20 Movies Like Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Staff & contributors
Told in urgent fashion with first-hand accounts from cyber professionals from around the globe, Zero Days is a fascinating and alarming documentary about the Stuxnet computer virus. Originally codenamed “Olympic Games” by the people that fathered the worm, Stuxnet is a virus in the true sense of the word. It not only maliciously feeds off the host, but it also replicates itself as soon as it is implanted, which is exactly what it did when it was used by the US and Israeli secret services to sabotage centrifuges inside Iran's Natanz nuclear plant—making them spin out of control. All this is brilliantly unpacked by renowned documentary maker Alex Gibney (Going Clear, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), who manages not only to detail the complexities of advanced coding in a remarkably evocative manner, but also to send out a well-researched alarm call about the future of war. Ultimately, the message here is that cyber warfare is very much part of our new shared reality. This film deserves to be seen by anyone who is even remotely concerned about global security in the 21st century.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Allison Cohn, Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, David Sanger, Emad Kiyaei, Eric Chien, Eugene Kaspersky, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Joanne Tucker, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, Sergey Ulasen, Tadashi Mitsui, Vitaly Kamluk, Yossi Melman

Director: Alex Gibney

Rating: PG-13

Frequently considered one of the greatest animated movies of all times, and certainly the highest-grossing film in Japanese history, Spirited Away is Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli at their very best. It was also the first non-English animation movie to win an Oscar. On the surface, it's a film about a Chihiro Ogino (Hiiragi), a young girl who stumbles into an abandoned theme park with her parents. In a creepy spiritual world full of Shinto folklore spirits, she sees all kinds of magic and fantastic creatures, while having to find a way to save her parents and escape. In addition to the adventure, the coming-of-age theme, and the motifs of ancient Japanese lore, the film can also be understood as a critique of the Western influence on Japanese culture and the struggle for identity in the wake of the 1990s economic crisis. A deep, fast-paced, and hypnotizing journey.

Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Akiko Tomihira, Akio Nakamura, Bob Bergen, Bunta Sugawara, Daveigh Chase, David Ogden Stiers, Hayashikoba, Hiromi Takeuchi, Ikuko Yamamoto, Jack Angel, Jason Marsden, Jim Ward, John Ratzenberger, Kaori Yamagata, Katsutomo Shîbara, Kazutaka Hayashida, Keiko Tsukamoto, Ken Yasuda, Koba Hayashi, Lauren Holly, Mari Natsuki, Masayuki Kizu, Mayumi Saco, Michael Chiklis, Michiko Yamamoto, Mina Meguro, Minako Masuda, Miyu Irino, Naoto Kaji, Noriko Kitou, Orika Ono, Paul Eiding, Rina Yamada, Rodger Bumpass, Rumi Hiiragi, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Shigeru Wakita, Shigeyuki Totsugi, Shinobu Katabuchi, Shiro Saito, Shirou Saitou, Sonoko Soeda, Susan Egan, Suzanne Pleshette, Takashi Naito, Takehiko Ono, Tara Strong, Tatsuya Gashuin, Tetsurô Ishibashi, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Tsuzuki Kayako, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Yayoi Kazuki, Yo Oizumi, Yoko Ono, Yoshitaka Sukegawa, Yumi Tamai, 沢口靖子

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: PG

From the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, and courtesy of Studio Ghibli, which also brought you Spirited Away, comes this epic whirlwind of a story. Set during a fantastical late Muromachi period, the medieval era of Japan, in a time when many humans were still living among nature, while others set out to conquer and tame it, the movie follows a young man named Ashitaka, who he seeks cure for the curse of a boar god, giving him superhuman powers but eventually killing him. He rides west on a fantastic beast, where he eventually sees a young woman named San, also known as Princess Mononoke. What unfolds from here, is an epic tale of mythical war on many fronts, between the nature gods and humans. While this may sound like a dichotomy, it never is that morally simplistic. The story is action-packed and fast-paced, drawing freely from Japanese mythology as well as modern hot-topic political issues. Add to this the fantastic visuals: Hayao Miyazaki uses a mixture of hand drawings and 3D rendering that are nothing short of spectacular. In short, Princess Mononoke is movie history. If you haven't seen it yet, do it now.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Fantasy

Actor: Akihiro Miwa, Akira Nagoya, Akira Sakamoto, Alex Fernandez, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Corey Burton, Daikichi Sugawara, Debi Derryberry, Gillian Anderson, Hisaya Morishige, Ikuko Yamamoto, Jada Pinkett Smith, John DeMita, John DiMaggio, Kaoru Kobayashi, Keith David, Kiho Iinuma, Makoto Satō, Masahiko Nishimura, Minnie Driver, Mitsuko Mori, Mitsuru Satô, Shiro Saito, Sumi Shimamoto, Takako Katou, Tara Strong, Tetsu Watanabe, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Yayoi Kazuki, Yôji Matsuda, Yoshimasa Kondô, Youji Matsuda, Yûko Tanaka, Yuriko Ishida

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: PG-13

The tragic irony of war — that, if battling soldiers had been born in any other time or place, they may well have been friends with each other — takes center stage in this brilliant drama set in WWII-era Java. It's a theme best encapsulated by Captain Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto in his film debut), the bushido code-following commandant of a Japanese POW camp: “How wonderful it would have been if we could have invited all of you to a gathering under our cherry trees,” he muses to the titular British Lieutenant Lawrence (Tom Conti), one of his prisoners.

Lawrence is the camp’s mediator, and not just because he’s fluent in Japanese; in the culture clash microcosm that is the camp, he is uniquely understanding of his captors’ way of life. That earns him special privileges of sorts from the camp’s often brutal enforcer (Takeshi Kitano), but this pales in comparison to the instant partiality with which the charismatic Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie) enjoys, courtesy of a smitten yet deeply repressed and tormented Yonoi. This psychosexual undercurrent bubbles furiously throughout Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, deepening its (already poignant) lamentations about war’s humanity-stripping effect and the self-imposed prisons that are honor and shame.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Alistair Browning, Arthur Ranford, Colin Francis, Daisuke Iijima, David Bowie, Grant Bridger, Hideo Murota, Hiroshi Mikami, Jack Thompson, Johnny Ohkura, Kan Mikami, Rokkō Toura, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ryūnosuke Kaneda, Takashi Naito, Takeshi Kitano, Tamio Ishikura, Tom Conti, Yūji Honma, Yūya Uchida

Director: Nagisa Ōshima

Rating: R

Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue is a chilling psychological thriller and a fantastic next step for those looking to explore anime’s dark side. Kon animates with Hitchcockian flair and is so successful at memorable compositions that Darren Aronofsky even lifted a scene from this into Requiem for a Dream. 

Mima is a pop idol who abandons her singing career to become an actress. Shaken by a series of murders, and a stalker who knows her every move, she begins to lose her grip on reality. The rest is a riveting ride into Mima’s unraveling psyche in the vein of Mulholland Drive or Black Swan. This 1996 film not only anticipates the reality busting thrillers of the early aughts but also presages the way our identities are splintered across the internet.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Akio Suyama, Emi Motoi, Emi Shinohara, Emiko Furukawa, Hideyuki Hori, Jin Yamanoi, Junko Iwao, Kaori Minami, Kishō Taniyama, Kiyoyuki Yanada, Kōichi Tōchika, Makoto Kitano, Masaaki Okura, Masashi Ebara, Megumi Tano, Osamu Hosoi, Rica Matsumoto, Rofuto Purasu Wan Burazâzu, Shiho Niiyama, Shin-ichiro Miki, Shin'ichirō Miki, Shinpachi Tsuji, Shokkâ Ôno, Soichiro Hoshi, Takashi Nagasako, Teiya Ichiryusai, Tōru Furusawa, Yoku Shioya, Yosuke Akimoto, Yousuke Akimoto

Director: Kou Matsuo, Satoshi Kon

Rating: R

By remaining totally committed to its quiet, drama-free, observational style of documentary filmmaking, Mr. Bachmann and His Class ends up teaching us a whole lot about the way we view educational spaces and difficult students as well. While the titular German teacher is mainly there to teach language, the way he patiently handles disagreement and conflict—reorienting the immature or harmful beliefs they may have learned from home or from elsewhere—is truly inspiring to witness. We never see these home lives and the film's director, Maria Speth, knows better than to romanticize anybody in this classroom. But over the film's lengthy runtime, it really begins to feel like we get to know and understand each of these kids, and to root for their ability to change their views and become more open and appreciative towards one another.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Maria Speth

Visually stunning and energetic, Tekkonkinkreet takes you on a wild ride through the gritty streets of a deteriorating metropolis as it follows two orphaned brothers navigating a world of crime and self-discovery. The animation is an absolute marvel, blending vibrant colors with a unique visual style that immerses you in a surreal urban landscape. But it's the heartfelt story and complex characters that truly shine, exploring themes of friendship, resilience, and the struggle between innocence and corruption. Tekkonkinkreet is a visual feast for the eyes and a poignant exploration of the human connection.

