The 9 Best Sony Pictures Animation Movies, Ranked

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Sony Pictures Animation might not have the same following or decades of box office dominance that other animation houses like Disney or Illumination Entertainment have. However, after making feature-length movies for 15 years, the studio has developed its fair share of quality films thanks to an eclectic approach that’s less defined by brand identity than its competitors.

The amount of variety found in Sony’s collection of animated films has admittedly resulted in some misfires like The Emoji Movie, but has also opened the doors for the studio to try anything and everything, delivering instant classic features that are outside-of-the-box and wholly unexpected. Without a PIXAR-level reputation to live up to, Sony Pictures Animation has had the freedom to chase down unorthodox ideas, like handing an adaptation of a children’s book to two guys with a background in adult animation, as well as redefining what an animated superhero movie could look like.

With its newest film, The Mitchells vs. The Machines, hitting Netflix this week, now is the perfect time to look back at the best movies from Sony Pictures Animation that reflect the studio’s best artistic qualities so far.

9. The Angry Birds Movie 2

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Image via Sony Pictures

We really didn’t need The Angry Birds Movie 2. However, the box office success of The Angry Birds Movie made a sequel an inevitability. Thankfully, this entry turned out significantly better than its predecessor. Less a movie than a string of standalone comedic short films, The Angry Birds Movie 2 is all over the place, but it has its share of amusing sequences, like a flashback to a 1990s romance between The Grand Eagle (Peter Dinklage) and the film’s villain, Zeta (Leslie Jones). The best moments come whenever director Thurop Van Orman can channel the kind of dark absurdist humor that defined his earlier TV show The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. There’s nothing here as comically eerie as Flapjack’s Candy Wife, but Van Orman’s inspired flashes of strangeness give The Angry Birds Movie 2 more of a comedic pulse than you’d expect.

8. Open Season

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Image via Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures Animation’s first movie, Open Season, is very much a product of the mid-2000s. A buddy road-trip comedy between a big burly bear (Martin Lawrence) and a bumbling deer (Ashton Kutcher), Open Season wears its Shrek inspiration on its sleeve, the film every American animated feature was aping in this era. That said, Open Season does have enough of its own charm to keep it from being a totally disposable Shrek knock-off. For one thing, the film’s visual style and several gags channel the zany spirit of Tex Avery. There are also some memorable Paul Westerberg needle drops scattered throughout the runtime, with the end-credits ditty “Love You in the Fall” being a highlight of the soundtrack. Sony Pictures Animation would go on to make far more distinctive movies than this. Still, there are glimmers of potential seen in Open Season that foreshadow greater things to come.

7. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Image via Sony Pictures

Another pointless sequel in the Sony Pictures Animation canon, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 and its episodic plot was a significant step down from its predecessor. However, plenty of other rudimentary animated sequels don’t have the good sense of Meatballs 2 to populate their respective stories with charming food/animal hybrids. A hippopotamus that’s also a big potato, humanoid pickles, and watermelon-elephant hybrids are but a few of the many other imaginative creations. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is mostly going through the motions, but these food/animal creatures, not to mention a spirited vocal performance from Kristen Schaal, make it more enjoyable than animated sequels tend to be.

6. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

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Image via Sony Pictures Animation

Just as it took The Purge universe four movies to hit its stride, so too did it take the Hotel Transylvania franchise a few tries before finding its creative sweet spot. The first two movies in this series took a tantalizing concept (a hotel for monsters!) and turned it into the backdrop for mostly predictable stories tethered far too intensely to reality. With Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, the franchise’s main characters head off on a cruise ship and chart new stylized waters that serve the universe well.

Writer/director Genndy Tartakovsky is in full-on cartoony mode here, with the entire movie stuffed full of amusing gags and impressive animation. That latter element is especially noteworthy, as Tartakovsky manages to get the CG visuals to more closely resemble the looseness of hand-drawn animation than before. Not every joke works, and the franchise still suffers from an overabundance of side characters crowding up the story. However, with Summer Vacation, the Hotel Transylvania movies finally lived up to their wacky potential, complete with a gag about a monstrous dog in a trench coat passing for a man named Bob.

5. Surf’s Up

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Image via Sony Pictures Animation

Happy Feet may have been the Oscar-winner and bigger box office hit back in 2006, but the wheels of time have seen Surf’s Up emerge as a legitimate challenger for the title of Best Computer-Animated Penguin Movie From the Mid-2000s. A peculiar mash-up of surfing and penguins, Surf’s Up is told through a mockumentary format, following a group of penguins in a surfing contest. Though directors Ash Brannon and Chris Buck occasionally deviate from the mockumentary style for a handful of set pieces, the majority of the movie leans on familiar devices like handheld camerawork and characters speaking directly to the camera that were popular in comedies at the time.

It’s a unique quality that results in some of the funniest moments of the movie while a string of memorable vocal performances (particularly Jeff Bridges as essentially a penguin version of The Dude) also deliver their fair share of memorable laughs. The narrative in Surf’s Up about what it means to be a winner is certainly familiar. However, the execution of that narrative has enough unique qualities to make the movie a wave worth riding.

RELATED: Every Studio Ghibli Movie Ranked From Worst to Best

4. The Pirates! Band of Misfits

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Image via Sony Pictures

The partnership between British animation studio Aardman and Sony Pictures Animation was short-lived, but at least it yielded the humorous gem The Pirates! Band of Misfits. The movie follows a gaggle of eccentric scallywags led by The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) on a grand adventure to secure the coveted Pirate of the Year award. This journey soon entails anything and everything from an overly intelligent primate to a dodo to an enraged queen of England.

Having done smaller-scale stories in their first two-feature length stop-motion animated movies, the crew at Aardman seem to be relishing The Pirates! as a chance to do a no-holds-barred adventure. This is apparent in the production design, which utilizes Aardman’s trademark attention to detail to make sure the titular swashbucklers inhabit a variety of glorious environments. The sense of infectious fun in the sets is matched by a similarly lively assemblage of voice talent; Grant in particular is an absolute riot as the film’s lead character. The Pirates! Band of Misfits delivers a treasure trove of laughs. Plus, it’s the rare children’s film to feature Charles Darwin as a prominent character, which has to count for something.

3. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Image via Sony Pictures

With Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Sony Pictures Animation hit its first unmitigated home run. Phil Lord and Chris Miller, previously most famous for their work on the MTV cartoon Clone High, made their directing debut with this adaptation of Judi Barrett’s 1978 children’s book, and the unique comedic spirit that has since made them beloved creators is on full display here. What could have been a paint-by-numbers kids book adaptation instead zips with real imagination and creativity as it depicts a bumbling inventor (Bill Hader) who builds a machine that causes food to start raining from the sky like a Roland Emmerich disaster movie.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is full of wonderful subtle gags (like a woman falling to her knees before plopping down headfirst after being hit with a snowball) that make it perfect for repeat viewings. Meanwhile, a stellar voice cast that includes everyone from Bruce Campbell to Mr. T results in several memorably hilarious characters, especially Neil Patrick Harris as the voice of Steve the Monkey’s thoughts. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs launched the film careers of Lord & Miller and solidified Sony Pictures Animation as a studio to be reckoned with. It’s no wonder, given what a well-made comedy it is.

2. Arthur Christmas

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Image via Aardman/Sony

Arthur Christmas, like many of the best Christmas movies, finds a sweet spot between the nice and the naughty. The movie follows Santa Claus’ youngest son, the kooky optimist Arthur (James McAvoy), as he springs into action when a present gets misplaced on Christmas Eve. The central theme of Arthur Christmas is familiar but heartfelt, reminding us all that having a good heart and doing your best to help even one person is what Christmas is all about. A final montage of all of the characters working to make other people happy is also more than enough to leave you reaching for the Kleenex.

At the same time, it’s not all saccharine sweetness. The character of Grandsanta (Bill Nighy), the retired former Santa who doesn’t have any patience for the modern world, covers the naughty part of this equation nicely, delivering humorous non-sequiturs like, “We once thought it was impossible to teach women how to read.” Bridging those sort of jokes with poignant emotion is the kind of tonal balance you want in a quality family movie, and director Sarah Smith pulls it off with grace and Yuletide charm in Arthur Christmas.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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Image via Sony

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has won countless awards and near-universal acclaim, yet it still doesn’t feel like the movie has been overpraised. On the contrary, it’s the rare example of a movie that not only lives up to its hype but thoroughly exceeds it. The visuals, which blend the two-dimensional look of comic books with several other forms of animation, are stunning. Previously, Sony Pictures Animation had delivered animation that was serviceable and even creative, but Into the Spider-Verse introduced a whole new level of innovation. The humor, which packs more gags into a single frame than some movies do in their entire runtime, is hysterical. And the coming-of-age story of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) as he discovers his powers and accepts the mantle of a superhero is full of moments that will have you cheering no matter how many times you’ve watched it before. And few movies, animated or otherwise, achieve emotional heights as thoroughly triumphant as that “What’s Up Danger” sequence!

Into the Spider-Verse pulls off so much in its runtime without missing a beat. Even after so many Spider-Man movies, this one stands out as something truly special. It doesn’t just surpass all other Sony Pictures Animation productions, it makes you wonder why all superhero movies can’t be this good. Maybe they would be if they had the good sense to include John Mulaney’s Spider-Ham.

KEEP READING: Every Disney Animated Movie Ever Made Ranked From Worst to Best

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