15. Giratina and the Sky Warrior (2008)
The middle entry in the Sinnoh trilogy (also including The Rise of Darkrai and Arceus and the Jewel of Life) is fittingly middling.
While the continuity with The Rise of Darkrai is welcomed, Giratina and the Sky Warrior has too many familiar tropes for it to stand on its own. From the underwhelming villain to the film culminating in a big floating thing in the sky – it all falls short because it has been seen before.
In contrast to a lot of Pokémon movies, the legendary Pokémon here are at least enjoyable, with Shaymin bringing some much-needed humour to the film with its playful jabs at Ash and Giratina granting access to the “distortion world”.
Giratina’s home world doesn’t abide by the laws of physics and is presented in an interesting and memorable way, and had it been featured more prominently this film could have ranked higher up in this list. As it is, not even the debut of colossal Pokémon Regigigas (that rivals Kyogre as the franchise’s most shoehorned legendary Pokémon) can boost this entry beyond its mini-franchise brethren and into our top 10.
14. The Power of Us (2018)
The second in the Pokémon franchise’s rebooted series of films, The Power of Us offers a brand-new story that avoids re-treading previous moments. This means that lots of new faces are introduced, most memorably Callaghan who just wants to impress his daughter, though there are arguably too many new people to care about, resulting in a story that is a bit too busy.
As a sequel to I Choose You, The Power of Us has barely any continuity. Viewers will be left to question why Ash only has Pikachu when surely a skilled trainer would have multiple Pokémon by now. Even his Charizard from the last film is absent.
The film’s constant cheesy dialogue occasionally makes it sickly sweet, so there are positives to be found beyond the visuals and fresh take on the universe.
For people looking for a wholesome comfort watch, this might be any Pokémon fan’s best bet.
13. I Choose You! (2017)
Starting where many of our own journeys with Pokémon started – at the beginning of the anime when Ash first meets Pikachu – I Choose You! may officially be its own standalone story surrounding Ho-oh, a legendary Pokémon Ash sees at the start of his adventure, but it follows story beats so familiar that any fan of Pokémon from any era will find things to enjoy in this 2017 release.
Like most other modern Pokémon films, I Choose You! is animated very well, particularly during the battle sequences. Some of the new characters are serviceable and at times even likable, which in of itself enhances this film’s watchability compared to many of its franchise cohorts.
The film’s biggest flaw is that it doesn’t live up to its potential and fails to take full advantage of its alternate continuity. With so much potential to tweak the formula and explore new themes, it’s a real shame that so little thought is put into out-of-the-box ideas here, that I Choose You! could have just as easily been a part of the original canon with only a few minor tweaks.
As a jumping on point for new fans, I Choose You! works well. For older fans however, the repetition of iconic moments from the original series might prove a bit inauthentic.
12. Jirachi – Wish Maker (2003)
Wish Maker begins strong with a unique opening sequence – instead of a battle, the credits play over the setup of a festival. It feels mystical and otherworldly, almost as if Ash and the gang have stumbled across something they shouldn’t have. Soon enough this setting is abandoned as the film transforms into a road trip to find Jirachi’s home.
The titular Jirachi, who wakes every 1000 years and can grant wishes, is underwhelming. When it isn’t repeating everything Max says in an attempt to be cute, it is fast asleep making you wonder what the point of focusing the entire film on it was. Controversially, Wish Maker also makes annoying, smug, know-it-all side character Max the lead protagonist, not only frustrating die-hards but making for a less enjoyable experience for casual viewers too. These are choices that speak to the poor creative decisions around the writers’ table, fan-favourite May even being reduced to an annoying side character as Wish Maker evolves.
This 2003 release is far from poor, however, Wish Maker acting as a phenomenal showcase for some popular Hoenn Pokémon, such as Absol and Flygon. The chief antagonist Butler is a decent villain too, with clear motives that thrust the action forward, his belief in his own philosophies anchoring this Pokémon entry in at least some form of traditional filmmaking standard.
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11. Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel (2016)
The final X and Y film, Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel is a significant improvement over the previous two.
Volcanion makes for an interesting poster‘mon. His role as a guardian of abused Pokémon makes him a character worthy of investment. His relationship with Magearna feels meaningful too, forming an emotional hook for fans and casuals alike to latch onto.
Team Rocket, usually confined to spots of comedy relief, are given active roles which is nice to see, with Meowth especially feeling integral to the third act. His emotional response to the climax is representative of a level of maturity found throughout the film, something most obvious when a Gulpin’s backstory hits notes of trauma and abuse; topics usually too dark for the world of Pokémon.
The highlight of the film is an astonishing siege scene on a floating castle. Here, all of the heroes’ Pokémon take out enemies in the most badass way – this final X and Y entry proving itself as a love letter for fans of the series, with each of the anime’s most popular characters getting their moments to shine.
Despite the positives, Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel does fall into some of the traps of the wider Pokémon franchise, the vast majority of humans being somewhere between uninteresting and useless, and the story lacking any sense of originality compared to its fellow franchise entries. There is also an argument to be made that the flashy new mechanic of the XY era – the mega evolutions of Pokémon – may have been forced into this film, the nuance of the game-canon’s rule of them being mysterious phenomenon (used narratively to explores the bonds between trainers and Pokémon) being lost to a serious case of overkill.