Before you scroll down to the bottom of the page and rage over your favorite film not being #1, there is something you should remember: We are choosing from the best animated films ever made. There are no wrong choices. Okay, maybe Tales from Earthsea.
As Japanator‘s Jeff Chuang puts it, “ranking the Ghiblis is like counting angels dancing on the tip of a needle, they’re all quite good, it’s just a matter of which film goes better with who.” As someone who has taken mescaline and seen angels dance on a needle, I totally agree.
As a collaborative effort between two very different people from two very different sites, Jeff and I compiled our top ten Ghibli films to give you the ultimate list. It says a lot that my #1 pick was at the bottom of Jeff’s list and his #1 wasn’t even on my list.
Read on to see what films come to the top when you put two very different Ghibli fans together.
NOTE: We consider Nausicaa and Grave of the Fireflies eligible, despite them technically not being 100% Ghibli films. They were made with mostly the same team, people, and style, so we consider them valid entries.
Even after all these years, Nausicaä is still as magical as her theatrical debut 28 years ago, when she flew around that otherworldly forest and picked apart an Amu shell. The iconic flygirl who headlined Ghibli’s legacy is one heck of an anime character; the first Ghibli heroine is still among the strongest, most fiercely independent and kindest soul you’ll ever see, animated, on the silver screen. Seeing Nausicaä as #10 on our list only serves to note that Studio Ghibli created, and continues to create, so many of our favorites over the year; works that are just as good, if not better, than this already terrific, all-time classic. — Jeff Chuang
I love Howl’s Moving Castle more than almost anything, but I won’t stand here and defend it. I know it’s sloppy storytelling with an awkwardly rushed first act and third act full of laughable deus ex machinas. I get it. I just don’t care, because seeing some of my all-time favorite characters interact for 120 minutes is a rare joy that has me returning to this film again and again. Howl is a lovable big baby of man, wallowing in bed as he sips hot milk. Grandma Sophie is so damn hugable that it hurts that I can’t reach my arms around her. Calcifer is an insufferable yet somehow lovable supernatural flame, as long as he isn’t voiced by Billy Crystal (seriously, turn the dub off, folks!) Then there is the hysterically senile witch, the jovial magician wunderkind Markl, and the eerie oddball scarecrow. But, it’s the adorable asthmatic dog Heen who steals the show. You can have your Totoro and Ponyo, I just want my own castle full of lovable misfits to hang out with. — Allistair Pinsof
I am not a fan of such a serious downer of a film, but there’s something to be said about one of the best war films of all times. Graves of the Fireflies really challenges the notion of what an animated film can do, and it is a glowing example of Japanese animation. Even putting aside the angle about Japan’s WWII experience, Graves of the Fireflies paints such a vivid image of suffering that I think it can apply to society in general. It serves as an unforgettable lesson about protecting the neediest among us during hard times. Perhaps not for a casual Saturday afternoon rerun, but everyone should watch Graves of the Fireflies at least once. — Jeff Chuang
Upon watching Ocean Waves for the first time, I was a bit let down and frustrated. The romantic relationship at the core of the film is an ugly one. In contrast to most romances, the male lead is an eager, blue-collar guy who gets taken advantage of by a bratty, manipulative girl. Then, in the end, the film tries to convince us that it’s true love they have and we should accept that he forgives her actions. Now I know how girls feel about these sorts of stories when the roles aren’t reversed. Despite all this, I couldn’t get Ocean Waves out of my head. The soundtrack, setting, and meticulous flow of the film left a lasting impact on me. Even if it’s not a very inspiring, believable, or upbeat story, it’s one that is passionately told through the hands of Ghibli one-hit-wonder Mochizuki. — Allistair Pinsof
It’s got sky pirates, Italian bounty hunters, and a hotshot American trying to bust a pork chop. But it’s the girls that steal the spotlight. Porco Rosso is authentic as a spaghetti western, except these guys speak Japanese. Regardless, Porco Rosso is perhaps Miyazaki’s most playful film and his most adult-appealing work, detailing the idyllic life during the lull between WWI and WWII. It can be a thoroughly enjoyable tribute to a Hemmingway lifestyle, or pass as a gorgeous ad for a vacation package at the Mediterranean Sea. I prefer it as an outright rowdy and fun time for all who can enjoy a good fist fight. — Jeff Chuang
