All 24 Studio Ghibli movies ranked from worst to best

Studio Ghibli is known for its distinctive tone and charm, making for a unique watch with each movie. But which is the best? We rank all 24 movies.
Spirited Away - Studio Ghibli
Spirited Away - Studio Ghibli /
Spirited Away
Photo: Spirited Away.. Image Courtesy Studio Ghibli, Fathom Events /

Over its incredible journey, Studio Ghibli has painted a vibrant canvas of narratives, ranging from the charmingly whimsical to the profoundly tragic. The cinematic playground of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, two friends whose passion for storytelling has ignited countless imaginations, has brought us an enchanting array of films, appealing to audiences young and old.

These diverse tales — whether they recount the adventures of a juvenile witch, delve into the life of a WWII airplane designer, or follow raccoon dogs battling against urban encroachment — each holds their unique magic. Icons of cinema such as Guillermo del Toro, Wes Anderson, and the creative force behind Cartoon Saloon, are among those who draw inspiration from the Ghibli oeuvre, reflecting the studio’s immense influence.

Studio Ghibli’s films are alluringly magical, transforming the mundane into the extraordinary. Unlike many other filmmakers who often focus on escapism or extraordinary circumstances, Ghibli’s creators understand the enchantment hidden in daily life. Their narratives capture and celebrate the remarkable within the routine, echoing an affectionate sentiment towards the ordinary.

All Studio Ghibli movies ranked

Join me on this fascinating journey as we explore the best Studio Ghibli movies, ranked. Remember, while we’re attempting to create a comprehensive ranking, every Ghibli film holds its unique charm, and all are worthy of your time.

24. Tales from Earthsea (2006)

It seems Gorō’s artistic journey hits a stumbling block with Tales From Earthsea. Whether this misstep can be attributed to his relative inexperience or the Herculean task of adapting an array of complex books, the end result falls noticeably short of expectations. The movie appears to lose itself in a jumble of interwoven plot threads extracted from various sources, ultimately failing to spin a consistent and engaging narrative. Amidst this disarray, it loses sight of its story, providing a disjointed viewing experience.

That’s not to say Tales From Earthsea is devoid of merit; it presents occasional thematic gems that illuminate the narrative. However, these instances of clarity arrive too sporadically and far too late to fully redeem the film. Even the presence of majestic dragons, which usually serve as a surefire way to captivate an audience, struggles to maintain viewers’ attention. In essence, the movie’s disjointed storytelling leaves the audience yearning for something more engaging, diverting their eyes from the screen in search of a more cohesive narrative.

23. Earwig and the Witch (2020)

Studio Ghibli, known for its enchanting 2D animation, ventured into the realm of 3D CGI animation for the first time, a departure that was met with mixed reactions from its long-standing fanbase. Directed by Gorō Miyazaki, the film demonstrated that he was well-versed in the distinctive tropes and components that typically construct a compelling Ghibli narrative. Yet, despite these familiar elements, the film seemed to fall short of the magic and depth typically expected from a Studio Ghibli creation, raising concerns over whether the studio’s charm could truly be captured in a 3D CGI medium.

One aspect the film did excel in was exploring the potent and relatable theme of feeling overlooked or neglected by one’s parents. This emotional thread added an intriguing layer to the narrative, but it ultimately couldn’t compensate for the perceived shortcomings. As such, the film left some viewers with a sense of disappointment, feeling more like a homage to the illustrious catalog of Gorō’s father, Hayao Miyazaki, rather than standing as a noteworthy entry in its own right. The studio’s first foray into 3D CGI animation has therefore sparked hope among fans that Ghibli will return to its 2D roots in future projects, where its unique storytelling magic truly shines.

22. From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

From Up on Poppy Hill, the stand-out entry from Gorō Miyazaki, offers a refreshing detour from the fantastical narratives often associated with Studio Ghibli. This poignant drama charts the journey of two boarding school students in the early 1960s, who are engaged in a heartfelt battle to preserve their clubhouse from the threat of demolition. As their personal tale unfolds, the backdrop is one of a city in flux, wrestling with the aftermath of World War II and the impending 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. The movie pulsates with an infectious energy that imbues it with a unique texture.

