story that is enduring, charming, and delightfully strange. “Monsters, Inc.” also won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

16. Toy Story 4 (2019)

  • IMDb user rating: 7.7/10 (222,860 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 94% (53,157 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 97% (452 reviews)
  • Directed by: Josh Cooley

Following the hijinks of the living toys from previous iterations, “Toy Story 4” picks up with Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of the crew embarking on the road trip. During the journey, Woody runs into his long lost friend Bo-Peep. Soon, however, Woody and Bo realize how different their perspectives are on living as a toy.

What makes “Toy Story 4” one of the best animated films of all time is how well it manages to keep its well-worn world fresh and interesting. Even four movies in, this sequel stays funny, inventive, and soulful till the credits roll. For its success, “Toy Story 4” won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

15. Persepolis (2007)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.0/10 (91,738 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 92% (50,465 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 96% (162 reviews)
  • Directed by: Marjane Satrapi & Winshluss

“Persepolis” follows the life of young Persian girl Satrapi. With a backdrop of the tense political climate in her native Iran during the 1970s and 80s, Satrapi grows into a punk music-obsessed, rebellious teenager. Things take a turn, however, when members of her family are detained and executed by Iran’s increasingly brutal regime.

Though “Persepolis” is rendered in stark black and white, the animated film is a classic coming of age story with real stakes. It is a true gem with emotionally captivating moments, careful, delicate storytelling, and a setting that feels real and organic. For its storytelling strength, “Persepolis” was nominated for an Academy Award.

14. Inside Out (2015)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.1/10 (653,819 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 89% (137,195 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 98% (375 reviews)
  • Directed by: Pete Docter

Riley is a happy-go-lucky midwestern girl with a love for hockey. Her world turns topsy-turvy, however, when her parents move the family to San Francisco. There, her emotions become manifest, and Riley must learn to deal with her various, disparate feelings during a major, life-changing event.

Another instant Pixar classic, “Inside Out” is one of the best animated films of all time due to its sensitive but affirming portrayal of a child’s complicated, often confusing feelings. The film is ambitious in scope, but effective in its endeavor. This results in a powerful yet delicate statement on the importance of emotions.

13. WALL·E (2008)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.4/10 (1,042,798 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 90% (598,663 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 95% (260 reviews)
  • Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Set in a trash-filled, dystopian future, “WALL·E” follows a lonely robot as he cleans up the planet, one piece of junk at a time. Soon, however, the robot discovers a probe sent from outer space named EVE. To learn more about her, WALL·E follows EVE across the galaxy in the robot’s most exciting adventure yet.

Another in a long line of Pixar classics, “WALL·E” is a heartfelt, yet esoteric take on classic sci-fi stories. The film is strange but still accessible, resulting in a story that finds optimism in a relatively human-free apocalyptic future. For its success, “WALL·E” won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. (Explore movies so important they are studied in college.)

12. Zootopia (2016)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.0/10 (458,551 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 92% (101,803 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 98% (297 reviews)
  • Directed by: Rich Moore & Byron Howard

“Zootopia” takes place inside a metropolis run by various creatures. When rabbit Judy Hopps joins the city’s police force, she quickly learns how hard it is to enforce the law. Determined to prove herself, Hopps teams up with the sly fox Nick Wilde to solve a mysterious case.

“Zootopia” succeeds in taking classic animation tropes and reinventing them in a fun, edifying way. The film asks its viewers to look beyond stereotypes and pursue inclusivity even when faced with extreme differences. Ultimately, “Zootopia” acts as a fun and thought-provoking parable about tolerance and trust. (Find out more about the highest grossing kids movies.)

11. The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (2013)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.0/10 (42,434 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 90% (14,047 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 100% (96 reviews)
  • Directed by: Isao Takahata

This film follows the story of a young nymph who lives in a bamboo stalk. As she develops into a beautiful young woman, the nymph commands her lengthy list of suitors to prove their love through a series of seemingly impossible challenges.

Another classic from Studio Ghibli, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” is one of the best animated films of all time due to its breathtaking, intimate, watercolor-like visuals. More than that, however, the movie has a narrative weight and honesty in its storytelling that results in a timeless tale about the trials of love.

10. Up (2009)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.2/10 (975,977 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 90% (1,204,358 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 98% (298 reviews)
  • Directed by: Pete Docter

Seeking to live out his dream, elderly balloon salesman Carl ties thousands of balloons to his house and flies away to the South American wilderness. Soon, however, Carl’s worst nightmare is realized after he discovers a young stowaway on board his homemade airship.

Starting with a tear-inducing saga of Carl and his wife, “Up” manages to convey both fun and pain without emphasizing too much of either. Though some stretches of the movie are taxing, ultimately “Up” succeeds due to moments of sheer poetic beauty and wisdom. For its success, “Up” won Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score.

9. Toy Story 3 (2010)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.2/10 (786,394 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 90% (607,826 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 98% (309 reviews)
  • Directed by: Lee Unkrich

This sequel to the classic “Toy Story” follows the owner of the toys, Andy, as he leaves for college. Now a relic of Andy’s childhood, the gang of living toys are accidentally thrown in the trash before finding themselves in a kid’s day care center. Together, the crew of toys hatch a plan to escape and find their way home.

Though ostensibly a fun sequel in a series of children’s movies, “Toy Story 3” accomplishes so much more. It is a meditation on the inscrutability of love, the wake left by loss and grief, and a parable about the impermanence of things. For its success, “Toy Story 3” won Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song.

8. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.1/10 (693,881 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 91% (312,983 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 99% (212 reviews)
  • Directed by: Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders

This film follows Hiccup, a norse teenager from an island where dragon-fighting is a way of life. After entering dragon fighting school, he is determined to prove his worth as a Viking. He soon meets a toothless dragon, however, and their growing friendship shows Hiccup how to chart a new path for his people.

What makes “How to Train Your Dragon” one of the best animated films of all time is its perfect mix of visual excitement and insightful storytelling. The movie finds a careful balance between emotional depth and visual heights, resulting in a thought-provoking tale of friendship between man and beast.

7. Princess Mononoke (1997)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.4/10 (364,905 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 94% (222,309 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 93% (112 reviews)
  • Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki

Set in a world where harmony between man, animal, and spirit is disrupted, the film follows Ashitaka. After being bitten by an animal and seeking help from the deer god Shishigami, Ashitaka witnesses the growing war between men and animal spirits.

While “Princess Mononoke” first gained acclaim due to his crisp, enchanting visuals, the film is so much more. Not only a deeply moral tale on destruction and balance, “Princess Mononoke” deftly incorporates lessons of philosophy and love into a deeply exciting and emotional animated feature.

6. The Lion King (1994)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.5/10 (983,962 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 93% (1,269,333 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 93% (130 reviews)
  • Directed by: Rob Minkoff & Roger Allers

“The Lion King” tells the story of Simba, heir to his father Mufasa’s savannah kingdom. After his evil uncle Scar takes over the kingdom, kills Mufasa, and exiles Simba, the young lion sets out on a long, storied journey to take back what is rightfully his.

What made this film into an instant classic of animated film is its careful, yet accessible retelling of certain Greek tragedies and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. “The Lion King” is entertaining yet insightful, succeeding in an emotional portrayal of loss and triumph. For its success, the film won Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song.

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

  • IMDb user rating: 8.4/10 (427,664 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 93% (21,190 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 97% (392 reviews)
  • Directed by: Peter Ramsey & Bob Persichetti

After being bit by a radioactive spider, teenager Miles Morales starts developing untold powers. Soon, however, he meets Peter Parker and a host of others with powers like himself. Together they must battle the evil villain Kingpin.

Utilizing the classic Spiderman vibe, as well as innovations in animation, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse succeeds in combining multiple comic book stories and plotlines. It’s a funny tale, and poignant too, ultimately standing out as one of the better adaptations in the Spider-Man movie series.

4. Toy Story (1995)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.3/10 (927,161 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 92% (1,109,209 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 100% (91 reviews)
  • Directed by: John Lasseter

The original “Toy Story” follows Woody, who is comfortable in his standing as Andy’s favorite toy. This equilibrium is soon shaken up, however, after Andy receives the new Buzz Lightyear toy from his parents. When Andy’s family moves into a new house, the collection of toys must put aside their differences to escape the clutches of evil neighbor Sid.

A revelation in animated films upon its release, “Toy Story” became an instant classic due to its imaginative take on the nature of toys. The film is funny, thought-provoking, and helped establish the delicate heart that has come to typify future Pixar animated films. For its groundbreaking success, “Toy Story” was nominated for multiple Academy Awards. (Click here to find out some cool little-known facts about the Oscars.)

3. Coco (2017)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.4/10 (432,055 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 94% (28,505 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 97% (352 reviews)
  • Directed by: Adrian Molina & Lee Unkrich

Though he dreams of becoming a musician, young Miguel is hampered by his family’s generation-old ban on music. Soon, however, Miguel finds himself in the magical Land of the Dead. There, he meets endearing trickster spirit Hector, and together, they embark on an adventure to discover the real story behind Miguel’s family and music.

Arguably a high watermark in a long line of Pixar animated films, “Coco” is a visual and emotional delight. It blends complicated themes like love, family, and death into a rich tapestry that is musically enchanting and spiritually fulfilling. For its success, “Coco” won Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song.

2. Spirited Away (2001)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.6/10 (693,872 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 96% (337,321 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 97% (191 reviews)
  • Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki

A true classic from visionary director Hayao Miyazaki, “Spirited Away” follows a young girl, Chihiro, and her parents on vacation. After they stumble upon an abandoned amusement park, her parents are turned into pigs. From there, Chihiro is forced into a supernatural resort where she must work to free herself and return her parents to human form.

“Spirited Away” is one of the best animated films of all time due to its dazzling visuals, emotional depth, and overall scope. The fairy tale story is one of incredible imagination, and compels viewers to take a closer look at the world around them. For its unparalleled success, “Spirited Away” won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

1. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

  • IMDb user rating: 8.5/10 (279,931 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 95% (69,069 reviews)
  • Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 100% (40 reviews)
  • Directed by: Isao Takahata

The film follows Seita, a teenager who must take care of his sister, Setsuko, after a firebombing by Americans during World War II separates the children from their parents. Together the children must struggle against increasing odds to survive.

The best animated film of all time and one of the better anti-war films, “Grave of the Fireflies” is a heartbreaking meditation on war, loss, family, and survival. A far darker story than any other film on this list, this movie plunges viewers into a haunting yet fulfilling experience. Ultimately, it will make you cry, but you’ll be glad you saw it. (Click here for the saddest movies of all time.)

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