Every Pokemon Movie Ranked, From Worst To The Best There Ever Was
You gotta watch 'em all!
In 2019 Pokémon is taking its franchise in so many new directions: into our dreams with Pokémon Sleep, into the sometimes freakishly real world with Detective Pikachu, and announced today, the somewhat unnerving Dynamax Phenomenon, the new mechanic in the soon to be released 8th gen games Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield — which sees Pokémon in specific areas of the Galar region take on gigantic appearances and grow tremendously strong.
With all these new changes coming to Pokémon it’s made me a bit nostalgic for what Pokémon media used to be. Simple, uncomplicated, just a couple of games, a mobile app, and more movies than the entire MCU as it currently stands.
Yeah, that’s right, there’s 23 Pokémon movies.
And for nostalgia’s sake, and in the completionist’s spirit of the original Poké rap,
I’ve gotta watch (and rank) ‘em all.
I mean, Wynaut?
Sword and Shield aren’t available until November.
23. Hoopa And The Clash of Ages
It’s as though Michael Bay’s directed a Pokémon movie, except replace the gratuitous sexualisation of Megan Fox and explosions with Hoopa Unbound pulling legendary Pokémon in from around the multiverse. The eighteenth film of the Pokémon anime and ultimately the most tedious.
22. Pokémon Ranger And The Temple Of The Sea
Running for 1 hour and 45 minutes, Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea is currently the longest Pokémon movie made-to-date (tied with Detective Pikachu) and boy, does it feel like it.
It continues the long-held Pokémon tradition of Ash and friends having to protect a special Pokémon from would-be kidnappers, except this time there’s water! And not much else!
While the underwater scenery is beautiful; inspired by some real life Roman ruins, Pokémon Ranger suffers from a far too baby-ish Manaphy and a shoe-horned in Kyogre cameo to pad the LPPM (Legendary Pokémon Per Minute), for a time the Pokémon Company’s signature move.
21. Diancie And The Cocoon Of Destruction
Stagnation isn’t just the thematic foil of the Carbink’s and the Diamond Domain’s peril, at this point in time it was also a real fear for the franchise.
While Pokémon has done simple stories well in the past, Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction takes that simplicity and… nah-dah. While this is certainly the film that handles Mega Evolution the best, but there’s little to write home (or to Junkee) about.
20/19. Black (Victini and Reshiram) & White (Victini and Zekrom)
Though Pokémon games tend to come in near identical pairs, the Pokémon Company gone-done-did a mix-up creating Black & White. Essentially the same movie just with interchanging legendaries and very little else to keep them apart. I watched both movies, and lemme tell you this cookie-cutter plot is not a story that warrants being watched twice.
18. Kyurem vs the Sword of Justice
Ash and friends are relegated to near bystanders as Keldeo, the D’Artagnan of the Swords of Justice (Virizion, Terrakion, and Cobalion) sets off to learn the Sacred Sword Move. Derailing the usual Ash-train to focus on someone else, especially a Pokémon protagonist, is an idea I’d be a lot more interested in if Keldeo wasn’t so — in the words of Ru Paul — meh.
17. Arceus and the Jewel of Life
This movie has completely nonsensical time travel mechanics that will irk me to the grave.
16. Genesect and the Legend Awakened
The movie’s setting is “New Tork City.” Despite this, I am here for Mega evolved fem Mewtwo with the power of a thousand TM Overheats.
15. Jirachi Wish Maker
Feeding on from the above idea of a protagonist Pokémon, while Jirachi Wish Maker suffers from pacing issues, (with very little happening until the last half hour) the film is improved by the presence of Flygon and Absol; two ordinary Pokémon that for once, play pivotal roles alongside Ash & friends in saving the day from a freshly tentacles fake Groudon.
*Full disclosure, I named by favourite pet chicken growing up after the titular Jirachi of this film.
14. Giratina and the Sky Warrior
Giratina’s Reverse World by itself is a visual spectacle, though a very paint by numbers Pokémon film as far as action goes. Its connection to Rise of Darkrai is unique in the Pokéverse, and in watching both, adds a little more to the film and Giratina’s character that bumps it up the list.
13. I Choose You
I Choose You is a complete factory reset on the Pokémon franchise (anime included), and while I did enjoy it, it was never a concept I was wholly brought into to begin with.
In saying this, the updated animation is gorgeous and served both the quieter and more action based aspects of the film well. Essentially, the entire film is a nice call back to the first episode of the anime where Ash spots Ho-Oh flying through the sky.
A nice ‘what if’ moment in the franchise for fans.
12. Destiny Deoxys
Unfortunately, this movie uses a lot of CGI, which hasn’t dated well, particularly when it’s used for living Pokémon.
That being said, it wasn’t too distracting when the strong story and characters came into play. Deoxys is alien in the most complimentary way. The real strength of this film is Deoxys’ attempts to communicate (through electromagnetic fields and elaborate lights) and trying to navigate our world filled with erratic displays of both.
Once again Pokémon comes through with the lesson that it’s better to befriend a Pokémon than defeat them in battle. PETA can stop sending letters now.
11. Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel
Another power-hungry person is trying to capture and use a legendary Pokémon’s power for their own machinations.
But the steampunk is strong with this once, and engaging legendaries put it a step above some other films. Volcanion’s grumpiness and cynicism is a nice change of pace for the usual cutesy mythical Pokémon found in these films. His relationship with the sweet Magearna was especially charming.
