A List of All the Studio Ghibli Movies, Ranked
The Japanese animation house has never made a bad movie, but some are better — so, we've revisited and ranked them all.
December 08, 2023
On the outskirts of Tokyo sits one of the city's most coveted spaces: the Studio Ghibli museum. It's also one of Japan's hottest tickets, with locals and tourists alike needing to book well in advance to get in. You'd expect that of a place that features a life-size catbus, a towering robot on its roof and Totoro sitting behind the counter of its box office. You'd expect it of any venue celebrating this beloved animation house, to be honest — even though it now has company three hours out of town thanks to Studio Ghibli's very own theme park.
For almost four decades now, Studio Ghibli's movies have possessed their own kind of magic — the type that made viewers want to get spirited away by their gorgeously animated frames long before the company made a film of the same name. Indeed, in the 38 years since Studio Ghibli was formed by directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata with producer Toshio Suzuki, it has introduced the world to all manner of delightful and moving on-screen experiences.
Cute balls of soot, determined teenage witches and pining high-schoolers sit side-by-side in the company's filmography with war-torn tales, sitcom-style family antics and more than one ecologically minded fable. And, in the process, Studio Ghibli has achieved a significant feat: it has never made a bad movie. Including TV films and co-productions, it has 25 to its name to date in total — with the latest and Miyazaki first film in a decade, The Boy and the Heron, in cinemas Down Under now. While every single Ghibli flick is worth feasting your eyes on, we've ranked them all. Now you know where to start during your next binge-viewing session.
25. TALES FROM EARTHSEA
Combine Studio Ghibli with any number of dragon-filled fantasy tales, and the result might look like Tales from Earthsea. It's actually adapted from one such series of books, Ursula K Le Guin's The Earthsea Cycle. The feature directorial debut of Hayao Miyazaki's son, Gorō Miyazaki, this is the most standard of the company's features — although its characters, including a troubled prince and a young girl saved from slavers, always strike a chord.
Tales from Earthsea streams via Netflix.
24. EARWIG AND THE WITCH
The studio's first movie made solely using computer-generated 3D animation, Earwig and the Witch immediately stands out thanks to its plastic-looking visuals. And, despite the fact that it's about a determined young girl, features a witch, and even includes a talking cat and other helpful tiny critters, it never completely feels like a classic Ghibli film either. That said, a by-the-numbers Ghibli flock is still better than many others, especially of the family-friendly variety.
23. ONLY YESTERDAY
Based on the 1982 manga of the same name, Only Yesterday explores the incredibly relatable inner turmoil of 27-year-old Tokyo worker Taeko when she heads out to the countryside for a working vacation. Charting her efforts to reconcile her childhood dreams with the life she's living now, it's a mature and thoughtful film from Isao Takahata — and a wistful and sensitive one, too.
Only Yesterday streams via Netflix.
22. FROM UP ON POPPY HILL
Gorō Miyazaki's second feature heads to Yokohama, in 1963, when high-schooler Umi Matsuzaki lives in a boarding house. Adapted from an 1980 Japanese comic, this sweet and gentle effort charts her quest to stop a beloved school building from being demolished — and benefits from a tender screenplay co-written by none other than Hayao Miyazaki.
From Up on Poppy Hill streams via Netflix.
21. PORCO ROSSO
Inspired by his family's business from when he was a child — aircraft parts manufacturer Miyazaki Airplane — many of Hayao Miyazaki's movies take to the skies. Porco Rosso, with its high-flying eponymous man-pig pilot, is one of them. This wartime adventure follows the First World War veteran's clash with a group of sky pirates and the American hotshot they've hired to help, as told with wry humour and, obviously, spectacular flying sequences.
Porco Rosso streams via Netflix.
20. MY NEIGHBOURS THE YAMADAS
The studio's most visually distinctive effort, Isao Takahata's My Neighbours the Yamadas is based on the manga series Nono-chan, and favours the look of a hand-drawn, watercolour-painted comic strip. That stylistic choice suits the content perfectly, immersing audiences into the quirky series of vignettes about the Yamada family, and offering a visible reminder that nothing is ever as simple as it appears.
My Neighbours the Yamadas streams via Netflix.
