Are you a Studio Ghibli or Hayao Miyazaki fan? Looking for the definitive list of Studio Ghibli films? Or a ranking of all Studio Ghibli films to decide which Studio Ghibli films you should watch next or de-prioritize? Nerdatron’s advanced compumetrics have provided the definitive Studio Ghibli & Miyazaki rankings below, but make sure to let Nerdatron know in the comments if an adjustment is needed.
According to the Mike Hale of The New York Times, “The 32-year-old company’s output has been modest but its influence is profound. Some of its biggest fans routinely copy Ghibli’s moves for their work at Pixar and DreamWorks.”¹
NOTE: Nerdatron has provided the following information below: the American movie title, the Hepburn equivalent of the Ghibli title, its original translated title (if different), year of release, and Rotten Tomatoes score as of the date of writing.
First, the non Sci-Fi & Fantasy Ghibli movies … Nerdatron ranked these so low basically on that basis alone.
22. My Neighbors the Yamadas (Hōhokekyo Tonari no Yamada-kun, 1999) – RT 75%
The lowest-ranked! This one may be the most un-Ghibli looking of all the Ghibli titles. Unlike other Studio Ghibli productions, which are in the Japanese anime style, this one is all minimalist, Peanuts-like line drawing animation.
From Den of Geek: “Based on a four-panel manga strip by artist Hisaichi Ishii, the film introduces us to mother and father Takashi and Matsuko Yamada, their 13-year-old son, Noboru, 5-year-old daughter Nonoko, grandmother Shige, and their pet dog, Pochi
… Anyone expecting the soaring beauty of a typical Studio Ghibli production will probably be a little bemused by the mundanity of the Yamadas’ existence, but there’s a soothing calm to their daily struggles, a haiku-like sense of tranquillity.
21. Ocean Waves (Umi ga Kikoeru, I Can Hear the Sea, 1993) – RT 87%
Not really what you’re expecting when you hear the words Studio Ghibli. This was definitely NOT a Miyazaki film.
It has been called a pedestrian romance about a bittersweet school days love triangle. This television movie from Tomomi Mochizuki was an experiment in letting younger members of the Ghibli team make their own film. It wasn’t repeated.¹
20. From Up on Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-zaka Kara, From Coquelicot Hill, 2011) – RT 83%
From Nerdist: After the tumultuous relationship between father and son during Gorō [Miyazaki]’s first directorial effort (Tales from Earthsea, see below), it seems the elder Miyazaki wanted to give his son another, fairer chance for success.
Gorō, who never really aspired to be a filmmaker, doesn’t have his father’s eye for wonderment, but he does solid work. While Earthsea had great visuals, it suffered a bit in the story department — Poppy Hill is much more nostalgic and contemplative, which seems to suit the strengths of its director.
Set in the early ’60s in Yokohama, it’s a film about searching for answers and taking a stand for what you believe in.
19. The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu, 2013) – RT 89%
Again, no Sci-Fi or Fantasy according to Nerdatron. The subject is pretty fascinating, though …
The Wind Rises is a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the World War II Japanese fighter plane, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. How would you feel about your masterpiece knowing its death toll? How does Jiro cope with knowing that so many of countrymen became kamikaze suicide pilots in his creation?
18. Only Yesterday (Omoide Poro Poro, Memories Come Tumbling Down, 1991) – RT 100%
You may be wondering why Nerdatron ranked Only Yesterday so low despite having 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (though based on only 52 reviews). It’s because there aren’t any Sci-Fi or Fantasy elements in this movie – sorry!
Except … there is one important Sci-Fi connection to this movie! The English-language format of this movie, released on February 26, 2016, features the voices of Star Wars actors Daisy Ridley and Ashley Eckstein (best known for voicing Ashoka Tano). REDEMPTION.
Only Yesterday is the nostalgic story of a 27-year-old office worker who pines away for her childhood in the countryside. She takes a trip to the countryside for the safflower harvest. Has she been true to the dreams of the childhood version of herself? Does she stay in the country? These are the main sources of drama … but no lightsabers.
… And now for the Ghibli movies with Sci-Fi and Fantasy!
17. Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka, 1988) – RT 97%
This is the story of a teenage brother and sister trying desperately to survive the final months of World War II on their own. That plot line might remind you of another eighties movie which came out only the year before: Empire of the Sun.
According to Rolling Stone, which ranks Grave of the Fireflies #37 on its list of Greatest Animated Movies Ever:
Grave of the Fireflies might be the pinnacle of adults-only animation: The movie may focus on children, but it’s a profoundly grownup tale of war and loss, the overall mood one of despair and anger. The latest Pixar movie made you weepy? This one will rip your heart and soul out.
