Every Studio Ghibli film, ranked from worst to best

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Studio Ghibli films have always been either fiendishly hard to track down or fiendishly expensive to buy. No more. A deal with Netflix means that all but one of the studio’s films are coming to the service – so long as you don’t live in North America. To whet your appetite for the work of visionary director Hayao Miyazaki and others, we’ve put together the definitive ranking of all the Studio Ghibli films, from worst to best. You may also enjoy our guide to the best films on Netflix and the best Marvel Movies.

22. Tales from Earthsea (2006)

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An odd one – directed by Miyazkai’s son Gorō, who Miyazaki didn’t think could direct, based on a book by Ursula le Guin, who wanted his father to direct instead. The result is a real stinker – a plodding mess of mages and dragons. On the film’s release, Le Guin would say to Gorō: “It is not my book. It is your movie. It is a good movie”, though later was far harsher, criticising the film’s violence. Available on Netflix now. Will Bedingfield

21. From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

Gorō Miyazaki’s From Up On Poppy Hill doesn’t quite reach the heights of his father’s celebrated films. The story, as per the Hayao screenplay, follows boarding schoolers Umi and Shun in early 1960s Yokohama as they fight to save a clubhouse from demolition. All the while, the city is reckoning with the legacy of the Second World War and prepping for the 1964 Summer Olympics in nearby Tokyo. A charming enough love story, full of nostalgia. On Netflix from April 1. Sophie Charara

20. Ocean Waves (1993)

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If you’re here for monsters, magic and surrealism, you’re out of luck. Ocean Waves is a ponderous, poignant story about adolescence and strained friendships. There’s a lot of staring thoughtfully into middle distance, a lot of beautiful, almost still-life animation and a lot of, well, nothing. But that’s sort of the point. You could accuse this film of being a bit slow and boring, but that’s sort of the point (also, it’s only just over an hour long). This is a film about feelings, about thinking and about the subtle melancholy and drama of teenage life. Available on Netflix now. James Temperton

19. My Neighbours the Yamadas (1999)

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The film that broke Studio Ghibli. Its only real box office flop and a release that didn’t get an English language dub for half a decade. And yet! My Neighbors The Yamadas has its devoted fans for a reason. A testament to the creativity and stubbornness of Isao Takahata, Ghibli’s animation maestro who didn’t draw himself, Yamadas is a funny, fuzzy adaptation of a newspaper comic strip about a Japanese family. All digital with experimental sitcom sketches (literally) about cake, caterpillars, card games and unicycles in the clouds, Matsuko, Takashi, Shige, Noburu and Nonoko live in playful, unfinished frames. As wise as it is silly and a comforting palate cleanser for any intense Ghibli marathons. On Netflix from March 1. SC

18. The Cat Returns (2002)

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While it doesn’t have the scale and grandeur of some of Studio Ghibli’s greatest work, The Cat Returns is still an enjoyable romp full of wit, character and weirdness. Directed by Hiroyuki Morita, this film lacks the magic of a Miyazaki film, but it also offers some interesting contrasts. The world here is more realistic, the animation style somehow cruder. Still, a smart-talking cat and a rip-roaring adventure through the feline kingdom ticks a whole lot of boxes. On Netflix from March 1. JT

17. Only Yesterday (1991)

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Only Yesterday is directed by Ghibli’s other genius director, Isao Takahata, best known for the tear jerking Grave of the Fireflies. It’s a similarly realist drama, though thankfully more upbeat, about Taeko – an unmarried 27-year-old woman who travels to the countryside to get away from city life. The film flips between this period and her childhood as she grapples with the mundanity of her life in the city and the unfulfilled dreams of her childhood. It’s a quiet, contemplative drama that examines the role of women in Japanese society. It won’t be for everyone, but stands out as a unique piece of animated filmmaking. Available on Netflix now. Andy Vandervell

16. When Marnie Was There (2014)

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When Marnie Was There is a subtle, rewarding story about adolescence and identity based on a 1967 novel of the same name by British author Joan G. Robinson. Anna, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld in the English version, is a surly, withdrawn 12-year-old foster child who struggles to connect with her foster mother, or anyone else. When she’s sent to a rural, seaside town to treat her asthma with some fresh air, she begins a friendship with a young girl, Marnie, who lives in a secluded mansion across the marsh. It occasionally drifts into melodrama, but it’s an ultimately moving and beautiful story with all of Ghibli’s trademark artistry. On Netflix from April 1. AV