While the narrative is more grounded than the studio’s typical fare, the film still captures a specific and vivid moment in Japanese history, imbued with a sense of nostalgia that gives it its distinct character. From Up on Poppy Hill might not ascend the dramatic peaks of Ghibli’s more fantastical tales, but its intimate portrayal of a bygone era, coupled with the relatable struggles of its youthful protagonists, provides a uniquely compelling experience. In its own understated way, the film carries forward Studio Ghibli’s tradition of celebrating the extraordinary in the ordinary, ensuring it holds a unique place within the studio’s esteemed canon.

21. The Cat Returns (2002)

Studio Ghibli’s pedigree for producing high-quality animation is indisputable, and The Cat Returns exemplifies this well, even if it doesn’t quite reach the pinnacle of the studio’s best work. Uniquely, this film branches out from the studio’s norm, functioning as a spin-off from Whisper of the Heart, and offers viewers a refreshing perspective by exploring the tale of a supporting character from the original film. Under the direction of Hiroyuki Morita, The Cat Returns may not carry the same weight as those created by the stalwarts of Ghibli, Miyazaki, or Yoshifumi Kondo, yet it still crafts an engaging narrative infused with a distinct fantastical essence that sets it apart from other Ghibli offerings.

While the film is enjoyable, it does, however, lack the enduring resonance of some of Ghibli’s more renowned works, and for some, it might be filed under the “fun, yet forgettable” category. However, if you hold a soft spot for feline companions, The Cat Returns is a must-watch. Despite its somewhat transient impact, the film still retains that distinctive Ghibli charm, proving that even the studio’s lesser-known works have much to offer for fans and newcomers alike.

20. My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999)

In My Neighbors the Yamadas, Isao Takahata masterfully brings to life the world of the beloved Nono-chan manga. The film, reminiscent of the whimsicality of Totoro, trades mystical beings for comical and heartwarming episodes in the life of an ordinary family. Takahata’s unique approach renders an everyday tale into an engaging narrative filled with laughter, tears, and the delightful chaos of familial bonds.

What sets this film apart is its distinctive animation style, reminiscent of newspaper comic strips. The sketch-like illustrations and minimalistic visuals, far from subtracting, add a fresh dimension to the storytelling. This approach complements the narrative in such an immersive way that it could not have been achieved with a more traditional animation style. My Neighbors the Yamadas thus becomes a celebration of the medium’s potential, brilliantly employing it to breathe life into everyday stories that resonate with viewers across generations.

19. Pom Poko (1994)

Known for its eclectic array of films, Studio Ghibli has birthed several eccentric creations, none as audaciously bizarre as the narrative involving magical tanuki and their gargantuan scrotums. Yes, you read that correctly. Pom Poko, directed by Isao Takahata, could be considered the equivalent of his own Princess Mononoke, offering a vehemently fierce and dark comedy exploring the theme of nature fighting back against encroaching suburbanization.

The film’s protagonists are a group of tenacious tanuki (raccoon dogs), who, with no fear, haunt the construction sites, wielding their enormous, shape-shifting scrotums to intimidate humans, sparking divine fear.

Pom Poko, while quirky and humorous on the surface, isn’t spared from Takahata’s propensity for darker undertones. Rather than catering to the expectations of a cheerful outcome, it deals with the grim realities associated with rapid urban development, a subject that rings true even today.

The storyline draws from a real-life residential development in Tokyo and showcases a generous dose of body horror, surprisingly sensual dynamics among the tanuki, and outright killings, elements one might find out of place in a children’s film. However, beneath these unconventional aspects, Takahata’s profound message resonates strongly — the unrestrained urban sprawl poses a grave threat to nature, and when we distance ourselves from nature, we risk losing our own essence.

This sentiment, woven into the tapestry of Pom Poko, echoes throughout Studio Ghibli’s repertoire, underlining the studio’s enduring commitment to environmental themes.

18. Ocean Waves (1993)

Though intended as a television movie and a budget-friendly exercise for Ghibli’s budding talents, Ocean Waves exudes a level of refinement and depth often associated with the studio’s high-budget offerings by its seasoned animators. Absent of the typical enchantment or whimsy we’ve come to expect from Ghibli, this tale still encapsulates the studio’s adeptness in weaving threads of delicate melancholy and palpable drama. The narrative lacks the thematic punch and powerful motifs seen in many of Ghibli’s other works, but its beauty lies in its subtlety.

