Dragon Ball Z is of the most beloved anime in the history of the medium. When it first appeared, there was nothing quite like it. Since its inception, the franchise has gone on to inspire anime after anime. The tropes found in early Dragon Ball Z, are still used to this day in other shows. Dragon Ball, along with its sequels, has garnered millions of fans worldwide. Lasting for several decades already, Dragon Ball shows absolutely no sign of slowing down.
Back when Dragon Ball Z was starting, the show’s creators realized the goldmine they had. To that end they opted to make animated movies to accompany the show. With nearly 20 movies made, and more to come, the result was varied. Some films featured some of Dragon Ball’s most iconic moments and villains, while others floundered and failed to add anything substantive. A few of the movies are often repeat stories of whichever saga they happen to be in, think Cooler and Frieza, and Super Android 13 and Cell. Yet the biggest problem is most of the movies are considered outside of DBZ canon; there are one or two exceptions. Regardless, today at CBR we’re ranking 15 of the best Dragon Ball Z movies.
15 BROLY - SECOND COMING
The legendary Super Saiyan, Broly is one of Dragon Ball Z’s most popular characters. Despite having practically no personality whatsoever and being nothing more than a lumbering, monosyllabic, engine of destruction, Western audiences love the beefed up Saiyan. In spite of being nearly as bland as Bio-Broly where storytelling is concerned, Broly - Second Coming is an unabashed action flick through and through. You don’t need to know anything going in except Broly is back and he’s eager to kick butt.
The movie’s first half is a little slow, but the second half lets you sit back and enjoy Broly beating the heck out of Gohan. The action is actually really strong here; this is one of the few instances Adult Gohan gets the spotlight. Goten and Trunks also fight, somehow Videl doesn’t die, and then Goku shows up, having the three Son family members deliver an epic and iconic Family Kamehameha.
14 LORD SLUG
For the longest while, Piccolo was Dragon Ball’s resident Namekian. Lord Slug attempted to bring a return to the idea of a Namekian villain, reminding us of Dragon Ball’s King Piccolo…with mixed results. Essentially, Slug shows up and takes over Earth. The story was unoriginal, but it did provide insight about the history of Namek and Super Namekians. Also, Piccolo didn’t feel like the odd man out for once.
There are some cool fight sequences with Piccolo, Gohan, etc. but it’s Goku’s False Super Saiyan transformation that gets top mention here. In the lead up to Super Saiyan, but with zero clue about how it would look, Toei ran with their best guess as to how they thought Super Saiyan would turn out. If anything, it only made the world of DBZ more confusing. Still, it was a fun action sequence in a movie that doesn’t get much credit.
13 SUPER ANDROID 13!
Super Android 13! was for androids what Broly - Second Coming was for the Legendary Super Saiyan, except it’s less memorable. The film is entirely action, with fight sequences taking place all over the world, and ending in the Arctic. There are a lot of nifty moments, including Vegeta and Piccolo getting epic introductions, along with the triple Super Saiyan power up. One of the movie’s highlights was seeing Goku, Vegeta, Trunks, and Piccolo fight the same enemy all at once. Granted, Goku saves the day by absorbing the Spirit Bomb, but even that was a unique representation of the power.
Alas, the villains were uninteresting and Dr. Gero’s inclusion was completely unnecessary. In fact, including Gero only demonstrated how similar the movie is to the Android and Cell sagas. Though it has flaws, Super Android 13! is worth a watch.
12 TREE OF MIGHT
The Tree of Might is a competent Dragon Ball Z movie. It’s fun, full of energy blasts, and gives the audience a dark version of Goku long before Goku Black debuted in Dragon Ball Super. Sure, Turles isn’t Goku, but he looks just like the heroic Saiyan. Unfortunately, there are few memorable moments in the third DBZ movie to set it apart from the rest.
Turles as a concept wasn’t a bad idea. He and Goku share exciting battle sequences, but for every action scene, there are Gohan and Icarus scenes that weigh on the story. Not to mention the fact that Turles regrows Gohan’s tail. It’s a small but important detail, executed without any explanation. However, the premise of the fruit of the Tree of Might was a gnarly one. The longest lasting bit of the movie, it’s been carried on in DBZ video games to this day.
