Updated · Mar 28, 2023
The Best 10 Must-See 3D Animated Movies
Updated · Jan 26, 2023
If you’re a computer animation enthusiast, there are some titles that you shouldn’t miss out on. I’ve picked out my top ten 3D animated movies based on their:
- Critical acclaim
- Awards and accolades
- Influence on pop culture
And don’t worry: this is a spoiler-free zone.
Top Ten 3D Animated Movies to Watch
On this list, you’ll find a mix of older and newer titles representing the finest this medium offers. And yes, maybe I’ve also snuck in a couple of personal favorites.
Let’s jump right in!
10. Kung Fu Panda
Let’s start things off with one of the best 3D animation movies by DreamWorks. Kung Fu Panda came out in 2008. John Stevenson and Mark Osborne directed it.
It’s an action-comedy set in ancient China, populated by animals who take kung fu very seriously. Our hero, the panda Po, is suddenly roped into the adventure of his lifetime. Ancient prophecies, snow leopard villains, and secret noodle soup ingredients — all these elements collide in this fun take on the wuxia genre.
The cast is also seriously star-powered. I mean, Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, and Jackie Chan? It’s no wonder the movie was nominated for the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for the best animated film.
Zootopia is one of the most original 3D animated Disney movies. It was released in 2016 and directed by Rich Moore and Byron Howard.
So, the basic plot is this:
Zootopia is a city where predators and prey animals coexist. However, that peace is shattered when 14 animals go missing, and predators randomly turn savage. The unlikely duo of a rabbit police officer and a fox con artist are dead set to solve the mystery.
Other than the stellar story, the attention to detail is fantastic. Let’s take the incredibly realistic fur, for example. The animators spent eight months studying animals’ walk cycles. They even observed their hair under a microscope!
And that effort wasn’t in vain. It’s one of the most acclaimed 3D animated films! It has an Academy Award, Golden Globe, Critic’s Choice Movie Award, and Annie Award under its belt.
Here’s another Disney powerhouse. Frozen is a musical take on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen.” It was released in 2013 and directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee.
The story follows two estranged sisters, Elsa and Anna, trying to mend their relationship — and fix a kingdom cursed with eternal winter. Anna is accompanied on her quest by an iceman, his reindeer, and a snowman.
It’s one of the most influential Disney 3D movies of all time. And the music plays a big part in that! We’ve all heard “Let it go” so many times. Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez wrote the globally popular songs.
Critics have also praised that the film centers on familial love and sisterhood. It received two Academy Awards and numerous other accolades (the list has its own Wikipedia page!).
7. How to Train Your Dragon
This DreamWorks Animation gem came out in 2010. Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois directed it. If you like 3D animation movies with a live-action feel, this is the one for you.
How to Train Your Dragon is set in a fictional Viking universe. The protagonist, Hiccup, is awkward and struggles with fulfilling his father's expectations. He must prove himself as a dragon slayer and help protect the village. Instead, he secretly befriends a dragon — and chaos ensues.
The film won ten Annie Awards and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score.
Tangled was released in 2010. Nathan Greno and Byron Howard directed this Disney classic. With a budget of 260 million, it’s one of the most expensive 3D cartoons ever made.
The story is based on the fairy tale of Rapunzel. She’s a lost princess with magical long blond hair, kept in a tower by her evil foster mother. But everything changes when the charming thief Flynn infiltrates the tower and helps her escape.
The thing that makes Tangled stand out is the seamless blend of CGI and traditional animation. It gives the film that beautiful, lush look of a canvas oil painting.
And it was critically acclaimed!
It was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards, two Annie Awards, and an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Up is one of the most heartfelt 3D animated Disney movies. And that’s not just my opinion! Many critics have said that just the opening sequence nearly made them tear up.
It came out in 2009 and was directed by Pete Docter. Karl, a grumpy old widower is trying to fulfill a promise to his late wife, Ellie. With the aid of countless helium balloons, he transports their home to Ellie’s dream location in Paradise Falls. He also accidentally befriends a boy scout, a talking golden retriever, and a giant bird.
The film was nominated for five Academy Awards and won two. The moving score (by Michael Giacchino) has also won the Grammy, Golden Globe, and BAFTA Awards for best original score.
3D cartoons about rats who are master chefs aren’t exactly common. But Ratatouille proves that the concept isn’t as crazy as it sounds!
The film was released in 2007 and directed by Brad Bird. It centers on Remy, a rat with highly unusual aspirations. He dreams of becoming the finest chef in France. And with the help of Linguini, a young garbage boy, his dream might just come true.
