Best animated movies that aren’t for kids

Published 6:52 pm Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Warner Home Video

Best animated movies that aren’t for kids

To many viewers in the U.S., animation brings to mind nostalgic childhood memories of watching cartoons on Saturday mornings or seeing Disney and Pixar films with family. In recent decades, however, animated television series and films intended for adult audiences have gained in popularity, from long-running shows like “The Simpsons” and “South Park” to more recent phenomena like “BoJack Horseman” and “Tuca & Bertie.”

Similarly, the rise in viewership of anime outside of Japan—aided in many ways by streaming services—has introduced global audiences to animated content that deals with adult topics like war, government corruption, and environmental catastrophe. Netflix’s Creative Director of Anime, Kohei Obara, revealed more than half of the streamer’s subscribers from across the world watched anime in 2021. Between series like “Sailor Moon” and “My Hero Academia,” as well as beloved films like “Spirited Away” from Studio Ghibli, anime has become more or less ubiquitous amongst American audiences—both young and old.

As more and more renowned American filmmakers shift their focus onto the realm of adult animation—think Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson, and Charlie Kaufman—the form continues to evolve, from the hand-crafted wool figures of “Isle of Dogs” to the 3D-printed puppets of “Anomalisa.”

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To determine the best animated films for adult audiences, Stacker took a look at IMDb data for all animated movies with a PG-13, R, or NC-17 rating and at least 20,000 votes and ranked the top 25 by user rating, with ties broken by votes. Some more conservatively rated PG-13 movies were not included, as they get their rating from mature themes, like being set during wartime, but are still geared toward older kids over adults.

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Illustration of a woman in a scene from ‘Heavy Metal’

Columbia Pictures

#25. ‘Heavy Metal’ (1981)

– Directors: Gerald Potterton, John Bruno, John Halas, Julian Harris, Jimmy T. Murakami, Barrie Nelson, Paul Sabella, Jack Stokes, Pino Van Lamsweerde, Harold Whitaker
– IMDb user rating: 6.6
– Metascore: 51
– Runtime: 86 minutes

“Heavy Metal” is an anthology science fiction film featuring a collection of stories in which an evil force in the form of a glowing green ball wreaks havoc across space and time. The soundtrack boasts hard rock bands including Black Sabbath, Cheap Trick, Journey, and Blue Öyster Cult. The cult classic, which stars the voices of Eugene Levy, Rodger Bumpass, and Joe Flaherty, features graphic sexuality and violence.

Illustration of Beavis and Butt-Head in front of The White House with film clapper

Paramount Pictures

#24. ‘Beavis and Butt-Head Do America’ (1996)

– Directors: Mike Judge, Mike de Seve, Brian Mulroney, Yvette Kaplan
– IMDb user rating: 6.8
– Metascore: 64
– Runtime: 81 minutes

Based on the iconic TV series, “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America” follows the duo as they embark on a road trip to find their stolen television. They quickly become involved in a dangerous series of misadventures involving federal agents and a scheming married couple (voiced by Demi Moore and Bruce Willis). The film includes some scenes involving sex and vulgar language. Beavis and Butt-Head are set to return in another feature film, “Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe,” in late June 2022.

Illustration of Keanu Reeves in a scene from ‘A Scanner Darkly’

Warner Home Video

#23. ‘A Scanner Darkly’ (2006)

– Director: Richard Linklater
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: 73
– Runtime: 100 minutes

“Dazed and Confused” and “Boyhood” director Richard Linklater was the creative force behind “A Scanner Darkly,” a dystopian science fiction film starring Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder. Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, the film shows a U.S. in which there is widespread addiction to a hallucinatory drug called Substance D, and a technologically sophisticated police state constantly surveils the population. Using rotoscope animation—a technique in which animators take live-action footage and trace over it, frame by frame, to create a more hand-drawn style—“A Scanner Darkly” contains drug use and some sexuality.

