News

25 Best Animated Movies of Each Year Since 1998

Critics and audiences together select the best animated movie of each year since the start of Rotten Tomatoes.

by | April 5, 2023 | Comments

TAGGED AS: , , , ,

We’re celebrating 25 years of Rotten Tomatoes with a look back on some of the most celebrated movies of each year, since 1998! Previously we took a look at the horror genre, and now we explore the animation medium, with each title selected using our recommendation formula, a calculation based on the Tomatometer that prioritizes the titles that stood out among critics and fans, combined with a pinch of curatorial love from our editors. Using this formula, we discovered the most recommended animated movie of every year since 1998.

The guide unsurprisingly begins in the late ’90s with Pixar and their follow-up feature to Toy Story, A Bug’s Life. (What is this? A Seven Samurai for ants?) Then came the 1999 mega-sequel Toy Story 2, which cemented the studio as the premier American animation shop for the years ahead. Toy Story 3 (2010) and Toy Story 4 (2019) would also peg Woody and Buzz as stars of the highest-recommended animated film of their respective years.

Pixar would next take the top spot after 1999 with 2004’s The Incredibles. In between, we see a great variety of animation: the stop-motion Chicken Run, Studio Ghibli fantasia Spirited Away, the traditionally drawn Lilo & Stitch (the last hurrah of the Disney Renaissance), and the Jacques Tati-inspired Triplets of Belleville.

After The Incredibles, it’s another string of eclectic top offerings, featuring Wallace & Gromit in Curse of the Were-Rabbit (directed by Chicken Run‘s Nick Park), Satoshi Kon’s final film Paprika, and the urgent, biographical Persepolis.

Starting in 2008, we see a triple-header from Pixar and arguably their golden age: WALL-E, Up, and Inside Out. From there, the animation playing field opened up, including the return of Disney (Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Zootopia), dazzling fan tribute Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers, the animated documentary Flee, WB’s The LEGO Movie, and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.

#1998

A Bug's Life (1998)
92%

#1998
Adjusted Score: 97350%
Critics Consensus: A Bug's Life is a rousing adventure that blends animated thrills with witty dialogue and memorable characters - and another smashing early success for Pixar.
Synopsis: Flik (Dave Foley) is an inventive ant who's always messing things up for his colony. His latest mishap was destroying... [More]

#1999

Toy Story 2 (1999)
100%

#1999
Adjusted Score: 108642%
Critics Consensus: The rare sequel that arguably improves on its predecessor, Toy Story 2 uses inventive storytelling, gorgeous animation, and a talented cast to deliver another rich moviegoing experience for all ages.
Synopsis: Woody (Tom Hanks) is stolen from his home by toy dealer Al McWhiggin (Wayne Knight), leaving Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen)... [More]

#2000

Chicken Run (2000)
97%

#2000
Adjusted Score: 103854%
Critics Consensus: Chicken Run has all the charm of Nick Park's Wallace & Gromit, and something for everybody. The voice acting is fabulous, the slapstick is brilliant, and the action sequences are spectacular.
Synopsis: This engaging stop-motion, claymation adventure tells the story of an American rooster who falls in love with a gorgeous hen... [More]
Directed By: Peter Lord, Nick Park

#2001

Spirited Away (2001)
96%

#2001
Adjusted Score: 104103%
Critics Consensus: Spirited Away is a dazzling, enchanting, and gorgeously drawn fairy tale that will leave viewers a little more curious and fascinated by the world around them.
Synopsis: 10-year-old Chihiro (Daveigh Chase) moves with her parents to a new home in the Japanese countryside. After taking a wrong... [More]
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki

#2002

Lilo & Stitch (2002)
87%

#2002
Adjusted Score: 91821%
Critics Consensus: Edgier than traditional Disney fare, Lilo and Stitch explores issues of family while providing a fun and charming story.
Synopsis: A tale of a young girl's close encounter with the galaxy's most wanted extraterrestrial. Lilo is a lonely Hawaiian girl... [More]

#2003
#2003
Adjusted Score: 98912%
Critics Consensus: Richly detailed and loaded with surreal touches, The Triplets of Belleville is an odd, delightful charmer.
Synopsis: This animated film follows elderly Frenchwoman Madame Souza as she becomes involved in international intrigue when her grandson, Champion, a... [More]
Directed By: Sylvain Chomet

#2004

The Incredibles (2004)
97%

#2004
Adjusted Score: 105439%
Critics Consensus: Bringing loads of wit and tons of fun to the animated superhero genre, The Incredibles easily lives up to its name.
Synopsis: In this lauded Pixar animated film, married superheroes Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) are forced to... [More]
Directed By: Brad Bird

#2005
Adjusted Score: 101615%
Critics Consensus: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a subtly touching and wonderfully eccentric adventure featuring Wallace and Gromit.
Synopsis: The plucky characters from a series of animated shorts, Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his dog, Gromit, make their feature debut... [More]
Directed By: Nick Park, Steve Box

#2006

Paprika (2006)
86%

#2006
Adjusted Score: 89266%
Critics Consensus: Following its own brand of logic, Paprika is an eye-opening mind trip that is difficult to follow but never fails to dazzle.
Synopsis: Dr. Atsuko Chiba works as a scientist by day and, under the code name "Paprika," is a dream detective at... [More]
Directed By: Satoshi Kon

#2007

Persepolis (2007)
96%

#2007
Adjusted Score: 102239%
Critics Consensus: Persepolis is an emotionally powerful, dramatically enthralling autobiographical gem, and the film's simple black-and-white images are effective and bold.
Synopsis: Based on Satrapi's graphic novel about her life in pre and post-revolutionary Iran and then in Europe. The film traces... [More]