15. Whisper of the Heart (1995)

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Studio Ghibli loves a coming of age story and Whisper of the Heart is a lesser-known classic of the studio’s craft. It tells the story of Shizuki, a 14-year-old student who loves to read and pursues writing, concocting a story inspired by a cat statue in a local antique store named The Baron. The Baron would later become the main character in The Cat Returns. This is a classically charming Ghibli fantasy, written by Miyazaki but directed by Yoshifumi Kondō. A veteran animation director who worked on several Ghibli classics, Kondō was the planned successor to directors Miyazaki and Takahata, but tragically died just a few years after the film’s release. On Netflix from April 1. AV

14. Arrietty (2010)

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Arrietty is a masterclass in the skill and subtlety of Studio Ghibli’s animators, who create an enchanting world based on the classic novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton. As is so often the case with Ghibli, at its centre is the friendship of two children, but here it’s between the 14-year-old borrower Arrietty and a human boy who discovers the “little people” while staying at his great Aunt’s home to aid his recovery from an illness. There’s nothing grand or complicated about the story, but it’s a skilful and heartwarming version of a frequently adapted story. Oddly, there’s a UK and US dub of the film with different casts, but the UK one featuring Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland and Olivia Colman is the one to go for, especially as the US version needlessly tweaks the ending with some additional lines not found in the original production. On Netflix from March 1.AV

13. The Wind Rises (2013)

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Warning: do not approach The Wind Rises until you’re deep into Studio Ghibli lore. This is Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song, regardless of the small matter that he has since come out of retirement (again) with How Do You Live? in production. Grounded in the reality of a 1930s Japan of recession and disease and based on historical accounts, The Wind Rises follows Jiro Horikoshi, chief engineer and designer of many Mitsubishi fighters. Miyazaki gives us a meticulous, melancholy study of how planes are constructed and dreams pan out that rewards those who have already spent hours and hours in his worlds.
On Netflix from April 1. SC

12. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

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What to say about Takahata’s final film, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, without swooning. For the most expensive Japanese film ever made, he took the country’s oldest folk story, the tale of the bamboo cutter, and made a bittersweet experiment about a ‘princess’ from the moon, who grows strangely fast, that runs to over two hours. Watercolours and animated sketch lines transform scenes of crafts, suitors, mountain snow and, yup, flight into overwhelmingly beautiful sequences. You’ve never seen anyone run quite like Kaguya. Watch with people you don’t mind seeing you weep uncontrollably. On Netflix from March 1.SC

11. Ponyo (2008)

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Unlike many of Miyazaki’s films, which are ostensibly for kids but enjoyed equally by adults, Ponyo has a real kiddy feel – simplistic and sentimental, This isn’t a bad thing, it just holds it back from universal greatness. The story has heavy Little Mermaid vibes – much like Ariel, Ponyo is a girl who lives under the sea and wants to be human. She meets a human boy etc. It’s a beautifully drawn, if predictable experience. On Netflix from April 1. WB

10. Porco Rosso (1992)

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This is Miyazaki’s greatest flying film and an underrated classic. Set in Italy in the 1930s, Porco Rosso (the Crimson Pig) is a hotshot pilot with the face of a pig, transformed by a mysterious spell. He competes with the sky pirate Curtis – both in the air and for the love of Gina, a smoking hot cabaret singer. Just old-fashioned good fun: “a pig’s gotta fly” is Porco’s motto – watch him soar through the clouds! Available on Netflix now. WB

9. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

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There’s barely any plot, but that’s the whole point. Kiki’s Delivery Service is a giddy, energetic story about a young witch, Kiki, her sarcastic cat Jiji, and the adventures they share in a typically rich and inventive animated world. This is a coming of age film, almost completely devoid of male characters, whose underlying themes belie its cutesy appearance. Kiki, one of Studio Ghibli’s most lovable characters, is an inspiring role model, not just for younger viewers but for parents, too. This is a film about confidence, adventure and striding out alone into a world you’re no longer afraid of. The abrupt conclusion leaves you yearning for a longer stay – but this film pulls off that rarest of tricks: it knows exactly when to end. Available on Netflix now. JT

8. Pom Poko (1994)

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Raccoons live full lives too! Well, tanuki do. Pom Poko, a mostly child-friendly Ghibli movie that has its ghoulish moments, takes as its protagonists a group of these raccoon-dog canines who, in Japanese folk tales, are shapeshifters and tricksters. They’re also protectors of the natural environment and not afraid to take time out from belly drumming and council meetings to manipulate the humans in favour of the urbanisation with their transformations, a fight seen in many forms throughout the collection. What the tanuki do with one particular part of their anatomy is about as quintessentially Ghibli as you can get but, hey, it’s all there in the source material. On Netflix from April 1. SC