This movie is based on a 1967 semi-autobiographical short story Grave of the Fireflies by Akiyuki Nosaka.
16. Porco Rosso (Kurenai no Buta, Crimson Pig, 1992) – RT 94%
Porco Rosso is the “Crimson Pig.” He lives out his post-WWI years as a freelance bounty hunter destroying sky pirates in his iconic red seaplane. It combines many wonderful things: vintage Howard Hawks-style aerial thrills, Saturday-matinee excitement, and circa 1930 Hollywood romance.
The best moment, according to NME, is also Porco Rosso’s best line: “I’d much rather be a pig than a fascist”.
15. Pom Poko (Heisei Tanuki Gassen Pompoko, The Raccoon War, 1994) – RT 80%
This is considered the best film of Isao Takahata, who started the studio with Mr. Miyazaki.
It’s a comic allegory about battling packs of tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs) joining forces to fight human real estate developers. It’s earthy and rollicking in a way that his co-founder’s films aren’t.¹
According to the New York Times, the plot “involves an enclave of tanuki (raccoonlike creatures from Japanese folklore) threatened by encroaching urban development who commence a campaign of trickery at construction sites, thanks to their power to change shape (an ability, we’re told, shared with foxes and ‘some old cats’).”
Ghibli’s animation skills and the raccoons’ shape-shifting skills are on parade when the raccoons try to scare off some humans with a procession of monsters, ghost, and mythical creatures:
14. The Secret World of Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietti, The Borrower Arrietty, 2010) – RT 95%
Miyazaki had long wanted to adapt “The Borrowers,” the classic children’s fantasy novel by the English author Mary Norton. When Ghibli finally undertook the project, however, it instead became the directing debut of Hiromasa Yonebayashi.
From Plugged In: “From Arrietty’s point of view, a “borrower’s” life is pretty spectacular. After all, when you’re a person about the size of a grasshopper, everything in the world of the “human beans” takes on a whole new scope. A leaf is big enough to be an umbrella, a thimble can be a flower vase, and a bean’s kitchen, well, that’s a place of treasures and giant wonders as vast as any mountain range.”
“A teenage boy visits his mother’s childhood home and finds tiny people living under the floorboards, in a slight story with animation that’s lovely in a generic way.”¹
13. Tales From Earthsea (Gedo Senki, Ged’s War Chronicles, 2006) – RT 41%
The film is a mixture of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu) and Hayao Miyazaki’s manga The Journey of Shuna.
Tales from Earthsea wins the award for the Most Hated of the Ghibli films. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is little more than half that of the next-lowest ranking Ghibli film. Why?
The film has been called a “plodding, prosaic adaptation” of Ursula K. Le Guin’s fantasy novels.¹ Le Guin, herself, commended the animation but said that the plot diverged so greatly from her story that she was “watching an entirely different story, confusingly enacted by people with the same names as in my story.”²
Christopher Runyon of Movie Mezzanine said of the adaptation: “An overly stoic, pretentious, boring, unimaginative trainwreck that just happens to have been made by some of the greatest animators in the history of Japanese anime.”
Steven Greydanus of Decent Films Guide called Tales from Earthsea a “A flawed but ambitious film, full of potent mythic images — battling dragons; a shadowy doppelganger — but one that fails ultimately to resolve those images in a satisfying way.”
12. ‘Ponyo’ (Gake no Ue no Ponyo, Ponyo on the Cliff, 2008) – RT 92%
Roger Ebert, unlike many of Miyazaki’s fans, loved the movie: “The G-rated feature tells a story both simple and profound. Sosuke, a 5-year-old who lives in a house on a seaside cliff, finds a goldfish trapped in a jar on the beach. This is Ponyo. Freeing her, he is rewarded by a lick on a finger that heals a cut. And by tasting human blood, we learn, Ponyo gains the ability to transform between fish and human.”
The animation is typical Miyazaki. “Its phosphorescent underwater scenes and Hokusai-like waves are as lovely as anything he’s done,” according to the NYT.
11. When Marnie Was There (Omoide no Mānī, Marnie of [My] Memories, 2014) – RT 92%
From Variety: There are no walking houses, magical forest creatures or one-way trains to the spirit world in “When Marnie Was There,” but that doesn’t mean Studio Ghibli’s latest animated feature — and some fear its last — isn’t brimming over with its own unique sense of enchantment. In this demure Japanese adaptation of Joan G. Robinson’s decidedly British ghost story, a withdrawn teen befriends a mysterious blonde girl who may or may not actually exist.
