My 5 Favourite Studio Ghibli Movies

Studio Ghibli has been so consistently good, for so long, that people don't tend to talk in terms of one single movie — they talk about the output of the studio as a whole; almost like it's a emblematic of a certain high standard. Simply put: when I decided to choose five of my favourite Studio Ghibli movies for this post, it was kinda tricky to narrow things down.

But I did it anyway, and here's the obligatory disclaimer: taste is subjective and in no way, shape or form is this supposed to be a definitive list. These are just my own, personal favourite Studio Ghibli movies.

In no particular order...


I'm still surprised to hear that some people don't like Ponyo.

I love it almost exclusively for one scene: the car ride home as Sosuke's mother (insanely) attempts to outrun an incredible flood in the process of reclaiming the land. I'm always in awe of how the ocean moves in this scene. It's incredibly, almost laughably stylised but it still manages to affect me more than any photorealistic depiction ever could. The sight of Ponyo herself sprinting across the waves as it rises and falls is absolutely jaw-dropping.

I never tire of watching that scene and I never will.

My Neighbour Totoro

It's as important to Ghibli as Mickey Mouse is to Disney.

I first watched Totoro whilst living in Japan. Incredibly, I had never heard of Studio Ghibli and I'd never heard of Totoro. I watched it free of any expectation or any kind of knowledge whatsoever. I remember taking two main things from Totoro: firstly, I'd never seen a movie so perfectly evoke what it meant to be a child exploring a new space. Secondly, I was sort of shocked that it was combined with such serious overtones, with the subplot of Mei and Setsuko's Mother, who is recovering from a long term illness. It's always remembered as this joyous evocation of childhood, but Totoro is actually — at times — a very dark experience.

Grave of the Fireflies

It's impossible to talk about Totoro without discussing its companion flick, Grave of the Fireflies. Both were released at the same time, and where Totoro has its dark moments, Grave of the Fireflies might be the most overwhelmingly brutal piece of cinema ever committed to film. It is absolutely gruelling, and probably my favourite war movie of all time.

So many war films focus on heroic exploits, or the brutalities of war itself: Grave of the Fireflies focuses intently on the effect war has on innocent human beings. It highlights consequences of war that are normally hidden to us.

The Tale Of Princess Kaguya

Man, I am playing hard and risky with this choice, particularly since this movie hasn't even technically been released yet, but I really liked The Tale Of Princess Kaguya, and I have a feeling it'll stand tall amongst the best Studio Ghibli works in the years to come.

I've already written fairly extensively on why I think The Tale of Princess Kaguya is such an important movie, but suffice to say it is — visually, thematically — extremely special.

Spirited Away

In an attempt to placate Princess Mononoke fans, please know that I deliberated between Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke for a full minute. That's 60 whole seconds.

The reason I went with Spirited Away is its sense of visual invention. Like many Ghibli movies, the narrative thread is buried within two hours of absolutely mental imagery, but that imagery is so spectacularly out there that you simply go along for the ride. Spirited Away is fearlessly weird. I think that's just about the highest compliment you can pay any type of art.

What did we miss? Did we get it totally wrong? (We got it wrong, didn't we?) Tell us all about it in the comments below.


    Mine (no order):

    Porco Rosso
    Nausicaa (ok technically this isn't Ghibli, in which case I'll replace it with Totoro)
    Spirited Away
    Princess Mononoke

    Last edited 07/10/14 2:06 pm

      Nausicaa isn't Ghibli? That comes as a shock. I've long been telling anyone who would listen that it was my favourite.

        They made it before they were 'Ghibli' but it had the core team, and was the catalyst for the creation of the studio.
        So technically isn't a part of the collection, but most people still consider it to be.

    Porco rosso
    Spirited away
    My neighbour totoro
    The cat returns

      Thought about putting The Cat Returns in my list, I really enjoyed that movie!

        I don't really know why I like it, but it's definitely my favourite. Maybe because of the baron.

    I still need to see kaguya.

    Since we're sharing lists, mine would be:
    Pom Poko
    The Cat Returns
    My Neighbor Totoro
    Howl's Moving Castle

    If you haven't seen "The Cat Returns" make it a point to. It's not a Miyazaki or Takahata and a bit light, but a very enjoyable fairytale like story...

      I never really like Howl's Moving Castle. I'm not sure why. It might just be a bit TOO weird for me.

      I really did like The Cat Returns though. It was great.

        Im so glad that there are alot of ppl here who like the cat returns. Alot of the time in the real world, I dont seem to run into alot of ppl who've seen/enjoy it.

      The Cat Returns gets a lot better if you watch it after Whisper of the Heart, too!

      Pom Poko is probably my most recommended Ghibli film... mostly because I like watching people's faces when they experience it for the first time...

    I'm not surprised people don't like ponyo, I like most of the movies on this list but I can't stand ponyo.

    No order.

    Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Mononoke, Nausicaa and Castle In The Sky, with Ponyo coming a respectable sixth considering the competition.

    I'm with you Serrells re: Ponyo, the driving away from the flood scene and not being able to understand why people think that is one of the worst Ghibli movies.

    No order; Grave of the Fireflies, Mononoke-hime, Nausicaa, Laputa, Howl's. I really want to see Kaguya-hime no Monogatari, though. Really should watch more Ghibli movies, as I've only seen about half of them, I think. Trouble is they're so hard to find for a reasonable price...