11 COOLER'S REVENGE
We all know how popular Frieza is. So what do you do when the evil space tyrant is unavailable for a movie? You introduce his big brother, Cooler. First appearing in Cooler’s Revenge, there’s no doubt about it that Cooler only existed as a way to cash in on the Frieza hype. The premise has Frieza conveniently forgetting to mention he had an older, stronger, brother who seeks revenge on Goku, is simple but effective. Cooler even came with his own Ginyu Force: Salza, Neiz, and Dore. They aren’t quite as memorable, but they made for troublesome baddies.
Goku’s fight with Cooler is pretty great, as the Frost Demon reveals a fourth transformation, something Frieza did not possess. Still, regardless of the movie’s success, it refused to take risks and maintained a formulaic narrative.
10 RESURRECTION 'F'
It probably goes without saying, but Frieza is the fan-favorite DBZ villain; he’s been so for decades. When it was announced he was going to be the titular villain in Resurrection ‘F’, fans couldn’t have been happier. Upon seeing the movie, their elation was tempered. In truth, if it weren’t for the crisp animation and the battle with Frieza’s soldiers, the movie would likely be less regarded. Seeing Whis train Goku and Vegeta is cool, but when it's time to fight Frieza, things get a little wonky.
Frieza reveals his new Golden form, something he achieved after only four months of training, and can go toe-to-toe with Super Saiyan Blue Goku; it’s ridiculous. Of course what really troubled fans was Goku getting taken down with a tiny laser gun and then going back in time to steal the win against Frieza from Vegeta.
9 BROLY - THE LEGENDARY SUPER SAIYAN
For better or worse, Broly is one of the most iconic villains in Dragon Ball. Despite never appearing in canon, the legendary Super Saiyan left a tremendous impression on viewers. Stupidly powerful, Broly’s allure also comes from his bizarre shade of PTSD. Though really, the movie doesn’t examine Broly’s psyche deeply. Essentially, Goku cried a lot as a baby and that… annoyed baby Broly? Anyway, that’s why Broly hates Goku.
The idea of having Baby Broly’s power level of 10,000 was pretty interesting, but then it’s plot points like Broly hating Vegeta for no reason that don’t make sense. The movie’s action moments are okay, but considering Broly’s power, it doesn’t add up that Goku defeats him with energy borrowed from four wounded Z-Fighters. The film is definitely novel, but its execution left something to be desired.
8 WRATH OF THE DRAGON
Someone probably wondered what would happen if Godzilla ever fought the Z-Fighters. Well, their question was answered with Wrath of the Dragon, the last official Dragon Ball Z movie before Battle of Gods, 17 years later. Wrath of the Dragon was a fresh idea and it worked for the most part. The film starts similarly to the Buu saga with Gohan, Goten, and Trunks as the central protagonists. Alas, that all changes when big beastie Hirudegarn shows up. What followed was a high stakes battle with genuine character moments. And then Goku ruins it all by beating Hirudegarn.
For most of the movie, Wrath of the Dragon was DBZ at its best. Nearly every character gets involved, but they all fall to the wayside when Goku finally decides to step up. It was perplexing, especially when Ultimate Gohan, who’s stronger than Super Saiyan 3 Goku, is fighting the same battle.
7 BOJACK UNBOUND
Gohan’s popularity was at an all-time high following the Cell Saga. It then made sense that Gohan got a whole movie built around him afterwards. Bojack Unbound, took place shortly after the the Cell Games, with the movie opening to most of the Z-Fighters involved in a World Martial Arts Tournament-style knockout event held by Mr. Satan. The tournament featured fun match-ups like Future Trunks and Tien, but the movie went up a notch once Bojack arrived.
The appearance of Bojack and his pirate henchmen immediately changed the film’s tone. Even though Vegeta and Piccolo help, Gohan is the last one standing. Thanks to help from Goku (who’s dead) Gohan turns Super Saiyan 2. It was a nice send off to the character at his peak, since he’d never again be so well-respected. Bojack Unbound is a pretty coherent film and one of the few to work within DBZ canon.
6 BARDOCK - THE FATHER OF GOKU
Bardock – The Father of Goku let audiences finally glimpse Saiyan life. We saw kid Vegeta vowing to one day dethrone Frieza, and even Baby Goku made a cameo as he’s sent to Earth. The movie primarily focuses on Bardock, but serves more as a captivating history lesson of the Saiyan race. Though we know the end result is Frieza killing everyone, this is one story where the journey matters more than the destination.