There is a nasty side-effect to labeling a film as your all-time favorite: unfair expectations. Every couple years I pop in Spirited Away and I think, “This is going to change everything. My life will be so much better by the time this movie ends. There will be pots of gold, unicorns, and all the editorial positions in the world for me!” Yet, I’m never let down with these impossible expectations. If only because Spirited Away presents such a pristine view of a magical world that I forget about all else, while watching, even my dreams and aspirations. They become replaced with Chihiro’s and when she completes her journey it all comes back to me. I stand up and raise my fist to the sky, as she rides her crazy dragon friend. Hell, yeah! We did it, Chihiro! Again! — Allistair Pinsof
There’s something cute about a naive, bookish girl that suddenly found the first creative calling of her life, mixed in with John Denver and old Japanese musicians putting on an impromptu jam session. It’s the smell of ramen (instant or not) after an all-nighter that fondly reminds you about some silly project you’ve endured as a youth. While all of this may translate differently to a Western audience, Whisper of the Heart captures the zeitgeist of growing up in East Asia in the ’80s to a tee. It is a film that will stay with you after all these years, and it has served as a memento for me to remember Yoshifumi Kondo’s brief brilliance. Regardless of your upbringing, Whisper paints one very colorful picture of a gem in the rough, which deviates from your average Takahata or Miyazaki script enough to make you miss it. — Jeff Chuang
The thing that makes Miyazaki’s films so memorable and impressionable is that, at their core, they are about something. More often than not, they are about forming an identity independent of society and believing in it. It’s something that is rarely touched on by western animated films or, hell, films in general! Kiki’s story is not so unlike many of our own personal stories: We find our identity in our family and home, but then lose faith in it as we travel outward into the big scary world. I feel like a fat, sassy Sex in the City fan saying this, but I find so much joy and self-empowerment in watching Kiki’s journey unfold. As a writer, I always find Kiki’s Delivery Service a great source of inspiration and encouragement and I can’t give a film stronger praise than that. — Allistair Pinsof
After two ambitious epics, Miyazaki set his sights on a much simpler tale that Japanese families could connect to. Instead, he made one of the most internationally cherished family films ever made. Totoro, the plump, smiling creature-turned-studio-mascot, can be found on store shelves of any Tokyo toy or trinket shop. He even made his way into Toy Story 3, while the film itself has had many filmmaker’s claim it to be their favorite animated film, including Terry Gilliam. What makes this simple story of two girls befriending wild beasts so timeless is the unique tone. By having their mother’s possible death hovering over them, there is a profound sadness and tension that gives the film depth. There is no immediate threat other than the two girl’s happiness being taken away from them; it’s something that becomes a heavy burden once you find yourself attached to them. Along with Miyazaki’s memorable creature design and Joe Hisashi’s incredible score, Totoro is a winning film that took the animated feature and Japanese cinema to new heights in the late ’80s. — Allistair Pinsof
There’s something simple and primal to the enjoyment of Princess Mononoke that none of us can deny. When Ashitaka runs along with huge wolves, shooting down samurai punks and trying to get to the wild San and save the day, it silences both the forest and the audience with tension. However, it is the myriad of subtle themes and issues that won me over on Princess Mononoke‘s treatment of how man tames the wild, and how men struggle, just like how the forest gods struggle to the changing of times. Being the first Studio Ghibli full-feature film to incorporate several key digital production techniques, Princess Mononoke does not stumble, like many of its contemporaries, as the anime industry coped with changing of times. Instead, it stands timeless with strengths drawn from both its hand-drawn heritage and slick CG animation. — Jeff Chuang
For the curious, Arrietty, Ponyo, and Laputa: Castle in the Sky just barely missed the top ten.
How would you guys rank them?
Also, are you a crazy person that believes the evil Totoro theory?