9. Destiny Deoxys (2004)
Another Hoenn based film that starts strong, Destiny Deoxys’ opening battle between Rayquaza and Deoxys is the intense kaiju-like power-battle that fantasy enthusiasts cannot help but to love.
Strangely, a lot of the Pokémon movies prior to this 2004 release featured very little by the way of battling, and Destiny Deoxys tries its best to rectify that. Equally, this entry is the most sci-fi-adjacent of the series, with the titular Deoxys being a Pokémon from outter space, and the setting of the high-tech LaRousse City being at the film’s forefront.
After its strong first act, Destiny Deoxys may lost some steam – there is only so much running away from mindless Deoxys drones that one person can take before it becomes stale and repetitive, and a number of unfunny and forgettable side characters don’t do much to help the cause – but with a villain worthy of investment and battling at the forefront, there are reasons to enjoy this Pokémon franchise entry beyond it being just another Pokémon movie.
8. Pokémon 4Ever (2001)
Pokémon tackles time travel for the first time in Pokémon 4Ever with the introduction of Celebi – a cute nymph-like creature that evades capture in the past by travelling to the present day.
Here, Celebi accidentally brings along Sam, a young trainer overwhelmed by a world he doesn’t recognise. Unlike every other character introduced in the film, Sam is likeable and adds weight to the plot – his friendship with Ash is enjoyable too, the pair successfully sharing the film’s spotlight.
The villain of this film is nothing to marvel at, but there is more to enjoy in its quieter moments as opposed to when the plot is propelled. 4Ever is one of those “about the journey, not the destination” movies – scenes such as Ash and Sam witnessing a swarm of Metapod evolve remains memorable, magical even – though the destination itself is one that blew the minds of children everywhere when it first came out. To this day, the surprise conclusion to 4Ever remains one of the biggest developments in the whole of the Pokémon anime.
Though criticism can be levelled at 4Ever for being the first Pokémon film to shoehorn in a legendary, this time in the form of Suicune, and the film suffers from clunky pacing and terrible 3D animation (the intimidation on offer from the antagonist in the final act looks like a floating coconut more than an impressive show of Pokémon force), the memorable moments outweigh this inadvertent comedy for the most part, situating this 2001 release in our number 8 spot.
7. Zoroark: Master of Illusions (2010)
Pokémon made a film about a rich business tycoon who spreads fake news to make one particular group look intimidating while pursuing his own evil desires, and it was released 7 years before the Trump administration was elected into office…
Real world comparisons aside, Zoroark: Master of Illusions has the rare privilege among Pokémon films of featuring an effective villain. Grings Kodai’s threat feels genuine, his toned-back design making him just that bit more believable, making for one of the franchise’s very best antagonists.
In Master of Illusions, most of the other human beings are nothing more than average – which admittedly is better than a lot of Pokémon entries listed thus far – but the Pokémon themselves are interesting. The titular Zoroark’s illusionary powers are creative and lead to some clever fake-out moments and an excuse for the animation team to stretch themselves, while its pre-evolved form Zorua has an identifiable backstory and is likeable enough.
This Pokémon film does suffer from the same “explain too much” philosophy that hinders much of the franchise from excelling into the realms of all-time greats, but for what it is this Pokémon film is very strong.
6. The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (1998)
The first big screen adventure for Ash and company was released at the height of Pokémania. The term “Pokeflu” was coined in reference to the large number of children who skipped school to see this 1998 release on its opening day. Even in 2021, The First Movie remains the biggest earner the anime movie franchise has ever produced, amassing $163,644,662 at the worldwide box office and holding the record as the highest grossing anime film of all time in the United States.
On the screen, the Pokémon anime series’ heroes receive an anonymous invitation to New Island with the promise of meeting the world’s greatest Pokémon trainer. Ash, being his usual hot-headed self, sees this as a golden opportunity to finally achieve his goal: being the very best (like no one ever was). After overcoming obstacles, the real meat of this Pokémon story begins, the “greatest trainer” being revealed to be a Pokémon itself: Mewtwo, a genetically engineered Pokémon with a hatred for humanity (think Koba from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes).
Mewtwo is easily the star of the show. His surprisingly well-rounded motivation outshines every other character in the film, and places him firmly at the top of the franchise’s best villains list. His detached sentimentality and cold demeanour make for a Pokémon that just oozes with bad-assery. This is, to date, the finest example of a Pokémon refusing to be owned by a human, opening up some borderline philosophical discussion in the process.
Jay Goede provides an intimidating voice for the character, delivering a memorable speech at the end of the film that has undoubtedly stayed in children’s hearts for years. For their first step into theatres, Pokémon could have done a lot worse.
Recommended for you: Planet of the Apes Movies Ranked
5. Arceus and the Jewel of Life (2009)
In Arceus and the Jewel of Life, Pokémon foregoes flirtations with time travel in 2001’s Pokémon 4Ever and dives in head first.
In the present, the legendary Pokémon Arceus returns to punish humanity for a betrayal in the past. With the help of Dialga, the heroes are sent back in time to prevent this from happening.
As a time travel film, there are likely a lot of holes to poke; but who is thinking that hard about a Pokémon film? Besides, the time travel logic can be set aside when the story is one of the most consistently engaging in the series.
Getting a look at an ancient world, where Pokémon are referred to as magical creatures, is interesting and adds a lot of lore of the franchise. The idea of setting an entire film in this period will undoubtedly be an attractive one for many after watching Jewel of Life.
Occasionally the script is exposition-heavy, although that is to be expected when you’re writing a time travel film aimed at children. Arceus’ voice leaves a lot to be desired too – in the games, Arceus is the literal God of all Pokémon, so his voice is naturally expected to be deeper and more in line with other depictions of God in media, but is instead presented as if a villain from the old Spider-Man cartoons (all he is missing is a moustache to twirl). The poor casting simply doesn’t match the spiritual design.
Not absent of holes by any means, but a lot of fun for those invested in Pokémon or enjoyable time travel anime, Jewel of Life is a genuinely great conclusion to the Sinnoh trilogy, with satisfying ties to the previous entries and standalone levels of closure for fans unwilling to watch all 22 Pokémon movies.