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

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Released before Studio Ghibli was founded, Nausicaa still usually gets counted as a Ghibli work. Based on Miyazaki’s manga, it establishes many of his work’s major themes – the joy of flight, heroic women and ecological catastrophe. The titular Nausicaa is a princess, surviving in a post-apocalyptic landscape, one thousand years after the Seven Days of Fire, a war that destroyed civilisation. She must fly her gilder to heroically save her homeland from ecological catastrophe – a stampede of giant mutated insects born from a toxic jungle. Though it came out thirteen years before Princess Mononoke, the films are mirrors of each other. On Netflix from March 1. WB

6. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

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Adapted by Miyazaki from a novel of the same name, Howl’s Moving Castle is his most overtly anti-war film. Set against the backdrop of a futile war fought using 20th century technology and magic, a young milliner is cursed by a witch and turned into an old woman. She heads to the countryside in search of a cure, where she encounters the eponymous castle and its owner, a troublesome wizard called Howl. Its mixture of charming characters and sumptuous animation is classic Ghibli, but it’s among Miyazaki’s darkest films, particularly in the imagery of huge swathes of planes dropping bombs on innocent civilians. On Netflix from April 1. AV

5. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

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Opening on an evening in 1945, shortly after Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II, Grave of the Fireflies is one of Studio Ghibli’s most sombre films. Here, the animation coats the harrowing realism in a sorrowful, pastoral lament. This is a film about a world lost, of innocence lost, of pain and suffering and love. It’s also a story about two children forced to eke out an existence in a harsh, unforgiving wasteland. For licensing reasons, Grave of the Fireflies isn’t coming to Netflix, but everyone should seek it out and put aside two hours for one of the most effective and affecting pieces of animation ever created. JT

4. Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

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About as classic action-adventure as Ghibli gets, the first official release Laputa: Castle in the Sky sets out Miyazaki’s great preoccupations with some style as Pazu, a young miner, and Sheeta, a girl who falls from the sky, go in search of a castle behind the clouds. With influences as varied as striking Welsh miners and Gulliver’s Travels, Laputa has unusually straightforward villains in Colonel Muska and the military but also gives us a story about ancient robots, magic crystals and steampunk airships that explores themes of industry, greed, courage and sacrifice. The now-iconic animation is distinct from the Spirited Away house style – sky pirate ‘Mom’ Dola will look familiar – but the ideas, that expressive Joe Hisaishi score and, most importantly, the Miyazaki mood are all here. Ghibli’s first masterpiece. Available on Netflix now. SC

3. Spirited Away (2001)

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This was the film that made Studio Ghibli’s name outside Japan. Spirited Away is a bewildering, enchanting story of a young girl who passes through to another world full of gods, monsters and magic. The hand-drawn animation is remarkable, turning fantastical worlds into a series of intricate, playful artworks. As with so many Ghibli films, this is a story about the wonders of the natural world and the fantastical monsters that inhabit it. But it’s also a story about courage and belonging – and one that has had profound impact on audiences both young and old. On Netflix from March 1. JT

2. Princess Mononoke (1997)

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Miyazaki has a talent for making epic stories feel small and personal, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Princess Mononoke. Set in a version of 13th century Japan, it depicts the struggle between the animal gods who protect the forest and the humans who want to cut it down to mine iron. Caught between them is Ashitaka, a prince from a minor tribe who is cursed to die, whose attempts to reconcile the adversaries is thwarted at every turn by deceitful humans and vengeful gods. It’s action-packed and unusually graphic for a Miyazaki film, but Mononoke really excels in the shades of grey – especially Lady Eboshi, a genuine humanitarian and feminist whose hubris precipicitates chaos and destruction. The balance between humans, technology and nature is one of Miyazaki’s favourite themes and Princess Monokoke is the most evocative portrayal of his convictions.
On Netflix from March 1. AV

1. My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

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It had to be Totoro – Ghibli mascot, world icon, rabbit that loves to roar. The film follows two young girls and their father, who move into an old house closer to the hospital where the girls’ mother recovers from a long-term illness. The daughters befriend the spirits of the nearby forest, including Totoros of various sizes and a giant cat shaped like a bus. Bask in the film’s summer afternoons, relax among its green rolling hills. Watch it on your own, watch it with your daughters, watch it with your granddad – just watch it. One of the great kid’s films, and one of the great films about being a kid. Available on Netflix now. WB

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