Starting with Pokemon The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back, there has been at least one Pokemon movie released every year from 1999 onwards. This might come as a bit of shock if you dropped off after the third or fourth instalment, but that brings the total -- as of 2018 -- up to 20, with the 21st, Pokemon The Movie: Everybody's Story on the way. That means there are almost as many Pokemon movies as there are James Bond ones. And like the famous British spy, the franchise's animated star, Ash Ketchum, has remained largely unchanged through all these years. His feature-length adventures loosely follow his serialized ones in the long-running TV show, usually marking the culmination of his time in each region with a different team and different travelling companions.
The films also line-up with typically precise marketing timing with the introduction of brand new legendary Pokemon to the core game series, adding to the mythology of each unique being and making them appear even more catch-able to new and old trainers. Pokemon movies, like most other anime movies that are spun-off from a series, are technically standalone stories, though none of them are at all forgiving to any viewer coming in "cold" without any prior knowledge of the franchise. Many a confused parent has sat with their Pikachu-obsessed kid in a movie theater praying that the human-free short ahead of the main feature doesn't mean they'll have to sit through two hours of weird creatures crying their own names at one another. For those who are fluent in Poke-speak, though: Pika, Pika, Pika, Pika... Pikachuuuu!
20 GIRATINA AND THE SKY WARRIOR
This 2008 Pokemon movie should be far better than it is, considering it features one of the coolest legendaries. As the counter creature to "Poke-God," Arceus, the bug-like Giratina, is considered to be a stand-in for the Devil in the Pokemon creation myth. Giratina is also the sole resident of a parallel universe called "Reverse World," which is filled with latent power.
Ash and his friends are brought into the mix by a scientist trying to stop his rogue assistant from harnessing that power for evil. Though the some of the locations are beautifully animated, the storylines feel quite disjointed in this one, and as a whole, the film doesn't do justice to Giratina's reputation as the darkest and most mysterious legendary Pokemon.
19 KYUREM VS. THE SWORD OF JUSTICE
If you're not a fan of Pokemon movies that are heavy on the Poke-chatter, you'll definitely want to skip this one. This film was released with some fanfare, as it was the 15th Pokemon feature and also marked the franchise's manga publisher's 90th anniversary. As such, legendaries were plentiful: Kyurem, the "Boundary Pokemon," the "Sacred Swordsmen" -- Cobalion, Terrkion and Virizion, and Keldeo.
As the new legendary on the block, Keldeo takes center stage, daunted by the prospect of having to battle Kyurem to prove its worthiness. Ash and co. have very diminished roles to play, relegated to the sidelines as emotional cheerleaders during a confusing and ultimately inconsequential story.
18 DIANCIE AND THE COCOON OF DESTRUCTION
The first during the XY era, this film introduced Diancie, the "Jewel Pokemon," and promised cameos from Victini, Darkrai, Manaphy and old favorite, Jirachi, too. The titular XY legendaries played important roles as well, with Diancie calling on Ash to help her find Xerneas, the "Life Pokemon," to save her dying domain.
Legendaries, of course, often come in pairs, and it isn't long until Xerneas' more destructive half, Yveltal threatens to makes things even worse for Diancie. Though not without some excitement -- like three new Mega Evolutions -- this 17th entry to the movie series suffers from a meandering pace and stakes that never feel high enough.
17 BLACK AND WHITE: VICTINI AND RESHIRAM/ZEKROM
Though main series Pokemon games always come in pairs, Pokemon movies do not. The accompanying movies to the Black/White era broke this trend with two films centered on the same story with interchanging legendaries fulfilling the same role. If you like the plucky "Victory Pokemon," Victini, then the good news is that you'll get twice your money's worth.
The bad news is that the story really doesn't warrant being watched twice with only slight differences. Though it was a fun and creative way to reinforce Resharim and Zekrom's Yin-Yang dynamic, the cookie-cutter plot makes it come off as more of a money-grabbing ploy, and not worth the extra viewing time.
16 GENESECT THE LEGEND AWAKENED
There's a lot to like in this Pokemon movie, which marked the end of the Best Wishes series and unveiled the last monster in the fifth generation: Genesect. It's hard not find Genesect aesthetically appealing, being an intelligent, prehistoric robotic bug, and the film also features Mega Mewtwo Y, a suped-up, female iteration of the fan favorite legendary Pokemon.
This "Awakened" version might cause confusion for fans of the first Pokemon movie, as might this alternate Mewtwo's motivations. Then there's also the movie's setting: "New Tork City." (Come on...) However, this throwback to the film series' origin cuts a slice of nostalgia that's almost big enough to cover-up these shortcomings.
15 POKEMON 4EVER
If you saw Pokemon 4Ever as a kid when it was first released in 2001, you probably had your tiny mind blown by the Sam/Professor Oak twist. Watching the film as an adult, you'll wonder how you were ever surprised by it. Affection for the second generation is incredibly strong, and if you're someone that applies to, then you'll enjoy the presences of Suicune and Celebi.