Bardock is great too. At no point is he your traditional hero. He is a cold-blooded killer who only changes his ways after an injury lets him see into the future. At the film’s zenith, Bardock challenges Frieza, but is no match for him; the film offers no illusions stating otherwise. Additionally, one of the best things the film does is not portraying the Saiyans as heroes, since they’re anything but.
5 DEAD ZONE
Before there could be a litany of movies, something had to start things off. Dead Zone was that something. Though the animation is a tad dated, it’s still appealing; Dead Zone reminds us of the original series. With some of the best-choreographed fights in Dragon Ball history, Dead Zone was also the only movie to have Kami get in on the action. The final battle features Goku and Piccolo teaming up (for the first time), villain transformations, and, obviously, Gohan’s rage.
Dead Zone really shines with its villains. Somehow, they are just as fantastic as the heroes. Garlic Jr. and his motivations go somewhere narratively, which leads to his opening the Dead Zone in one of the franchise’s most inventive sequences. All in all, aside from one or two missteps and plot holes, Dead Zone is a good movie.
4 FUSION REBORN
The introduction of fusion in the Dragon Ball Z universe was a unique and celebrated concept. Rarely do audiences get to see anyone fuse, making any fusion all the more exciting. After the success of Vegito, Fusion Reborn, the twelfth Dragon Ball Z movie, introduced the under-utilized, but much loved, Gogeta. Some might criticize Fusion Reborn for feeling more like a collection of awesome scenes than a movie with a plot, but you have to admit, those scenes are amazing and hilarious.
With iconic moment after iconic moment, the only real negative is that Gogeta leaves us far too quickly, lasting just long enough to defeat Janemba. Still, considering how we haven’t seen Gogeta since, we’ll take anything we can get. Though no DBZ movie is perfect, including Fusion Reborn, it’s still a must-watch for fans.
3 BATTLE OF GODS
Battle of Gods came after 17 years without an official Dragon Ball Z movie. For all its little hiccups, it was a perfect return to the franchise. In the nearly two decades since DBZ ended, animation had improved drastically, leading to flawless-looking fight sequences. In looking beyond the new bells and whistles are the new characters and the expansion of the Dragon Ball universe. Whis and Beerus are like nothing we’d ever seen in the series. Their motivations and character designs were a breath of fresh air, making them as distinctive as Super Saiyan God.
This was also the first movie involving Goku where he didn’t win. Yet audiences got a closer look at Goku’s pride; he was angry about not obtaining the God level on his own. However, it’s Vegeta’s power-up over his love for Bulma that made fans whoop with joy.
2 THE WORLD'S STRONGEST
The World’s Strongest is the second DBZ movie and one of the more original films of the bunch. An interesting aspect of The World Strongest is that you can see the seeds for future story arcs in the franchise moving forward. Preliminary signs of the Android arc are on full display: an evil genius scientist creates artificial humans and tries to destroy Goku. Rather than a balls-to-the-wall action movie, World’s Strongest doesn’t rely on combat; the whole thing feels like a heist movie.
When the fighting does come, it’s epic. You have Goku versus Piccolo in one of their best, and only fights, Master Roshi getting to fight for the last time in decades, and even the bio-warrior henchmen and their unique powers are captivating. Best of all, as was the norm in early DBZ, we got a glimpse of Gohan’s power. It’s hard to go wrong with World’s Strongest.
1 THE HISTORY OF TRUNKS
Nearly every Dragon Ball Z movie starts and ends the same way. A massive threat surfaces, Goku and company fight it, and after some trouble Goku wins the day. A History of Trunks was not that. Rather, it was a bleak, depressing story where the good guys die. A TV special, The History of Trunks has real stakes. In this world, there are no Dragon Balls, so there’s a constant sense of foreboding whenever Gohan goes into battle.
As Trunks and Gohan’s relationship develops, it becomes harder to believe that Gohan is going to die. When the terrible moment happens, it’s bone chilling. His death opens the door to one of Dragon Ball’s most memorable and sorrowful moments, as Trunks becomes a Super Saiyan in the rain. The film’s willingness to go darker than ever before added multiple layers to both Trunks’ motivation and the entire Android Saga.