RANKING STUDIO GHIBLI'S FILMS
Updated: Feb 9
I've (almost) finally done it! I’ve seen all the Ghibli feature films (including Nausicaa)…except for one. I'm sorry but I just can't bring myself to watch Grave of the Fireflies. I'm sure it's a masterpiece but it looks like misery porn and I have no desire to see something so painfully depressing. I just don't want to, so I'm not going to. Tuff Nubbins.
NOTE: This is just my personal opinion. I’m not trying to be objective here, it’s based on how much I enjoyed these films. So don’t get butthurt if don't like my choices or your favourite film is ranked too low because my scores really don’t necessarily reflect how “good” these films are, just my personal enjoyment.
Here’s my personal ranking from worst to best.
21. ARRIETTY (3/10)
Well, here it is - the worst Ghibli film in my opinion. As the borrowers are so small, there's a constant foreboding menace that was unsettling and I thought jarred with the kids-like tone. The father is painfully bland. The mother constantly frets, worries, stresses out and while she has good reason to, it's very irritating. It so exhausting, it's like Mr. Woodhouse all over again.
Let me get to the worst part - Haru, (the villain?). Why was she so horribly evil? It just feels so contrived for the plot. In the books, the humans who kidnap Borrowers do so either out of a misguided attempt to help or to make money; but no motive is ever explained for Haru. It's frustrating and frankly, it's terrible writing.
I thought the music was really cheesy. The ending was anti-climatic. The boy living in the house is feckless and poorly developed. What little we do find out about him, ends up being totally pointless, irrelevant and inconsistent (he has a heart defect but is frantically running across the roof like a perfectly healthy kid) and I suppose on some level that's fine if he's some ancillary character but the movie sets him up as an important character then abandons it thereby wasting precious time that could've been better spent on developing the actual main characters who are flat and boring.
The movie ends arguably where starts to get interesting - I would have rather seen the world of the wild borrowers. However, even I have to concede that there are some scenes that look beautiful but it doesn't come close to salvaging this train wreck. Overall, I don't actually particularly like the original story but I hate this adaptation even more.
20. THE CAT RETURNS (4/10)
Oh dear. This isn't good and the only other Ghibli movie that I would actually call bad. First off, the one thing you can usually rely on Ghibli for is beautiful animation, even Arrietty had that. Sadly, The Cat Returns looks comparatively terrible. It's hard to pinpoint why exactly, the character designs don't look good - they've deviated from the typical Ghibli style for no apparent reason. It's noticeable a tier below Ghibli's usual high standards.
But it's not the worst animation I've ever seen by a long shot just noticeably a tier below Ghibli's usual high standards. What really drags this film down is the story, it really reminds me of when little kids write stories at school and make them up as they go along. They don't have a coherent plan so daft plot points came out of seemingly nowhere. I can see they were going for fantastical and a sense of wonder but it comes off as silly and childish. The best children's films can be enjoyed by adults too and this is almost unwatchable.
19. POM POKO (5/10)
You could take the audio track of this film and listen to it like an audiobook - the excessive amount of voice over is egregious. It makes it feel like it's aimed more for children but that's what they were going for I guess. This one had some charming scenes, some fun characters and I actually liked the ending. I thought it did a good job at having stakes but whilst the message was commendable - it has the subtlety of lead weight, it's so heavy-handed. Some of the pranks are fun, some of them are...confusing. It really drags, one of the biggest criticisms is the pacing and the editing. It's all over the place so you have no idea when is ever going to be over...but that's not the worst part of this film. That honour goes to the fact that their fucking ball sacks are out constantly, transforming their over-stretched scrotums into all sorts. Gross. I wouldn't recommend it.
18. TALES FROM EARTHSEA (5/10)
While the films above might be worse films, this is the most disappointing. As a standalone film, this is okay. Not great but okay. But holy shit - as an adaptation it's the biggest HOT MESS. Now, the reason I dislike this film so much is definitely because I absolutely love the Earthsea Cycle, they are probably my favourite fantasy books and I think Ursula le Guin is an exceptional writer. So I had high expectations and because I love the books, it was hard to win me over but this film didn't even try. The story was a haphazard, convoluted jumble of about three of the books. It fails to capture the subtlety magic that the books have and the greatest sin of all, the characters were butchered. Tehanu and Tenar are some of the greatest characters in fiction and their relationship is almost totally unexplored in favour of such a milquetoast "plot". It's a bitter shame and hugely missed opportunity but I'll admit that the reason this is so low is because of my personal attachment to the books.