Illustration of a woman’s face in scene from ‘Metropolis’

Bandi Visual Company

#22. ‘Metropolis’ (2001)

– Director: Rintaro
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 75
– Runtime: 108 minutes

Based on Osamu Tezuka’s 1949 manga, “Metropolis” tells the dystopian story of a city where humans and robots are impoverished and in conflict with each other, while the wealthy plutocrat Duke Red controls the city and plans for global domination by building a powerful robot. The film deals with issues of class and probes the relationship between humans and artificial intelligence and contains some violent imagery.

Illustration of two characters in a scene from ‘Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children'

Square Enix Company

#21. ‘Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children’ (2005)

– Directors: Tetsuya Nomura, Takeshi Nozue
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 101 minutes

“Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children” is set in the world of the popular video game “Final Fantasy VII,” and picks up a couple years after the events of the game left off. A strange disease called Geostigma has spread through much of the population, and children who have the disease have been going missing. Directors Tetsuya Nomura and Takeshi Nozue are also known for creating the acclaimed video game “Kingdom Hearts,” which contains elements of the “Final Fantasy” world.

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Animated scene from ‘Anomalisa’ with David Thewlis

Paramount Pictures

#20. ‘Anomalisa’ (2015)

– Directors: Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 88
– Runtime: 90 minutes

“Anomalisa” is based on an audio play by Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter behind “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Adaptation.” Using stop motion-animated 3D printed puppets, “Anomalisa” follows Michael (David Thewlis), a dejected customer service worker who sees and hears the people around him as if they are all identical. When he travels to a conference at a hotel for work, he meets one person who looks and speaks differently. The film contains sexual content and strong language.

The Simpsons characters in a scene from ‘The Simpsons Movie’

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

#19. ‘The Simpsons Movie’ (2007)

– Director: David Silverman
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 80
– Runtime: 87 minutes

Starring the usual cast of the show, “The Simpsons Movie” sees the city of Springfield spiral into environmental catastrophe after Homer dangerously pollutes Springfield Lake, causing the town to turn against the Simpsons. The family must repair their relationships with each other and the town and attempt to fix the disaster before it’s too late. The film contains some adult humor.

Illustration of female character with flower in hair

Go Fish Pictures

#18. ‘Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence’ (2004)

– Director: Mamoru Oshii
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: 66
– Runtime: 100 minutes

The sequel to the influential “Ghost in the Shell,” “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence” follows Batou, a government agent, as he investigates a string of deaths caused by life-like sex robots who had illegally been given “ghosts,” or human sentience. The film was the first anime to compete for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Promotional still for ‘Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone’


#17. ‘Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone’ (2007)

– Directors: Masayuki, Kazuya Tsurumaki, Hideaki Anno
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: 66
– Runtime: 98 minutes

The first film in the Rebuild of Evangelion franchise, “Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone” is based on the late ’90s anime series “Neon Genesis Evangelion.” The film tells the story of Shinji, a child who is forced by his father to pilot a plane in a fight against giant creatures known as Angels, who are attacking the city of Tokyo-3. Shinji’s father runs a mysterious paramilitary organization called NERV and is developing a massive robot. The film contains violent action and occasional nudity.

Illustrated still from 'Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust’

Urban Vision Entertainment

#16. ‘Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust’ (2000)

– Directors: Jack Fletcher, Yoshiaki Kawajiri
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: 62
– Runtime: 103 minutes

This anime horror film follows a wealthy young woman whose family hires several famous bounty hunters to find her after she is kidnapped by a vampire. However, as the film progresses, it becomes clear that the abduction was not as black and white as the family believed. The film is a sequel to the 1985 cult film “Vampire Hunter D” and contains gore and violence.

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Characters performing on stage in a scene from ‘The Triplets of Belleville’

Les Armateurs

#15. ‘The Triplets of Belleville’ (2003)

– Director: Sylvain Chomet
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 91
– Runtime: 80 minutes

“The Triplets of Belleville” is a French comedic musical that tells the story of Madame Souza, an elderly woman raising her grandson, Champion, alone. When Champion is kidnapped by mobsters while competing in the Tour de France, she must go on an international mission to bring him back safely. Critic Roger Ebert described the film as “creepy, eccentric, eerie, flaky, freaky, funky, grotesque, inscrutable,” and “kinky,” adding, “I can’t think of another film ‘like’ it.”

