Stop-motion is a brilliantly beautiful form of animation that is underappreciated today in favor of computer generated films. However, thankfully, 2018 has not one but TWO stop-motion films coming out, “Early Man’ this weekend and “Isle of Dogs” next month. I was so excited about seeing this film style make a comeback I couldn’t help myself but to look at more of my favorites from the animation sub-genre and put together a list of my personal recommendations as two promising projects come around. These are my picks for the Top 10 Stop Motion Animated Movies.
For this list I looked at feature length theatrical films that utilized the stop-motion approach to animation. This means they were animated one move at a time using figures, puppets, cutouts or clay creations. Because many short films and holiday specials utilized this animation tactic, I chose to narrow down the qualifications for this list to only include movies released in theaters and films spanning 80 minutes or longer in run time. The films could feature SOME live action as long as most of the story was in stop motion. Finally I stuck with films that saw a release in the United States.
What was your favorite stop-motion animated film? Let me know in the comments below and for more fun (or if you’re one of the few people not going to see “Black Panther”) you can check out “Early Man” this weekend and keep an eye out for “Isle of Dogs” in March. Who knows, maybe both of this films could warrant a redux of this list down the road. On with the countdown!
10. “Corpse Bride”
Starting the list off is this 2005 gem from directors Mike Johnson and Tim Burton about a young man who inadvertently becomes engaged to a dead bride after fleeing from an arranged marriage. Similar in tone and presentation to another Tim Burton project “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, “Corpse Bride” became a cult classic among fans who appreciated its macabre subject matter and love story. Critically praised and loved by audiences, “Corpse Bride” remains among the most widely popular stop motion films of the 2000s and in many ways provided a resurgence of the art form, setting the stage for many of the movies on this list to be just as successful. It’s a good place to start for a list of iconic stop motion animated films and would have made it higher if it weren’t for a certain lack of originality.
9. “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”
Released only a few months after “Corpse Bride”, “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” was produced by Aardman Animations who were responsible for several stop-motion projects on this countdown. Following its iconic titular heroes as they try to solve the mystery of a large, human-like rabbit causing terror during a garden festival “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” was entertaining and engaging, paying tribute to horror films of old with a child-friendly edge to it. While today it might be overlooked by other stop-motion projects, there’s no denying the quality of this Academy Award winner that actually beat out “Corpse Bride” and “Howl’s Moving Castle” as the Oscars. Not to mention it helped introduce American audiences to Wallace and Gromit who, to that point, were more popular and well known in the United Kingdom. Aardman would try the same formula with another of their popular characters, Shaun the Sheep, years later and while that film was considered for this list, it doesn’t hold a candle to this fun and memorable adventure.
There’s just something about stop motion that lends itself nicely to child-friendly horror entries. This is the third technical horror film to be featured on this list and in 2012 it was one of the most celebrated animated movies of the year. Focus Features’ “ParaNorman” focused on the titular Norman, a young outcast who could speak to the dead. Norman inherited a ritual to keep local spirits at bay but when he was unable to complete his task the ghost of an old witch set the dead free and Norman set out to save his town. “ParaNorman” was imaginative and explored some very creative ways of animating its characters considering the transparency of the ghost Norman talks to. It was spooky, but child friendly and possessed a certain visual aesthetic and charm that traditional animation just can’t ever seem to perfect.
7. “James and the Giant Peach”
When you talk about classics this one’s a must see. While not as well done as the other films on this list, “James and the Giant Peach” is here due to its legacy. A 1996 Disney feature and the first of three films by noted stop motion director Henry Selick on this list, this film adapted the popular book of the same name to the big screen as James took his trip aboard a giant floating peach with anthropomorphic insects with the goal of reaching New York City and escaping his abusive evil aunts. While this movie did contain live action scenes, most of the main story was told through stop motion animation to emphasize the magical journey James embarked on as something out of his comfort zone and completely separate from his known life. Memorable characters and songs helped make this film a part of Disney’s 90s dominance and today it remains a cult classic despite underperforming at the box office during its theatrical run.
6. “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut”
Most of the entries on this list utilized clay or plastic figures, but the long running satirical televisions show “South Park” utilizes a different kind of stop-motion tactic, cut out animation. Release in 1999 only two years after “South Park’s” run began, this theatrical take on the citizens of the titular town was just as raunchy, risky and blunt as the show itself and featured memorable adult-friendly songs that criticized everything from Disney to censorship and even the comical stereotypes about America’s neighbor, Canada. This film remains the most popular and iconic cut-out movie of all time and even helped popularize the idea of adult animated features for the big screen that had died out by that point. It might not be stop motion as we think of it today, but it still counts and remains a timeless classic that is as beloved and respected by those with a sense of ironic humor as the show it was based on.