#2008

WALL-E (2008)
95%

#2008
Adjusted Score: 105701%
Critics Consensus: Wall-E's stellar visuals testify once again to Pixar's ingenuity, while its charming star will captivate younger viewers -- and its timely story offers thought-provoking subtext.
Synopsis: WALL-E, short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class, is the last robot left on Earth. He spends his days tidying... [More]
Directed By: Andrew Stanton

#2009

Up (2009)
98%

#2009
Adjusted Score: 110149%
Critics Consensus: An exciting, funny, and poignant adventure, Up offers an impeccably crafted story told with wit and arranged with depth, as well as yet another visual Pixar treat.
Synopsis: Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), a 78-year-old balloon salesman, is about to fulfill a lifelong dream. Tying thousands of balloons to... [More]
Directed By: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson

#2010

Toy Story 3 (2010)
98%

#2010
Adjusted Score: 110907%
Critics Consensus: Deftly blending comedy, adventure, and honest emotion, Toy Story 3 is a rare second sequel that really works.
Synopsis: With their beloved Andy preparing to leave for college, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), and... [More]
Directed By: Lee Unkrich

#2011

Arthur Christmas (2011)
92%

#2011
Adjusted Score: 98481%
Critics Consensus: Aardman Animations broadens their humor a bit for Arthur Christmas, a clever and earnest holiday film with surprising emotional strength.
Synopsis: Everyone knows that, each Christmas, Santa Claus delivers presents to every last child on Earth. What everyone doesn't know is... [More]
Directed By: Sarah Smith

#2012

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
87%

#2012
Adjusted Score: 95908%
Critics Consensus: Equally entertaining for both kids and parents old enough to catch the references, Wreck-It Ralph is a clever, colorful adventure built on familiar themes and joyful nostalgia.
Synopsis: Arcade-game character Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is tired of always being the "bad guy" and losing to his "good... [More]
Directed By: Rich Moore

#2013

Frozen (2013)
90%

#2013
Adjusted Score: 101582%
Critics Consensus: Beautifully animated, smartly written, and stocked with singalong songs, Frozen adds another worthy entry to the Disney canon.
Synopsis: When their kingdom becomes trapped in perpetual winter, fearless Anna (Kristen Bell) joins forces with mountaineer Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and... [More]
Directed By: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

#2014

The LEGO Movie (2014)
96%

#2014
Adjusted Score: 108234%
Critics Consensus: Boasting beautiful animation, a charming voice cast, laugh-a-minute gags, and a surprisingly thoughtful story, The Lego Movie is colorful fun for all ages.
Synopsis: Emmet (Chris Pratt), an ordinary LEGO figurine who always follows the rules, is mistakenly identified as the Special -- an... [More]

#2015

Inside Out (2015)
98%

#2015
Adjusted Score: 116927%
Critics Consensus: Inventive, gorgeously animated, and powerfully moving, Inside Out is another outstanding addition to the Pixar library of modern animated classics.
Synopsis: Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is a happy, hockey-loving 11-year-old Midwestern girl, but her world turns upside-down when she and her parents... [More]
Directed By: Pete Docter

#2016

Zootopia (2016)
98%

#2016
Adjusted Score: 112145%
Critics Consensus: The brilliantly well-rounded Zootopia offers a thoughtful, inclusive message that's as rich and timely as its sumptuously state-of-the-art animation -- all while remaining fast and funny enough to keep younger viewers entertained.
Synopsis: From the largest elephant to the smallest shrew, the city of Zootopia is a mammal metropolis where various animals live... [More]
Directed By: Byron Howard, Rich Moore

#2017

Coco (2017)
97%

#2017
Adjusted Score: 116943%
Critics Consensus: Coco's rich visual pleasures are matched by a thoughtful narrative that takes a family-friendly -- and deeply affecting -- approach to questions of culture, family, life, and death.
Synopsis: Despite his family's generations-old ban on music, young Miguel dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol Ernesto de... [More]
Directed By: Lee Unkrich

#2018
Adjusted Score: 119431%
Critics Consensus: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse matches bold storytelling with striking animation for a purely enjoyable adventure with heart, humor, and plenty of superhero action.
Synopsis: Bitten by a radioactive spider in the subway, Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales suddenly develops mysterious powers that transform him into... [More]

#2019

Toy Story 4 (2019)
97%

#2019
Adjusted Score: 121504%
Critics Consensus: Heartwarming, funny, and beautifully animated, Toy Story 4 manages the unlikely feat of extending -- and perhaps concluding -- a practically perfect animated saga.
Synopsis: Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the gang embark on a road trip with Bonnie and a new toy... [More]
Directed By: Josh Cooley

#2020

Wolfwalkers (2020)
99%

#2020
Adjusted Score: 108565%
Critics Consensus: A mesmerizing Celtic-inspired adventure, Wolfwalkers offers an epic ethereal fantasy matched by profound philosophies and stellar voice work.
Synopsis: In a time of superstition and magic, a young apprentice hunter, Robyn Goodfellowe, journeys to Ireland with her father to... [More]
Directed By: Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart

#2021

Flee (2021)
98%

#2021
Adjusted Score: 107659%
Critics Consensus: Depicting the refugee experience through vivid animation, Flee pushes the boundaries of documentary filmmaking to present a moving memoir of self-discovery.
Synopsis: FLEE tells the story of Amin Nawabi as he grapples with a painful secret he has kept hidden for 20... [More]
Directed By: Jonas Poher Rasmussen

#2022
Adjusted Score: 112033%
Critics Consensus: Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio delivers fully on its title -- which is to say it's a visually stunning adaptation that embraces its source material's darkness.
Synopsis: Academy Award®-winning director Guillermo del Toro and award-winning, stop-motion legend Mark Gustafson reimagine the classic Carlo Collodi tale of the... [More]