CLOSE
Original image
© 1937 Disney. All rights reserved.

The 10 Best Animated Movies Of All Time

Original image
© 1937 Disney. All rights reserved.

Animation, it’s frequently been said, is a medium, not a genre. You can use it to tell any number of stories in any number of ways. And it’s certainly not just for kids. So of course our list of the 10 most noteworthy animated features runs the gamut from talking toys to psychedelic orgies.

1. SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937)

According to Box Office Mojo, the highest-grossing animated film in history is Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory, which rode a wave of positive reviews and 3D surcharges to a $486.2 million domestic haul last year. But there’s a little thing called inflation to consider. When you factor in rising ticket prices over the last 80 years, the highest-grossing feature length animated movie is still Disney’s first: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Per Business Insider, adjust Snow White’s $184.9 million take and you get a whopping $935.2 million in today’s dollars.

2. THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1926)

Though Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is often cited as the first full-length animated movie, it was beaten to the punch by a good 11 years by German director Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed. (Quirino Cristiani's The Apostle and Without a Trace were released earlier, but have been lost.) The earliest surviving animated feature film and the first—surviving or not—directed by a woman, The Adventures of Prince Achmed is loosely based on One Thousand and One Nights and tells the story of a prince who goes on a series of magical adventures. It took Reiniger and her (uncredited) co-director Carl Koch three years to make the film, cutting silhouettes out of sheets of cardboard and lead and bringing their characters to life using stop-motion animation.

3. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)

In September 1991, nearly two months before its nationwide theatrical bow, Disney took a gamble by screening an early version of Beauty and the Beast at the New York Film Festival. It was an audience more accustomed to arthouse and foreign films, and on top of that, approximately a third of what was screened was either storyboard art or black and white animation tests. “There was a lot of gulping here,” recalled a Disney executive. “It was a risky but interesting idea to show it before that audience. We knew no one would hate the film. The worst they could say was, ‘Ok, it's an animated film; why is it here?’” But the reaction to the film was far less ambivalent; Beauty and the Beast received a standing ovation from the seasoned crowd of moviegoers. The next year, Beauty and the Beast became the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. It’s still an exclusive club; Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010) are the only two other animated films that have joined Disney’s tale as old as time in receiving the honor.

4. YOUR NAME (2016)

The most recent film on this list, Your Name shocked box office prognosticators late last year when it blew past anime legend Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle to become the second highest-grossing Japanese film of all time. Director Makoto Shinkai’s moving fantasy romance—in which a teenage girl in an out-of-the-way village and a teenage boy from bustling Tokyo find that going to sleep inexplicably causes them to swap bodies—would eventually become Japan’s third highest-grossing film ever, behind only American imports Titanic and Frozen and Miyazaki’s (still reigning champ) Spirited Away.

5. SPIRITED AWAY (2001)

Speaking of Spirited Away: More than 15 years after its initial release, the Miyazaki classic (one of his many) is still Japan’s highest-grossing film, with a total domestic gross of ¥30.4 billion ($300 million). The film, about a sullen young girl who wanders into a fantasy land, was also the first film to gross $200 million before opening in the United States. When it finally did arrive stateside, distributor Disney declined to do much by way of marketing and never released it in more than 151 theaters ... until Spirited Away picked up a surprise Best Animated Feature Oscar, becoming the only Japanese film and only hand-drawn film ever to do so, and beating out two Disney releases (Lilo & Stitch and Treasure Planet) in the process. Disney subsequently pushed Spirited Away into more than 700 theaters.

6. THE IRON GIANT (1999)

Disney’s not the only studio to bungle the release of an animated movie that would go on to be considered a classic. Excited to venture into feature animation after the enormous success enjoyed by Disney in the '90s, Warner Bros. moved ahead with the Cold War-set The Iron Giant, about a young boy (Eli Marienthal) who stumbles upon and befriends a robot (Vin Diesel) from outer space … only to then, according to director Brad Bird, basically drop it after the failure of the studio’s Quest for Camelot.

“We were perceived as a film that would be finished and put on the shelf until there was a hole or something in the release schedule in the future," Bird said. "And then we'd be plugged in. They wouldn't give us a release date, they didn't have any hopes. They just thought animation wasn't going to really work for them.” Despite extremely positive test screenings, Warner Bros. “hadn't laid all the groundwork you're supposed to lay, with fast food restaurants, cereals, teasers, posters.” The lack of marketing led to box office disappointment, to the tune of a $23.1 million gross against a $70 million budget. But the film impressed Pixar chief John Lasseter, which in turn enabled Bird to direct The Incredibles.

7. TOY STORY (1995)

When talking about milestones in animation, you can’t leave out Toy Story, the first feature-length computer animated film. Director John Lasseter was the first person to win a Special Achievement Oscar for a 100 percent animated film (though Richard Williams got one for the animated portions of Who Framed Roger Rabbit), and Toy Story was the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar. (In 2002, Shrek would snag the equivalent honor for Best Adapted Screenplay.) Lasseter showed up to the ceremony in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

8. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988)

Though live-action/animation hybrids are commonplace now—think The Smurfs and the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies, or for that matter motion capture-heavy films like The Jungle Book—when Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit came out in 1988, it was rightly hailed as a groundbreaking work of technological innovation. It wasn’t the first film to combine cartoon characters with live actors (Gene Kelly memorably danced with Jerry the Mouse in 1945’s Anchors Aweigh), but it was the most ambitious. In fact, at the time it came out it was the most expensive movie ever made. The film also gave rise to the animation term “bumping the lamp,” which is when extreme effort is put into something that audiences probably won’t notice. The term comes from a scene where Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) repeatedly bangs his head on a lamp, requiring animators to draw shifting patterns of light and shadow onto scene partner Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer).

9. BELLADONNA OF SADNESS (1973)

The most obscure film on this list, Belladonna of Sadness is the work of two anime masters: producer and “godfather of manga” Osamu Tezuka, who created Astro Boy, and his longtime collaborator Eiichi Yamamoto, who directed Belladonna. Decidedly not for children, this third film in Tezuka and Yamamoto’s Animerama trilogy is loosely based on Jules Michelet’s 1862 book La Sorcière, which examines the history of witchcraft through a proto-feminist lens. Aiko Nagayama stars as Jeanne, a French peasant who is raped on her wedding night by the local baron and subsequently turns to sorcery to right the wrongs done to her. (Yes, there is a psychedelic orgy scene.) Done in an unusual style—the bulk of the “animation” is the camera panning across intricate watercolor paintings, Ken Burns-style—Belladonna was all but lost for decades, receiving no home video release and practically no theatrical distribution. Fortunately, a restored 4K version was released last year by Cinelicious Pics, SpectreVision and Cinefamily.

10. SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT (1999)

There are a lot more, uh, traditional films we could include on this list—Dumbo, Pinocchio, or Fantasia, to name just a few—but none of those ever held the Guinness World Record for most swearing in an animated movie. (“399 swear words, 128 offensive gestures, and 221 acts of violence.”) Dealing with issues of censorship and parental responsibility, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut sees South Park’s famous foul-mouthed kids embark on a mission to save their Canadian comedy idols from execution after they’re blamed for corrupting America’s youth, sparking a war between the United States and Canada. A musical that pulls inspiration from (among others) Oklahoma!, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Les Misérables, and the Disney canon, Bigger, Longer & Uncut received an Oscar nomination for the song “Blame Canada.” The film frequently lands on “best of” animation lists, with TIME Magazine’s Richard Corliss calling it the “finest, sassiest full-movie musical score since the disbanding of the Freed unit at MGM” in his 2011 ranking.

Original image
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
Original image
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

Michael Ochs Archives/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually break away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write the “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

Original image
Keystone/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ Could Have Been a Meat Loaf Song
Original image
Keystone/Getty Images

Imagine a world in which Bonnie Tyler was not the star performer on the Royal Caribbean Total Eclipse Cruise. Imagine if, instead, as the moon crossed in front of the sun in the path of totality on August 21, 2017, the performer belting out the 1983 hit for cruise ship stargazers was Meat Loaf?

It could have been. Because yes, as Atlas Obscura informs us, the song was originally written for the bestselling rocker (and actor) of Bat Out of Hell fame, not the husky-voiced Welsh singer. Meat Loaf had worked on his 1977 record Bat Out of Hell with Jim Steinman, the composer and producer who would go on to work with the likes of Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand (oddly enough, he also composed Hulk Hogan’s theme song on an album released by the WWE). “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was meant for Meat Loaf’s follow-up album to Bat Out of Hell.

But Meat Loaf’s fruitful collaboration with Steinman was about to end. In the wake of his bestselling record, the artist was going through a rough patch, mentally, financially, and in terms of his singing ability. And the composer wasn’t about to stick around. As Steinman would tell CD Review magazine in 1989 (an article he has since posted on his personal website), "Basically I only stopped working with him because he lost his voice as far as I was concerned. It was his voice I was friends with really.” Harsh, Jim, harsh.

Steinman began working with Bonnie Tyler in 1982, and in 1983, she released her fifth album, Faster Than the Speed of Night, including “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It sold 6 million copies.

Tyler and Steinman both dispute that the song was written specifically for Meat Loaf. “Meat Loaf was apparently very annoyed that Jim gave that to me,” she told The Irish Times in 2014. “But Jim said he didn’t write it for Meat Loaf, that he only finished it after meeting me.”

There isn’t a whole lot of bad blood between the two singers, though. In 1989, they released a joint compilation album: Heaven and Hell.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios