Ranking Hayao Miyazaki's Movies-From Worst to Best

On September 6th, 2013, Hayao Miyazaki, one of my favourite directors of all-time, announced that he was retiring from directing for good. Now, roughly a year later, I think it’s time to look back on and evaluate his work as a whole. Keep in mind that this is strictly opinion-based and is in no way an objective stance on the director’s 11 movies. Rather, it’s me being subjective and ranking them from worst-to-best. Credit goes to MovieBob for indirectly giving me this idea.

Merry-Go-Round-of-Life – Howl’s Moving Castle

#11 - Porco Rosso

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We start off with the one Miyazaki movie I have more respect than admiration for. Porco Rosso isn’t a bad movie, none of Miyazaki’s movies are anything short of “good” on a bad day, but its premise, characters, tone shifts, pacing and climax don’t suck me in to the extent they probably should. I remember originally seeing this movie, waiting for it to wow me, finishing it and thinking, “Okay, now what?” Time has definitely warmed me up to it more, to the point where I like it now, but...I don’t know. Maybe my expectations were too high, but it’s still my least favourite of Miyazaki’s movies.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its merits, however. It’s funny, touching and even suspenseful. Porco’s back-story, while I’ve yet to be fully sold on it, is tragic, highlighting how cruel life can be when you’re separated from those you care about. Fio and Gina are also wonderfully realized characters, easily some of the finest Miyazaki’s put to film. And considering how many great women he’s written, that’s saying something.

I guess what saves this movie is its atmosphere. Hayao Miyazaki’s no stranger to immersing people in his worlds, but this is the first and only time where I can safely say that the world of one of his movies, which feels distinctly European, is more interesting than everything else: the chase scene at the halfway point? Awesome. Those slow moments? The lounge-style music makes them work. Gina’s flashback? Have a watch and see for yourself. After all, considering my taste in film, you might end up disagreeing with me!

#10 - Howl’s Moving Castle

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Howl’s Moving Castle is a mess. I say that not because I think it’s a mess, although I do, but because even its defenders would agree. The pacing, writing, plot twists, structure and tone are all lopsided, and navigating through it the first-time is like trying to make it through a seemingly impossible labyrinth. So why do I like it more than Porco Rosso? Especially when that movie is much better written and executed in every way? Simple: because I connect with it more.

It’s true: as often as I bag on this movie, be it on Twitter, ScrewAttack, YouTube and the likes, I really do connect with it emotionally. I love the characters, as screwball as they may be, I love the romance between Sophie and Howl, even if the build-up is often forced and rushed, and the journey, though messy, is fun to experience. Not to mention, the movie’s style, both visually and musically, is top-notch; after all, how can you not love the movie’s theme song? It’s easily one of composer Joe Hisaishi’s best! Seriously, give it a listen and tell me you wouldn’t dance on your wedding day to it.

The movie’s subtext on war is also strong here. Is it confusing? Yes. Is it hard to discern? Yes. But that’s the real beauty of it: war can be confusing and hard to discern. And if that’s not enough to justify seeing this movie 5 times, then I don’t know what is.

#9 - The Wind Rises

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It feels weird putting a movie I’ve only seen once as of writing this so low, but given the impact it’s made, as well as how strongly I feel about Miyazaki’s other films, I doubt it’d change much after a second or third viewing. Truth be told, while The Wind Rises is, in many ways, the kind of movie I wish Porco Rosso and Howl’s Moving Castle had been, i.e. ambitious movies about war and isolation that effectively tackle both subjects, at the same time it has glaring flaws that keep it from ranking as the director’s best. For one, a lot of its side characters, though interesting, don’t do much outside their pre-established roles, becoming window dressing. And, for another, the movie drags at points. Factor in a somewhat problematic message about visions being used for evil purposes, even though I do like what it’s arguing, and you end up with a great movie trapped inside a good one.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy The Wind Rises, because I do. Jiro is one of Miyazaki’s more interesting protagonists, being grounded in reality instead of being a completely fictional character. His dilemmas and moral struggles feel like ones that a real person would have, and his relationship with his wife, though short-lived and bizarre, is perfectly normal given the circumstances. I also like how the movie uses moments of the ordinary to convey magic and wonder, most-notably Jiro’s dream conversations with legendary designer Caproni, as opposed to letting fantasy do the talking for it. Considering that so many aspects of reality can be magical if you let them, it’s a nice change of pace.

Whether or not this is Miyazaki’s finest achievement is debatable. Fans and detractors can argue forever about whether or not it does its subject justice, or if it needed to be animated, but that’s irrelevant to whether or not it’s a masterpiece. Me? I don’t think so, but there’s simply too much here to enjoy to simply pass it up as meaningless. All I can say is give it a watch and, ultimately, judge it for yourself.