If you’re seeking an exploration of the intricate emotions tied to adolescence, Ocean Waves provides a poignant experience. The narrative shines a light on the unique feelings of estrangement that adolescence often brings and the nostalgia-infused reflections on relationships past. It provides a mirror for those moments of retrospective clarity where past interactions take on new meanings. All in all, this might not be the quintessential Ghibli movie with fantastical elements, but for anyone seeking a touching, down-to-earth narrative about growth and understanding, Ocean Waves is undoubtedly a Ghibli gem.

17. Porco Rosso (1992)

Porco Rosso, with the irreplaceable Michael Keaton lending his voice to the title character in the US dub, is a splendid Studio Ghibli film that blends action and adventure seamlessly. More than just a movie, it’s a heartfelt homage to the grandeur of WWII-era classics like Casablanca. The story unfolds in the 1930s, tracing the life of an Italian ace pilot as he battles air pirates in the Adriatic Sea — with the intriguing twist of bearing the face of a pig.

Porco himself stands out as one of Ghibli’s most unforgettable characters. His brash, chauvinistic charm reminds us of the adventure-movie stars of yore, the likes of whom Humphrey Bogart would have masterfully portrayed had this been a 1940s production.

However, Hayao Miyazaki, Ghibli’s mastermind, offers more than a mere adventure tale with Porco Rosso. He utilizes the narrative as a canvas to examine the unsettling rise of fascism in Italy during the 1930s. The ever-looming visage of Mussolini, increasing murmurs about secret police, and a flashback sequence delicately balancing the line between the fantastical and the starkly real, all weave into the fabric of the film.

Miyazaki’s critique culminates in a potent line, resonating as much, if not more, today as it did then: “I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.” It’s an assertion that melds the whimsical and the deeply serious, reflecting the unique charm and depth of Studio Ghibli’s creations.

16. When Marnie Was There (2014)

Distinctly more understated than its predecessors, Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s second stint as a director delivered a touching tribute to Studio Ghibli’s esteemed lineage, right before Hayao Miyazaki heralded his return and gave his son the reins for an unfortunate foray into CGI cinema.

When Marnie Was There weaves a poignant narrative of accepting one’s history as a stepping stone to future growth. The tale is delicately centered on a reserved 12-year-old foster child suffering from asthma, whose life takes a turn when she is sent to a rural town for recuperation.

As she adapts to this tranquil setting, an intriguing friendship blooms between her and a young girl named Marnie, whose existence hovers intriguingly between the realms of the corporeal and the spectral. Despite its apparent simplicity, the plot unfurls to deliver a profound emotional resonance that takes viewers by surprise, subtly echoing the quintessence of Ghibli’s narrative magic. When Marnie Was There stands as a testament to the studio’s ability to transform seemingly straightforward storylines into emotionally rich narratives that leave lasting impressions.

15. Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Studio Ghibli truly hits its stride in the enchanting film about a young girl’s self-discovery, masterfully intertwined with the soulful rhythm of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” This mesmerizing creation is the brainchild of Yoshifumi Kondo, who was seen as Miyazaki’s protege before his untimely passing.

The narrative revolves around a 14-year-old budding writer named Shizuki, a voracious reader who is more comfortable in her imaginative journeys than in actively pursuing adventures. Her life takes a transformative turn when she crosses paths with a young aspiring violin maker. His passion and dedication spark a flame in her, inspiring her to chase her dreams fearlessly.

What sets Whisper of the Heart apart from other Ghibli films is its profound exploration of the creative process and its instrumental role in helping young people navigate a perplexing world. It beautifully captures the struggles and uncertainties that often accompany the pursuit of creativity.

Shizuki, like many other young artists, grapples with self-doubt but eventually comes to terms with her potential. The film’s characters understand they may not be the best in their respective fields, but they are content with it. They acknowledge that this is merely the beginning of their journey, a journey they need to embrace wholeheartedly. It’s no wonder that clips from this film have become the backdrop for “Lofi Girl,” a YouTube channel that has become a muse for countless students and young creatives. And yes, the film’s narrative intricately weaves around John Denver’s iconic tune, ensuring the melody will linger with you long after the credits roll.

14. The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

Making his directorial debut, Hiromasa Yonebayashi embarks on an ambitious journey with The Secret World of Arrietty. However, instead of presenting a distinct narrative voice, the film seems to echo the aura of Studio Ghibli’s golden era, striving to mirror its illustrious heritage. The plot introduces us to a hidden universe where the “borrowers,” a race of tiny beings, coexist secretly with humans. These diminutive inhabitants survive by “borrowing” necessities from their unsuspecting human counterparts, leading to a myriad of engaging interactions.

