Every Studio Ghibli movie ranked

A ranking of all theatrical Ghibli films and short reviews of each. (21-11)


Studio Ghibli is an icon. They are one of the most successful movie studios in the world and arguably the most successful outside of the US. They have produced Oscar winning movies and some movies such as “Spirited Away” won Best Film at both Berlin International Film Festival and Cambridge Film Festival. Co-founder Hayao Miyazaki won a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars in 2015. More important than tacky awards though, is how all of these films have impacted millions of children and adults alike with stunning visuals, memorable characters, and profound multilayered themes. I spent a few weeks revisiting all 21 of their theatrical releases. Some I hadn’t seen before, some I had, but I watched every single one. I did not include any of the Ghibli shorts because they don’t count as movie. I didn’t include “The Castle of Cagliostro” as it was made 5 years before the studio was founded. I also chose not to include their 1993 film “Ocean Waves” because it was a made for TV movie.

Studio Ghibli was founded and run mainly by two good friends and talented filmmakers, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. They were both involved with every single Ghibli movie in some way (Except “When Marnie Was There,” but we’ll get to that) and have written or directed 18 of the 21 movies. Isao Takahata often makes movies that comment on Japanese culture and how people should live their lives and make choices. This lends to him often making much more subjective films that people have stronger opinions on, and depending on how that film translates into their lives that changes their viewpoint on it. Because Takahata made movies that have commentary on japanese culture instead of american culture, sometimes the message doesn’t translate as well. This doesn’t mean his films are bad and it’s not like he is supposed to pander to an american audience and sacrifice his vision. Still though I will not change how I judge each film just because the message isn’t specifically for me.

Hayao Miyazaki has one of the most stylized and interesting methods of storytelling ever. Most of his films can be described as either amazing technology with a bit of magic (Castle In the Sky” and “Howl’s Moving Castle”) or seeing the magic that nature possesses( “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Princess Mononoke”). His films follow a message he wants the entire world to know or explore and because of this he has become the most innovative and groundbreaking animator of all time. (Honorable mentions to Walt Disney, John Lasseter, Don Bluth, Henry Selick, Ralph Bakshi and Pete Docter)

For This list I’m ranking them from worst to best.


  1. “Whisper of The Heart” Directed by Yoshifumi Kondô

This movie is jumbled and disappointing. The movie follows a young girl named Shizuku as she becomes a writer and meets who she believes to be her “soul mate”. The main focus of the movie should be the love story. The problem is that the main characters don’t even learn each other’s name until the 1 hour and 15 minute mark and even after they finally become a couple, Seiji, Shizuku’s love interest, leaves on a trip for about 30 minutes. The scenes with both of them just talking are good scenes though and keep the movie from being a complete waste of time. This movie is completely misleading. It it builds up this world where Shizuku flys above a magical city with her cat friend “The Baron”. There are two scenes in the entire movie showing what Shizuku’s first novel is about. These scenes serve no purpose to the overall story and take up less than 3 minutes. Despite this there do feature the best animation sequences in the entire movie. I do really enjoy the opening credits of this movie which is just images of Tokyo set to “County Roads” by John Denver. The other main problem with the movie is the poor pacing and structure. There is no climax to this movie and it the third act is about 5 minutes long. There are also major jumps in time that skip over several months leading to more pacing issues. I would recommend this film to aspiring artists and writers as it has a message well suited for them. 3/10


  1.  “Tales From Earthsea” Directed by Gorô Miyazaki


This is the most widely hated Studio Ghibli film but it is not without substance. The film follows Arren, the Prince of Earthsea, as he flees from his old life after killing his father, the king. The film sets up some very interesting plot points in the first two acts but falls flat in the third. This probably has the worst climax of any Ghibli movie with characters disappearing for no real reason and others randomly dying and coming back to life. It also ruins what was otherwise a very creepy and mysterious villain voiced by Willem Dafoe. The love story that was set up well and felt very interesting gets no resolution. But most insultingly of all is that the main plot point of the movie, which was an unexplained evil was consuming Earthsea and throwing it into chaos and panic, isn’t even so much as mentioned in the third act. Arren and Teru are interesting characters and share an interesting dynamic, but much like Earthsea the movie is consumed by chaos. The problem with this film is that it’s one half good and one half atrocious. 4/10

