Dragon Ball has always been made up of four main components: The manga, the series’ original source material; the anime, the main adaptation and what most fans know; the video games, which were incredibly popular during the franchise’s golden years; and the movies, companion pieces to the anime which often had their own self contained storylines. In the series’ decades long run, the films have remained one of the few constants. Before Battle of Gods came around and made the franchise mainstream again, animated specials would pop up every now and again to remind everyone that Dragon Ball was far from dead.
With Super at its most popular and Toriyama working on a brand new film chronicling the life of the very first Super Saiyan, there’s never been a better time to reexamine Dragon Ball’s long history of feature length films.
25 Episode Of Bardock
What do you get when you mix one of the franchise’s most tragic characters and toss him into a time travel plot that turns him into the legendary Super Saiyan? Nothing good, that’s what. Episode of Bardock takes fan favorite Bardock and murders his character for half an hour so when he turns Super Saiyan at the end of the special, the audience can at least pretend like this development makes any sense whatsoever. The worst part about Episode of Bardock, however, is that it’s actually nicely animated.
If the story were competent and Bardock wasn’t character assassinated, the staff on the special could have easily worked on something entirely worthwhile. Instead, Goku’s dear old dad was whitewashed, flung back in time instead of tragically dying, and ruined the Super Saiyan lore that defined the Namek arc.
24 Plan To Eradicate The Super Saiyans
Bundled in with Raging Blast 2, Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans is a remake of the 1993 OVA, Plan to Eradicate the Saiyans. This animated short, while an interesting part of Dragon Ball history, is seriously lacking in movie-like elements. The Z films have always been light on giving the characters arcs and imparting a message, but Plan to Eradicate the Super Saiyans doesn’t even try. There’s some element of revenge at play since the story revolves around a Tuffle trying to get revenge on the Saiyans, but it never goes anywhere, instead meandering for 20 minutes before the real main villain shows up for Goku to beat. The only reason PtEtSS isn’t dead last is because it doesn’t tarnish any legacies in its messy half hour run.
Broly is not a good villain. He’s an even worse villain when you remove the minutiae of personality he has and cover him in brown sludge. Bio-Broly, names after the unfortunately named titular villain, is the third film in the Broly and easily the worst of the bunch. Instead of focusing on the rivalry between Goku and Broly, focus is instead shifted to Goten and Trunks goofing off while 18 tries to hustle money out of Mr. Satan.
The sad thing is, this premise is actually great! Goten and Trunks leading a film on their own is a refreshing change of pace, and 18 is a criminally underused Harare in the franchise. Sadly, the premise never gets a chance realize its full potential as crummy Broly slapstick dominates the rest of the film. Throw in some shoddy animation and a sequel hook that goes absolutely nowhere, and you’ve got one of the messiest films in the franchise.
22 A Hero’s Legacy
Repeat after me, “Dragon Ball GT is a bad show.” Very good! Now repeat, “As a result, we can deduce that Dragon Ball GT: A Hero’s Legacy is just as bad, it not worse.” Fantastic! Dragon Ball GT: A Hero’s Legacy is an epilogue film for GT that released before GT even ended. Taking place 100 years after the end of the series, the film follows Goku Jr. in his quest to find a Dragon Ball so he can make a wish to cure his grandmother, Pan.
Nevermind the fact that a single Dragon Ball can’t grant a wish rendering Goku Jr.’s entire quest null, this is just a boring movie. Goku Jr. is not an interesting character, he’s just a cowardly version of Goku who learns to be brave by the end of the film. The idea of a personal story serving as an epilogue is nice in theory, but it doesn’t land when the character the epilogue is about has nothing to do with the series.
21 Lord Slug
How you feel about this film is going to depend entirely on how you feel about the King Piccolo arc. Do you like it? Then you’ll hate Lord Slug for making a mockery of the arc. Do you hate it? Then you’ll hate Lord Slug for literally just retelling the King Piccolo arc in 40 minutes. Chances are you’re going to hate this film.
Now let’s get one thing straight- very few, if any, films in this franchise are actually original. The problem with Lord Slug is that it doesn’t even try to pretend it’s a novel idea. Everything in the film has been done before, and better, in the actual series. False Super Saiyan is an interesting idea, that said, though it still falters thanks to an unimpressive display of power.
It also just looks like a gross Kaioken.
20 Broly - The Second Coming
The sequel’s never as good as the original. With Broly, that’s a given. Broly - The Second Coming is the second installment in the epic “Irrationally Upset Super Saiyan Trilogy.” Taking place early in the Buu saga, it’s up to Gohan, Videl, Goten, and Trunks to stop this unstoppable monster. You’ll find hit scenes such as random characters trying to sacrifice children, Trunks mooning Broly, and Goku inexplicably showing up to help defeat Broly in a family Kamehameha.
Okay, that last one is actually super cool.
To be fair, Broly - The Second Coming isn’t all bad. It has a solid enough ending that acknowledges the Son legacy and seeing Videl in a legitimate lead role is refreshing. Sadly, Broly is characterized worse than he ever was in his first film and the action pales in comparison to most of the other films in the franchise.
19 Sleeping Princess In Devil’s Castle
Believe it or not, Lucifer exists as an actual character in Dragon Ball. Granted, he exists as a non-canon character in a non-canon film but participation trophies never hurt anyone. Sleeping Princess in Devil’s Castle is the second of the OG Dragon Ball films and the only one that doesn’t adapt an entire story arc. Instead, it zones in on the training portion of the 21st Budokai arc. As a result, the movie is a bit limited with how much story it can actually tell.
To its credit, this movie does have some of the most creative visuals in the franchise. There’s a very clear horror movie aesthetic and Lucifer’s design stands out quite well amongst the other villains. Its biggest downfall is simply that it’s dull. It locks itself into a very limited era and, as a result, the story can’t experiment as much as it needs to.
18 The Return Of Cooler
What Sleeping Princess in Devil’s Castle is to horror, The Return of Cooler is to sci-fi. The second Cooler movie takes us to New Namek where a recently revived Cooler has enslaved the Namekians for… some reason. Conceptually, this movie has some of the best visuals in the franchise. Toei constantly pays homage to science fiction classics resulting in an atmosphere that is wholly unique to this film.
Unfortunately, most of the artwork is fairly sloppy. Fights lack in engaging choreography and character models are often ugly. Throw in some choppy animation and Return of Cooler comes out a mess. An interesting mess, but a mess nonetheless.
Of note, this was the first movie Vegeta was in!
17 The Tree Of Might
The Tree of Might did Goku Black before Super ever thought up the idea. Unfortunately, it left out all the nuances, tension, mystery, and drama that made the Goku Black arc so memorable. Instead, Turles and his bland henchmen try to tend to their new garden while Goku and company ruin their lovely Sunday afternoon. The film actually does have some nice down to earth moments and all the Z-fighters get a chance to shine, but the super interesting evil Goku concept is never fully utilized. When the most interesting thing about your evil clone is that he looks like you. It might be time to find a new doppelganger.
16 Mystical Adventure
The third, and last, of the original Dragon Ball movies, Mystical Adventure is easily the most creative of the three. While it does adapt a part of the series like the other two, 22nd Budokai with some Red Ribbon elements this time around, it adapts them the loosest leading to a fairly interesting narrative. Instead of a proper tournament like the Budokais, the tournament in this film is held by Chaozu, a prince in this retelling. Tao Pai Pai is also used as the Red Ribbon Army influence, but he leads to the biggest downfall in the movie.
While Tao Pai Pai is the main RRA carryover, his story isn’t similar to how it was in the original manga. Instead, he takes Blue’s role after he and Goku fight. This, sadly, forces Goku to abandon the main plot of the first two acts so he can hang out with Arale from Dr. Slump for far too long leading to a baffling underwhelming last act.
Those first two acts are great, though!
15 Super Android 13
Super Android 13 is a weird movie, to say the least. It can’t fit anywhere reasonable on the timeline and the designs of Androids 13 through 15 are absolutely off the wall. In the Japanese original, they’re all blank states with little personality. Funimation’s dub, on the other hand, most notably turned Android 13 into a red-blooded redneck. It’s easily one of their boldest moves, as it deviates quite considerably from the source.
Despite the interesting background on the film, it’s really a middle of the road product. The fights are decent and the arctic set piece makes them stand out more than they would have otherwise, but the plot is bland, the villains are boring unless you watch it in English, and 13 is defeated in a pretty unsatisfying way.
14 Curse Of The Blood Rubies
This is where the series’ cinematic magic all began. The first of the original three Dragon Ball movies, Curse of the Blood Rubies adapts the very first arc with some elements of the Red Ribbon saga. As a retelling of the first hunt for the Dragon Balls, this is actually a solid adaptation. Everyone's introductions translate well and the core plot is different enough from the Pilaf shenanigans without completely abandoning the source material. To be honest, introducing someone to Dragon Ball with Curse of the Blood Rubies wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
As nice an introduction this film is, it does suffer from the racked on Red Ribbon elements. The first arc is, by far, the most self contained in the franchise. Everyone has a small arc, it’s only a few chapters long, and there are easy ways to condense it to an hour and a half. By throwing in another storyline, though, it just makes the film come off messy.
13 Cooler’s Revenge
Not all Coolers are created equally as evidenced by the power gap in quality between The Return of Cooler and Cooler’s Revenge. Where RoC was a mediocre space adventure, Cooler’s Revenge is an epic tale of brotherly revenge. It certainly helps it’s home to one of the best Super Saiyan transformations in the series. It isn’t perfect with some poor animation at times and an overindulgence of a personality Goku doesn’t have, but Cooler makes for an interesting antagonist and the setting is genuinely one of the most varied when it comes to the DBZ movieverse.
12 Broly - The Legendary Super Saiyan
I know what you’re thinking, “why is a Broly movie so high up on this list?” From the way I’ve referred to Broly, it’d make sense that his first movie would be much lower. Here’s the thing, though, Broly isn’t that bad. In the context of his first film, at least. Yes, his backstory is stupid and, yes, his fighting style relies entirely on big weighty punches, but the rest of the movie is pretty enjoyable.
