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The Most Popular Animated Movie Each Year Of The ’80s, According To Letterboxd

The 90s were groundbreaking for animation, the 2000s continued to show off that excellence, and the 2010s took things to the next level. With such successes over these decades, it often feels like the 1980s were a forgotten era. That being said, there are some beloved films from this era.

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Letterboxd moviegoers have rated and reviewed movies from each decade, and their feelings helped choose the most popular from each year. With fewer ’80s classics in animation than decades later, it’s interesting to see which movies have outgrown their years.


1980 – The King and the Mockingbird

Stream on Kanopy

King and the Mockingbird characters outside a castle

At the start of the decade, nothing seemed to really stand out in the world of animation. No classic came out of Disney or Studio Ghibli and without blockbusters, the most popular movie is something many have never heard of.

Although The King and the Mockingbird was not a major commercial success, it was heavily criticized and currently holds a rare 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Based on a fairy tale, the plot follows a tyrannical king who likes to shoot birds only to have a bird try to thwart him at every turn.

1981 – The fox and the dog

Stream on Disney+

Disney made a strong comeback in 1981 thanks to The fox and the hunting dog. Since the studio’s Renaissance era didn’t begin until the late ’80s, most of the decade was seen as a business flop for Disney.

The fox and the hunting dog, based on a 1967 novel of the same name, was a modest commercial success and became a beloved film of the era. Telling the heartwarming story of a bond between two animals meant to be sworn enemies, it’s a timeless classic that Letterboxd users love.

1982 – The Secret of the NIMH

Stream on Tubi, Hoopla, Kanopy and the Roku Channel

Nimh's Secret characters holding a bird

Interestingly, the most popular animated film of 1982 is actually vincent but it’s a short film. Topping the list for feature films is The NIMH Secretwhich is based on a children’s novel and is a classic fantasy film.

It follows a family of mice who must move to a new house to avoid a farmer’s plow. This gives the film a combination of both an emotional storyline and something exciting and tense. A sequel came years later but was met with dislike from critics and fans.

1983 – Barefoot Generation

Stream on Retro Crush

A girl on a colored background screams in Barefoot Gen.

The highest rated animated film of 1983 is also the most popular and it is Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Alas, it doesn’t qualify here because it’s not a feature film, so instead, this spot belongs to Barefoot generation.

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Although not a household name, the film is based on a popular manga series. The story focuses on the consequences that a young boy and his entourage feel following the impact of an atomic bomb. It touched on a serious subject and there were other adaptations although the public did not like them as much.

1984 – Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Stream on HBO Max

It’s rare that a filmmaker can be credited with so many iconic films, but Hayao Miyazaki is quite special in that regard. His incredible films span decades and one of his earliest and most impressive releases was Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.

The adventure film centers on Princess Nausicaä, as she joins forces with the people of the Valley of the Wind to protect them from the forces that threaten to destroy and control her. The tale has been widely praised and is arguably Studio Ghibli’s greatest film.

1985 – The Angel’s Egg

Not currently available to stream

A scene from Angel's Egg

Another film of the decade that ranks as the most popular (and highest rated of its year) despite not being iconic is angel eggotherwise known as Tenshi no Tamago. Many people may never have heard of it, but those who have seen it understand how special it is.

The film relies heavily on visuals, as evidenced by the fact that it features very little dialogue. Luckily, it’s gorgeous and has actually reached a point where some consider it art more than they consider it a movie.

1986 – Castle in the Sky

Stream on HBO Max

Sheeta in the kitchen in Castle in the Sky

Once again, the work of the talented Hayao Miyazaki dominates a year. Castle in THE sky is written and directed by Miyazaki and continues to show that his ideas are creative, fantastical, and beautifully animated.

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sky castle tells the story of a boy and a girl who protect a magic crystal from pirates, the army, secret agents, etc., while searching for a castle located in the clouds. It’s exactly the kind of story that Miyazaki makes work better than anyone.

1987 – The Brave Little Toaster

Not currently available to stream

The Appliance Gang - The Brave Little Toaster

There are a handful of 80s and 90s animated movies that are memorable even if they don’t come from one of the major studios. Among them is The brave little toasterwhich was popular enough to spawn two sequels in later years.

The original film is based on a short story of the same name and is set in a world where home appliances come to life. The adventure sees a toaster and his friends embark on a potentially dangerous quest to find their owner. It became a hit when it came to home video.

1988 – My Neighbor Totoro

Stream on HBO Max

While Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli were certainly behind some of the greatest animated films in history, it could be argued that My Neighbor Totoro is the most popular and the most emblematic.

In fact, many consider the titular Totoro a mascot of the studio. This heartwarming film is beloved and centers on two sisters who befriend the spirits of the forest near the house where they are staying while their mother is in the hospital. It was a solid box office hit, but it became a smash hit with merchandise in the future.

1989 – Kiki’s Delivery Service

Stream on HBO Max

Kiki flies on her broom over the ocean in Kiki's Delivery Service

It’s only fitting that the most popular latest animated feature of the decade comes from the wonderful mind of Hayao Miyazaki. It basically defined the decade and continued to do so in the future. His last release in the 80s was Kiki’s Delivery Service.

This movie just beat The little Mermaid for Letterboxd’s most popular animated film of 1989. It tells the story of a young witch who runs a courier service by flying on her broomstick. With a fun world, lovely visuals, and likable characters, it’s a legendary hit.

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