5 Adult Animated Movies that Make Guys Cry

DISCLAIMER: This is not a series dedicated to proving men shouldn’t cry, or to suggest ONLY women cry and are therefore inferior. The goal of this series is to dispel the pre-established (yet flawed) notion that being “manly” and being disconnected from your emotions go hand-in-hand. Even the most macho of men enjoy and even shed a tear at films, and the sooner we can admit that the sooner the concept that one sex is better than the other can go away. While the approach to these articles is one of light-hearted comedy, the emotional core is valid. While men might be more hesitant to admit it, movies often times have the potential to make us cry, for example:

“Adult Animated Movies”

At this point it’s fair to say no one is embarrassed at any age by saying they enjoy animation. Between the classic Disney films that we grew up with to the cultural renaissance that is Pixar, animation has transcended the stigma of being “just for children.” That being said, there are still animated movies that are decidedly NOT for children. Sometimes the subject matter is a little too mature (which is saying something considering what Pixar has dealt with lately). Other times the world of animated character proportions are exaggerated in a very adult way to serve the plot and entice an older viewer. Cutting out the blatant porn, adult animated films can and very often do offer a niche of quality not found anywhere else. And just because a character is drawn and voiced doesn’t mean they can’t make an emotional impact:

1. Anomalisa

This movie is a bucket of adult melancholy courtesy of perpetually-weird Charlie Kaufman. And the real genius of telling this adult story with animation is that it conveys the lead character’s feelings emotionally. Over the course of the story, lead character Michael sees everyone in his life as the exact same stop-motion figure of a middle-aged white man…even his son and wife. The animation serves a purpose in telling us how isolated he feels and the disdain with which he regards everyone equally. But then he meets Lisa, who is completely unique and beautiful and different in his eyes, literally.

Kind of a brilliant story device, right? Well, the really soul-crushing part is after they sleep together and agree to run away together. Michael is disgusted by Lisa’s breakfast habits and dismisses her as a possible connection. And then, at the very end of the movie, we find that Lisa is actually identical to other people, even without Michael there judging her. It’s a muddy thesis this film has, but there’s something otherworldly and heavy about the whole affair.

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2. Coraline

This movie was made by Laika, formally Will Vinton Studios, housed in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. It also is weapons-grade nightmare fuel and barely skates by as a child’s film. Or put another way, it’s a child’s film the way the original Brothers Grimm fairy tales are for children – stories so scary that the children hearing the story are scarred for life. The plot of Coraline centers around a girl who feels neglected by her parents, and learns through horrific experience that having needles shoved through your eyes by a witch is worse than playing by yourself once and a while. That’s right – the main character’s fail state is having a witch sow buttons on her eyes. Pretty sure kids imagining sewing needles piercing their eyeballs would immediately classify this as an adult film. If you are an adult and can get past the eye thing, this is a gorgeous movie with amazing stop-motion animation and is a Pixar rival for how many layers of awesome you can achieve through cartoons.

If there’s one thing that lets you know a children’s movie doesn’t play nice, it’s killing children. The titular character finds out her possible fate through the ghosts of past children who weren’t so lucky. We see their ghosts with the buttons still sewn on their eyes. That’s some eternal torment right there, and it’s heartbreaking.

3. Cool World

This film tried to be the adult version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit but that film was already for adults in many respects. So what you end up with is a film where the central plot McGuffin is a cartoon having sex with her live-action creator. Either that’s incest, or a weird porn fetish, but either way this is not a child’s cartoon. Just like in Roger Rabbit, this film hosts a world where the animated characters belong to their own world, instead of being creations of ours. That idea is compounded by some world building about our worlds being linked and rules about cartoons and real humans interacting (read: don’t bone). It’s definitely a film that tried something new and interesting so for that I tip my hat, but it is 100% for adults only.

The sad ending is that the main human character dies. Due to some hand-waiving, because a cartoon killed him he gets reborn as a cartoon, but that’s still somewhat limbo. Maybe after a few eons of being a cartoon he longs for death but realizes he’s already dead. Are all cartoons actually humans in a perpetual hell with Kim Basinger? Ugh. How deflating.

4. Akira

Everytime I try to explain why I don’t like anime, I bring up this movie and I’m always told it’s not a great example. Then whenever a list is made of the most influential and successful animes, this movie is spoken of. Can’t have it both ways, guys. For all its failings in my eyes, this is a monumental cultural touchstone in animation and anime, and GOOD GOD is it not for kids. People get crushed to death, heads explode, there’s so much violence and I think there’s a giant teddy bear too (I can’t remember, I watched half of it through my fingers). Sure, the animation is groundbreaking, and sure the story is engaging, but this is not something you want to fudge the age 13 part of PG-13 (especially since it was rated R).

Clearly the setting of a Tokyo destroyed by a psychic explosion is a mirror to the Atom bombs used in WWII. So you can understand the unease we feel when this film ends with ANOTHER massive explosion destroying Neo-Tokyo. The loss of civilian lives in this version of Japan is immense, and the reminder of what resides in the cultural memory of the Japanese people is more than just uncomfortable. But beyond that, the tragedy of Tetsuo is strangely palpable. He’s almost a pre-Columbine example of the school outsider who is pushed too far and not taken seriously enough with the most fatal results imaginable.

5. South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut

First off, South Park in general is crass, insulting, and gross. It’s also highly intelligent, hilarious, and not for kids. Oh sure, kids watch it, but the kinds of topics Matt and Trey delve into are way above children’s comprehension, and the language and insults used to get those points across should not be introduced to young minds if at all possible. As an adult or even a teen it’s fantastic, so you can imagine the joy of a feature-length movie letting South Park material really stretch its legs. This film dealt with the meta idea of blaming others for our own bad parenting when children are allowed to watch indecent films. Though the use of literal Satan, Saddam Hussein, and a US/Canada war over fart jokes may be juvenile, but there are deeper thoughts at work in this film that make it more than the sum of it’s parts.

What could possibly be sad in a film like this? The idea of radicalized political correctness is used throughout the film, and South Park in general. Kyle’s mother preferring to murder two comedians than blame her son for anything is one of the central plot points. Even when presented with the apocalyptic outcome of her actions, murdering people who don’t agree with her is preferable to taking any responsibility. On another level, it’s a funny idea that Canada would get fed up with being America’s scapegoat for bad parenting, but it’s also shining a big light on the way we perceive other countries as massive stereotypical collectives. The movie illustrates this by never highlighting any Canadian characters of substance. From the perspective of Kyle’s mom and the rest of South Park, all Canadians are crass, poorly animated fart jokes like Terence and Philipp.

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Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.