Illustration of Wiley Wiggins in a scene from ‘Waking Life’

Fox Searchlight Pictures

#14. ‘Waking Life’ (2001)

– Director: Richard Linklater
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 83
– Runtime: 99 minutes

This experimental rotoscope film follows an unnamed main character (Wiley Wiggins) as he navigates a series of dream sequences and attempts to figure out the meaning of life. “Waking Life” features Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as characters from another Richard Linklater film, “Before Sunrise,” as well as a pre-“Info Wars” Alex Jones. The film contains some violence and strong language.

Illustration of woman floating against sky in ‘Paprika’

Sony Pictures

#13. ‘Paprika’ (2006)

– Director: Satoshi Kon
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 81
– Runtime: 90 minutes

The last film Satoshi Kon made before his death in 2010, “Paprika” tells the story of a device, the DC Mini, that allows people access to their own dreams. When the device is stolen by a thief who uses it to break into other people’s dreams, a team of psychologists attempts to enter the dream world and intervene, but not before chaos ensues.

Illustration of Hideaki Anno in ‘The Wind Rises'

Studio Ghibli

#12. ‘The Wind Rises’ (2013)

– Director: Hayao Miyazaki
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 83
– Runtime: 126 minutes

“The Wind Rises” is a semi-biographical film about the airplane engineer Jiro Horikoshi by the legendary Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli. The film follows Jiro as he pursues his dream of designing planes and falls in love, but when World War II breaks out, he is faced with difficult choices. The English version of the film is voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Stanley Tucci, and Elijah Wood.

South Park characters sit in a movie theater

Scott Rudin Productions

#11. ‘South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut’ (1999)

– Director: Trey Parker
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 73
– Runtime: 81 minutes

Based on the animated series “South Park,” Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny go to see an R-rated movie and begin cursing after, creating anger among parents, which prompts a war with Canada, among other chaotic events. Along with the regular cast of the show, George Clooney, Mike Judge, and Eric Idle also star. The film contains explicit sex, violence, and strong language.

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Animated scene from ‘Tokyo Godfathers’


#10. ‘Tokyo Godfathers’ (2003)

– Director: Satoshi Kon
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 73
– Runtime: 92 minutes

“Tokyo Godfathers” is based on John Ford’s 1948 film “3 Godfathers.” The film shadows a trio living on the streets as they come across an abandoned infant in a dumpster and attempt to find her parents, encountering many obstacles and learning about each other’s histories along the way. The film deviates from Satoshi Kon’s usual genre leanings, which typically blur the fantastical with the real and focuses on gritty realism.

Street scene with Cowboy Bebop character

Bandi Visual Company

#9. ‘Cowboy Bebop: The Movie’ (2001)

– Directors: Shin’ichirô Watanabe, Tensai Okamura, Hiroyuki Okiura, Yoshiyuki Takei
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 61
– Runtime: 115 minutes

Taking place sequentially within the anime series “Cowboy Bebop,” the film is set in the near future and follows an act of biological terrorism on the human population of Mars. After a dangerous virus is released on the planet, the crew of the spaceship Bebop sets off to locate the perpetrator of the attack. The film contains violence and strong language.

Painted still frame from ‘Loving Vincent’

BreakThru Productions

#8. ‘Loving Vincent’ (2017)

– Directors: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 62
– Runtime: 94 minutes

“Loving Vincent” tells the story of events surrounding Vincent van Gogh’s mysterious death, depicted through oil-painted animation in the style of Van Gogh himself, and stars Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan, Robert Gulaczyk, and Jerome Flynn. The film, the first to employ fully painted animation, employed the work of over 100 artists, who crafted nearly 65,000 frames for the film.