Both legendaries have great personality where most have none.
10. Pokémon 4Ever
On the scale of villainy, Pokémon 4Ever’s Iron Masked Marauder is more of a Malekith than a Killmonger.
This is a time travel story with surprisingly little time travel, (though given how Pokémon handles time travel that’s probably for the better). Ash does have a genuinely nice relationship though with ‘Sam’ (Spoilers) Young Professor Oak, which blew my mind as a ten-year-old, but rewatching now — how did I not see it?
9. Zoroark – Master of Illusions
Fast paced with abundant but interesting and clear action, back dropped by a city with streets and canals based upon towns in the Netherlands and Belgium, Zoroark- Master of Illusions is pretty darn beautiful, especially the scenes were Celebi flies through the town revitalising and adding colour to the trees and flowers.
8. Pokémon The Movie: The Power of Us
When it comes to Pokémon battles I wanna be at an Ash’s Metapod vs Samurai’s Metapod level of hardness.
I am horny for a Hyper beam, craving a critical hit. The modern animation and CGI pulls its weight in this somewhat overstuffed film, so naturally the battles are breath-taking, the settings stunning.
Expanding out the Pokémon cast to a series of near perfect strangers was interesting but, is something I can see be better served by an anthology series or something akin to The Animatrix (2003).
7. The Rise of Darkrai
Although framed around the usual Pokémon song and dance of a battle between two legendaries, The Rise of Darkrai takes its time with a smaller story for its namesake.
Darkrai, who is a nightmare causing Pokémon continually feared and ostracised, is the only one able to save the small nearby town from unintended destruction.
Sympathetic, emotional, resonant. I didn’t expect to like this flick, turns out looks can be deceiving.
6. Pokémon the First Movie
I’m not afraid of stoking controversy if it means I can say the truth.
Pokémon the First Movie is a bad movie. The plot is holier than our Lord Helix, (praise him) but it’s lifted up by the short Pikachu’s Special Vacation, the cute beginning with Dragonair, and the downright AWESOMENESS of a philosophising Mewtwo.
Ash for the most part has a realistic role to play that isn’t gratuitous and highlights the best aspects of his character. A bad good movie then, you can pry Pokémon the First Movie from the carpal tunnelled fingers.
5. Pokémon – The Movie 2000
Ash being the predictable Chosen One is probably the least interesting aspect of this film, but luckily it is not a considerable part of Pokémon 2000.
Simple journey, yet the sheer scale of the film is what bumps it up above other Pokémon Movies soon to mimic this plot. The epic scope of the three Legendary birds’ vs Lugia still held up pretty well in my eyes, though there is a weird scene where Zapdos and Pikachu communicate via shock play, I mean…okay?
4. Lucario and the Mystery of Mew
I’m a sucker for platonic love in fiction, and while friendship in general is a heavy theme in Pokémon, none of the other movies focus on that quite as intensely and emotionally as this one does. The relationship between Aaron and Lucario champions this more character driven story.
In a twist for Pokémon flicks, there’s no real villain at all, just Mew being mischievous and a giant Tree’s immune system regarding humans as invaders.
Ash too is at his best in this flick, actually being able to be both a kid and a real character, squirming restlessly during a long ceremony, giddy about getting to dress up as a legendary hero, Ash is at his best when he’s more personable, and the conflicts he needs to face are smaller in scale.
3. Detective Pikachu
Much to my surprise (but still delight) the recently released Detective Pikachu finds its way quite far up this Poké list.
While being a step by step detective plot ripped right from the Detective Pikachu game, this film, artistically is a breath of fresh air for Pokémon fans, both in sensibility and in form. It’s charming. Damnit, Detective Pikachu is charming.
Bill Nighly is Mewtwo and Pikachu says ‘nipples’. I’m here for it.
2. Pokémon Heroes
Pokémon Heroes begins as a fun light-hearted action that grows more sombre as the movie goes on, developing into a pretty dramatic film with poignancy.
It brings to the forefront by far the most endearing pair of legendary Pokémon, Latios and Latias, who, without saying a word, have real character and personality. The two of them are strongly emotive and sympathetic, and both develop great relationships with our boy Ash.
Anne and Oakley (I see what you did there Pokémon) are fun villains, great foils to Team Rocket and while this story is essentially the familiar ‘villain wants a legendaries power, Ash and company must stop them’, it takes its time developing characters and relationships so this plot carries more weight.
Bonus: I can remember clearly how blown my seven-year-old mind was by Latias kissing Ash (still into it).
1. Pokémon 3: Spell of the Unown
Coming back to Spell of the Unown, I expected the A+ soundtrack, but was surprised by just how emotionally resonate this movie is; dealing in a very surreal way with grief and loss rather than any world ending cataclysm.
It is by far the tightest and most compelling Pokémon movie plot wise. It has the best antagonist in Molly; a lonely grieving girl who with unfathomable power tries to bring back her lost parents.
Spell of the Unown is film that even through rose tinted glasses I didn’t expect to come out on top. Yet, with the pragmatic transition lenses of reality I now wear today, I can see that I didn’t really appreciate it as much as a kid that I should have and can now as an adult.
An adult that is childishly excited for Sword and Shield available for preorder now, and releasing November 15th.
Jes Layton is @AGeekwithaHat, writing, drawing and discussing queer-nerdy things in Melbourne.