Genre: Animation, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Harumi Asai, Kankuro Kudo, Kazuko Kurosawa, Kazunari Ninomiya, Masahiro Motoki, Mayumi Yamaguchi, Min Tanaka, Miyuki Oshima, Mugihito, Nao Ōmori, Rokuro Naya, Tomomichi Nishimura, Tooru Nara, Toru Nara, Yoshinori Okada, Yu Aoi, Yūki Tamaki, Yûsuke Iseya

Director: Michael Arias

Striking, epic, and occasionally gruesome, Sword of the Stranger is an excellent film about ronin redemption. From the title alone, the film promises and delivers thrilling sword-fighting sequences from the titular stranger Nanashi (or “no name” in Japanese). His bouts with Ming Chinese warriors, as well as the Caucasian Luo-Lang, are so graceful, yet at times, so brutal that it ends with wrecked buildings, copious bleeding, and (on occasion) amputated limbs. However, the gore isn’t what makes these fight scenes work. Nanashi’s will to preserve his honor and self-determination drives the film. It’s the reason why his fight against these invaders feels so compelling. It’s the reason why he reluctantly guards the orphan Kotaro and his cute shiba inu. And when the film finally reveals the cause of that will, rooting for him is inevitable.

Genre: Action, Animation, Drama, History

Actor: Ai Orikasa, Akio Otsuka, Atsushi Ii, Cho, Fumie Mizusawa, Hirofumi Nojima, Hiroshi Shirokuma, Jun Hazumi, Junko Minagawa, Katsuhisa Hôki, Katsuhisa Houki, Kenichi Mochizuki, Kohei Fukuhara, Koichi Yamadera, Maaya Sakamoto, Makoto Yasumura, Mamoru Miyano, Masaki Aizawa, Miyu Matsuki, Naoto Takenaka, Noboru Yamaguchi, Shinya Fukumatsu, Takurou Kitagawa, Tomoya Nagase, Tomoyuki Shimura, Unsho Ishizuka, Yasuhiko Kawazu, Yuki Masuda, Yuri Chinen

Director: Masahiro Ando

Rating: TV-MA

Even before Agnès Varda pivoted to documentary filmmaking, she was a pioneer of French cinema. Her film Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) is one of her most harrowing dramas. 

Varda’s sensibilities as a burgeoning documentarian are apparent as the film opens on the corpse of a woman lying dead in a snow-covered ditch. Through flashbacks, we trace the titular vagabond’s steps to uncover how she ended up alone and dead. The camera follows its subject from a safe distance, as if tracking a wild animal. Alongside the woman, we hitchhike across the French countryside, encountering hostile men, treacherous winter weather, and occasional glimpses of hope, connection, and familiarity. Vagabond succeeds at portraying a complicated woman—Varda understood that women, above all else, are people, with dark interiors, difficult choices, and uncertain impulses. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Macha Méril, Sandrine Bonnaire, Stéphane Freiss, Yolande Moreau

Director: Agnès Varda

Rating: Not Rated

Mind Game is a mind-bending and exhilarating animated film that takes the viewer on a journey through the depths of the human psyche. The story follows a young man who, after a near-death experience, finds himself on a self-discovery journey through surreal and constantly shifting worlds. The film's unconventional and experimental animation style, combined with its complex and philosophical themes, create a truly immersive and unforgettable experience. Admittedly, the story's progression and wild tangents may not be worth it for some viewers. But Yuasa’s signature film (now a cult classic) is a bold and visionary work of art that pushes the boundaries of animation and storytelling.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Jôji Shimaki, Koji Imada, Rintaro Nishi, Sayaka Maeda, Seiko Takuma, Takashi Fujii, Tomomitsu Yamaguchi, Toshio Sakata

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Millennium Actress, from famed animation director Satoshi Kon, is about lives lived and unlived. It follows Chiyoko Fujiwara, an actress from Japan’s golden age of cinema, as she recounts her life to two documentarians making a film about the history of the now-defunct Ginei Studios. Kon employs a metafilm narrative approach, framing Chiyoko’s lifelong search for her great love through the movie roles she has played, all interweaved through Kon’s stunning genre switches and signature match cuts. Millennium Actress poignantly explores the bittersweet irony of “larger-than-life” cinema, how it can contain a multitude of lifetimes and still be lacking, and how films serve as extensions of memories and yearning.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Fumiko Orikasa, Hisako Kyoda, Koichi Yamadera, Mami Koyama, Masane Tsukayama, Masaya Onosaka, Minagawa Junko, Miyoko Shoji, Showko Tsuda, Shozo Iizuka, Tomie Kataoka

