Hayao Miyazaki remains the most captivating name attached to the anime genre. Often described as the modern equivalent to Walt Disney, Miyazaki revolutionized anime for an entire generation of fans, creating one of cinematic history's richest, most endearing filmographies in the process.
One of the most audacious directors to ever grace the industry, no one can overstate Miyazaki's influence, his films inspiring everyone from Wes Anderson and Guillermo del Toro to James Cameron and Steven Spielberg. An original founder of Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki continues to stand tall as one of the finest living filmmakers of his era. From environmentally-friendly fantasy epics to gripping aviation-based adventure films, we've ranked every Hayao Miyazaki movie from best to worst.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Next to Spirited Away, critics and fans tend to rank Princess Mononoke as the crowning achievement of Miyazaki's filmmaking career. A dramatic precursor to James Cameron's Avatar, the film draws on plenty of thematic subject matter Miyazaki holds near and dear to his heart, including a resonating message for environmental awareness and a general respect towards nature.
Spirited Away (2001)
Almost every Miyazaki movie incorporates elements of Japanese mythology and folklore, but few movies incorporate to such an expert degree as 2001's Spirited Away. Drawing plenty of inspiration from Shinto and Buddhist philosophy, Miyazaki traces the parallel realms that exist between the human world and a world inhabited by spirits, ghosts, and mischievous witches. Traversing these two realms on her own, Spirited Away's 10-year-old Chihiro uncovers a deeper understanding of herself, the world, and the spiritual realm on her various misadventures.
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky may have helped Miyazaki gain a foothold in the film industry, but My Neighbor Totoro cemented him as an animation genius on par with Disney himself. A film so popular, the title character himself became the mascot for Studio Ghibli, My Neighbor Totoro unfolds like a wondrous fairy tale based around childhood innocence and the bountiful wonders of nature (inhabited with plush forest spirits and adorable woodland sprites). Call it the breakout Miyazaki movie.
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
The first film to bear all the hallmark signs of a classic Miyazaki movie, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind features all the foremost themes associated with the filmmaker, including an overarching pacifistic message and an emboldened cry for humanity to co-exist alongside nature. Laying the groundwork for everything Studio Ghibli came to stand for upon the company's formation in 1985, Nausicaä helped Miyazaki achieve his first breakthrough success in the industry, demonstrating many of the same themes he'd return to again and again throughout his career.
Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
Miyazaki's response to the controversial Iraq War, Howl's Moving Castle features Miyazaki's most heavy-handed condemnation of warfare to date. In spite of its lack of subtlety, this Miyazaki movie paints a compelling portrait of a magical kingdom ravaged by war and violence, never shying away from the hellish repercussions such destruction has on innocent lives (whether cities filled with people or forests brimming with trees and animals).
Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
Compared to most other movies in his filmography, Kiki's Delivery Service lacks the same philosophical undertones of Miyazaki's earlier or later projects. Rather than detracting from the quality of the film, audiences can view this 1989 magical realist film as a refreshing change of pace from Studio Ghibli's usual kinds of movies. Balancing a somewhat more realistic plotline–witchcraft and talking cats aside–Kiki's Delivery Service harkens back to the age-old message about self-reliance and believing in oneself. Taking her tentative first steps into adulthood, the 13-year-old Kiki learns firsthand how to survive on her own, illustrating the importance of confidence in the face of crippling uncertainty.
A stylistic successor to Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo also acts as a very loose interpretation of The Little Mermaid, albeit with significant alterations to its general story. With its fluid underwater sequences and the charming wholesomeness of the story, this Miyazaki movie retells Hans Christian Andersen's tale in a fantastic and original new way. Framing much of the story around two young children whose love for each transcends the limits of land and sea, Ponyo encourages every audience member to remember the playful innocence of their youth, from playing down by the ocean with friends to experiencing their first budding romantic attachments.
The Wind Rises (2013)
A fascinating passion project from Miyazaki, The Wind Rises chronicles the life and career of Jiro Horikoshi, the engineer who became the grand architect for the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane used in World War II. Though biographical in nature, Miyazaki traces Horikoshi's innovations in the aviation industry with a hallucinatory atmosphere, complete with numerous spellbinding sequences set inside Horikoshi's dreams. Neither romanticizing nor demonizing his main subject for his role in Japan's military efforts, this Miyazaki movie focuses on Horikoshi's prevailing desire to craft spectacular aircraft–a trait Miyazaki compares to his own avid love for animation.
Castle in the Sky (1986)
Castle in the Sky holds plenty of similarities to an earlier Miyazaki movie, The Castle of Cagliostro. In the case of both films, Miyazaki utilizes a light-hearted adventurous tone, emblematic of Steven Spielberg or George Lucas. With Castle in the Sky, though, Miyazaki takes the opportunity to deliver a heartfelt message rooted in environmentalism and spiritualism, as well as a fierce condemnation of military might and frivolous bureaucracies. While all of Miyazaki's films feel personal, Castle in the Sky combines all of his most heartfelt interests and beliefs into one epic fantasy film, from large-scale vintage airplanes to his staunch ecological concerns.
Porco Rosso (1992)
With the 1992 adventure Miyazaki movie Porco Rosso, the director doubled down on his deep-seated enthusiasm for the aviation industry, an interest spotted in such films as Castle in the Sky and The Wind Rises. Rather than focusing on early 20th-century airplanes alone, though, Miyazaki uses Porco Rosso to explore weightier themes, including authoritarian government regimes and the ever-present dangers of fascism. Minimalist in both its story and characterization, Porco Rosso‘s deft handling of its subject matter makes it a pleasurable viewing experience for every audience member, regardless of their respective age.
The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
After working in the anime industry for around two decades, Miyazaki made his feature-length theatrical debut with 1979's The Castle of Cagliostro. An impressive early effort, The Castle of Cagliostro continues Monkey Punch's Lupin the Third series, with Miyazaki utilizing plenty of sweeping action and a swashbuckling storyline not unlike his later Porco Rosso. Compared to most of Miyazaki's later films, it might lack the same poignant thematic discussions as Miyazaki's other, more notable works. Yet when judged by its own merits, The Castle of Cagliostro boasts an abundance of strengths and very few weaknesses in its entirety.
Richard Chachowski is an entertainment and travel writer who has written for such publications as Wealth of Geeks, Looper, Screen Rant, Fangoria, and Sportskeeda, among many others. He received his BA from The College of New Jersey and has been a professional writer since 2020. His geeky areas of interest include Star Wars, travel writing, horror, video games, comic books, literature, and animation.
Richard has been an avid consumer of movies, television, books, and pop culture since he was four-years-old. Raised on a diverse mix of Clint Eastwood Westerns, Star Wars, sci-fi and horror films, Alan Moore comics, and Stephen King novels, he eventually turned his various passions into a creative outlet, writing about film, television, literature, comics, and gaming for his high school and college newspapers. A traveling enthusiast, Richard has also managed to create a career out of journeying abroad, venturing to such awe-inspiring places as the Sonoran Desert of Mexico, the rainforests of Costa Rica, and the scenic coastline of Haiti. Upon graduating from TCNJ, Richard set his sights on a career in journalism, writing extensively about the art of traveling and the entertainment medium for various online publications. When he’s not busy making his way through The Criterion Collection, he can be found either reading or planning a trip somewhere (preferably someplace with a scenic hiking trail).