Japanese animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli has been charming moviegoers since they began producing works in the summer of 1985. From wondrous adventures through magnificent fantasy worlds to grounded dramas closely tied to historical events, there's at least one film from the studio's creative minds that will resonate with every kind of viewer.
Studio Ghibli's films have had phenomenal success across the globe, with Disney owning the rights to international distribution. Six of their movies feature in the top ten highest-grossing animated movies made in Japan. But, is box office success everything? We've decided to rank the ten highest-grossing films, not only taking worldwide gross into account, but the magic and heart that makes a film an iconic work of Studio Ghibli, as well.
10 Tales From Earthsea ($68,673,565)
Studio Ghibli tried to convince sci-fi author Ursula Le Guin to agree to an adaptation of her Earthsea novels for years, but with no success. However, after Hayao Miyazaki's win at the Oscars for Spirited Away, Le Guin finally agreed to the project, particularly keen for Hayao to direct.
Busy with another project, Hayao passed the reins to his son, Gorō, who was inspired by both Le Guin's books and his father's manga series, The Journey of Shuna. The film received widely mixed reviews, with Le Guin underwhelmed and particularly upset about the film's reliance on violence—something she avoided in her works. Nevertheless, it's still a worthwhile watch for fans of Studio Ghibli.
9 The Cat Returns ($53,918,847)
One of the few Studio Ghibli feature films to be directed by neither Hayao Miyazaki nor Isao Takahata, Hiroyuki Morita's fantasy adventure was favorably received worldwide. Inspired by the popularity of Baron the cat from the studio's 1995 film Whisper of the Heart, a sequel of sorts was developed to bring the character back.
Based on Aoi Hiiragi's manga of the same name, the film follows Haru Yoshioka as she tries to escape the Cat Kingdom and marriage to Prince Lune. Despite the bizarre plot, The Cat Returns feels very grounded, making for an intriguing adventure that could only be translated for the screen by Studio Ghibli.
8 From Up On Poppy Hill ($61,459,425)
Based on Tetsurō Sayama and Chizuru Takahashi's 1980s comic, From Up On Poppy Hill follows the story of Umi Matsuzaki, Shun Kazama, and Shiroō Mizunuma as they try to save their school's clubhouse from being torn down by a wealthy businessman.
Directed by Gorō Miyazaki, the film brilliantly captures the feelings of melodrama in the average teenager's life. Set against the backdrop of 1960s Yokohama, it reflects the growth of student activism across Japan in this era, all the while weaving hints of subtle tragedy throughout the narrative. Exploring local Japanese customs, it's an engaging, gentle drama with wonderful characters and beautiful animation.
7 The Secret World of Arrietty ($145,570,827)
Based on Mary Norton's novel, The Borrowers, Arrietty was Hiromasa Yonebayashi's directorial debut. Driven by his wish to beat Ponyo's incredible audience numbers, he created a tender tale of an unlikely friendship that would delight viewers of all ages.
Arrietty did phenomenally well across the globe. Over one million viewers watched it in Japan during its opening weekend. The feature received the largest ever opening for a Studio Ghibli film in America, and it swiftly became the highest-grossing anime not based on a video game franchise in the US. It proved so popular that Tonebayashi's vision of Norton's classic was subsequently adapted into a manga series.
6 Porco Rosso ($58,990,641)
This iconic comedy-adventure originally began life as a short in-flight film for Japan Airlines, based upon Miyazaki's own watercolor comic. However, the project grew wings as Miyazaki developed it for film, soon becoming a full-length feature.
Porco Rosso is one of the few Studio Ghibli films that leans heavily on realism, with recognizable historical events and detailed geography. It's European locations possibly influenced its popularity overseas, performing very well in European box offices, particularly in France. The loving homage to aircraft and flying proved to be so popular that Miyazaki considered creating a sequel, seeing Rosso return in the Spanish Civil War.
5 Ponyo ($201,750,931)
Hayao Miyazaki's delightful interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid captured audiences' hearts across the globe following its release. A magical celebration of the joy and innocence of childhood, it was enhanced by Studio Ghibli's aim to only incorporate traditional animation in the film. With Noboru Yoshida at the helm as art director, his stunning artwork added to Ponyo's charm. Miyazaki remained hands-on throughout the film's production, hand drawing the waves and the ocean himself so to experiment with various styles.
The team's hard work paid off as Ponyo was an extraordinary success worldwide, particularly resonating with US and Canadian audiences.
4 The Wind Rises ($136,333,220)
In 2009, Hayao Miyazaki began serializing a new manga for Model Graphix, inspired by Jiro Horikoshi's life. Horikoshi had designed the Mitsubishi A5M fighter aircraft and the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, subsequently used by Japan during the Second World War. Despite starting as a hobby, Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki convinced Miyazaki to develop the story for film.
As well as being a detailed biopic, The Wind Rises is a beautifully moving examination of corruption as Horikoshi's love of aviation becomes twists in the height of the conflict. The movie proved to be controversial in Japan, but remained popular with audiences worldwide nevertheless, showcasing a bittersweet story of the man behind these monumental planes.
3 Howl's Moving Castle ($235,184,110)
Inspired by Diana Wynne Jones' 1986 fantasy novel of the same name, Hayao Miyazaki combined fantastical elements with deeply human emotions in Howl's Moving Castle. The film would become one of the most financially successful Japanese films of all time, grossing $14.5 million in its first week of release in Japan alone.
Miyazaki deviated from the book's central themes to focus on subjects close to his heart. Not only did he place an elderly woman at the heart of the story, proving age grants freedom, but he also confronted America's involvement in Iraq in 2003. A pacifist, many of Miyazaki's films carry anti-war themes, and this was no exception, being filled with intriguing characters and no clearly defined heroes or villains.
2 Princess Mononoke ($160,799,185)
Perhaps one of the most widely-recognized Studio Ghibli features, Hayao Miyazaki's fantasy adventure became an instant success in Japan, becoming the first animated film to win Best Picture in the Japan Academy Prize. It became the highest-grossing film in Japan and held the coveted title until Spirited Away's release four years later.
The film had a considerable impact in the West when it was released on home video, vastly expanding Studio Ghibli's influence outside of Japan. Nearly 22,000 copies of the Blu ray sold during its first week of release in the US. The epic tale of nature versus industrialization has remained hugely influential, heavily inspiring James Cameron's Avatar, from the clashing civilizations to the stunning setting of Pandora.
1 Spirited Away ($365,481,131)
Spending his summer with friends, Hayao Miyazaki became inspired to create a strong heroine for their young daughters to look up to after noticing the market was mostly filled with cute characters in search of romance. Chihiro Ogino's adventures into the spirit world to save her parents would quickly be heralded as one of the best movies of all time.
Spirited Away broke box office records in Japan, becoming the country's most successful film of all time. It was the first (and, at time of writing, only) hand-drawn, foreign language animated film to win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards, and continues to rank highly in rundowns of greatest movies. No doubt one of the most influential and beloved films ever, cherished by viewers around the world, it's well-deserving of high praise.