19. THE CAT RETURNS
The only Studio Ghibli movie to continue on from one of its earlier films, The Cat Returns is a spinoff from Whisper of the Heart. As the name makes plain, felines take centre stage. That proves entertaining and even often enjoyably silly for audiences; however, for the film's protagonist Haru Yoshioka, it forces her into a battle with the Cat Kingdom after she saves a four-legged fur ball from being hit by a car — and is told she'll have to marry him.
The Cat Returns streams via Netflix.
For a movie filled with tiny people who live in the walls of human houses, Arrietty certainly does brandish a big heart. Based on Mary Norton's 1952 novel The Borrowers, this story was always going to fall into Studio Ghibli's wheelhouse, especially given its focus on a new friendship between unlikely pals. As soulfully relayed by director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the film charts the connection that between its diminutive titular character and a human boy.
Arrietty streams via Netflix.
17. WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE
When Marnie Was There champions the importance of friendship, acceptance, understanding and looking to the past to embrace the future, all recurring themes in Studio Ghibli's work. That's hardly surprising in a melancholy and contemplative movie about a lonely foster child and her new friend, of course, but they also take on a different tone here. Made in 2014, Hiromasa Yonebayashi's film adapts Joan G Robinson's novel of the same name into a bewitching gem.
16. OCEAN WAVES
Made for TV, this 1993 Studio Ghibli movie spends the bulk of its time in the city of Kochi, where friends Taku Morisaki and Yutaka Matsuno both become smitten with new high-school classmate Rikako Muto. When the animation studio isn't marching off to magical worlds, it's pondering the emotional turmoil bubbling within everyday characters, with this quiet and moving drama falling into the latter category.
Ocean Waves streams via Netflix.
15. THE WIND RISES
When it first hit cinemas, The Wind Rises was presented as Hayao Miyazaki's final film — and, if that had stayed the case, it would've been a fitting farewell. Thanks to The Boy and the Heron, the acclaimed animator hasn't said goodbye to viewers yet; however, he gets especially reflective in this rich and bittersweet fictionalised biography of aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi. Like all of Miyazaki's output, of course, there's much more to this understated gem than the obvious.
As well as boasting quite the catchy theme tune, Ponyo takes inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. Here, though, the story focuses on an escaped goldfish — and explores the cute critter's new bond with a five-year-old boy. Following in the footsteps of fellow Hayao Miyazaki movie My Neighbour Totoro, the film is perfect for audiences of all ages. It's also bright, bouncy, exuberant and poetic as well.
Ponyo streams via Netflix.
13. THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA
In The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, the eponymous girl blossoms within a bamboo shoot. She's not the only thing that blooms in this hand-drawn beauty, which marked Isao Takahata's first film as a director in 15 years — and, sadly, his last. Spinning an elegant and entrancing story, this Ghibli wonder evolves from a seemingly standard setup into something subversive and meaningful.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya streams via Netflix.
12. KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE
Feisty kids are as common in Studio Ghibli movies as jaw-dropping visuals, and 13-year-old Kiki well and truly fits the mould. In this Hayao Miyazaki-helmed coming-of-age fantasy, the fledgling witch moves away from home to prove her independence — as all teen witches must at that age. As well as relaying a smart tale about finding one's place in the world, Kiki's Delivery Service boasts another big highlight: a very amusing talking cat.
Kiki's Delivery Service streams via Netflix.
11. WHISPER OF THE HEART
Playful, heartfelt and sometimes melancholy, Whisper of the Heart is one of Studio Ghibli's under-appreciated gems — and not just because it features two very memorable cats. It was the company's first film to be directed by someone other than Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Miyazaki wrote the screenplay, though, with Yoshifumi Kondō helming this story about a Tokyo high-schooler obsessed with the boy who borrowed all the same library books before her.
Whisper of the Heart streams via Netflix.
10. LAPUTA, CASTLE IN THE SKY
Studio Ghibli's first offical feature, Laputa, Castle in the Sky heads back to the late 19th century, as a young girl, Sheeta, endeavours to fend off the cunning and determined government agents on her tail. They're chasing not only a rare magic crystal, but a fabled city floating in the clouds — and as Hayao Miyazaki depicts with steampunk flair, endearing characters and a spirited statement, it all makes for an entrancing adventure.