#8 - The Castle of Cagliostro

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Transitioning from the entries I’m not as in love with to ones I’m warmer toward, we have this gem. I know many of you are ready to pelt me with stones for placing The Castle of Cagliostro so low, but I assure you my reasons aren’t focused on my love of the series it’s based on. I could never sink that low because I’ve never seen the series it’s based on. The only reason I put it so low is because I think the anime fandom overrates the movie. It’s definitely good, but great? No.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to love, because there is; the car chase at the beginning is tons of fun, and I can fully understand why renowned director Steven Spielberg loves it so much. The movie’s comedy, though dated, holds up, and is more grounded than I thought it’d be the first time around. And Count Cagliostro? What can I say about him? Not only is he one of two Miyazaki villains that’s a full-out slime ball, but he’s also one of those same two villains to be killed off in the third-act. And trust me when I say that Miyazaki didn’t hold back either.

It’s always interesting talking about The Castle of Cagliostro because I definitely enjoy it, yet its problems are impossible to ignore. I also think its title of “revolutionary” is greatly exaggerated, as I don’t think it is. But whether or not you agree with me is up to you to decide. So give it a watch! At worst, it’s really only a time-killer, right?

#7 -Ponyo

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And then we arrive at the one Miyazaki movie I don’t get the hate for. Like, at all. I’ve already covered this in greater detail on ScrewAttack, but Ponyo seems to have garnered criticism for issues that, quite frankly, it doesn’t have. Amongst these are its “bad” animation, its “annoying” protagonist, its “lack of interesting conflict” and its “condescending” message, none of which hold weight when examined thoroughly. It seems like its detractors are picking fights for the sake of it, not because it actually has those problems.

Which isn’t to say it’s flawless, because it isn’t. Or that it’s my favourite of Miyazaki’s, because it isn’t either. It definitely is painfully simple, and at times a little silly. It also has an anti-climactic ending, which is an obvious joy kill. Then again, so did another one of Miyazaki’s movies, and no one seems to complain about that! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Overall, this is a movie reminiscent of The Little Mermaid. Except that it’s supposed to feel that way. And it’s for kids. And I prefer it to the 1989 Disney classic in many ways. It’s definitely more cohesive than that movie, that’s for sure! I’ll stop talking now.

#6 - My Neighbor Totoro

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If I had to describe My Neighbor Totoro in one word, it’d probably be “nostalgic”. In two words, “surreally nostalgic”. In three words, “surreal and nostalgic”. And each description would be accurate, as that’s exactly what My Neighbor Totoro is: a surreal experience that celebrates nostalgia.

I say this because the film looks into the childhoods of the Baby Boomer generation of Japan, yet does so in a way that anyone with an inner-child can relate to. Mei and Satsuki represent two facets of youth, and their interactions with the world are youthful and imaginative. You really get a feel for nature through the eyes of a child, which is amazing because, truth be told, there’s not much going on in this movie until the last 20-minutes. For a film that’s, basically, about nothing, it’s Miyazaki’s brilliance as a director and writer that makes My Neighbor Totoro feel important. That alone is an accomplishment.

I don’t think this is Miyazaki’s best however, as it’s too hollow to really stack up as a true masterpiece. But that doesn’t matter. Like I said, for a movie that could’ve easily been about nothing, Miyazaki created something truly special. It’s a certain type of special that emanates in all his works, but here especially. I can’t recommend it enough.

#5 - Kiki’s Delivery Service

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I’ll say this now: of Miyazaki’s more “casual” endeavours, this is his most mainstream in terms of content. It’s also, in my opinion, the best of them all. It’s weird because, like My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service isn’t terribly deep. It’s a simple, cute story about a pre-teen witch learning to be independent. That’s it.

But, again, the execution of the story really makes it stand out. For one, it’s a movie about the ups and downs of independence, as well as the responsibility that comes with it. And, for another, it’s a movie about the ups and downs of self-confidence in one’s own talents, and how difficult it is to maintain that balance. For a writer like myself, or anyone with a natural talent, this really strikes home. Also, the climax is one of Miyazaki’s best, taking both aspects and merging them in an intense and suspenseful finale.

I can’t recommend it enough. It’s not Miyazaki’s finest, or his deepest or most thought provoking. However, if you can suspend that for 102-minutes, you’re in for a real treat. Kiki’s Delivery Service is funny, touching and mature for a family movie. And it’s got some of Miyazaki’s best flight scenes, a real boast considering his love of aviation. Go see it.