  1. “Pom Poko” Directed by Isao Takahata

This is a weird movie. The movie takes place as Japan is modernizing and destroying forests to make way for new infrastructure and follows a tribe of Tanuki aka racoon dogs as they try to defend their forest from human expansion using their shape-shifting powers. The movie has pacing that makes no sense with jumps ahead in time that skip over decades without characters not seeming to age at all. Most of the humor in this movie revolves around Tanuki scrotums. This is based heavily on japanese folk tales about the amazing power of Tanuki scrotums. The main problem is that there are absolutely zero interesting characters in this movie. The transforming powers also never really make logical sense. Why can’t they transform into a giant wrecking ball and destroy all of the human buildings. Even though the movie has so many flaws it is still an interesting and funny story that does a good job delivering its message about nature and human expansion. The saving grace of this movie is the ending. The ending to this movie is surprisingly beautiful, emotional, and bittersweet. If you like Tanuki scrotum humor you will love this movie. 5/10


  1. “The Secret World of Arrietty”  Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi

“The Secret World of Arrietty” is about a boy named Shawn who is living at his grandmother’s house in the countryside while awaiting a heart surgery, who finds a family of 4-inch tall people called “Borrowers” and becomes friends with the girl in the family, Arrietty. There isn’t much particularly bad about this movie but nothing stands out or is memorable. There is one character who shows up about halfway through the movie and only serves as an incredibly lazy plot device to help solve a problem later in the movie, and it’s just distracting how lazy it is. The only other real problem is that the villain doesn’t have any motivation for their actions and there isn’t any lead up to when they start to work against the protagonist. Overall this isn’t a bad movie but nothing elevates it to the quality of most Ghibli movies. 6/10

  1. “When Marnie Was There” Directed by James Simone, Hiromasa Yonebayashi

This film follows a 12 year-old foster child named Anna who is taking a trip to the coast and she makes friends with another very mysterious girl. This movie has one problem that can’t be avoided and isn’t anyone’s fault: this is the first Ghibli movie ever to not have Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata. They both retired over a year before the release of the movie and because of that this film feels unfocused and inexperienced. This movies best quality is the animation. Every Studio Ghibli movie has great animation but because of this movie’s location it lends itself to having jaw dropping watercolor backgrounds. The main problem of the movie is how tonally inconsistent it is. This movie is supposed to be a charming tale about a character adjusting to her new family and coming out of her shell but it brings topics such as child neglect, child abuse, abandonment, and death. This makes things feel uncomfortable or just wrong at points. These things can be tackled well in other movies but they feel out of place here. Overall a very pretty movie but also a confused one. 6/10

  1. “Only Yesterday” Directed by Isao Takahata

“Only Yesterday” is about a 27 year old woman named Taeko traveling to the countryside on a vacation and reflect on her childhood. This is probably Isao Takahata’s most upfront critique on japanese society. The film features many flashbacks to her past that show how japanese culture hurt her and tarnished her childhood. In present day, she travels to the countryside to live and work on a farm with the family that owns the farm. While away on the farm she falls in love with one of the members of the farm named Toshio and learns about how a simpler life with freedom can bring more happiness than being trapped in society. One of the problems with the movie is how unnaturally cruel all of Taekos family members are. They refuse to let her follow any of her dreams and openly question if she has a learning disability. This causes them to just feel like one dimensional exaggerated caricatures. There are also many scenes that don’t really serve a purpose and just pad the runtime such as the infamous pineapple scene or when she goes on vacation as a child. Overall this film is an interesting commentary but very lacking in good characters and far too many useless scenes. 6/10


  1. “Ponyo” Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

“Ponyo” is about a fish girl named Ponyo who loves a human boy named Sôsuke. When Ponyo reaches the surface world and becomes a human it throws the ocean and the surface out of whack. This movie is a little odd. Characters react to what could be the end of the world like it is a minor inconvenience. A lot of the characters are not particularly deep, but almost everyone has an identifiable personality, making them more interesting. There is some great voice acting in this movie, Liam Neeson as Ponyo’s father in particular. This movie does lack a strong underlying message which is something that almost every other Ghibli movie has. The plot sort of flows at the same speed throughout the movie which makes certain scenes feelway to short. Overall this movie is cute and entertaining but lacks much substance or importance. 7/10


  1. “The Cat Returns” Directed by Hiroyuki Morita

“The Cat Returns” is about an unlucky teenage girl named Haru who saves a black cat, that then turns out to be the prince of the cat kingdom and Haru gets roped into an arranged marriage. This movie reuses one of the “characters” from “Whisper of the Heart”, The Baron. In this movie he is alive instead of being just a statue and he is one of the more entertaining fun characters in this movie. This movie is best looked at as a lighthearted comedy. The way the characters interact is entertaining and usually funny. The main character is relatable but her character arc isn’t really anything special. The plot is frustratingly predictable which can take you out of the movie a bit. Towards the end of the movie everything sort of goes crazy. Some of the stuff is really funny but other parts are just pointless and stupid. There are some interesting characters and the movie is entertaining and charming but the plot is worthless and the attempt at depth or a deeper message isn’t memorable. 7/10


  1. “My Neighbors the Yamadas” Directed by Isao Takahata

“My Neighbors the Yamadas” is a movie that follows the daily misadventures and hijinks of a japanese family. The family members are all interesting and funny characters. This is also arguably the funniest movie Ghibli has ever made, the closest being probably “Porco Rosso”. The whole movie is animated in a style based off the Peanuts comic strip which gives it a very unique and stylized look that sets it apart from any other animated movie, Ghibli or not. The movie has a nice message about family helping you handle life’s hurdles. But the main problem of this movie is that there isn’t any depth beyond the message and there are a lot of scenes that don’t have any purpose because there isn’t really a plot to forward and they don’t necessarily add to the message. There is one scene that is worse than all the others. In the scene the neighborhood is dealing with a group of people who ride motorcycles up and down the street throughout the night keeping everybody up all night. The scene is cliche and stupid and serves no purpose, but most of all for some unexplained reason the animation switches to a more realistic depiction of the characters that isn’t interesting or stylized. For the most part this is a great family friendly comedy, but with some bad or useless scenes. 7/10


  1. “Kiki’s Delivery Service” Directed By Hayao Miyazaki

“Kiki’s Delivery Service” is about a young witch going on a trip for a year where she leaves home and learns about the world, very similar to “Rumspringa.” It’s a small, simple, and enjoyable movie that just follows Kiki as she makes friends and starts a small business. The flying scenes are all great and do a good job of immersing you in Kiki’s world. The climax of this movie sort of comes out of left field without warning but the way the animation is done and the scene plays out is tense, dramatic and amazing. Outside of Kiki though there aren’t really any interesting characters. Kiki’s main love interest doesn’t do much in the movie and seems to only really care about her because she can fly. There is one artist character who helps Kiki and adds some interesting stuff to the message of the movie but she isn’t in enough scenes to impact the movie in a huge way. This film is really just a witch living her daily life and it makes for an small scale but entertaining enough movie. 7/10


  1. “Howl’s Moving Castle” Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

“Howl’s Moving Castle” is about a young girl, named Sofi, who is under a curse that causes her to appear like she is an elderly woman. She moves into a castle owned by a wizard named Howl in order to get rid of the curse. The main problem of this movie is the plot. The universe in which this movie takes place is never properly established, creating confusion. The plot also takes many nonsensical twists and turns creating even more confusion. Certain events occur and plot elements are introduced that are never explained in any conceivable way. This movie does have great characters though. You can very clearly see the main characters arcs and how they play off each other. The whole group of people who Howl takes in have great chemistry and feel like a family unit. Howl himself is a nice person but with a cruel dark side that he tries to suppress. This animation is gorgeous. The color palette is vibrant and diverse giving this movie a distinct look from other Ghibli movies. The messages and commentary in this movie are on par with the best of Ghibli with themes centered around one’s own humanity and relationships. All in all this movie has great characters and good themes but the plot holding everything together is shaky at best. 7.5/10

Read part two here.