Laputa, Castle in the Sky streams via Netflix.
9. POM POKO
Mischievous racoon-like critters called tanuki sit at the heart of this Isao Takahata-directed film — creatures with a basis in folklore, boasting the ability to transform into almost anything and possessing very flexible scrotums (yes, really). Alas, their habitat outside of Tokyo is under threat from developers, with this touching delight combining magical wonder with a message. It's an impassioned, affectionate fable, matching its narrative and overtly offbeat sense of humour with memorable imagery.
Pom Poko is available streams via Netflix.
8. THE RED TURTLE
In its first-ever collaboration, Studio Ghibli teamed up with Dutch-British illustrator Michael Dudok de Wit — and earned a Cannes Un Certain Regard special jury prize-winning for their efforts. A film of narrative simplicity but both visual and thematic intricacy, this textured and meditative feature explores the complicated splendour that springs from humanity's relationship with the world around us after a man is washed up on a deserted island.
7. HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE
If ever a movie encapsulated everything that's made Studio Ghibli such a beloved filmmaking force, it's Howl's Moving Castle. Energetic, creative and sensitive, this Hayao Miyazaki-helmed fantasy not only unfurls a mesmerising story — about a young milliner who is cursed by a witch, transforms into an elderly woman and becomes a wizard's housekeeper — but does so with beautiful imagery, endearing characters, and strong anti-war and pro-feminist sentiments.
Howl's Moving Castle streams via Netflix.
6. THE BOY AND THE HERON
Trust Hayao Miyazaki to return from a ten-year absence, and his latest purported retirement, to deliver one of the best, most breathtaking and most gorgeous movies that he ever has. This World War II-set "semi-autobiographical fantasy" follows 11-year-old Mahito after his mother is killed in an air raid, his father moves him to the countryside and the titular bird beckons him into an otherworldly realm — and every frame feels like a culmination of Miyazaki's career.
The Boy and the Heron opened in Australian and New Zealand cinemas on Thursday, December 7. Read our full review.
5. MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO
It's the film that immediately found a place in viewers' hearts and never left. Thanks to its heartwarming mood and emotions, astute observations, adorable characters and eager sense of adventure, Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbour Totoro has become Studio Ghibli's best-known movie for many great reasons — all as it chronicles two sisters' exploits when they not only move into a new house, but make a new pal in the forest (and discover the catbus).
My Neighbour Totoro streams via Netflix.
4. PRINCESS MONONOKE
Hayao Miyazaki has never shied away from making an ecological statement; however, Princess Mononoke might just send his most forceful message about humanity's impact upon the earth. As set in Japan's Muromachi period (from the 14th–16th centuries), this involving fantasy charts the paths of a young prince with a curse and a young woman raised by wolves, as well as the conflict between a modernising town and the forest it's destroying.
Princess Mononoke streams via Netflix.
3. NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind technically pre-dates Studio Ghibli, but Hayao Miyazaki's post-apocalyptic fantasy has been claimed as the company's own. Charting the battles of a young princess as she fights an invading kingdom and tries to reconcile the damage ravaged upon the planet, the 1984 film became an instant classic, with its environmentally conscious story, stunning animation and stellar score all proving beguiling.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind streams via Netflix.
2. SPIRITED AWAY
In Spirited Away, ten-year-old Chihiro stumbles across a magical and mysterious world, then wants nothing more than to escape back home. Viewers of Hayao Miyazaki's Oscar-winning masterpiece, however, are happy spending as much time as possible in the film's wondrous realm — which, as set around a luxurious and busy bathhouse that caters to spirits, constantly surprises, delights, and revels in inventive storytelling and animation.
Spirited Away streams via Netflix.
1. GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES
The most heartbreaking animated film ever made, Isao Takahata's touching war drama Grave of the Fireflies is the rarest of inclusions on Studio Ghibli's cinematic resume. Plunging into dark and sombre territory, it tells the tale of two siblings desperately struggling to survive in the last days of the Second World War. From its fleshed-out characters tussling with life and death to its striking visuals, the movie's handling of its moving and sorrowful story couldn't be more astonishing.
Grave of the Fireflies is available on DVD.
Images: Sugoi Co / Madman.
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