    Princess Mononoke
    Princess Mononoke
    Princess Mononoke
    Princess Mononoke
    Princess Mononoke


    My top five: That one about the water skimmer and the spider with the air bubble that they showed when we visited the museum.

      I got to see that a few weeks ago when I went to Japan. I was so thrilled they had it just for museum visitors and I was so glad they let the imagery tell the story.
      I can't speak fluent Japanese but it didn't matter :)

    Laputa, Mononoke, Spirited Away, Whisper of the Heart, Porco for me. But only because Nausicaa isn't technically a Studio Ghibli film as the studio wasn't formed until after that.

    Also that's assuming the French dub of Porco.

    I personally love all of the classics, surprised there's no love for The Wind Rises, I loved that movie :3

    Last edited 07/10/14 2:29 pm

    Spirited Away
    Howl's Moving Castle
    Princess Mononoke

    Those last three aren't in any particular order, but Spirited Away and Nausicaa are definitely my top two.

    Howl's moving castle (a very nice movie about 2 people who were cursed with something horrible)
    Princess mononoke ( the horrors of thinking it was a good idea to severly damage nature)
    Porco (nothing stops a badass, even when cursed)
    Graveyard of the fireflies (makes the japanese remember that they were firebombed as severely as the vietnamese, who were still haunted by the use of napalm in the vietnam war & reminds the japs that their country suffered some of the worst fire bombings in ww2)
    Spirited away

    1. Spirited Away
    2. Nausicaa
    3. Princess Mononoke
    4. Kiki's Delivery Service
    5. Grave of the Fireflies

    Last edited 07/10/14 2:56 pm

    I’m still surprised to hear that some people don’t like Ponyo.
    *Sigh* I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion, but for me, Ponyo was truly terrible. The fact that you rank it above the following titles blows my mind (not in a good way).
    - Kiki's Delivery Service
    - Howl's Moving Castle
    - Porco Rosso
    - Princess Mononoke

    Freaking Kiki's Delivery Service man. That film is so damn good, Ponyo doesn't even come close.

    ERGH! - Rant over -

    Can anyone recommend where to pick some of them up for a reasonable price? JB's 28 DVD / 38 BR is a little too pricey for me.

      There are box sets on eBay containing most of their films in one complete pack that will set you back between $50 and $100; if grey imports don't bother you.

      I should expand on my previous comment. I have one of those packs and while grey imports are frowned upon, they aren't illegal - simply unofficial releases not coming directly from the creator or licensed distributor. I could even lend you mine if you'd like.

      The quality isn't the greatest (multiple films are squeezed onto one DVD, with six or so discs per pack) but it does allow you to enjoy the films at a bargain price. From which you can then deduce which ones you like best and in turn maybe buy those select few from JB Hi-Fi or the like.

        simply unofficial releases not coming directly from the creator
        Sounds like yarrrrrrrr. Which is probably someone else doing illegal things, there's just no illegal action on our own behalf in the final step of our acquisition. Might not be much different than downloading.

          I guess you could do that, too.

            I'm looking to not do that, but buying bootleg copies doesn't really go far enough in the right direction.

    Wow no love for Wind Rises?? I LOVED it!

    I really cannot bring myself to just list 5...they are like trying to pick favourite children. I remember when I first watched Nausicaa and I was not even a teenager so I didn't really understand it but it still stuck with me this whole time. Porco Rosso was my first REAL dive into Ghibli movies and then Mononoke and yeah...snow ball effect LOL

      The Wind Rises was fantastic. Fantastic film for Miyazaki to bow out with.

    Porco Rosso
    Kiki's delivery service
    Howl's Moving Castle
    The Wind rises
    The Cat Returns.

    I have a special love of Porco Rosso and managed to grab the art book for it and go through it once every couple of months

      I'm surprised Kiki's Delivery Service hasn't come up on other's lists... it is one of my favourites.

      I went with The Wind Rises instead unfortunately..

    I think I've only seen five and while they're lovely to watch I'd say Mononoke and Spirited Away are the only ones I actually like.

    Looking forward to seeing Kaguya next week :D

    My top five in order:
    1. Whisper of the Heart
    2. The Wind Rises
    3. From Up on Poppy Hill
    4. Spirited Away
    5. The Cat Returns

    They're all pretty great though!

    nope I cannot limit myself to only 5

    I love that ponyo made your list. That car scene I could watch forever. I joyful cry every time

    My own personal five:

    5.) Only Yesterday
    4.) Spirited Away
    3.) Grave of the Fireflies
    2.) My Neighbour Totoro
    1.) Princess Mononoke

    Regarding Totoro -- Mark, I get what you mean about it having a dark underlining, but for me personally, even with that dark underlining, I still feel the film is pretty uplifting.

    If you want to go down that path of the two girls dealing with Death and Totoro being a figure of death than it still could be seen as an uplifting journey of the girls embracing that darker occurence of life (being death).

    Although personally I can't subscribe to that theory as is. There is too much in the film that completely contradicts that theory.

    Still, great list Mark.

    Last edited 07/10/14 4:39 pm

    On a technicality I'd go with Castle of Cagliostro.... Even though it was pre-Ghibli... but still Miyazaki... And they went on to be Ghibli.... And it was remastered and re-released by Ghibli... And Disney

    Last edited 07/10/14 5:41 pm

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