Our story revolves around Arrietty, a young borrower girl whose life intertwines with that of Shō, a human boy. Their unconventional friendship forms the crux of the narrative. Although the storyline occasionally falls short of reaching its full potential, it’s the captivating visuals that manage to save the day. Embodying the quintessential Ghibli charm, the film’s aesthetic elements brim with creativity, effortlessly drawing the audience into the enchanting world of the borrowers. While the film strives for the iconic resonance of its predecessors, it presents a unique exploration of parallel existences, unearthing the magic in the miniature.

13. The Wind Rises (2013)

The Wind Rises, originally conceived as Hayao Miyazaki’s farewell to the world of animation, offers a compelling examination of an artist reflecting upon his creative legacy. Similar to Isao Takahata’s introspective narrative in The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Miyazaki leverages his affinity for aviation to narrate the journey of a WWII airplane designer. The film beautifully highlights the dichotomy between Miyazaki’s love for aircraft and his pacifist ideals, understanding the devastating uses to which these machines are often put. It presents an intricate exploration of the designer’s internal struggle, as he reconciles with the grim reality of his creations being employed for destructive purposes.

The Wind Rises serves as an allegorical exploration of Miyazaki’s own creative journey. He weaves a tale of a filmmaker grappling with the manifold interpretations and misconceptions of his work — interpretations far removed from his original intent. Although seemingly more subdued than his earlier creations, the film is a poignant and powerful depiction of the transition from idealism to realism. It stands as a fitting tribute to a virtuoso creator’s body of work, capturing the essence of an artist still at the zenith of his craft.

As such, The Wind Rises stands as a remarkable testament to Miyazaki’s exceptional storytelling prowess and his enduring legacy in the realm of animation.

12. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Howl’s Moving Castle, one of Studio Ghibli’s most visually arresting films, presents an interesting case of thematic redundancy. Several Ghibli films have delved into similar narratives, often with more effectiveness. That being said, the film’s visual grandeur is undeniably breathtaking. The eponymous castle, with its meticulous attention to detail, is an animation triumph. In addition, the film showcases one of cinema’s most distinctive portrayals of magic, with Howl’s powers being portrayed as ancient yet exceedingly potent.

This film also piques interest as a compelling “what if?” scenario, given that Mamoru Hosoda of Digimon the Movie fame was initially set to direct before being replaced. Despite this, Hayao Miyazaki manages to weave a tapestry of his trademark whimsy, magic, and adventure, infused with a poignant commentary on the Iraq war and its soul-shattering impact.

The film’s exploration of the destructive nature of violence and war is an integral part of its narrative. Those opting for the dubbed version are in for a treat, with Billy Crystal delivering an entertaining performance as a sentient fire demon. His portrayal adds another layer of charm to this already visually stunning film.

11. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Studio Ghibli’s Kiki’s Delivery Service spins a delightful yet profound tale, following the journey of its young protagonist Kiki, an aspiring witch eager to strike out on her own. Aged 13, Kiki embarks on her adventure in a scenic coastal city, accompanied by her endearing talking black cat, Jiji. The film’s charm lies in its exquisite animation, capturing stunning landscapes that merge aspects of several real-world cities into the fictional town Kiki adopts as her new home.

Where the film truly stands out is in its poignant depiction of adolescence, a time marked by growing independence and self-reliance. Kiki, in her enthusiasm to mature and carve out her own path, discovers the inevitable complexities of adulthood. Despite her supportive network, she soon confronts a challenge that she alone must navigate, leading to a profound personal transformation.

Kiki’s Delivery Service masterfully outlines the emotional intricacies of growth — the loneliness, the evolving relationships, and the paradox of empowerment and vulnerability. This emotional depth sets it apart from its Western counterparts, striking a chord that can resonate deeply and alter perspectives on life and animation. Its enchanting narrative, bolstered by the delightful voice performance of Phil Hartman as Jiji in the dubbed version, cements its status as a solid Ghibli film.

10. The Boy and the Heron (2023)

Imagine diving into a storybook one chilly evening, only to stumble upon The Boy and the Heron, a tale that's like finding an old, magical key in your grandma's attic.

