Top 10 Animated Films for Adults

Still from Wall-E

The 2016 release of the foul-mouthed and sexually explicit animated film Sausage Party once again shocked audiences who for whatever reason still believe that animated films are only for kids. Despite the artistic strides that animation has made in recent years, there are still viewers who stubbornly believe that the genre is exclusively for children. But with Pixar and DreamWorks releasing such landmark titles as Up and WALL-E, it’s becoming increasingly clear that animation has plenty to offer viewers of all ages — including animation aimed exclusively at mature audiences.

These animated films have obviously been designed to appeal to adults only. Some are even packed with as much sex, violence, and cursing as their raunchiest live-action counterparts. The following 10 movies stand as the best the genre has to offer grown-up viewers and paved the way for an adult comedy like Sausage Party:

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'Akira' (1988)

Brutally violent and relentlessly dark, Akira’s reputation as a landmark example of the anime genre is well deserved – with the movie just as timely and relevant today as it was back in 1988. The post-apocalyptic storyline, which follows a trio of scrappy heroes as they attempt to thwart a far-reaching government plot, exists primarily as a launching pad for a series of breathtaking action sequences, while the downbeat (and rather baffling) conclusion effectively drives home the movie’s pessimistic view of the future. It’s no wonder that whispers of a live-action remake have been swirling around since the mid-‘90s and Warner Bros. acquired the live-action remake rights in 2002. Everyone from Joseph Gordon-Levitt to Leonardo DiCaprio rumored to tackle one of the central roles.

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'Watership Down' (1978)

Based on Richard Adams’ award-winning novel, Watership Down follows several rabbits as they set out to create a new home for themselves after their community is destroyed. Though the film is actually rated PG (though the PG-13 rating did not yet exist in 1978), Watership Down tells a dark and frequently bloody tale that’s sure to leave younger viewers shaken. However, the movie brilliantly captures the allegorical and religious themes held within Adams’ justifiably iconic book – which has effectively assured its place as one of the finest book-to-film transitions ever made.

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'Persepolis' (2007)

Based on Marjane Satrapi’s critically-acclaimed graphic novel, Persepolis follows a young girl as she experiences all the pressures and complications of growing up during an especially tumultuous period within her native Iran. Persepolis was almost unanimously praised for its mature yet accessible approach to its gritty subject matter, with the film’s stark, black-and-white animation style capturing the tone and feel of the stellar source material. Although there’s technically nothing here that would shock small children, Persepolis is clearly a film that’s been designed to appeal primarily to teenagers and adults (with the former sure to find something to relate to within Satrapi’s coming-of-age tale).

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'Fritz the Cat' (1972)

The first animated film to receive an X rating, Fritz the Cat remains one of the animation genre’s most notorious and controversial comedies. Director and animation legend Ralph Bakshi follows the title character through a series of drug-fueled and sex-oriented misadventures. Bakshi’s fluid animation style – coupled with a script that is often laugh-out-loud hilarious – ensures that the movie never comes off as needlessly vulgar or exploitative, while the abundance of now-dated elements has cemented Fritz the Cat’s place as a time-capsule look at the seedy underbelly of the 1970s in animated form.

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'Waking Life' (2001)

Prior to Waking Life, Richard Linklater was best known as the indie director behind such hits as 1991’s Slacker. Armed with a technique known as “rotoscoping” (which basically means that animators trace over live-action footage), Linklater created a smart, deeply verbose piece of work that seeks to answer some of mankind’s most pressing questions (including, but not limited to, the meaning of life). Waking Life’s probing nature – which led Roger Ebert to remark that "the movie is like a cold shower of bracing, clarifying ideas" – is only heightened by its trippy and dream-like animation style, with the movie’s unique visuals earning it a Best Experimental Film award from the National Society of Film Critics.

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'Perfect Blue' (1998)

Acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Satoshi Kon created this thriller about a popular singer who decides to pursue a career as an actress. Her efforts are inevitably complicated by a variety of outside forces – including a sinister stalker and the emergence of a possible serial killer. Packed with violence and nudity, Perfect Blue is in many ways a textbook example of what the anime genre is about because Kon infused the film with a progressively convoluted storyline that’s bursting with surreal and dream-like instances of imagery. However, at the heart of Perfect Blue lies a compelling and surprising mystery that is actually quite accessible, especially when compared to some of Kon’s other mind-bending efforts.

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'Heavy Metal' (1981)

This Canadian production is a series of short films based on the long-running comic magazine Heavy Metal compiled into one very adult 90-minute movie. The individual stories included dark science fiction to epic fantasy to splashy musical numbers. Heavy Metal’s rough-around-the-edges style hardly prevented it from becoming a cult classic of incredible proportions. The movie’s underwhelming theatrical run led to a series of midnight screenings that cemented its reputation as an underground sensation. The film’s growing success even resulted in a widely disparaged sequel called Heavy Metal 2000, and there have been frequent rumors of yet another follow-up that would feature segments by well-known directors like David Fincher, Zack Snyder, and James Cameron. Director Robert Rodriguez has since acquired the sequel rights.​

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'Waltz With Bashir' (2008)

Waltz with Bashir tells the semi-autobiographical story of filmmaker Ari Folman’s experiences during the 1982 Lebanon War. Folman attempts to remember exactly what happened during the notoriously brutal incursion and enlists the help of his army buddies to flesh out the various details. It’s hardly the sort of narrative that would seem to lend itself naturally to the animation genre, and yet Folman does a masterful job of matching the movie’s unique visuals with the gritty and unflinching nature of the conflict (and this is certainly one film that easily earns its “R” rating).

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'Ghost in the Shell' (1995)

Based on the well-regarded manga series, Ghost in the Shell unfolds in a futuristic society where cyborg police officers keep the peace and maintain order. Trouble ensues after one such officer, Major Motoko Kusanagi, sets out to arrest a notorious hacker called The Puppet Master, with the investigation eventually forcing Kusanagi to question her very existence as an artificial lifeform. Ghost in the Shell’s mesmerizing (and utterly downbeat) view of the future has won it many high-profile fans, with no less than James Cameron remarking that it’s "the first truly adult animation film to reach a level of literary and visual excellence." A 2017 live action remake controversially cast Scarlett Johansson in the lead role instead of an Asian actress.

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'South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut' (1999)

This notorious big-screen adaptation of the popular Comedy Central series -- as a musical, no less -- has certainly lived up to its reputation as one of the most foul-mouthed films to ever hit cinemas, with the movie’s excessively adult-oriented sensibilities landing it a place within Guinness World Records’ "Most Swearing in an Animated Film" category. It’s interesting to note that despite its abundance of raunchy, R-rated qualities, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut was widely praised by critics for its subversive atmosphere and willingness to poke fun at a variety of targets – with the movie eventually going on to receive an Oscar nomination for its song "Blame Canada."

Edited by Christopher McKittrick