17. MY NEIGHBOUR THE YAMADAS (5/10)
This one definitely has some charm but it's very choppy. I get the concept of slice of life but this really has no through line whatsoever and just felt like a series of shorts strung haphazardly together. I feel like this would have been more successful as a series of shorts opposed to a feature film. There's some fun scenes but without either any gravitas or any plot it's hard to pay attention for the whole runtime and I have a pretty well-honed attention span. I commend them for the originality of the art style but unlike Kaguya-hime the sketchiness felt lazy rather than artistic. I love Molly Shannon though - she's a delightful voice actor. Overall, It's...meh.
17. EARWIG AND THE WITCH - 5/10
Well, it's not the worst thing I've ever seen, but I can't say it's good either.
One of my favourite thing about Ghibli films is that most of them really are the definition of family films - they can be enjoyed by anyone of any age. Earwig and the Witch is very clearly for kids and that's not necessarily a bad thing but as an adult, I was pretty bored. The plot is basically missing. It's based on an unfinished novel and it feels like it. There are so many loose threads and it sets up plot lines that go nowhere.
CGI-wise, it's not as terrible as some people make out. The backgrounds look fantastic and personally, I reckon they did an amazing job with making it look like England. There were a lot of little authentic British touches I noticed. The problem with the CGI is the characters, they fall foul of the uncanny valley a little and I thought there was something off about their expressions and movements. It's not the worst CGI I've seen but it was pretty distracting.
There were some scenes I enjoyed and I liked that Earwig took adversity in her stride - if I was a kid, I'd probably love it - but I wouldn't watch it again and can't score it above a 5/10.
16. OCEAN WAVES - 5/10
For me the score of 5/10 usually means one of two things: first and most commonly, it denotes an anime I though was "meh" something I feel completely neutral about. Forgettable but not bad in any way. The second, an anime I'm completely torn on. One that made me hate some parts but love others so divisively so that it all equals out a neutral score of five.
Ocean Waves falls into the latter category. Someone needs to give Taku some painkillers for his sore back because he carried this whole movie himself. I loved Taku, he's a great lead. Such a likeable guy. You want things to work out for him and can't help feeling an increasing sense of distress as he continues to become more and more infatuated with the nightmare person that is Rikako. What a total bitch! I mean, I just struggle to find a redeemable quality in her. She's selfish, rude and entitled but worst of all - it's not in some cute tsundere way, she's not nice deep down. On first impression she's a bitch and then when you get to know her better...she's somehow worse. I found myself screaming "Why are you paying any attention to her!?", which is so frustrating.
After writing all that, you might wonder why this isn't rated lower. Well, I like the animation. It has that 90s styling that I love. Also, I think that it's a positive that makes me feel so conflicted rather than being some milquetoast romance. Plus, Taku was great and saves this film from being bad.
15. THE WIND RISES (5/10)
Gah. This is the first of three Ghibli films I feel bad for not liking more. I can't particularly offer much critique of this one but I still didn't really enjoy it. This is very competently made but damn, I found it so boring. I wanted to like it but I found it hard to sit through. The fault for that lies at least partly at my door. Unfortunately, I just have zero interest in planes and a distaste for war stories. So this is a really hard sell for me and sadly, I wasn't buying. Furthermore, my favourite part of this film, the romance was horribly under-played. It was hardly featured, which I thought was a real shame.
14. ONLY YESTERDAY (5/10)
Although highly critically acclaimed, I didn't really get the hype of this one. Actually, that's not quite true - I get why some people find this introspective and poignant but frankly it felt like naval gazing to me. While you might be able to commend some of the technical aspects of this film, I'm not sure there's many people that would say they thought it was very enjoyable. The main character is a pretty weird person and while lots of oddballs are very endearing, she's a bit cringe-worthy and causes a lot of uncomfortable moments. There's so much awkward laughter that they should've probably made that the title. It does have some really beautiful animation, in particularly the orange flower picking scenes. Overall, the story and characters weren't particularly to my liking and that whole period saga should definitely be trimmed down. It's fine I guess but not as good as other Ghibli films.
I re-watched this recently because I wanted to be sure of my thoughts about it and I'll be honest and admit that I liked it even less. Almost all the scenes where she is a child are horrible. The pineapple scene might be the most pointless and boring scene I've ever seen. She gets a D in a maths exam and her mother and sister act like she's mentally deranged and her father slaps her for not having her shoes on. Her family are a bunch of cunts. I hate them.
