Ever since the time of Disney classics and Hannah-Barbara shows, animation has often been associated with children’s cartoons, but there are just as many R-rated animated movies today. This can be in terms of excessive violence, nudity, disturbing imagery, profane language, or just tragic content that might scare younger viewers. Some R-rated animated movies have a cult following and sometimes draw immense critical acclaim, even in the face of family-friendly Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks films which continue to break box-office records.
Over the years, R-rated animated movies broke new ground and helped redefine what the genre meant. No longer was animation the stuff of children’s games, and after many of these movies came onto the scene, they changed the game for everything else going forward. Adults could get in on the fun as well now, with stories definitely ill-suited for the kids but full of engaging subject matter and subtext as well as wildly inventive ideas and violent, shocking, scenes guaranteed to stick with fans for a lifetime. With TV getting into the game of adult animation, the movies that set the table remain a landmark of animation cinema.
Ghost In The Shell (1995)
Masamune Shirow’s popular manga series got the full R-rated animated movies treatment back in 1995, and it shook the anime world by storm. Ghost In The Shell was far more adult than its manga source material and stripped out much of the comedy and zaniness in favor of a deeply philosophical film about the nature of humanity in the cybernetic age. The dazzling action sequences are just the tip of the iceberg in this masterpiece. Ghost In The Shell is loaded with symbolism, exposition, and philosophical subject matter that fascinates the mind, as well as the senses. 25 years later, and there’s still nothing like it.
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)
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Bloodlust was a follow-up to the classic Vampire Hunter D original released back in 1985. The differences between the two are vast, with the sequel boasting more of a gothic fantasy vibe as opposed to the slasher horror feel of the original. The fluid animation style is a hallmark of the film and serves the plot well. In this film, half-human/half-vampire D takes on a contract to rescue a young maiden from the clutches of a powerful vampire lord. However, when he learns the two have fallen in love, it complicates the plan and puts him smack dab in the middle of an evil plot.
Pink Floyd – The Wall (1982)
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Progressive rock icons Pink Floyd dipped their toes into the movie-making business with highly ambitious part live-action, part R-rated animated movies meant to accompany their album of the same name. Roger Waters himself wrote the screenplay about Pink, a rock star driven to the edges of madness after a lifetime of harsh conditioning. As he builds a psychological wall around himself, the movie descends into a visual and sonic cacophony of disturbing imagery and heavy symbolism. It’s a hard film to watch, but no less satisfying even after so many decades.
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Anime mind-bending psychological thrillers became a hot commodity following the release of Perfect Blue, but Paprika is clearly one of the best. The plot revolves around a future where people can view the dreams of others using a technological device known as a DC Mini. As dreams and reality collide within the circle of characters, the audience gets pulled into the heavy symbolism which is dazzling, if not outright claustrophobic. There are equal parts of mystery, intrigue, and awe to be found in Paprika, and it’s a movie that is difficult to describe. It needs to be experienced.
Perfect Blue (1997)
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This disturbing whodunit psychological thriller took manga in a creepy new direction when it debuted just two years after Ghost In The Shell had softened audiences up for more deep R-rated animated movies storytelling. Perfect Blue tells the story of a young pop singer who decides to call it quits in favor of pursuing an acting career. Trouble brews from the get-go as she starts slipping into insanity while a deranged stalker begins making moves against her. The mystery unfolds in the final act with a surprising twist, but the audience must endure the shock and spectacle right up to the final moment.
Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)
It came as no surprise that despite being an animated DC Comics film, The Killing Joke was one of DC’s R-rated animated movies. This is mainly because the source material is considered to be one of the darkest comics of all time. It features the Joker in one of his most extreme moments, shooting Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl) and torturing her father. Beyond that, it also gives a subtle origin story of the Joker which is equally depressing and disturbing for kids. Apart from the violence and dark themes, there’s also adult subject matter as far as Batman and the heroes are concerned.