Still image from ‘Isle of Dogs’

Indian Paintbrush

#7. ‘Isle of Dogs’ (2018)

– Director: Wes Anderson
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 82
– Runtime: 101 minutes

Wes Anderon’s second stop-motion animation film, “Isle of Dogs,” is set in Japan as a plague that only affects dogs sweeps through the country. The dogs are exiled to Trash Island, and a boy sets out to find his beloved dog and return the dogs to their humans. The film stars Anderson’s typical ensemble cast—including Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Bill Murray—and contains some violent images.

Scene from ‘Ghost in the Shell’

Production I.G

#6. ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (1995)

– Director: Mamoru Oshii
– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Metascore: 76
– Runtime: 83 minutes

Said to have inspired films like “The Matrix” and James Cameron’s “Avatar,” as well as helping to originate the cyberpunk aesthetic, “Ghost in the Shell” takes place in a near-future world in which cyborgs have become ubiquitous and human brains and technology have merged. A counterterrorism officer must locate and stop a menacing criminal called the Puppet Master, who hacks into the minds of cyborgs in order to force others to commit his crimes.

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Illustration showing three characters singing

Rex Entertainment

#5. ‘Perfect Blue’ (1997)

– Director: Satoshi Kon
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 81 minutes

“Perfect Blue” is a psychological thriller which follows Mima, a former pop idol who decides to pursue a career in acting. Before long, she finds herself being stalked and harassed online by someone pretending to be her, causing Mima to begin losing track of what is and isn’t real. The film inspired other films both thematically and stylistically, including Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan.”

Black and white scene from ‘Persepolis’

2.4.7. Films

#4. ‘Persepolis’ (2007)

– Directors: Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Metascore: 90
– Runtime: 96 minutes

Based on Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel, “Persepolis” tells the story of Marji’s upbringing in Iran as the country’s 1979 revolution unfolds around her and a new fundamentalist regime comes to power. As she comes into herself as an adult, she struggles to balance her resistance to the government with her family’s safety and her own values. Voiced by a cast of Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Sean Penn, and Gena Rowlands, the film contains some violence, sexual references, and strong language.

Illustration from ‘Akira’

Akira Committee Company Ltd.

#3. ‘Akira’ (1988)

– Director: Katsuhiro Ôtomo
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Metascore: 67
– Runtime: 124 minutes

Credited with bringing anime into the mainstream in the U.S. and U.K., “Akira” is set in violent and chaotic Neo Tokyo several decades after an atomic bomb dropped by the Japanese government on Tokyo destroyed the city. Contending with corrupt government experiments on children with telekinesis, a teen sets off to save his friend. The film contains graphic violence and some nudity.

Illustrated still from ‘Demon Slayer the Movie’


#2. ‘Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train’ (2020)

– Director: Haruo Sotozaki
– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Metascore: 72
– Runtime: 117 minutes

“Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train” broke box office records in Japan when it was released in 2020, becoming the highest-grossing film in the country’s history, dethroning Studio Ghibli’s “Spirited Away.” After Tanjiro’s family is murdered by demons, and his young sister is transformed into one, he becomes a demon slayer and sets off with a crew to aid train passengers who are being tormented by a demon.

Illustrated still from ‘Princess Mononoke’

Studio Ghibli

#1. ‘Princess Mononoke’ (1997)

– Director: Hayao Miyazaki
– IMDb user rating: 8.4
– Metascore: 76
– Runtime: 134 minutes

Written and directed by iconic filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, “Princess Mononoke” follows Ashitaka, a prince from a small Japanese village, as he tries to find a cure to a curse inflicted on him by a demon. He comes across a town of social outcasts engaged in conflict with the forest spirits who inhabit the land and tries to mediate between the resource-hungry humans and the angry defenders of the earth. The film has been praised for its complex treatment of issues like the toll of industrialization on the environment, relationships between humans and the natural world, and assumptions about gender and power.

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