This film does not hold up. I'm dropping it to a 5/10 - as much as it annoys me I don't think I can score it lower than a 5 because it's not a bad film
13. PORCO ROSSO - 6/10
This is the second film in this list that I feel bad for not liking more. Although, I do still like this movie, it just didn't really do it for me. It's charming. The animation is excellent. But just like The Wind Rises, the genre and subject matter aren't really to my taste. Films about war and planes are rarely going to be a favourite of mine and unfortunately that's basically a sub-genre of Ghibli films. It's exactly in their wheelhouse. I thought Fio was a great character - I found her endearing and full of vim and vigour. I liked the vibe of this film and I'm sure it's a lot of people's favourite but it's not my kind of thing. Sorry.
12. FROM UP ON POPPY HILL (7/10)
This such a classic 7/10. It's the epitome of good, not great. It's cute and enjoyable. Once again, I really liked the male lead - I can see why she fell for him, he has something dashing about him. Also, he's right: old buildings should be preserved. I loved all the stuff around the school clubhouse. I have such a weird liking for when they clean and tidy up in anime - I like seeing the transformation. The incest plotline tarnished it a little. It was this cute slice of life romance that I was merrily enjoying and sort of pissed on all the fun I was having. I don't particularly think that incest is a good device for a star-crossed lovers plot because it's frustrating. The ending saved it though. Overall, it was pretty good but nothing more.
11. WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE (7/10)
It's a bittersweet tale with lots of feels. It was touching and I felt like the character development was done very well. Some of the slight yuri vibes were a little weird given the ending. It was a little lethargic in places but with a certain intent. Enjoyable but not as enjoyable on re-watch. Part of it's charm comes from the mystery.
10. PONYO (7/10)
While I really enjoyed Ponyo, it's a bit frustrating that it wasn't better because with a few adjustments it could have been fantastic.
It's very wholesome and cute. The animation is beautiful and I loved the nautical theme - it's a visual delight when they are sailing away. I thought that Sosuke was absolutely adorable and a precious cinnamon bun. His relationship with Ponyo was so sweet, it was diabetes inducing. The big flaw is the plot or to be more accurate, the lack of it. It builds and builds. We're following it along. They go on their boat and they arrive at what should be the climax of the film and nothing happens. The father who should have been a villain just settles for being...there. It doesn't have any real conflict. The "test" that they talk about Sosuke completing to prove his love never happens - turns out it was just a simple question. It's so anti-climatic. There should have been a foil so that they could overcome it. It's limp. Other than that, it's wonderful but for those reasons, I can't rate it higher than a 7/10.
9. PRINCESS MONONOKE (7/10)
This is a good film. For most people that will be seen as blasphemy because this is one of those anime that you are not permitted to think it's any less than a masterpiece. Apparently, you're not allowed a critical opinion when it comes to Princess Mononoke.
But anyway, I did enjoy this film. It's well made. It looks great. But my expectations were too high I think. My biggest problem was with the characters. Ghibli usually do a great job at making strong characters still likeable. Look at Nausicaa but who on earth are we meant to like in this film? The boy? He's feckless. The Princess? Eugh. Everyone's either bland or mean.
I have low tolerance for overly preachy films. I don't mind if there's an undercurrent of this type of message but when it becomes the central plot it can become a bit taxing to watch. There are some iconic scenes and imagery. I just didn't find it as engaging as other Ghibli films but this is third film on this list that I feel bad for not liking more.
8. CASTLE IN THE SKY (8/10)
This is an adventure and it really feels like an adventure. It has such a dynamic feel, it's fast-paced but not in a way that's confusing but in a way that's exciting. They are always on the go. I really enjoyed the relationship between the two lead characters. It's beautifully animated. I don't have much more to say about this film other than that it's very enjoyable and entertaining but it's still not one of my very favourite Ghibli films.
7. KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE (8/10)
One thing that Ghibli is most known for is it's coming-of-age stories and its independent female leads. This is a great example of that. It's full of charm, it's delightful. Gigi is a lot of fun and injects some much needed sarcasm and wit to this film. If I was to level any criticism at this film it would be that it was a little lacking in magic considering it's a story about a witch. Her friendship with Tombo was lovely. As always, the animation was just beautiful. I think this is one of ones that gets better and better on re-watch.