Director: Kou Matsuo, Satoshi Kon

Rating: PG

Michael Douglas plays Grady Tripp, a craggy, lovable English professor struggling to finish the follow-up to a very successful first novel. It has taken him 7 years, and it's an obvious metaphor for his ridiculous life. The character navigates various tragicomic dilemmas with a stellar supporting cast including Frances McDormand, Tobey Maguire, and Katie Holmes. His editor is Robert Downey Jr. and his nemesis is Rip Torn. Bob Dylan wrote the theme song. How do you not love this movie? It's one of those films that feels like a warm, cozy house (despite the fact that it takes place in a Pittsburgh winter), and it's a great blend of humor and drama.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alan Tudyk, Bingo O'Malley, Charis Michelsen, Elisabeth Granli, Frances McDormand, George Grizzard, James Ellroy, James Kisicki, Jane Adams, John W. Iwanonkiw, Katie Holmes, Kelly Bishop, Michael Cavadias, Michael Douglas, Philip Bosco, Richard Knox, Richard Thomas, Rip Torn, Rob McElhenney, Robert Downey Jr., Sean King, Tobey Maguire, Victor Quinaz, Yusuf Gatewood

Director: Curtis Hanson

Rating: R

The title of this small-scale comedy drama alludes to an aspect of creativity that isn’t inherently cinematic but which is necessary if you’re going to make anything: just showing up and doing the work. Kelly Reichardt’s filmmaking is in keeping with that focus: this is a gentle movie, full of the patience the art-making process requires and which has always characterized her contributions to “slow cinema.” 

The film is set in a small creative community where the prickly Lizzy (Michelle Williams) works in administration at an arts center and perfects her sculptures for her upcoming solo show. Her efforts are hampered by small daily dramas, though, like the pigeon whose wing her naughty kitty has broken or the friends of her father who lightly exploit his hospitality. And then there’s her neighbor and landlord Jo (Hong Chau), a rising star of an artist who inspires thorny feelings of inadequacy in the only moderately successful Lizzy. Reichardt and Williams deftly explore these insecurities, subtly suggesting that one-sided resentments like Lizzy’s are easily dissolved with a bit of human connection. These gentle moments of insight are rewarding, but it should be noted that your mileage may vary with Showing Up’s insular art world focus and Reichardt’s more unhurried-than-ever pace.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Amanda Plummer, André 3000, Bahni Turpin, Cody Burns, Denzel Rodriguez, Eudora Peterson, Heather Lawless, Hong Chau, Izabel Mar, James Le Gros, Jean-Luc Boucherot, John Magaro, Judd Hirsch, Kevin-Michael Moore, Kristina Haddad, Lauren Lakis, Maryann Plunkett, Matt Malloy, Michelle Williams, Orianna Milne, Sam Kamerman, Teal Sherer, Ted Rooney, Theo Taplitz

Director: Kelly Reichardt

One of Studio Ghibli’s overlooked gems, My Neighbors the Yamadas is a charming anthology film about a modern-day Japanese family. The film sets itself apart from other Ghibli films through its unique doodle-like watercolor animation and its short piano themes. While the vignettes may just depict regular family conflicts, the scenes still feel compelling due to the Yamadas’ imagination of the metaphors that they use. Exaggerating the metaphors keeps the audience breathless in certain strategic moments - most notably in the wedding day speech of the mother of the bride. While not as fantastical as Ghibli’s other offerings, the completely digital My Neighbors the Yamadas finds humor in and celebrates the mundane.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family

Actor: Akiko Yano, Chôchô Miyako, Hayato Isohata, Masako Araki, Naomi Uno, Tamao Nakamura, Toru Masuoka, Yukiji Asaoka

Director: Isao Takahata

Rating: PG

A beautiful enigma from start to finish, Angel's Egg follows a young girl carrying a large egg through a desolate, post-apocalyptic world. She meets a young boy who helps her on her journey, and together they search for answers about the egg and the world they inhabit. Filled with religious symbolism, it teeters between a story about the creation of the universe and a meditation on the nature of faith and belief. From director Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), this largely wordless film relies on its surreal and enigmatic dark visuals and atmosphere to tell its story. Heavy with silence and shadows, this disturbingly stunning film is up for interpretation. 

Genre: Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Mystery

Actor: Jinpachi Nezu, Keiichi Noda, Mako Hyodo, Mako Hyoudou

Director: Mamoru Oshii