Spoiler alert: 'Nightmare Before Christmas' is only No. 3
October is the season for scarves, pumpkin spice lattes, complaining about pumpkin spice lattes, decorative gourds, changing leaves, and stressing about group Halloween costumes. But it’s also the season for my favorite specific subset of movies: spooky stop-motion animation. And so we’re counting down the top 10 stop-motion movies you need to watch before the convenience stores start playing Christmas music.
10. Anomalisa (2015)
Anomalisa is a brilliant film, but it evokes a more existential fear than a spookiness. Number 10 spot it is.
9. James and the Giant Peach (1996)
Although it’s not a classic horror story, James’ aunts are straight up terrifying. Unfortunately points are docked because they only appear in the live-action portion of the film.
8. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
The trouble here is the overall aesthetic: it’s too classic Wallace and Gromit to be fully spooky. It doesn’t help that the Were-Rabbit is adorable.
7. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
We’ve reached classic spooky territory with our No. 7 spot. But while Kubo has witches and giant bugs, it doesn’t quite evoke a Halloween vibe.
6. The Boxtrolls (2014)
An under-appreciated classic about a boy who was raised believing he’s a box troll and the cheese-hungry troll hunter trying to capture his family, The Boxtrolls is an all-around delight. Although it captures the slightly grotesque, macabre aesthetic essential to the spooky stop-motion animated genre, the movie itself is more sweet than spooky.
5. Frankenweenie (2012)
This pastiche of Vincent Price-era horror movies is genuinely scary at times, but it is a comedy which diminishes its spookiness. Still, Tim Burton arguably hasn’t made a better film since.
4. ParaNorman (2012)
Brilliant, smart, and funny, Paranorman just lacks the gothic-y aesthetic I’ve arbitrarily decided is required in my standard of spookiness.
3. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Despite what I find a wholly unconvincing love story, Nightmare Before Christmas is the gold-standard to which other spooky stop-motion animated movies are compared. It deserves its legions of obsessed fans. “Jack’s Lament” should be considered a Broadway standard.
2. Corpse Bride (2005)
Amazing character design and catchy songs — the best of the Tim Burton pack. I realize its controversial putting Corpse Bride above Nightmare Before Christmas, but Nightmare loses points for its Christmas overlap and Corpse Bride is pure gothic. Go listen to “Piano Duet” right now and tell me it’s not haunting.
1. Coraline (2009)
A perfect, brilliantly crafted story that evokes the particular fear and unmooring of being a child. The Coraline adaptation lived up to its Neil Gaiman source material, but it introduced a distinct visual aesthetic that added texture and visceral spookiness. The unchallenged victor.