A decade after we thought we'd said our teary goodbyes to Hayao Miyazaki's world of wonders, the legendary storyteller sweeps back in with what feels like a grand, final bow. The Boy and the Heron is a story that nods to Miyazaki's own childhood favorite, weaving through a tapestry of his most mesmerizing worlds - from the mystical spirits of Spirited Away to the fierce eco-warriors of Princess Mononoke. This isn't just a stroll down memory lane, it's a heartfelt summary of an illustrious journey.

We meet Mahito, a boy whose life takes a turn into the shadows of loss, only to find a gleaming light in the form of a mischievous heron. This feathery guide leads him to a castle gateway to realms untold, sparking an adventure with sassy parakeets, cuddly warawara, and echoes of Mahito's own legacy. As what may be Miyazaki's swan song, this narrative doesn't just dazzle with its visual splendor - it tugs at the heartstrings, putting together a lifetime of stories into a masterpiece that makes you laugh, wonder, and maybe even let a tear roll down in awe of its sheer beauty.

9. Only Yesterday (1991)

There comes a juncture in every individual’s existence, a poignant moment of introspection when one realizes that the life they are leading is far from the one they envisioned in their youth. Isao Takahata, in his quintessential style, encapsulates this universal sentiment in his film, Only Yesterday. The narrative unfolds as the protagonist, a woman traveling to the countryside, delves into a profound reflection of her past. As the train journies through the landscapes, her memories serve as a canvas for the exploration of a myriad of societal and personal themes.

The film takes us on an introspective journey, tackling subjects ranging from the rigid social hierarchy, the intricate roles of women in Japanese society, the ever-spreading tentacles of urbanization, to the gaping generational divide. It wrestles with the existential dilemma of whether one’s deviation from their childhood dreams amounts to a betrayal of their past self.

Despite Only Yesterday being the most understated among Ghibli’s repertoire, it resonates powerfully, mirroring the depth and poignancy of an indie drama poised to sweep awards at a film festival. Its real-world reflections and relatable predicaments lend it an endearing authenticity, cementing its place as a quiet but impactful narrative in the Ghibli universe.

8. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)

Princess Kaguya, the final oeuvre from Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata, is a harmonious culmination of the themes that permeated his illustrious career. Adapting one of Japan’s oldest folkloric tales, the film spins a simple yet captivating narrative about a magical girl discovered within a bamboo stalk by a farmer.

As she rapidly matures, she becomes ensnared in a world fettered by unyielding societal expectations. The film stands out within the Ghibli canon due to its distinctive visual aesthetics –charmingly minimalist watercolor backdrops bestow upon it a timeless, dreamlike aura, while the deliberate charcoal outlines echo the elegance of ancient Japanese art.

Yet, what truly sets Princess Kaguya apart is Takahata’s reimagination of the traditional tale as a critique of recent Disney’s pop-empowerment narratives. The film unflinchingly explores the profound psychological repercussions of resisting patriarchal norms and expectations, a theme that is often glossed over in more mainstream animated films. Evoking a sense of melancholic nostalgia, it reflects on the ephemeral nature of childhood and the inevitable pains of growing up.

While not as stark as Grave of the Fireflies or as fervently passionate as Pom Poko, Princess Kaguya offers a profound insight into Takahata’s introspective journey as a filmmaker. Instead of wallowing in the darkness often found in his earlier works, he chooses to highlight the fleeting moments of joy nestled amidst the sorrow, reminding us to cherish these ephemeral instances of happiness.

7. Ponyo (2008)

Without question, Ponyo sits at the more youthful end of Studio Ghibli’s filmography, but that does not detract from its quality or appeal. A harmonious blend of elements reminiscent of The Little Mermaid and Pinocchio, the film charmingly traces the journey of Ponyo, a goldfish girl who, following a serendipitous encounter with a human boy named Sōsuke, yearns to morph into a human.

The film exudes a pure, delightful energy that radiates through its vivid color palette and endearing characters, promising to enthrall younger viewers while also crafting a heartwarming narrative that adults can appreciate.

Although Ponyo might not delve as deeply into mature themes as some other Miyazaki creations, it more than makes up for this with its mesmerizing hand-drawn animation and Ponyo’s infectious vivacity. The film never fails to engage its audience, constantly charming and enchanting viewers with its visually stunning storytelling and buoyant protagonist. Miyazaki’s ability to craft such a universally appealing tale, while specifically targeting a younger demographic, is a testament to the magic of Studio Ghibli’s storytelling prowess.

6. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Falling under the lesser-known category of Ghibli films, Grave of the Fireflies holds a poignant and somber tone that may not resonate with younger audiences or those unprepared for its tear-jerking impact. This powerful creation by Isao Takahata serves as a haunting exploration of war’s devastations, witnessed through the eyes of two siblings in the final throes of WWII.

After losing their mother in an air raid, they are thrust into a relentless struggle for survival amidst the horrors of war. This film diverges significantly from the fanciful narratives of Totoro or Kiki, instead offering a heart-wrenching and stark depiction of the tolls of conflict, intertwined with a tender tale of love, loss, and pain. While watching, you might find yourself reaching for a tissue more often than you’d expect.

Unfortunately, due to licensing constraints, Grave of the Fireflies is currently not available for streaming on Max. However, it remains accessible on demand for those willing to embark on this emotionally intense journey. While the film is certainly heavy in its themes, its deeply moving narrative makes it an essential experience for audiences of all ages. It stands as a testament to Studio Ghibli’s ability to traverse a wide range of emotional landscapes, delivering stories that not only entertain but also provoke profound thought and reflection.

5. Castle in the Sky (1986)

Regarded as the inaugural title under the Studio Ghibli banner, Castle in the Sky ushered in an era marked by characteristic tropes and themes that would come to define the studio’s oeuvre for years to come. At its core, the narrative spins a simple yet compelling tale: a boy and a girl embark on a quest to locate a magical crystal and a fantastical castle aloft in the sky, all while fending off relentless pursuers — a band of formidable pirates.

However, as is characteristic of Ghibli, the seemingly straightforward story serves as a mere catalyst for an intricate exploration of the eternal conflict between nature and man-made technology — a motif that would echo throughout many future works from the studio.

Interestingly, Castle in the Sky deviates from the traditional Ghibli mold by introducing an unabashedly villainous character, which is rare in the studio’s typically nuanced narratives. This villain, while despicable, adds a layer of thrilling antagonism that captivates the audience. However, the film’s lasting impact transcends its narrative. The hallmark steampunk-like aesthetic, a unique blend of technology and Victorian-era visuals, has left an indelible mark on the genre, influencing a slew of subsequent works.

Its resonances can be traced in diverse titles like Atlantis: The Lost Empire, The Iron Giant, and WALL-E. Indeed, Castle in the Sky stands as a testament to Ghibli’s ability to tell stories that shape the landscape of animation and linger long in collective cultural memory.

4. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

The beauty of Studio Ghibli lies in its wide array of films, each offering a unique entry point tailored to the individual viewer’s experiences, preferences, and life stage. Whether you’re an introspective elder with a penchant for WWII narratives, a rebellious teenager seeking fantastical worlds, or a young child taking their first steps into the realm of film, Ghibli has a masterpiece waiting just for you.

For children, My Neighbor Totoro often serves as the perfect introduction to the magical world of Ghibli. Imagine their delight at the enchanting theme song, which invariably incites bouts of infectious joy. Indeed, Hayao Miyazaki’s true genius lies in his ability to create films with seemingly minimal plot progression that nevertheless captivate audiences, retaining their charm even after countless viewings.

There’s no mystery behind Totoro’s status as the emblematic mascot of Studio Ghibli. The lovable, cuddly, and mystically indescribable creature has not only become an icon for the studio, but also a global symbol of wholesome magic.

My Neighbor Totoro is undeniably one of Miyazaki’s most tranquil and soothing films. It’s a cinematic masterpiece where simplicity takes center stage; the narrative unfolds gently, powered by the vivid imaginations and playful whims of two young sisters seeking solace from their harsh realities. In this world, escapism takes the form of charming adventures with an adorable spiritual being, captivating audiences and inspiring a lifelong love for the magic that is Studio Ghibli.

3. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Produced prior to the official establishment of Studio Ghibli, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind delivers an intriguing peek into the creative prowess that would later hallmark the studio. It embodies an eco-conscious narrative similar to Princess Mononoke, expressing a vehement critique of humanity’s disregard for nature, albeit with less explicit imagery.

