As of 2016, there are nineteen official Pokémon films tied to the anime, or twenty if you count the TV sequel to the first movie. I have watched all of them and originally plotted to rank all twenty of them from worst to best. But, that would take a lifetime and previous attempts to write this article led to repeating myself. So, this article instead tackles the ten best Pokémon films.
A lot of them follow the same basic formula – Ash Ketchum and friends cross path with a couple of legendary Pokémon, who are the key to a villain’s evil schemes to unleash some sort of apocalyptic catastrophe, and Ash must save the day. Rinse and repeat, but the films are still enjoyable. Without further ado.
10. Pokémon Heroes
The fifth film Pokémon Heroes is actually one of my favourites of the franchise, but it falls at the number ten spot for how ludicrous its plot becomes. Two thieves working for Team Rocket go to the Venetian-like city of Alto Mare to harness a doomsday weapon, and need the city’s dragon guardians Latias and Latios to power it. Ash happens to be touring the city, crossing paths with Latias after rescuing her from the thieves and has to save the day when Latios and a magical jewel containing the soul of their dad are captured to power said doomsday machine.
The first two acts are good, changing the pace by having Ash chase down the plot rather than just happening to be around at the right time, and I love Latias and Latios. But the implausibility of the doomsday weapon’s power becomes increasingly stupid. How does it resurrect fossils as zombies, waterbend, and control the city’s magic lockdown system without anyone knowing about it? It may be through the MacGuffin but it is never said onscreen, and if they were going for nuance, it wasn’t handled well.
9. Destiny Deoxys
The seventh film is a city thriller which involves a self-cloning alien and an angry dragon. Destiny Deoxys is set in a futuristic city where the alien Deoxys appears and begins kidnapping people whilst pursued by Rayquaza, who wants Deoxys dead for hitting it when the alien crashlanded on Earth. Ash and co. survive the city lockdown and try to understand Deoxys’ motive, which turn out to be quite lovely.
What I like the most about the film is the supporting character Tory, who has a fear of Pokémon brought on by a traumatic childhood incident, going through an arc trying to get over his phobia with help from Ash and friends. Deoxys also makes a fascinating character, but Rayquaza’s presence is kind of pointless.
8. The Rise of Darkrai
The first part of the only trilogy in the Pokémon movies, The Rise of Darkrai was a good starting point for the Diamond & Pearl era of films. Dialga and Palkia, the Gods of Time and Space, accidentally cross paths and start fighting, sucking a small town into another dimension to stage their epic case of “get off my lawn!”. There is also Darkrai, the town’s bogeyman who gets involved in the brawl but it causes the dream world to start blending into reality.
It is awesome to have the equivalent of a Kaiju movie in the Pokémon world, with a genuine feel of peril for the characters, and the method of ending the monster mash is certainly original. Darkrai may not be the most interesting of characters, but his entrance in the film is cool, mainly thanks to the accompanying dramatic score.
7. Giratina and the Sky Warrior
Part two of the Diamond & Pearl trilogy, Giratina and the Sky Warrior has a bit of a crammed plot but has a lot going for it. Dialga this time bumps into Giratina, God of the Reverse World, causing the anti-matter ghost dragon to start targeting Shaymin, a cute but snarky hedgehog Pokémon who gets dragged into their brawl. Shaymin meets Ash, Brock, and Dawn, forcing them to escort him to the Flower Garden. But the badguy Zero wants to capture Shaymin because he can somehow do something to allow Giratina to destroy Earth because Zero hates it for some reason.
Despite the flaws of the plot, the film is good, mainly because Giratina is a cool Pokémon and Shaymin is a breath of fresh air after most of the other “cute” legendaries are just that: cute and nothing else. Shaymin is snarky, obnoxious, self-centered and a bit of an egomaniac. And yet he is pretty likeable, maybe because he is so different from others like Mew and Celebi. They tried doing different things with Zorua and Hoopla too, but Shaymin definitely stands out amongst the crowd.
6. Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel
I watched the newly released nineteenth film a week ago and absolutely loved it. A similar amount of love and care went into the story like those of the first three films. Ash becomes literally joined at the hip to the legendary Volcanion, who is on a mission to rescue his mechanical friend Magearna from a nearby kingdom. Though the naïve prince wants to understand Magearna’s technology, the obviously evil chancellor wants to use her “soul heart” to unlock the kingdom’s ancient flying fortress. However, the heart of the film lies between Magearna, Volcanion, and Ash, introducing a setting home to abandoned or abused Pokémon, seen only a couple of times – strangely, often with the Fire-type Pokémon that Ash captures. I also love the charming theme song.
5. Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea
The ninth film was the first outing for the then-new cast following the unfair sacking of the original, but I came to like the new cast years ago. Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea has another complicated plot, but is a charming film with great visuals and good storytelling. A Pokémon Ranger named Jack Walker steals an egg from the pirate called the Phantom, the egg containing the legendary Manaphy, who can lead Jack to the Temple of the Sea, which Manaphy can control. Walker takes refuge with people who are descendants of the temple’s builders, but Ash, Brock, May, and Max soon arrive to get involved in the plot. However, when Manaphy hatches, it bonds with May as a parental figure, leading to the inevitable conclusion that they will have to part ways.
