All the Films of Studio Ghibli, Ranked

All the Films of Studio Ghibli, Ranked


When the New York Times’s chief film critics ranked the best movies of the century so far, many readers were surprised by the work at No. 2: Hayao Miyazaki’s animated “Spirited Away.” The rest of us wondered why it wasn’t No. 1.

Spoiler alert: Spirited Away” is first on my list, a personal ranking of all the feature films (including a few outliers) of Mr. Miyazaki’s production company, the legendary animation house Studio Ghibli. 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.

The occasion for the list is a new, handsomely packaged edition of nearly all the Ghibli films by the distributor Gkids. It’s particularly significant because Ghibli is opposed to streaming video for aesthetic and commercial reasons. So beyond occasional screenings — like a series showing “Spirited Away” in select theaters around the country Oct. 29 to Nov. 1 — and a handful of titles streaming legally, discs are the only way to go.

Here’s my list. From top to bottom, it’s full of worlds you’ll want to get lost in.


1. ‘Spirited Away’ (2001)

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.


2. ‘Princess Mononoke’ (1997)

A gorgeously imagined fantasy, a forceful plea for living in balance with nature, and a riveting adventure that recalls the classic samurai films of Kurosawa — what’s not to like? Perhaps “Mononoke,” the Miyazaki film that first brought Studio Ghibli wide attention in America, is not quite as mysteriously transporting as “Spirited Away,” but that’s not saying much.

3. ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ (1988)

The sisters Satsuki and Mei move into a ramshackle country cottage while their mother convalesces at a nearby hospital, and they overcome their fears with the help of some possibly imaginary new friends, including a slyly grinning cat that doubles as a bus and the huge, furry, unflappable Totoro. From Mr. Miyazaki, this is deceptively simple and childlike but enormously moving, a direct portal to the joys and terrors of childhood.

4. ‘Porco Rosso’ (1992)

Not as well known as the other great Miyazaki films, this homage to vintage Howard Hawks-style aerial thrills is as beautifully drawn and colored as anything he’s done. And it’s tremendous fun. The adventures of the seaplane ace Porco Rosso (the Crimson Pig) combine Saturday-matinee exuberance with 1930s Hollywood romance.

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5. ‘Castle in the Sky’ (Laputa) (1986)

The first official Studio Ghibli movie, this Miyazaki production isn’t as complex or finely polished as the movies above it on this list, but it’s a near perfect action-adventure. A girl chased by merry airborne pirates and power-hungry government officials tries to save the floating castle of Laputa from destruction, a task that involves steampunk-style airships, a harrowing train ride and a few giant robots.

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6. ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ (2004)

This dark fable isn’t a hit with some Miyazaki fans — the story takes eccentric turns, and the connections have to do with emotion, characterization and image rather than plot. But what images they are. The unconventional love story pairs Howl, a half-man, half-bird magician who wanders the countryside in the grinding, puffing domicile of the title, and Sophie, a young milliner who’s been turned into an old woman by a witch’s curse.

7. ‘Pom Poko’ (1994)

The best film by Isao Takahata, who started the studio with Mr. Miyazaki, this is 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.

8. ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ (1989)

The coming–of-age story of a mischievous, clumsy witch who leaves home at 13 to find a town and a job, as witches must. A conventional but delightful tale of self-discovery and heroism from Mr. Miyazaki, it feels like Disney one moment, Truffaut the next.

9. ‘My Neighbors the Yamadas’ (1999)

Mr. Takahata’s broad, cartoony family comedy whose smeary watercolor washes and “Peanuts”-like line drawings don’t follow Ghibli’s house style. The family’s misadventures are standard stuff, but the art is continuously inventive.

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10. ‘Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind’ (1984)

A Ghibli film in all but name — it was Mr. Miyazaki’s last movie before the studio’s founding — “Nausicaa” was a formative work for him and his first collaboration with the composer Joe Hisaishi, who has scored all his movies since. A forerunner of the more ambitious ecofable “Princess Mononoke,” it’s a postapocalpytic tale about an Earth where pockets of humans hide from gigantic, marauding insects.

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11. ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’ (2013)

The story of a high-spirited princess who sprouts from an enchanted bamboo grove, and the bamboo cutter and his wife who raise her, eventually taking her away from her beloved mountains to turn her into a proper noblewoman. Rendered in a calligraphic style with a watercolor palette, this fairy tale from Mr. Takahata has a large reputation, though it’s more simple than profound and, at 2 hours, 17 minutes, overly long.

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12. ‘Ponyo’ (2008)

Mr. Miyazaki’s take on “The Little Mermaid,” about a spunky, proud little fish who befriends a human boy and tries to live on land, is often visually ravishing. Its phosphorescent underwater scenes and Hokusai-like waves are as lovely as anything he’s done. The story, though, is less intense and more sentimental than his best work.

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13. ‘Only Yesterday’ (1991)

A 27-year-old office worker takes a trip to the countryside where she spent her 10th summer. Known in the United States primarily for the long delay in its American release, this memory play from Mr. Takahata is smart, poignant and kind of ordinary.

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14. ‘The Wind Rises’ (2013)

Mr. Miyazaki’s last movie so far is also his most straightforward and probably his least involving, though its images of life in 1930s and ’40s Japan and of early aviation are beautiful and interesting in their own right. (And there’s a terrifically kinetic earthquake.) Based on the life of an airplane designer whose pure love of flight resulted in deadly fighter planes for the Japanese air force, it continues the fascination with soaring motion that Mr. Miyazaki has indulged in several films beginning with “Nausicaa.”

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15. ‘The Cat Returns’ (2002)

If you’d never seen a Miyazaki film, Hiroyuki Morita’s amusing cross of talking animals with teenage (human) angst would look even better. As it is, it’s the best non-Miyazaki, non-Takahata Ghibli feature. A girl prevents a cat from getting crushed by a truck and gains favor with a nocturnal kingdom of hipster felines, in a story with echoes of “Alice in Wonderland” and the novels of Haruki Murakami.

16. ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ (1988)

The story of a brother and sister surviving on their own amid firestorms and famine during World War II, Mr. Takahata’s parable of Japanese nationalism and the high cost of pride is often cited as one of the Ghibli masterpieces. It’s seamlessly told, but it’s also a shameless, morbid tear-jerker.

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17. ‘Whisper of the Heart’ (1995)

Yoshifumi Kondo was considered the heir apparent to Mr. Miyazaki and Mr. Takahata at Ghibli, but died after making this one feature. Mr. Miyazaki wrote the screenplay for a love story about a shy girl and an aspiring violin maker (and a talking cat), but the result looks like a lot of non-Ghibli anime.

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18. ‘From Up on Poppy Hill’ (2011)

Hayao Miyazaki developed and co-wrote the screenplay for this bouncy period piece, set in early-1960s Yokohama and revolving around a boardinghouse that overlooks the city’s busy harbor. It’s a story of young love and secret family entanglements, with a bit of the era’s social ferment in the background, competently brought to the screen by Mr. Miyazaki’s son Goro.

19. ‘The Secret World of Arrietty’ (2010)

An adaptation of “The Borrowers” was a longtime goal for Mr. Miyazaki and Mr. Takahata, but when Ghibli finally undertook it, it was the directing debut of Hiromasa Yonebayashi. 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.

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20. ‘Ocean Waves’ (1993)

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.

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21. ‘When Marnie Was There’ (2014)

A fussy, complicated (but very nice looking) ghost story about isolation and friendship, Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s “Marnie” demonstrates that working at the same studio as Mr. Miyazaki doesn’t mean you can bring his kind of magic to a female coming-of-age story.

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22. ‘Tales From Earthsea’ (2006)

Ursula K. Le Guin’s fantasy novels about a watery world of mages and dragons are given a plodding, prosaic adaptation by the younger Miyazaki.



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