The 10 Best Animated Films (That Aren’t for Kids)

I have had the misfortune to speak with many adults—even my twentysomething peers—who honestly believe that animated movies are for children. The only exception many of these people make to this rule is hentai, which they generally lump into the category of “weird Japanese shit” and want nothing to do with. While none of the items on this list are hentai films, they are definitely not for children, thanks to intense violence, gore, sexual content, drug use, thematic elements…the list goes on. Without further ado, I give you my top ten picks for not-so-kid-friendly animated films.

10. Dead Space: Downfall (2008)

Despite being a prequel to the hit video game, fans of deep space horror films—such as Alien and Event Horizon—will enjoy Downfall regardless of their relationship to the franchise. The film follows a small crew on the USG Ishimura: a space mining vessel transporting a religious artifact. After communications reveal evidence of a massacre on the ground, a rash of psychotic behavior breaks out within the ship’s confines, throwing everyone on-board into a fight for their lives.

Downfall is one of only a handful of films on this list that utilizes a Western animation style, meaning it looks more like Planet Hulk than Ponyo. While this familiarity may endear the film to audiences unfamiliar with anime, I would be remiss if I let you believe that was a good enough excuse to ignore the half of this list that comes directly from Japan. In short, watch Downfall because it’s familiar, but go out on a limb and watch at least one of these anime.

09. The Wall (1982)

Given that only half of this film is animated, it’s sort of cheating to include it on this list. But with its animated sequences being the most memorable, and its literary value so high, to exclude The Wall seems inherently wrong. Based on Pink Floyd’s 1979 album of the same name, the film follows Pink, a man haunted by the dark events of his childhood. Now a drug-dependent rock star, Pink feels alienated from everyone around him and interacts with his fans and his thoughts through hallucinations, which are depicted in animated and overly-dramatic scenes.

If you have never seen this film, let me warn you that your first viewing of The Wall may leave you with more questions than answers. However, if you enjoyed the experience, I strongly encourage you to watch the film a second time with those questions in mind. The Wall presents so many opportunities for interpretation that you are sure to find one you like.

08. The Animatrix (2003)

Intended as a supplement to their Matrix trilogy, The Animatrix is a collaboration between the Wachowskis and seven other filmmakers: Peter Chung (The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury), Andrew R. Jones (Avatar), Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll), Takeshi Koike (Redline), Mahiro Maeda (Kill Bill: Vol. 1), Koji Morimoto (Akira), and Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop). Although Neo, Trinity, and Kid all make appearances, most of the film’s nine shorts are original stories that, while set within the Matrix universe, do not have direct ties to the film trilogy. Because of this, The Animatrix rounds out the Wachowskis’ popular franchise, filling in gaps that audiences are often forced to smooth out for themselves through fanon and speculation.

The shorts vary in style from sketch-like anime to smooth and—ten years ago—state-of-the-art CGI. Like The Wall, it may require more than one viewing to understand some of the shorts, particularly if it has been several years since you last saw the Matrix films. If you somehow haven’t seen the Wachowskis’ brilliant trilogy, don’t let that stop you from watching this film; the accumulated creative forces behind it are most than enough reason to watch.

07. Animal Farm (1954)

Being so close in appearance to Charlotte’s Web (1973), this film has caused a number of childhood traumas. Over the last ten years, I’ve felt compelled on several occasions to stop unknowing parents from picking this title up from the $5 DVD bin for family movie night. As a faithful adaptation of George Orwell’s 1945 “fairy story,” Animal Farm is far from child-appropriate.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the novel, a brief story introduction: the narrative follows livestock who overthrow their farmer and rule the farm themselves. An allegory of the revolutions in 1910s Russia and Josef Stalin’s subsequent rise to power, Animal Farm turns quickly from inspiring to entirely depressing. There is really no way to make that palatable to juvenile audiences, but feel free to explore this as you would any other film adaptation.

06. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Those of you familiar with anime film classics, such as Princess Mononoke, will be pleased to learn that this film—if you have not seen it—comes from Studio Ghibli, although not from its renowned figurehead, Hayao Miyazaki. Instead, this gem from Isao Takahata follows an orphaned boy and his younger sister living in the aftermath of the Kobe firebombing. Forced to live on their own due to economic hardships and the selfishness of others, the siblings claim their own place in a world that is falling down all around them.

