Studio Ghibli movies are iconic, but they used to be pretty hard to track down. No longer! Twenty-one of the legendary studio’s movies are available on HBO Max, and while they all have incredible stories and messages, they’re also just straight-up eye candy. Just look at these stills and tell me you don’t want to live in these worlds for a little bit.
1. Howl’s bedroom in Howl’s Moving Castle (2004):
I could look at this for a hundred years. Howl’s Moving Castle has some of the most lush visuals of any Ghibli movies, and Howl’s bedroom totally epitomizes that. Every time you look, you see something new, and it adds a ton of layers to the inscrutable Howl’s character. (Look at his lil’ stuffed animals on the bed!!!)
2. Kiki remembers how to fly in Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989):
Kiki’s Delivery Service is all about Kiki learning to grow up, and it comes to a head in this climactic scene. There aren’t many kids movies that deal with a slow-moving blimp crash above a Mediterranean-esque town, but Kiki’s takes on the challenge in a way that’s both character-driven and stunning to watch.
3. Chihiro’s walk to the train in Spirited Away (2001):
As the only Ghibli film to win an Oscar, Spirited Away has already garnered quite a bit of acclaim. It might be better known for some of its highly detailed scenes (the character design of the monsters is just phenomenal), but this quiet, painterly scene in the midst of all the chaos really deserves more attention.
4. The forest spirit’s transformation in Princess Mononoke(1997):
This sequence is one that isn’t afraid to get a little trippy. Princess Mononoke deals with man’s relationship to the natural world (a theme that recurs in a lot of Ghibli movies), but it takes it to another, more fantastical level with the transformation of the forest spirit. It’s beautiful, spiritual, and more than a little violent, so be warned going in.
5. Waiting for the bus in My Neighbor Totoro (1988):
This is probably the iconic shot. If you’ve heard of Studio Ghibli, you’ve probably seen big, fluffy Totoro waiting for the bus in the rain. It so perfectly blends the familiar and the strange, in a way that’s just uniquely Ghibli.
6. The storm scene in Ponyo (2008):
Ponyo is among the lighter Ghibli films, one aimed more squarely at kids. However, it’s not light on the visuals, especially the phenomenal storm scene, where Ponyo runs on shifting waves that are somehow, magically, both water and fish. The ocean really takes center stage in this movie, and for good reason.
7. The ghost planes in Porco Rosso (1992):
You wouldn’t expect a movie about a man with the head of a pig to have an elegiac moment about loss and the horrors of war, and yet Porco Rosso does, and it works. Trust me, you might not think that some biplanes could make you cry, but in this movie they absolutely will.
8. Crossing the bridge in Spirited Away (2001):
This scene is our first real glimpse of the magical world that Spirited Away‘s protagonist, Chihiro, has made her way into, and it’s indelible. Every fantastical creature she meets has a different, wildly inventive design, and on rewatching, you can see how many of them show up later, as this scene hints at their eventual stories.
9. The Toxic Jungle in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984):
The postapocalyptic setting of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is ripe for incredible imagery, and it doesn’t disappoint. The bugs, plants, and even the buildings all hit that specific space between familiar and strange.
10. Howl’s secret garden in Howl’s Moving Castle (2004):
Is this one of the most romantic scenes in all of cinema? Yes. Am I the only person who thinks that? Possibly. But you can’t tell me that being gifted with an entire field of perfect, lovingly rendered flowers by your magical love interest wouldn’t also make you swoon.
11. The Borrowers’ house in The Secret World of Arrietty (2010):
I LOVED The Borrowers as a kid, so finding out that there was a Ghibli movie about them is basically my dream come true. Everything is tiny!! There are so many little details to find in what the family use to build their home!! Heaven.
12. The wounded wolf god in Princess Mononoke (1997):
Listen, this movie is violent. It’s definitely not for kids. There’s a beheading in like the first five minutes. But the combination of the lush animation and the surprisingly realistic violence really does make something beautiful. Just not something for family movie night.
13. Nausicaä’s workshop in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984):
I’m a sucker for scenes that look like they could be paintings, and this is one of the primo examples of one. Each plant is delicately considered, and the lighting adds a touch of warmth while letting the plants still be just a little bit sinister. Truly a perfect shot.
14. The castle in Howl’s Moving Castle (2004):
In the book that Howl’s Moving Castle is based on, the castle itself isn’t really described, beyond being a castle on legs. So the fantastical castle of the movie is a total Ghibli creation, and it’s just wonderful to look at. This creaky, rusty, friendly building reveals more secrets and stories every time you look at it, and it deserves its place as the titular character.