Heavy Metal is a cult favorite in the pantheon of R-rated animated movies. A Canadian sci-fi fantasy epic, it is inspired by the retro sci-fi magazine of the same name. It is an anthology of various stories with stylized violence, gore, and nudity with characters and settings that seem like they’re straight out of an Iron Maiden album cover. It is only ironic to note that it was produced by Ivan Reitman, the director behind Ghostbusters. The legacy of the film was such that it inspired a sequel called Heavy Metal 2000 and even provided the basis for the Netflix series Love, Death and Robots (which features similar hyperviolent stories of science-fiction).
Sausage Party (2016)
A lot of food getting messy. That is precisely what the sex-comedy Sausage Party is about. There are gags, rude jokes, and a lot of sexual metaphors, but behind the veil of vulgarity, Sausage Party surprisingly talks about love and sexuality in a way that few other films can. The movie was well-received and still holds the record for the highest-grossing R-rated animated movies. In another case of irony, directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan had earlier worked on animation projects like Thomas The Tank Engine and the Madagascar series.
A brainchild of acclaimed screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa is a stop-motion drama. While stop-motion has been used for several light-hearted movies like the Wallace And Gromit franchise, this one is a tragedy asking questions about existentialism. The protagonist is a loner who lives in an Orwellian society where everyone and everything seems the same until he meets a fascinating lady. The reason behind its parental rating is the use of excessive nudity to express the intimacy between the lead characters. A philosophical work of art, it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it was the first animated movie to win a Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.
Before the wave of cyberpunk films in Hollywood, there was the Japanese anime film Akira. Foul-mouthed biker gangs engage in a military-level conspiracy in this sci-fi classic. Apart from the blood, there are some scenes that are severely frightening. A case, for instance, is when a character undergoes extreme mutation turning into a colossal veined creature of giant proportions. Such scenes also point to the near-surrealist nature of the movie’s rich and detailed visual imagery for which Akira is still a relevant piece of cinema.
A Scanner Darkly (2006)
This Philip K Dick adaptation is trippy and psychedelic in tone just like the very drug that forms the crux of this movie. Keanu Reeves stars as an undercover cop in the future who, in order to bust a drug trade network, starts taking the drugs himself eventually questioning his own identity. Needless to say, repeated drug usage easily added this to the pantheon of R-rated animated movies. Directed by Richard Linklater, A Scanner Darkly follows a unique animation technique called rotoscope. The actors were first recorded in real-world settings and then the animators traced over the footage frame by frame.
The Nine Lives Of Fritz The Cat (1974)
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This 1974 movie was the one that made history for R-rated animated movies, being the first animated film to receive the rating. It follows the misadventures of an anthropomorphic cat who engages in con jobs, sexual escapades, and drug trips among other things. True to its title, these are presented in nine segments, each representing one of the lives of the protagonist. If one is amused by this film, its prequel Fritz The Cat is even more extreme as it achieved not an R but an X rating, proving that animation wasn’t just for children.
Team America: World Police (2004)
Team America is a brilliant satire in puppetry. It mocks the overused clichés of American patriotism and the valor of the armed forces. The titular paramilitary force attempts to take over the world, and fight dictators, terrorists, and Hollywood actors. It parodies many figures from the world of politics and entertainment through portrayals that might edge on being risky and bold. It should come as no surprise that South Park creator Trey Parker wrote and directed it.
South Park: Bigger, Longer And Uncut (1999)
South Park was one of the first controversial animated shows, gaining infamy for its surreal, and mocking take on contemporary American issues. The film version of this show parodies the concept of censorship itself as it features the four boys of South Park sneaking into an R-rated Canadian film and getting addicted to cursing unnecessarily. Angered by this, the parents of these kids ask the United States to wage war against Canada. And these kids end up fighting their own parents. The movie became an instant success with big box office returns and even an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Waltz With Bashir (2008)
Waltz With Bashir is an Academy Award-nominated docu-drama from Israel based on interviews with veterans of the 1982 Lebanon War. In the vein of classic anti-war films, its rich visuals give us a glimpse into the harrowing realities and futility of conflict. You see soldiers jumping, frolicking, and singing in one scene and then dying in a wave of bullets in the other. The filmmaker Ari Folman himself served in this war and through this film, he attempted to regain some last memories from this traumatic phase of his life. Waltz With Bashir is still reputed as one of the finest foreign-language R-rated animated movies and was featured on many critics’ top 10 lists in its year of release.
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