6. NAUSICAA AND THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (8/10)
This film is creatively told and full of great world-building. It has beautiful storybook-like animation. Nausicaa is a great character, full of agency, strength and compassion - one of Ghibli's best female leads. This film has a lot of moving parts but managed to balance them very well. Sci-fi is far from my favourite genre but I really enjoyed this one. The message might have been considered heavy handed but it felt earned considering how it was handled.
All that praise being said, I think the music felt jarringly dated at some points.
5. SPIRITED AWAY (8/10)
You don't need me to tell you how good this film is. There are countless reviews out there praising it to the high heavens and justifiably so.
All I'll say is this, it really does have great world-building and it feels truly magical. Chihiro is a great character and there's some truly iconic imagery.
That said, there are four other Ghibli films that I prefer.
4. WHISPER IN THE HEART - 9/10
The first of the 9s...this film is brilliant. Partly, I'm sure because it's catnip to me - a wholesome romance shoujo with great animation. This is slice of life done well but despite that, we really see Shizuku grow and change over the course of the film through knowing Seiji. It's overwhelmingly charming and a delight to watch. I love Seiji - he's so adorable, one of the best male leads in Ghibli films. Wonderfully calming and hopeful.
3. TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA (9/10)
This is a powerfully touching story told beautifully in such a creatively animated fashion - the use of the inky, sketchy style is at its best here. I found it moving and poignant yet thoroughly enjoyable. It won't be everyone's cup of tea but I loved it.
It's a great Ghibli film.
2. MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO (10/10)
Here we are, finally at the 10s.
This is the perfect example of how to make a children's film that can be equally enjoyed by adults. It's child-like not childish. It's is full of wonder and perfectly encapsulates what it's like to have such an imagination. The film has some iconic imagery. But the way the film builds tension and manages to have a climax in what is a fairly simple story is exceptional. I remember how riveting I found this film and it's one of those films that holds up on multiple re-watches. It's so full of charm. This is probably my favourite artwork of any anime and it's a simple yet touching & beautiful story. There are countless little details in this anime that make this my only other ten.
1. HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (10/10)
This is it. The best anime movie ever.
It's hard to explain why I love this film. I think it's a masterpiece. It has so much fantasy and magic. The art is breath-taking. The cast of characters are fantastic. Even the side characters have so much charm and personality. Sophie is a wonderfully written character - I love her determination after she's inflicted with the curse - she just gets on with and has real agency. It feels like an adventure. It's one of the rare films that I feel gets better and better on re-watch.
Visually, it's amazing. The steampunk aesthetic is so well-incorporated to enrich and inform the world-building. The castle design is just fantastic in every sense of the word. The animation is beautiful - there no need for me to wax lyrical about it, just look at it.
Also, while the Japanese voice actors are very good, the English dub is even better. The voice acting is superb. Lauren Bacall, Emily Mortimer, Billy Crystal, Blythe Danner & Christian Bale - they all do a fantastic job at their respective characters.
One way that Howl's Moving Castle soars above the other Ghibli films is the romance. It has actual romance for starters and not that between children that you can actually root for. It's a joy to watch Sophie save Howl much like Howl saves Sophie. It's just so good. Seeing these characters change, grow and have their happy ending is just a real pleasure.
Finally, this film is the opposite of "Tales from Earthsea", which took a masterpiece of a book and made a mess. Howl's Moving Castle takes a mess of a book and makes a masterpiece. How is that even possible? 99.9% of the time, the book is by far better particularly in fantasy, usually because it has a lot more detail and world-building but somehow Ghibli took a cluttered, incoherent tale with terrible writing (like the actual sentence structure is poor, that author needs lessons in syntax), and dull characters lacking any sort of the vivacity and charisma and turned it into a magical film full of wonder, romance, friendship, poignancy and joy. Goddammit, I just fucking love this film.
SO WHAT WOULD I RECOMMEND?
I’d recommend anything with a score of 6 or above, particularly because I think the two 6s are films I think other people would enjoy even if I didn't love them. That means I think that 67% of their films are worth recommending and I would only describe two of them as actually bad (Arrietty and The Cat Returns). That's a pretty good ratio.
Although, anything with a score below 7/10 isn’t a film that I would personally re-watch. Likewise, if I gave it a 7/10 or above then I've definitely re-watched it at some point.
What’s your favourite Ghibli film? Or, even better, your ranking of them?