Fantastic premise aside, the animators went above and beyond in this project. In one scene, Linguini jumps into the Seine and emerges dripping wet. So, to animate it more faithfully, one of Pixar’s employees jumped into a swimming pool while wearing a chef’s uniform.
It’s also one of the most renowned Disney 3D movies. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and was nominated for four others.
3. Shrek 2
Usually, sequels aren’t as good as the original. But Shrek 2 is an exception.
This DreamWorks masterpiece was directed by Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, and Conrad Vernon and released in 2004. It follows the adventures of Shrek, Fiona, and Donkey. Newlyweds Shrek and Fiona are invited to a royal ball to celebrate their marriage. However, the Fairy Godmother’s schemes might ruin their happily ever after.
And Shrek 2 is not just a silly comedy. Despite being relatively old, this movie still feels fresh and funny. New memes are still being created and circulated on the internet. You can’t say that for most 3D animated films!
It got nominated for two Academy Awards and the Palme d’Or. It also got five People’s Choice Awards.
2. Finding Nemo
“There are 3.7 trillion fish in the ocean, and they’re looking for one.” Remember this tagline?
Finding Nemo came out in 2003 and was directed by Andrew Stanton.
Here’s the story:
Marlin is an overprotective clownfish dad whose son Nemo gets abducted. Dory, a chatty regal blue tang with short-term memory loss, joins him on his quest. Together, they’re searching the whole ocean for Marlin’s missing son.
It’s one of the most emotional 3D animation movies. Naturally, it had its fair share of awards and accolades. Finding Nemo was nominated for three Academy Awards, and it won Best Animated Feature.
It’s also the best-selling DVD title of all time — a nostalgic accomplishment.
1. The Incredibles
Are superhero movies a tired concept at this point? The Incredibles beg to differ.
Brad Bird directed this 2004 megahit. It’s centered on the Parrs, who are not your typical suburban family. They all have extraordinary powers but must hide them and live normal lives. The whole family gets involved when Bob’s superhero past comes back with a vengeance.
The Incredibles is one of the best 3D animation movies because of its sense of pacing, action, and comedy. Not a moment gets wasted in it — every second is entertaining.
It’s the first computer-animated film to win the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. Additionally, it won two Academy Awards and was nominated for two more. It’s also widely considered one of the best superhero movies of all time.
What Was the First 3D Animated Movie?
It all started back in 1995 with Toy Story. It’s the first entirely computer-animated film. It’s also the first feature film by Pixar, the incredibly prolific animation studio. John Lasseter directed it.
The story is set in a world where toys actually come to life whenever you turn your back on them. The old-school cowboy Woody and the modern astronaut Buzz Lightyear initially compete for their owner’s affection. But, when they get separated from him, they’ll need to overcome their differences and work together.
There wasn’t a shortage of people willing to participate in creating the first 3D animated movie. But, for today’s standards, the animation team was very small — just 27 employees! Rendering was also sluggish. The team could only render less than 30 seconds of the film per day.
Still, they achieved a lot and were rewarded for their efforts. The film was even selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Despite being a relatively new art form, computer animation has developed in leaps and bounds so far. Just look back and compare films from a couple of years ago and now, and you’ll see the difference!
This list of computer animation movies I’ve prepared illustrates this progress perfectly. Whether you’re a casual fan or someone who is working with animation software, you’re bound to get your mind blown.
How are 3D animated movies made?
In short, there are three separate phases to 3D animation production:
- Modeling — the creation of 3D objects within a scene
- Layout and animation — positioning and animating the models
Rendering — finalizing the computer graphics.
What is the most realistic 3D movie?
The Lion King (2019) remake is one of the most photorealistic 3D animated movies. However, that realism is also its weakness, according to many critics. It made the movie less emotionally impactful compared to the 1994 classic.
What is the most realistic animated movie?
Studio Ghibli consistently puts out some of the most realistic animated movies, with a real sense of weight and movement. Famous examples include Spirited Away (2001), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), and Ponyo (2008).
What is the #1 animated movie of all time?
According to IMDB, this title belongs to Spirited Away (2001). With an 8.6/10 rating, it’s the highest-rated film on its Top 250 list.
Selma is a content writer with a love for all things nerdy by day and an internet archaeologist that likes to dig up obscurities by night. Mostly she's trying to balance between many obsessions. Right now, it's bass playing and reading hard sci-fi about vampires in outer space - next week, who knows.
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