5. “Kubo and the Two Strings”
The newest entry on this list, “Kubo and the Two Strings” was a criminally underrated 2016 film that received near unanimous acclaim from critics despite its modest box office draw. The film told the story of musician Kubo who could perform magical shows with his instrument. Kubo found himself mixed up in a magical journey that pitted him against the Moon King and a pair of witches as epic confrontations, creative set pieces and fun characters dominated the narrative. To put it bluntly this movie was a lot of fun and great to look at and was a rare action fantasy movie utilizing the stop-motion animation style usually reserved for darker, more horror-themed films. It was a standout of 2016 in terms of animation, even earning an Academy Award nomination. If you haven’t had the chance to experience this film yet look into it. Seriously, it’s a prime example of just how cool stop-motion can still be even in today’s world of more modern filming styles.
4. “Chicken Run”
The original theatrical film from Aardman Animations and, to date, the highest grossing stop-motion film of all time this list wouldn’t be complete without this fun 2000 flick included. “Chicken Run” was a British-set story with American charm as a group of egg-laying hens looked to an American rooster to help teach them to fly out of captivity. When the rooster turned out to be less than what he seemed, the chickens took matters into their own hands. While the idea of stop motion as a credible and sellable animation style had been sparked by another film in the 90s, which has yet to be on this list *wink wink* this was the movie that made the medium truly popular to the masses. Prior to “Chicken Run”, stop motion was more of a gimmick with occasional successes. After this film became a huge hit stop motion gained new life and many of the films on this very list wouldn’t have happened without “Chicken Run’s” influence. The only reason its not higher on this list is that the next three turned out to be more popular and/or overall better films in the long run.
3. “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”
In 2009 noted director Wes Anderson released a whimsical film called “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”. The result was a new look for stop motion films as the director put his own personal touch of the subgenre of animation that looks to be continued with “Isle of Dogs” next month. Following the exploits of the titular Mr. Fox, this film was based on a children’s book by the author of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” Roald Dahl and managed to capture the charm and joy of the book while using color pallets, set pieces and other smaller details to test the boundaries of stop motion in every way. While it barely made back its budget the film garnered well deserved nominations in nearly every animation film category around, losing to Pixar’s “Up” in all of them which, as it turns out, was an ironic turns of events as the film was marketed as proof that Pixar wasn’t the only animation masters in the business. Still, “Mr Fox” lives on in hindsight as a prime example of just how artistic and, frankly, good stop motion movies can be with a charming story, smooth presentation, and an all-star voice cast that brought every one of their quirky characters to life.
By far the most popular modern stop motion film, “Coraline” was a kid friendly horror flick from 2009, the same year as “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”, and was not only a quality film with an engaging and memorable story, but a visually stunning masterpiece that today has a cult following. Directed by Henry Selick it’s no wonder this story of a girl who discovered an alternate reality hidden within her new home stood above many of its predecessors and successors as a quality stop-motion animated project. “Coraline” was imaginative, smooth and catered to viewers both young and old in its representation of horror and fantasy and probably pushed the limitations and boundaries of the medium more than any other movie on this list, including the film that topped it for #1. With elaborate set pieces, unique and imaginatively designed characters and a story that holds up even almost ten years later, “Coraline” captured everything wonderful about stop motion animation. However, it still wasn’t popular enough, iconic enough or good enough to top the granddaddy of them all.
1. “The Nightmare Before Christmas”
Director Henry Selick scores the top two spots on my list and owns the top spot with one of the most iconic animated movies of the 90s, “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. Produced by Tim Burton, who usually gets more credit than Selick for the film, this was the first time fans got to see what Selick could create and it was the work that earned him the right to direct “Coraline” and “James in the Giant Peach”. In terms of stop-motion, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is the most iconic of them all being rereleased numerous time, becoming the first animated movie ever nominated at the Oscars for visual effects and spanning multiple mediums including music, video games, and, of course, countless forms of merchandise. There’s just something about this holiday crossover film about a skeleton who explored Christmas after being bored with his natural holiday of Halloween. It’s status as a Halloween staple and Christmas classic have made it a must watch for fall and early winter and in 2018 it celebrates its 25th anniversary having lost no steam or credibility along the way. Most of all this film made stop-motion cool in the first place, taking a format known mostly for holiday specials to that point, and paving the way for the success and popularity of every film on this list. For that it claims my number one spot as the best and most iconic stop-motion animated feature of all time.