Critic's Picks: 10 Best Animated Films for Adults

11:47 AM 8/12/2016

by THR Staff

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's bawdy, naughty 'Sausage Party' is the latest in a tradition of animated movies intended primarily for adult audiences. THR critic John DeFore ranks the great ones that came before it.

It's Such a Beautiful Day and "The Triplets of Belleville split-H 2016
Courtesy of Bitter Films; Sony Pictures Classics/Photofest
  1. 10

    Fantastic Planet

    René Laloux's Cannes-lauded oddity (called La Planète Sauvage in France) turned the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia into a sci-fi allegory in which human-like prisoners revolt against their giant alien captors. Surreal landscapes and psychedelic freakouts may recall the more famous animated import, Heavy Metal, made a few years later. But this is a more personal vision than that controversy-courting anthology film.

  2. 9


    A coming-of-age tale of a sort few Americans had seen before, Marjane Satrapi's film was a memoir about being a free-thinking Iranian girl before the Revolution and trying to survive the repression that followed. Though the author's story becomes more familiar as it goes along, Satrapi and co-director Vincent Paronnaud present it with a bold cartoon expressionism that makes black-and-white feel more expressive than color.

  3. 8


    Satoshi Kon's sci-fi fantasia gave itself license to go wherever it wanted by setting its action in a world where scientists can not only observe but also enter a patient's dreams. Cue big set pieces of marching appliances and menacing dolls, with disturbing sex and collapsing cities right around the corner. The whodunit holding all this together is mostly irrelevant in a movie that demands we embrace dream logic for ourselves.

  4. 7

    Grave of the Fireflies

    Its protagonists may be children, but this is no kids' movie: Isao Takahata's wrenching look at a brother and sister trying to survive after Allied forces firebomb their Japanese hometown in WWII has more in common with Polanski's The Pianist. Produced by Studio Ghibli, it makes even the scariest moments in the studio's other movies look fanciful while benefitting from the company's accumulated artistry.

  5. 6


    Countless documentaries have made smart use of animated sequences, but Keith Maitland's new one (which premiered at SXSW and hits theaters in October) breaks ground, combining rotoscoped reenactments, animated interviews, and original material in a surprisingly effective way. Its structure leaves something to be desired, but at its best, it captures the horror of a mass shooting in a way viewers might think is no longer possible.

  6. 5

    A Scanner Darkly

    One of the most persuasively Dickian films made from the work of Philip K. Dick, Richard Linklater's funny, sad and inventive movie shows the author not just as a prophet of technology to come but as a clear-eyed critic of American mores: Regardless of its sci-fi trappings, this is a 1977 story that understood the failings of the War on Drugs while it was just getting started; its counterculture protagonists and the undercover narc among them were all equally victimized.

  7. 4


    Some contemporary critics found it monotonous and interminable, but Katsuhiro Ôtomo's violent dystopian epic caught the cyberpunk zeitgeist and set the standard for anime to come. Ubiquitous comparisons to Blade Runner are dead-on, but for a community of animation fans, Ridley Scott's earlier masterpiece was just a tame prelude to the excitement of Neo-Tokyo.

  8. 3

    The Triplets of Belleville

    The most pleasure-stuffed picture on this list, Sylvain Chomet's dialogue-free delight embraced Silent Era storytelling techniques five years before WALL-E did, and kept it up for its entire running time. An adventure laced with knowing references to the pop culture of a bygone era (and a welcome homage to pioneering cartoonist Max Fleischer), it created its own timeless, nationless setting and made it charmingly real.

  9. 2

    Waking Life

    In the first of several unconventional sequels and quasi-sequels he has made, Richard Linklater took the philosophy-hungry wandering camera of Slacker and got even further into his characters' heads, employing dozens of animators to bring diversely quirky styles to each monologue. Something like a feature-length lucid dream about the nature of reality, it's completely one-of-a-kind; in their first year offering an Oscar for animated features, Academy members should have been ashamed for not even nominating it.

  10. 1

    It's Such a Beautiful Day

    Don Hertzfeldt's completely hand-made magnum opus, whose three chapters were shown as standalone shorts as he completed them, tackles nothing less than the meaning of life, watching with sympathy as a stick figure named Bill endures a degenerative brain disorder. Funnier, more experimental and more thrilling than that synopsis would suggest, it's a cult film whose cult should be far, far larger.