#4 - Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

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And now we arrive at one of Miyazaki’s big three action movies, and the one that launched him into superstardom in Japan. Interestingly enough, there’s also a complete 180 from my thoughts on Porco Rosso. If that movie was the one Miyazaki work I admired more than I loved, then Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which has the longest and most-confusing movie title in Miyazaki’s repertoire, is the exact opposite, being a movie I love more than I admire. The full implications of that remark would require a full article, but the short of it is that, on the surface, the movie doesn’t work: it’s clunky, awkwardly paced, anticlimactic and laden with exposition. And yet, I don’t care. There’s so much raw energy and emotion here that Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind works in spite of itself.

And that’s its genius: it taps into the viewer’s emotional core. Everything from the characters, story, music, themes and allegorical subtext is all rooted in emotion. And it gets that reaction too. You feel for the characters, even though nothing they say is concrete, and you bask in the grandeur of the world and its stakes. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have timeless themes about environmentalism and corruption, or even a sense of humour, but it’s really its emotional centre that wins out in the end.

Which could explain why I like it so much, and why it holds up after all this time. It’s big, its stakes are high, its Jesus allegory feels natural and not forced and it’s all-around fun. Is the movie entirely competent? Not really, but does it actually matter? Not really.

#3 - Princess Mononoke

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Easily Miyazaki’s most-ambitious work, it’s also, according to many anime fans, his best. While I don’t agree, there’s no denying that Princess Mononoke, the longest and darkest of his movies, is a masterpiece in its own right. It’s also Miyazaki’s most mature, and the only movie I’d advise not showing to kids. That’s not to say that some of his other movies don’t have objectionable content too, but this one? You’d better be prepared for nightmares if your kids watch it with you!

There’s so much to talk about that covering it all would be impossible in this piece: the soundtrack? My favourite of Joe Hisaishi’s. The animation? Even after 17 years, it looks amazing. The environmental undertones? What about them? They’re the same as Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, except more historical fantasy and grounded in subtlety and realism.

This is one of the big three movies I’d use to introduce people to Miyazaki. I say that because, despite being incredibly Japanese, the execution is really easy for Westerners to get into. As for the length? Well, it’s 134-minutes long, but that doesn’t feel nearly as unbearable as you’d think. So give it a try, you’ve really got nothing to lose!

#2 - Castle in the Sky

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On the flip side, Castle in the Sky is the most family-friendly action movie you’ll ever see from Miyazaki. Does that mean that it’s not as good or interesting as Princess Mononoke? Absolutely not! Not only is it as enjoyable as that film, I’d even consider it better! And this is while being Indiana Jones for kids.

Seriously, this has “Indiana Jones” written all-over it, to the point of almost being a “rip-off” of it: the story is ridiculous and littered with plot-holes. The villain is shallow, greedy and dies in an over-the-top manner. The action scenes are overdramatic. The side characters are goofy and one-note. The music is pure Hollywood. There’s even a Magoffin, in this case a giant city, as the primary focus of the movie! How can it not be accused of ripping-off Indiana Jones?

Even so, I, surprisingly, like it more than Indiana Jones, as it’s smaller, more intimate and more visually creative than that franchise will ever be in my eyes. It’s also funny, emotional and a lot of fun. Is it deep? No, but it doesn’t have to be. For those who are fans of adventure movies, or even family movies in general, you can’t go wrong with this one.

#1 - Spirited Away

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Call it predictable. Call it lame. Call it unoriginal. Call it whatever you want! But be honest: knowing me, did you really think it’d be anything other than Spirited Away at the #1 spot? Because, if so, then you’ve been ignoring all my past pieces about this movie.

I can’t help it: am I supposed to ignore how Chihiro is one of the greatest protagonists in any movie I’ve ever seen? Or how the story takes something I thought I’d never care about, i.e. the “Alice in Wonderland, down the rabbit hole” tale, and makes me care about it? Or how it has the perfect balance of drama, suspense, humour and emotion, making it the most honest Miyazaki movie I’ve ever seen? Am I? Be honest.

It’s not like I haven’t tried challenging my reasons for loving it either, because I have...on numerous occasions. And you know what? I’ve failed each time. It’s that good. And if you don’t believe me? Well, I have nothing I can do to convince you otherwise. The only option, at the end of the day, is for you to see and judge it for yourself.

And there’s your list, folks! Agree, disagree, impartial? Whatever your thoughts, there’s no denying that Hayao Miyazaki’s movies are nothing short of magical and timeless. Here’s to you, Miyazaki-san, and your retirement. Be sure to enjoy it.


  1. I don't like picking single favorites of anything -my "top-[insert number]" lists are typically "in no particular order" affairs. So my response to this post isn't an attempt to provide my own ranking of Hayao Miyazaki's movies, but rather a friendly attempt to respond to an intelligent, well-spoken reviewer who happens to share my love for these movies.

    11. Well, I can't quarrel with personal preference, so I'll let you off the hook on this one.


    Porco Rosso is, in my opinion, one of Miyazaki's very best, and it's arguably his most underexposed film. Yes, I do personally relate very strongly to its overarching theme of regaining faith in one's self-worth, and in humanity as a whole. But its not just that. I likewise love its atmosphere, but I love the characters, too. And I confess that its blend of comedy and drama clicked even more for me than it did for you. Its just overall very well executed for it is, in my opinion.

    But again, I won't quarrel with personal preference. Kudos to you for taking the time to seek it out, though, and for being able to separate your opinions regarding its artistic merit from how much you enjoyed it.

    10. Yeah, I hear you on this one. Its not my favorite either, and I do think its overrated. But I'll confess that I enjoyed it much more upon second viewing. My first time through, I watched in in the original language with the literal subtitle track, and it was just mind-bogglingly confusing from the second half onwards; I had to resort to a plot synopsis just to figure out what was even going on during the climax. My second time through, I watched the English dub. And frankly, I owe a debt of gratitude to whoever worked on the dub's script. The film's still over-plotted and underdeveloped, but I actually understood way more of what was actually happening this go round. From now on, I'll either be watching the dub, or going for the original language with dubtitles.

    9. I actually haven't seen this one yet, so I'll refrain from commenting.

    8. I think we're of like minds on this one. Its not his best, but its still a lot of fun.

    7. I was enjoying this one up until the revelation that the world was in terrible danger from the moon &c. The threat of an apocalypse really wasn't what this film, which tries so hard to be charming above all else, needed, and the anti-climactic ending only capped off my disappointment that the film fell back on such a trope in the first place. To say nothing of Fujimoto's seeming inability to decide whether or not he wants to destroy humanity. The relationship between his motives and his potions was really confusing.

    6. Not a masterpiece? I'll beg to differ. The overall quality of the film's execution begs for such a label- and its not a label I ever apply lightly. But still, I won't deny your right to disagree. At least we can both agree its a great movie.

    5. I liked this one the first time I saw it, but its grown on me still further on subsequent viewings. I agree with your assessment.

    4. This was the first Miyazaki film I saw, and while I'll always be grateful to it for introducing me to his work, its not the one that got me hooked, as it were. I think its an alright movie, and I enjoy it, but I didn't find it nearly as deep or emotionally engaging as you and most of its fans apparently do. I respect the world-building, but the characters just weren't fleshed out nearly as much as I'd have liked, and the ending was too abrupt for my taste. Also, I didn't find the thematic exploration nearly as in-depth or nuanced as people claim it is- though its still a far cry from Captain Planet territory.

    Again, I do enjoy it. Its just not one of my favorites.

  2. [Continued]

    3. You mentioned that Porco Rosso was the Miyazaki film that you respect more than you love. Well, I've got one where that's the case for me. And, I regret to say, its Princess Mononoke.

    I'm envious that so many people seem to have enjoyed this film more than I did when I first saw it, and I'm sincerely hoping that it will grow on me with subsequent viewings. While I wouldn't call it his best movie either, I do think its good. Unfortunately, one thing really hurts my enjoyment of it- the characters. Lady Eboshi aside, they felt more to me like mouthpieces for their respective philosophical positions than they did actual characters. San was the worst of the bunch in this regard- after all the hype, I honestly expected more from her than being largely a cypher for her side's point of view about the conflict. The animation and the soundtrack are lovely, the scale is enjoyably lavish, and the thematic exploration is more mature than in Nausicaa. But I honestly expected more from the characters, who have been constantly hyped as being among Miyazaki's most well-developed. I didn't think so- but again, maybe they'll grow on me with subsequent viewings. I hope they do.

    2. I love this one immensely. To be sure, it has its flaws, but I just don't care- its way too much fun for me to care. Even putting the critical goggles on, I still have to call it one of Miyazaki's best.

    1. This one's not my favorite Miyazaki film, but its not hard to see why others might call it their favorite. I do think the last-half hour was a little rushed; the film could probably have used another ten-minutes, judiciously applied. But its a good one, and I enjoy it quite a bit.

  3. My ranking:

    11. The wind rises
    10. the castle of cagliostro
    9. My neighbor totoro
    8. Porco rosso
    7. Ponyo
    6. Kikis delivery service
    5. Castle in the sky
    4. Princess mononoke
    3. Howls moving castle
    2. Nausicaa of the valley of the wind
    1. Spirited away

    1. It really is subjective at the end of the day, isn't it?


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