Following news of Ghibli maestro Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement, this lovely and relatively low-key drama from potential successor Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty, see above) has cast the studio’s own status into question.
And now … for the TOP TEN Studio Ghibli Films!
10. ‘The Cat Returns’ (Neko no Ongaeshi, The Cat’s Repayment, 2002) – RT 89%
The plot is sort of like the feline version of the Han Solo – Chewbacca relationship.
Haru is a shy high school student with the ability to talk to cats, which she has suppressed. Haru saves a cat from being run over by a truck. That cat, Lune, just happens to be the Prince of the Cat Kingdom, who feels he owes Haru [read: Han] a life-debt. A whole new feline world opens up to Haru.
This one has some pretty amazing characters and places:
- The Baron, a cat figurine brought to life by its artist (see Whisper of the Heart above – The Baron Returns!);
- Muta, a large white cat who is actually a notorious criminal of the Cat Kingdom after devouring an entire lake of fish in one sitting; and
- The entrance to the Cat Kingdom, five adjacent lakes which form a cat’s paw when viewed from the sky
9. Whisper of the Heart (Mimi o Sumaseba, literally “If you listen closely,” 1995) – RT 91%
Yoshifumi Kondo directed this Ghibli, who was a shooting star at the company. Kondo had been considered the heir apparent to Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata at Ghibli, but so goes the shooting star … Kondo died after making this one film.
The heroine, Shizuku Tsukishima, is a 14-year-old junior high student. She spots a cat riding a train and follows it to an antique shop. In the shop, Shizuku finds a cat figurine named “The Baron.”
The Baron is also a character in another Ghibli feature, The Cat Returns. Shizuku soon begins writing a story about The Baron. Writing the story soon consumes her … that story eventually (sort of) becomes The Cat Returns.
8. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2014) – RT 100%
Princess Kaguya is based on a story from 10th century folklore. A bamboo cutter named Sanuki no Miyatsuko discovers a miniature girl inside a glowing bamboo shoot and believes her to be divine presence. The girl grows rapidly and conspicuously, not unlike the bamboo she was found in. Thus, she earns the nickname “Takenoko” or “Little Bamboo” from the other children in the village.
The style is somewhat different from the traditional Miyazaki. The style has been called calligraphic and uses a watercolor palette.
7. My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro, 1988) – RT 93%
Sisters Satsuki and Mei move to a ramshackle country cottage while their mother is convalescing at a nearby hospital. After finding that the house is inhabited by tiny dust creatures and house spirits called Sootballs, they stumble into a magical world of wood spirits and monsters in the forest “neighboring” the cottage.
The girls eventually meet the huge, furry, and size-shifting Totoro, the keeper or King of the Forest, who lives in a large camphor tree.
The best moment according to NME: “When Mei first climbs onto Totoro’s chest while the monster is sleeping. It’s a character defining moment that shows Mei as fearless and curious. Our introduction to the fluffy guardian of the forest is as scary as it as exhilarating. It begs a reverence for nature.”
There’s also this wonderful creature, Catbus: [not to be confused with Nickelodeon’s ill-fated CatDog]
6. Kiki’s Delivery Service (Majo no Takkyūbin, Witch’s Delivery Service, 1989) – RT 97%
From Jonathan Crow of Rovi: “Veteran animator Hayao Miyazaki directs this buoyant children’s adventure yarn about a young witch striking out on her own. At her mother’s behest, 13-year-old Kiki sets out on a year-long apprenticeship with her black cat in tow. With a shaky command of her broom, she ends up in a charming little coastal town that looks like a cross between the French provincial and San Francisco. Unfortunately, the local hotels have a strict ‘no witches’ policy and the police have taken a dim view of her recent aerial mischief-making.”
There’s also the adorably dorky Tombo, who develops a massive crush on the young witch.
This movie captures the swoon of flight with gorgeous scenes of Kiki on (or off) her broomstick:
5. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no Tani no Naushika, 1984) – RT 87%
Not technically a Ghibli film, this was Hayao Miyazaki’s last movie before Ghibli studio was founded. This is also Miyazaki’s first collaboration with Joe Hisaishi, the composer whom Miyazaki has teamed up with ever since.
The post-apocalyptic premise of this one is fantastic. It’s sort of a Starship Troopers alternate ending. In Nausicaä human civilization is in its final throes. The world is covered in a vast toxic jungle which creates awesome predators. Pockets of survivors hide from the gigantic insects produced by the ruined landscape.
This ecofable foreshadows Miyazaki’s later work, Princess Mononoke, which sits even higher atop this list. Some even claim that the same movie was twice. What do you think? What are the differences between the two?