Celebi, the "Voice of the Forest," can travel in time, which is one of the trickiest gambits to navigate without leaving a viewer confused. Pokemon 4Ever doesn't quite escape this, with a story that feels a little light on substance, too. The animation -- though mostly beautiful -- also looks woefully dated where the 3D bits are inserted.
14 JIRACHI - WISH MAKER
Your enjoyment of this 2004 film will depend a lot on how you feel about Max, one of Ash's companions during the Advanced series, who a lot of fans found pretty irritating. In Jirachi - Wish Maker, Max takes a lead role in befriending Jirachi, a genie-esque legendary Pokemon, who villainous magician Butler plans to steal and use to awaken Groudon.
Groudon's seismic power over earth leds to an impressive climax straight out of a Disaster movie, with an emotional epiphany for Butler. There's also another poignant moment where Ash comforts Max by telling him that long distance friendships can still work by namedropping Misty, but these moments don't quite make up for a formulaic storyline.
13 HOOPA AND THE CLASH OF AGES
Hoopa and the Clash of Ages plays like a Pokemon-only version of a Super Smash Bros. game, showcasing a royal rumble between some of the franchise's heaviest mythic hitters. The latest legendary to join their ever-growing ranks is Hoopa, who has the interesting ability to open interdimensional portals using its rings. It also has a calm Bruce Banner and a raging Hulk mode.
This angrier mode, "Hoopa Unbound" becomes a little trigger happy with its rings, pulling quarrelling legendaries in from around the multiverse. At its worst, it's just mindless fan service. At its best, it's also just mindless fan service. Highlights include a shiny Rayquaza, Ash riding Latios into battle and Hoopa Unbound's stellar design.
12 POKEMON RANGER AND THE TEMPLE OF THE SEA
The vast majority of the Pokemon movies work as tie-ins to the main series of games. Pokemon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea is unique in that it was released in 2006 to promote a spin-off game of the same name. Despite this difference, the film follows the same structure of most of the others -- Ash and his current group of pals have to protect a special Pokemon from would-be kidnappers.
This time around, the Pokemon is the adorable sea guardian, Manaphy, making this exploit a nautically-themed one. It's a fun ride with some nice underwater settings inspired by real-life Roman ruins and a campy villain, but -- if you'll excuse the pun -- the strength of the story is a little watered-down.
11 ZOROARK - MASTER OF ILLUSIONS
Zoroark is one of those Pokemon who manages to be special without having a legendary or mythic status. It has a great design, can telepathically speak to humans and -- as the film's title suggests -- it's a master shapeshifter, mirroring the kitsune in Japanese folklore. Master of Illusions centers on the separation of a Zoroark and her pre-evolution, Zorua.
The culprit is ruthless businessman, Grings Kodai, who Dragon Ball fans will recognize as the voice of Goku, Sean Schemmel. Grings emotionally manipulates the raging mother into impersonating legendary Pokemon, and abuses Celebi's time travelling ability. Of course, Celebi's presence lowers the chances of any permanent damage, but Grings is a convincingly twisted bad guy.
10 VOLCANION AND THE MECHANICAL MARVEL
The final chapter in the XY era does nothing to revolutionize the way Pokemon movies are told -- a power-hungry person trying to capture and utilize a mythic Pokemon's powers for selfish or evil reasons. But, Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel make up for that with some likeable relationships and characters that are more fleshed out than they are in other films.
The opposing legendaries -- the grouchy Volcanion and the sweet Magearna -- have distinct, clashing personalities where some legendaries lack any. The concept of ancient, mechanical technology that these Pokemon and their secret kingdom are based on might not be unique but is still interesting to see all the same.
9 ARCEUS AND THE JEWEL OF LIFE
Of all the legendary Pokemon, Arceus is perhaps most deserving of the over-used L-word title. According to the creation myth, Arceus is responsible for the existence of... practically everything. That makes it's presence anywhere instantly elevate everything around it, giving this final film in the Sinnoh era an inflated sense of importance.
This was reflected in the box office figures, as the film beat out Neon Genesis Evangelion and Detective Conan for the year's top spot in Japan. While it is significant in the divine sense, it also relies again on a time travelling mechanic that isn't wholly easy to get your head around. But, the film's antagonist, Damos, is the suitably preachy villain needed for the story's biblical proportions.
8 DESTINY DEOXYS
Introduced as the final Pokemon in the third generation, the transforming alien, Deoxys remains one of the wildest and weirdest of the bunch. If Deoxys is a legendary that gets your heart beating faster, this one is a must-see; showcasing an absolutely spectacular clash of the titans between it and Pokemon Emerald's mascot legendary, Rayquaza.