The best element of the film is the relationship between May and Manaphy, a mother-child bond that is born heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Walker knows they will have to be split up, which makes it hard when May has been teaching Manaphy to speak English and the adorable Pokémon quickly becoming attached to her. The villain Phantom is quite cool, escaping the cliché of the bumbling pirate but is rather a competent, scheming and ruthless character. If I had any complaints, it is the film drags a little in the third act, and some cel animation during the underwater scenes are poor.
4. Pokémon the First Movie
We have previously reviewed Pokémon the First Movie on this website, giving it a mixed review. However, with each viewing, Mewtwo Strikes Back does get better and better. Though it still suffers from clunky writing and that god awful contrived moral about how fighting is wrong, the film is good. Mewtwo makes for a compelling villain, and the film has a surprisingly dark story of self-identity, science got wrong, and how far one will go to push their ideals. Plus, there are ton of great moments like Ash’s sacrifice, Meowth’s surprising words of wisdom, Pikachu refusing to fight his clone, Team Rocket dressed as vikings, Mewtwo’s tragic origin story. As a whole, the film isn’t spectacular, but this opinion is greatly based on nostalgia and the film remains a classic in my eyes.
3. Pokémon 2000
We have also reviewed the second film. In terms of spectacle, Pokémon 2000 is the best. A sheer, epic adventure that is technically a disaster film and has a worldwide sense of drama to it. We have numerous subplots and points of view from various characters. The badguy is pretty fun as preposterous as his motives and flying fortress are. Lugia has a lot of Christ symbolism going on, but is a majestic Pokémon, as are Moltres, Zapdos, and Articuno when they are not beating the hell out of each other. The plot twist revealing Ash is the chosen one really is silly, but who cares, it is a children’s movie. Team Rocket being heroes is one of the many highlights of the film. It also has great animation and a memorable score. Great stuff.
2. Lucario and the Mystery of Mew
A bit of an underrated film, but Lucario and the Mystery of Mew has one of the best plots and character growth out of the whole film. While Ash’s relationship with Pikachu remains a major focus of the film, it’s real plot focuses around the time displaced Lucario trying to discover why his friend Sir Aaron betrayed and imprisoned him. There is also Mew, who dwells at the Tree of Beginnings, unintentionally kidnapping Pikachu and Meowth as his playmates, prompting Ash to head for the tree led by Lucario.
Over the film, we focus on Lucario’s past and troubled feelings towards Ash and his own abandonment issues. Things get quite interesting when we reach the third act, with the tree revealed to be alive to an extent, attacking the characters with red blood cell-like organisms and the three Regi Pokémon are on hand to add some extra fun to the proceedings. On a sadder note, this was the last film the original cast dubbed before their unfair replacing.
1. Spell of the Unown
It had to be this one. Pokémon 3: The Movie, also known as Spell of the Unown, is a film I would consider flawless apart from minor plotholes. Beautifully animated, great writing, a fantastic plot and characters with actual depth. The story involves a little girl named Molly Spencer whose parents both disappeared in connection to the Unown. Molly’s tears summon the Unown, who use their cosmic powers to tap in Molly’s dreams and bringing them into the real world. Her house is transformed into a crystal castle, and she receives a protector in the form of a devoted Entei stylised after her father. So, in short, the Unown are playing out this poor girl’s PTSD! And everything that happens in the film comes from various elements of Molly’s psyche. As Linkara described it, this is Silent Hill in the Pokémon universe.
As for Ash, it becomes a particularly personal adventure for him when his mother Delia is kidnapped by Entei so Molly can have a maternal figure in her life. Jeez. This film is even more messed up than the first one. And it is even more awesome. Ash and his friends are just often conveniently in the right place at the right time, but this time, it is a personal mission for our twerpy heroes. Molly and Entei are fantastic anti-villains, one a troubled girl who needs a good therapist and yet takes advantage of the powers granted to her despite remaining an innocent figure, and the other is a dedicated guardian who will do whatever his ward wants regardless of how dark or horrifying it is. Oh, and Entei is voiced by Dan Green. Need I say more?
And the battles are the best in the series. I love the fantastic underwater fight between Misty and Molly. That is what a Pokémon battle should feel like, fast-paced and exciting. And don’t get me started on that epic Charizard vs. Entei fight. Then there is that more sensible message of knowing when to stop a fight, appropriately enforced when Entei tries to execute Charizard and Molly steps in to end her substitute father’s rampage. The stakes are high, realistic, and even foreshadowed, Ash is at his best in the film without needing to be some dumb chosen one, everyone gets to do something, and throughout the film, there is this really touching relationship based around Molly and her would-be parents. Damn, I love this movie! You can check out our review of the film here.
What is your favourite Pokémon movie and why do you love it so much? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed.