The Top 3D Movies of All Time

Counting down the greatest stereoscopic 3D films of the modern era

Boy and girl watching 3D movie

Rebecca Nelson / Getty Images

If you asked a sizable sample of casual movie fans what their favorite 3D movie of all time is, a lot of people would probably answer Avatar.

It's the highest-grossing film of all time and probably the most widely seen since Titanic, so on those criteria alone, it's going to garner a lot of votes.

Avatar isn't my personal number one, but it is near the top. In this article, I'll go through my picks for the top ten 3D films of all time and try to justify my choices. For this list, I tried to judge based on the strength of the 3D in addition to the film itself.

For example, my favorite movie on the list is probably Toy Story 3, which as far as I'm concerned is pretty much a perfect film. However, I didn't put it at number one because I think there are other films that use 3D technology to greater effect.

Here's the list:

of 05

How to Train Your Dragon

I remember walking out of the theater after How to Train Your Dragon and thinking, "This is it. This is the future."

The flight scenes in this film are so unbelievably exhilarating in 3D that I'm pretty sure they're still the best thing that's been done in the format to date. Yes, the best scenes in this film are better than the best scenes in Avatar.

Throw in a wonderful, heartfelt, unpredictable story, and you've got yourself one of the best 3D films of all time.

of 05


I've seen a lot of movies set in and around Paris, and I don't think any of them looked this good. (OK, maybe Amelie, but you get what I'm saying.)

The world of Hugo is teeming with the glorious visual cacophony of everyday life in a Paris train station, and Scorcese's vision literally jumps off the screen and draws you into the film's universe in such a way that makes it impossible to look away.

Hugo is packed with steam and clockwork and an exaggerated aesthetic that makes Gare Montparnasse one of the most distinctive and immersive film settings I've ever spent time in.

Hugo might've been a bit too saccharine for some critics' tastes, I thought it was a masterpiece.

of 05


Avatar is the last film that I saw twice at the cinema, and you better believe I paid the 3D ticket premium both times. Like How to Train Your Dragon, the Avatar experience is something that simply cannot be replicated in the home theater.

I think Dragon and Hugo are both better films than Avatar, but you can't deny that Cameron's mega-blockbuster has the visual trump card.

Pandora is one of the most fully realized movie settings ever to grace the silver screen. Not since The Lord of the Rings have we seen a director go to such incredible lengths to ensure that everything about his film's backdrop was pitch-perfect, from the geology to the lush bio-luminescent forests, to the unforgettable array of creatures, characters, vehicles, and set-pieces.

After all that, Cameron's groundbreaking use of stereoscopic 3D was simply the icing on the cake. It took something exceptional, elevated it, and made it legendary.

of 05


Tangled languished in development for so long that by the time it was released, no one knew what to expect.

We knew that the concept art was stunning, that the film had cost Disney an arm and a leg to produce, that the marketing machine had forced an eleventh-hour name change based on the fear that young boys wouldn't be interested in a film called Rapunzel. And we dared to dream that this was the film that would bring animation studios like Walt Disney Animation back to relevance in the CG age.

But I don't think anyone expected a modern classic.

Two years after Tangled's release, I don't think any animation studio, not even Pixar, has released a film that matches the level of technical polish and visual sophistication that Disney gave us in Tangled.

And the lanterns... oh the lanterns!

of 05


A lot of people consider Up to be the pinnacle of artistic expression in the vaunted Pixar canon. While it's not my favorite films to come out of Emeryville, it is (in my opinion) the studio's best use of the 3D format to date.

While Toy Story 3 and Brave both used 3D competently as a depth of field mechanism, the lofty panoramas in Up lent themselves to the format exceptionally well and the scene atop the airship at the film's climax was a showstopper.

I'm fairly sure this was my first stereoscopic 3D experience (aside from theme park rides), and it certainly didn't disappoint.