This weekend marks the release of Laika’s Missing Link. This is the studio’s fifth feature-length film and each of the previous efforts was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. The studio is known for its work in stop motion animation, in which physical objects are incrementally moved and captured in individual frames. Despite the painstaking nature of the technique, there are always new projects on the horizon that rely on it.
In honor of Missing Link, we thought it would be fun to countdown the ten best stop motion animation films of all time.
10“Chicken Run” (2000)
dir. Peter Lord, Nick Park
This was the feature film debut for Aardman, which has perhaps done more for stop motion animation than any other studio. It also has the distinction of being the highest grossing stop motion animation film of all time. “Chicken Run” created a visually layered world and told a story for all ages. Park and Lord took the rubber chicken gag and extended it into a narrative that is equal parts warm, funny and thought-provoking. And it looks set to build on that legacy with a recently announced sequel.
9“Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” (2005)
dir. Nick Park, Steve Box
Another product of Aardman, “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” further cemented the studio’s place in this sub-genre. By this point, Wallace and Gromit were well known for their comedy shorts, but the feature film helped take things to the next level. There was initial skepticism as to whether the pair could support a feature-length film, but that was quickly put to rest with this delightful outing.
8“Corpse Bride” (2005)
dir. Mike Johnson, Tim Burton
You would be hard-pressed to come up with a more inventive vision. Ultimately, the film thrives on a willingness to pursue is macabre ideas to wherever they happen to take it. Tim Burton is known for being delightfully off-kilter and “Corpse Bride” is about as on-brand as it gets for the mind that brought us “Beetlejuice,” “Edward Scissorhands” and numerous other wacky, but brooding, classics.
7“Isle of Dogs” (2018)
dir. Wes Anderson
This is one of Wes Anderson’s two entries on this list and much like the rest of his filmography, it rises on the back of its attention to craft. Each frame is meticulously assembled and the final product looks about as good as anything else on this list. The story leaves something to be desired for many, but there is no denying it is expertly made. It features an array of rich vocal performances, a tremendous score and just enough quirks to make it all fun.
6“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964)
dir. Larry Roemer, Kizo Nagashima
Though this one technically never ran in theaters, it is such a classic that it belongs on this list. The beloved holiday film first aired on NBC in 1964. Since then, it has appeared on various networks over the years and has become synonymous with Christmas for many people. While the animation itself won’t seem very impressive to modern audiences, its charms have held up across generations.
dir. Henry Selick
Coraline represents so much of what this medium can be. It is dark and foreboding, but it is geared toward a youth audience. That creative risk pays off for the suspenseful, funny and ultimately engaging stop motion classic. For those kids brave enough to face its challenging material, they were rewarded with an unforgettable experience.
dir. Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson
Anomalisa is easily the “most adult” film on this list, but the medium somehow does the subject matter justice. Filled with themes like longing and loneliness, the stop motion animation amplifies Kaufman’s take on isolation. It is so unlike nearly every other animated film you will ever see that it deserves a spot on the list for novelty alone. But the images and quirks that stick with you are what make it truly special.
3“The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)
dir. Henry Selick
This one has taken on cult classic status over the years largely on the strength of its arresting visuals. Each shot is as detailed and well thought out as anything on this list and the end result is a fully-realized haunting vision. This is a world you can feel frame by frame. If the holiday-themed musical had stronger songs, it would have a legitimate claim as the best of all time.
2“Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009)
dir. Wes Anderson
Loosely based on a Roald Dahl novel by the same name, this Wes Anderson effort does just about everything right. With voice work from several heavy hitters (Clooney, Streep, Murray, Dafoe, etc.), Anderson manages to create the wittiest entry on this list. The score is terrific, the script is outstanding and each of the movie’s constituent parts just works. It is as well-crafted as any of the live-action entries in Anderson’s sterling filmography.
1“Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016)
dir. Travis Knight
For many, this is the one that took the medium to a new level. The storytelling is top notch, but the visuals are where this one really separates itself. It was nominated for not only Best Animated Feature but also Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards. Those stark visuals give the movie, which was ostensibly meant for younger audiences, a gravity that is rarely seen in animated films. Through a mix of humor, drama, action, and tragedy, it manages to pack a legitimate punch and earn the #1 spot on this list.