One last thing, do the giant beetle-like Ohmu (below) remind anybody else of Shai-Hulud and the sandworms of Dune?
4. Howl’s Moving Castle (Hauru no Ugoku Shiro, 2004) – RT 87%
“In a fairy-tale world between Harry Potter and Jules Verne,” dowdy Sophie leads a dull existence in her family hat-shop until she meets Howl, “a wizard who looks like a pop star.” The main antagonist is the Witch of the Waste, who upon meeting and insulting Sophie, turns her into an old woman.
Not all Miyazaki fans hail Howl. Plot coherence doesn’t appear to be a priority.
It’s also a somewhat unconventional love story. The love interest, Howl, is a half-man, half-bird magician who wanders the countryside in the titular location, which wheezes smoke like a misshapen steam-punk dragon.
The “Cave of Mind” sequence and score is also particularly fantastic:
3. Castle in the Sky (Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, 1986) – RT 95%
According to Reelviews: Miyazaki stated that his intention with Castle in the Sky was to make a film that children would enjoy. In that, he succeeded. To steal a phrase from a Christmas song, it works for “kids from one to 92” (although it might be considered a little scary for those on the lower end).
The setting is a cyperpunk-influenced alternate Earth. The main character is Sheeta, who wears a mysterious amulet. The amulet saves her from a fall by allowing her to float. It is later discovered that the same crystal which powers the amulet once kept aloft the floating island of Laputa (as in Gulliver’s Travels).
Cool connection! The movie begins with Sheeta being kidnapped by Luke Skywalker!
Well, almost … Sheeta is kidnapped by Muska, a government agent, who in the US-theatrical release is voiced by Mark Hamill.
2. Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime, Spirit-Monster Princess, 1997) – RT 92%
Prince Ashitaka protects his rural village which is pitted against a demonic corruption spreading across the land. The Prince is helped by the wolf-raised, wolf-riding, warrior-princess San. Together, they fight Lady Eboshi and the armies of Irontown who are bent on harvesting the forest.
According to the New York Times, “this exotically beautiful action film features gods and demons locked in a struggle for the future of the unspoiled forest and an elaborate moral universe that Mr. Miyazaki has created.”³
As described in the beginning, Studio Ghibli’s “no cuts” policy once did battle with now-infamous Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein suggested editing Princess Mononoke to make it more marketable. A Studio Ghibli producer responded swiftly to this effrontery. The producer is rumored to have sent an authentic Japanese sword with a simple message: “No cuts”. Wow!
The movie is full of somewhat graphic and frequent battle scenes. While awesome, this one’s not exactly for younger children.
But seriously, what’s cooler than a wolf-riding warrior princess?
1. Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, Sen and Chihiro’s Spiriting Away, 2001) – RT 97%
For whatever reason, possibly its Oscar win – the first ever for an anime film – Spirited Away has become many people’s first taste of Studio Ghibli.
The New York Times recently ranked the Top 25 Movies of the 21st Century so far. Spirited Away came in at #2. Many of the reviewers later asked why Spirited Away was ranked so low!
“A family takes a wrong turn on its way to a new home and a young girl is plunged into a dark adventure with a hauntingly-drawn collection of spirits, witches, monsters and other fantastic creatures. It’s Mr. Miyazaki’s most expansive and mesmerizing film ever.”¹
Chihiro Ogino, the main character, begins the movie as a whiny and pessimistic child. That wrong turn her family takes is a mysterious tunnel. It leads to what appears to be an abandoned theme park. They have actually stumbled into the spirit world. After Chihiro’s parents gobble down food found in an empty restaurant, they transform into pigs.
Miyazaki had this to say about Chichiro:
I created a heroine who is an ordinary girl, someone with whom the audience can sympathize. It’s not a story in which the characters grow up, but a story in which they draw on something already inside them brought out by the particular circumstances. I want my young friends to live like that, and I think they, too, have such a wish.
Some people’s favorite scene is when a wealthy river guide, disguised as a Stink Spirit, swallows up a spa’s clientele:
Some claim, however, that Spirited Away contains one of the greatest scenes in all film history. That would be the enigmatic “Train Scene”:
What is this train? Who are the transparent figures? What is the purpose of the train? Is the train a metaphor for death and why can in no longer run both ways? What is this shallow sea?
We’re not provided with these answers, and it’s questions like these that make this movie so good.
Share & Comment …
Did Nerdatron get this ranking right? Please let the immortal robot know in the comments below. Please also remember to share!
¹ Mike Hale, New York Times, 10/12/17.
³ Janet Maslin, New York Times, 9/27/1999.