As usual, Destiny Deoxys does what the franchise is all about: befriending catch-able monsters, even ones as terrifying as an alien robot and a giant sky dragon. The pair eventually drop their beef to unite against a common enemy, and even save some humans. Unfortunately, there's little more to the movie than that.
7 POKEMON 3: SPELL OF THE UNOWN
Yes, this is the one where Entei is somehow (sort of) the dad of a human girl. Yes, it's weird. But, it's actually not too weird, which is impressive. Despite that bizarre premise, the third ever Pokemon film actually gets away with throwing out everything you thought you knew about the battling critters and tightening the bonds between them and us.
The film uses allegories and surreal dream sequences to tell a story that is driven by character and emotional growth rather than the standard bad-guy-wants-to-steal-a-powerful-Pokemon cliche. It also gives meaning to the strange alphabet-themed Unown Pokemon, whose presence in the games was annoyingly, well, unknown.
6 THE RISE OF DARKRAI
This 2008 movie does a good job at completely changing what we think we know about a Pokemon. From its shadowy aura to its jagged shape and menacing name, Darkrai appears to be a through-and-through villain. In The Rise of Darkrai, however, it plays a heroic role in breaking up a cosmic kerfuffle between Dialga and Palkia.
This is a pretty important achievement considering the aforementioned legendaries' control all of space and time. (NO BIG DEAL.) It's a nice twist to see something that is the literal living embodiment of a nightmare doing what you'd least expect, proving the cheesy but always welcome message that books shouldn't be judged by their covers. (Even ones that can Dark Pulse you into oblivion.)
5 POKEMON HEROES
Amid all of the potentially world-ending battles and moustache-twirling villains, it's sometimes easy for the Pokemon franchise to lose sight of what's at its heart: the friendships between people and Pokemon. Nowhere is this more evident than in Pokemon Heroes, which allows the relationship between Ash, Latios and Latias to lead the story.
It helps, too, that the pair of matching, Psychic/Dragon-Types he befriends are two of the most loveable legendaries in the franchise, possessing the right balance of cute and fearsome. The film also boasts some of the most exhilarating action sequences in the series, capturing the sheer joy of a childhood spent roaming the world with your BFFs.
4 LUCARIO AND THE MYSTERY OF MEW
Like its bigger, badder clone, Mew is an instant crowd-pleasing presence; the little, pink legendary Pokemon that an entire generation of children wasted fruitless hours trying to move an immoveable truck to obtain. Similarly, though lacking legendary status, the humanoid Pokemon, Lucario is beloved by fans -- partly thanks to this movie.
Mew's role is the same as it is the first Pokemon movie -- the Tinkerbell to Ash's Peter Pan. Lucario is characterized as a stoic and loyal partner to its master, Aaron. The pair's bond rivals the one Ash shares with his Pikachu, leading to an intensely emotional climax you'll need some tissues for. There's plenty of questing fun to be had before then, though.
3 POKEMON 2000
Direct sequels are notoriously difficult to make, but Pokemon 2000 avoids the sequelitis curse in style. Though the impact of sheer numbers grows a little thin by the time we reached Hoopa and the Clash of Ages, Pokemon 2000 -- which featured assorted first generation favorites like Vaporeon and Marowak, all three legendary birds and Lugia -- gets it right.
The plot, which involves Ash going on an Infinity Stone-style hunt and temporarily calling a truce with Team Rocket, leaves plenty of breathing room for climactic battles between Articuno, Moltres and Zapdos to play out. Plus, did we mention Lugia is in it? Everyone loves Lugia!
2 I CHOOSE YOU!
By its 20th year, you'd expect a franchise to be running out of steam. You certainly wouldn't expect its 20th feature film to be one of its best. And yet, against all the odds, I Choose You! is a real gem. Of course, the factory reset helped -- creating a new, alternate continuity to retell Ash and Pikachu's earliest adventure together without throwing out two decades' worth of lore.
Old fans will be reminded of why they fell in love with Pokemon in the first place, while new fans will be able to jump on board with the gorgeous, updated animation style framing the similarly beautiful moments of relationship-building between Ash and Pikachu. The only thing stopping the anniversary movie from nabbing the top spot is that freaky moment where Pikachu speaks. (Just... no.)
1 POKEMON THE FIRST MOVIE
Riding the wave of global fervor in 1998, Pokemon The First Movie remains the high watermark that all subsequent Pokemon movies are judged against by fans. It revealed the shrouded origins of Mew and introduced the even more shrouded origins of vengeful clone, Mewtwo, an enslaved lab rat who mused on its "purpose" while clobbering everything in sight.
The film is certainly not without flaws. It's chock-full of cheese and Ash's miraculous revival via healing Poke-tears makes zero sense. But, it's hard not to still get choked up as an adult with Misty's "please, no..." or desperately will Ash to save Pikachu from capture or find the philosophizing Mewtwo the most compelling villain the franchise has ever produced.