Having not read it, I cannot vouch for it, but the 1967 Akiyuki Nosaka novel that inspired Grave of the Fireflies has an English translation. Unfortunately, I cannot find it in print online. If you happen to find a copy somewhere, let me know in the comments.

05. Watership Down (1978)

Like Animal Farm, the film is a false friend to parents looking for a charming animated movie to show their children. Thematically, this tale of rabbits bears many similarities to the Greek epics. While its lack of female representation may be a turn off for some readers, because Watership Down is quite novel in its narrative—how often to do read about rabbits, really—I cannot legitimize skipping over either the film or print versions of Adams’ story.

Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous franchise will be pleased with the use of invented languages and the aforementioned old mythology. While its violent depictions are disturbing, believe me when I say that they are necessary; if you are particularly sensitive to animal death, imagining the rabbits as human characters may help. Although it trims Adams’ novel down to its essential elements, Watership Down is not to be missed.

04. The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

The only good reason I have to include this French film on a list of animated movies for adults is its subject matter and treatment. The story is simple enough: a woman gives her depressed grandson a tricycle, and this shakes him from his sadness and drives him to race in the Tour de France, which would be great if not for the fact that someone is kidnapping champion bicyclists. Yeah, okay, maybe not so simple, and exactly the reason why I cannot recommend it for children, along with its almost total lack of conversation; except for some ambient background dialog, a catchy theme, and a very vocal dog, the film boasts negligible amounts of speech.

Triplets‘ visual style—Edward Gorey meets Disney meets surrealism—is its most striking feature. I’m still in awe of Sylvain Chomain’s ability to make his characters’ personalities so richly developed without using a scrap of dialog, considering that—except for Bruno, the dog—the main cast show very little dynamism in their expressions. Iif you have the hour-and-a-half to spare, grab some popcorn and give it a go.

03. Perfect Blue (1997)

Based on the novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, this film follows Mima, a J-pop star who pursues acting and is forced to watch her life crumble. Beginning with the announcement of her change in career path, she becomes the target of stalking and death threats, culminating in a series of grisly murders. Left in the center of a publicity scandal, Mima tries to keep true to herself throughout the ordeal.

Hardly enough people have heard of Satoshi Kon, the brilliant late artist behind this film, as well as Millennium ActressTokyo GodfathersParanoia Agent, and Paprika. If you’re familiar with his work, you know that Kon’s talent lies in his ability to craft a twisted narrative that unravels, syrupy-slow. Perfect Blue is no exception, although its rarity—the out-of-print DVD sells for $50-70 on Amazon—has left it an often-overlooked film.

02. Metropolis (2001)

Kenichi, a young boy, accompanies his uncle, a private detective hired to investigate possible organ trafficking by a mad scientist, to Metropolis: a huge city, full of wonders, run by a robotic underclass. When they become separated in an industrial accident, Kenichi rescues a strange young girl named Tima. As Kenichi and his uncle search for each other, they work from opposite ends to untangle the mystery that brought them there, which brings them climatically to the heart of the city.

Of all the films on this list, Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis has the most interesting history. Produced after the famous artist’s death, the film is a loose adaptation of his 1949 manga of the same name. Tezuka’s work, however, was itself a loose adaptation of Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic film Metropolis. While it is, with this kind of pedigree, unreasonable to expect the two films to bear any narrative similarity, the anime pulls largely from German politics in the two decades following Lang’s theatrical release for its treatment of Tezuka’s material.

01. Akira (1988)

There isn’t much that can be said about Akira without giving everything away. I can, however, tell you a few things. First off, if you haven’t seen it, you absolutely must; I don’t care if you think—despite reading through this list—that cartoons are for kids: You. Must. See. Akira. Secondly, this is the most violent, gory, and literary film of the list. Thirdly, I can pretty much guarantee you won’t understand the story the first time around, but that is 100% acceptable.

The film is based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1982 manga of the same name; the Dark Horse edition comprises six volumes. While several changes made in the adaptation process clouded the story’s meaning—particularly regarding its climax—the film version is an anime classic, credited with bringing Japanese animation widespread popularity in the West. Seldom, if ever, out of print, Akira was remastered for a 25th anniversary re-release in 2013.


Do you agree or disagree with this list? Which movies would you have included or left off? Let me know in the comments!

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