The classic anime movie from Studio Ghibli, My Neighbor Totoro, generated the vast majority of its income from merch and DVD sales.

In an era when DVD and VHS still dominated the home media market, My Neighbor Totoro was able to generate over one billion dollars from merchandise sales.  

Mei Kusakabe smiles pouncing on her sister and father
My Neighbor Totoro/Studio Ghibli/Netflix Anime YouTube channel

Merchandise and DVD sales propelled My Neighbor Totoro to superstardom

The highest-grossing anime movie of all time is 2020s Demon Slayer: Mugen Train which earned over $507 million at the global box office, but back in the day anime productions generated most of their income from merch and post-premiere sales.

My Neighbor Totoro was developed on a reported budget of around $3.7 million and premiered first in Japanese cinemas on April 16, 1988. The film became an instant cult classic for anime fans and followers of director Miyazaki’s work within the domestic audience; however, the movie was still only barely able to break even with ¥588 million at the Japanese box office – that’s around $4.1 million, not adjusted for inflation.

In fact, out of its $41 million global box office collection, My Neighbor Totoro would earn the majority of its revenue from its staggered international release, with the movie being particularly successful in the United States and France.

However, the incredible legacy of My Neighbor Totoro would instead be defined by its post-production marketing strategy and partnerships.

By 2018, the DVD/VHS sales, clothing deals, toy lines, licensing agreements and everything associated merchandise had generated more than $1.1 billion worldwide!

Before inflation, that’s a jaw-dropping increase in generated income between the box office and the global merchandise sales of 2582%.

Based on the outstanding success of My Neighbor Totoro post-premiere, the movie would become one of Japan’s most-beloved titles with its titular character later used as the main mascot for Studio Ghibli themselves. 

The 15 highest-grossing anime movies from Japan

Whilst My Neighbor Totoro is one of the most well-known and recognizable Japanese movies ever produced, the film’s box office earnings are a fraction of the income generated by more modern productions.

The top 15 highest-grossing Japanese movies of all time at the global box office, include:

  1. Demon Slayer: Mugen Train (2020) – $507 million
  2. Spirited Away (2001) – $395 million
  3. Your Name (2016) – $382 million
  4. Suzume (2022) – $322 million
  5. The First Slam Dunk (2022) – $258 million
  6. One Piece Film: Red (2022) – $246 million
  7. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) – $237 million
  8. Ponyo (2008) – $204 million
  9. Jujutsu Kaisen 0 (2021) – $196 million
  10. Weathering with You (2019) – $193 million
  11. Stand by Me Doraemon (2014) – $183 million
  12. Pokémon: The First Movie (1998) – $172 million
  13. Princess Mononoke (1997) – $170 million
  14. Bayside Shakedown 2 (2003) – $164 million
  15. The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) – $149 million

Remarkably, but certainly not unsurprisingly, there is just one live-action movie on this list (Bayside Shakedown 2), with the rest being all anime productions.

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