Unlike Mononoke, however, Nausicaä features a stark divergence in its depiction of antagonists, refraining from imbuing them with redeemable qualities. The narrative unfolds in a dystopian future, where toxic air necessitates humans to don face masks and hunker down in secluded cities, constantly on the defensive against gargantuan mutant insects.

The film’s protagonist, Princess Nausicaä, embarks on a quest to prevent a warmongering faction from reawakening a dormant, primeval weapon in a bid to reassert mankind’s supremacy over nature. While viewing Nausicaä post-Mononoke might elicit a sense of déjà vu, the film possesses its unique allure. It’s distinguished by its meticulously crafted universe, intriguing creature designs, and a decidedly more hopeful resolution. These elements combine to make Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind a film worth exploring in the expansive Ghibli catalog.

2. Princess Mononoke (1997)

Princess Mononoke, widely recognized as the best Studio Ghibli film, also happens to be its most mature and fervently impassioned production, earning it the first PG-13 rating for a Ghibli film in the US. This narrative, crafted relatively early in the studio’s timeline, embodies Ghibli’s recurring themes with remarkable finesse, exploring environmental degradation, the human-nature relationship, and coming-of-age journeys, which are Ghibli’s staples.

The movie unfolds the tale of Ahitaka, a prince from a minor tribe who, following a violent encounter with a colossal boar-like creature, becomes cursed and embarks on a mission to reconcile escalating tensions between the greed-driven humans encroaching upon nature and the retaliatory nature gods.

Through its intricate narrative, Princess Mononoke courageously poses profound questions, shying away from simple resolutions. This complexity is particularly evident in its nuanced characterization; for instance, Lady Eboshi, who on the surface might be viewed as the villain due to her relentless deforestation and pursuit of the Great Forest Spirit, is also portrayed as a compassionate leader, demonstrating respect and promoting equality among her subordinates.

Aesthetically, Princess Mononoke serves as a testament to the prowess of animation in crafting a world that is simultaneously believable and fantastic. Its breathtaking action sequences have set a high bar, remaining groundbreaking even decades post-release. The film’s narrative complexity, thematic depth, captivating imagery, and nuanced depiction of antagonists have significantly influenced a range of media, from Star Wars to The Legend of Korra, cementing its status as a timeless masterpiece.

1. Spirited Away (2001)

This film is, unsurprisingly, frequently cited as Studio Ghibli’s masterpiece due to its intricate story, beautiful animation, and universal appeal.

Spirited Away has long held its place as a titan within the realm of anime, reigning as the highest-grossing film in the genre for an impressive two decades post its debut. Its distinct honor of being the first Ghibli movie to clinch an Academy Award underpins the sheer power of its storytelling.

The film beautifully harmonizes the spiritual motifs that are a signature of Hayao Miyazaki’s craft, with a modern, relatable rendition of the isekai tale that echoes the timeless charm of The Wizard of Oz. Through the eyes of Chihiro, a 10-year-old girl who unwittingly stumbles into a mystical resort inhabited by supernatural beings, the audience is drawn into an epic quest to rescue her parents from a dreadful curse.

Yet, as accessible and enchanting as Spirited Away is, it doesn’t shy away from exploring the shadows that linger within its fantastical world. The film doesn’t downplay its horrors; Chihiro’s initial encounter with her transfigured parents is a visceral scene steeped in fear and the grotesque. Many of the spiritual entities that populate this realm are eerily disturbing, potentially haunting the dreams of younger viewers. However, Ghibli’s quintessential touch of whimsy remains at the heart of the narrative, counterbalancing its darker elements with the light of Chihiro’s coming-of-age story.

The studio has a unique knack for crafting female protagonists who embody a blend of strength and vulnerability that remains unparalleled in animation. Spirited Away exemplifies this, with Chihiro’s journey of self-discovery taking center stage amidst the spectacular animation that breathes life into a myriad of unforgettable characters, rivaling any other film in the genre.

Every one of these films stands as a singular masterpiece, intricately crafted and unique in its narrative, character development, and animation style. This ranking does not aim to detract from the intrinsic value of any individual film, but rather, to celebrate the breathtaking diversity and creativity within the Studio Ghibli universe. Each film beckons viewers into a distinctive world, deserving of exploration and appreciation.

To truly immerse oneself in the magic of Studio Ghibli is to journey through each of these remarkable cinematic experiences.

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