The combat is downright brutal at times, and there’s a nice build up to the Legendary Super Saiyan reveal. As the longest of the original 13 DBZ Movies, the plot moves at a more deliberate pace, letting viewers invest themselves in the story. More importantly, while Broly fails as a complex villain, Paragus picks up the slack with some devious planning and sensible motivations.
11 Path To Power
What looks like GT, but feels like Dragon Ball? If you answered the Black Star Dragon Ball saga then you’re technically correct, but I was looking for Path to Power, - reimagining of the first three arcs of DB. Unlike the DB movie trilogy, though, Path to Power is its own beast entirely. It can be jarring seeing the GT art style attributed to early Dragon Ball, but it makes for a visually impressive stand alone that gives Goku an actual arc and challenges him emotionally throughout the movie. It was released for the series’ 10th anniversary and while it doesn’t really feel like a celebration of Dragon Ball as a whole, it’s nonetheless a memorable experience and a good use of GT assets.
10 Bojack Unbound
Bojack Unbound isn’t the only DBZ movie to not star Goku, but it’s the only one that makes his absence feel natural. As the film takes place shortly after the Cell Games, Goku is freshly deceased. Our heroes have learned to move on with their lives so, when trouble brews, it’s up to them, and them alone, to save the day.
Really, the best part of Bojack Unbound is how it utilizes Gohan as a main character. His arc can feel a bit derivative of the end of the Cell Games, but he feels like the proper protagonist, a title he doesn’t hold onto long in the original series. The action is great, the visuals are mesmerizing at times, and Gohan’s big transformation is a nice reimagining of his original Super Saiyan 2 triggering.
9 Resurrection F
Resurrection F may be on the clunky side, but it doesn’t get nearly enough credit for what it is: a Dragon Ball movie with an actual theme. Instead of just tossing an enemy at the Z-fighters, Resurrection F focuses on the flaws and failings of our characters. Gohan refuses to train so he fails in stopping Freeza. Goku can’t keep his guard up so he ends up getting mortally wounded. Vegeta thinks too much while fighting and ends up giving Freeza the chance to destroy the Earth. Freeza is too impatient so he ends up challenging Goku and Vegeta before he can master his new form’s stamina. The film isn’t the most graceful with its CGI and its plot does lack in tension but, thematically, it remains one of the most complete entries in the franchise.
8 Wrath Of The Dragon
Wrath of the Dragon is the kind of movie that could have only worked at the end of the anime’s long run. It’s a quieter, more intimate film in its first half with plenty of character focus given to Trunks and Bulma while the second half gives us a straight up Kaiju movie. Tapion also stands out as one of the few movie exclusive characters to actually feel defined and properly utilized in the plot. Its one major drawback is Hirudegarn’s defeat but, even then, anyone familiar with the series should be able to expect a Goku centric finale and brush it aside. At its core, Wrath of the Dragon, is a journey of personal growth and confronting the past and it’s beautiful all the way to finish line.
7 The Dead Zone
The Garlic Jr. saga isn’t going to be topping anyone’s best of lists, but The Dead Zone definitely deserves to. While it can’t exactly fit into the series’ continuity, which is one of the biggest issues with the Garlic Jr. saga, it does feel appropriately early Dragon Ball Z with a mystical vibe that isn’t present all that often after the original Dragon Ball. What’s especially nice about this movie is how it tries to add new lore regarding Kami’s role in the series. Yes, he’ll just end up being a Namekian but him having to compete on a spiritual level to become the Guardian of Earth is an interesting alternative.
As unique as the premise is, though, the movie’s real strengths lie in the fight choreography. This is one of the few films in the franchise where Toei has perfectly captured Toriyama’s style of choreography. Fights are fast and smooth with little error, and attacks have appropriate weight behind them. The showdown between Goku and Piccolo, while short, captures a distinct early series feel and leaves a last impression. Who knew Garlic Jr. worked so well in a vacuum?
6 Yo! Son Goku And His Friends Return!!
Yo! Son Goku and His Friends Return!! was a 2008 anime special that aired during that year’s Jump Super Anime Tour. It’s not unusual to see this special referenced as the JSAT special. There is, however, a good chance you’ve never heard of this special. It never released in the West so your only real chance of watching it is to find a fansub. It’s a shame, honestly, Yo! Son Goku and His Friends Return!! is a love letter to the series that deserves acknowledgement.
YSGaHFR’s biggest strength is how lowkey it is. The plot is described as a forgotten event in the Dragon Ball timeline. Former Freeza soldiers invade Earth, but Goku and company are so overwhelmingly strong that they take it in complete stride. It’s a fun, lighthearted reminder that Dragon Ball has always been more than life or death battles. It’s fun.
5 The World’s Strongest
What do you get when you take The Dead Zone and you iron out its few kinks? You get The World’s Strongest, of course! Dr. Wheelo/Dr. Uiro/Dr. MainVillainOfThisMovie is one of the most interesting villains to grace the movies. While most antagonists are just strong guys looking to beat up Goku, Wheelo is a smart guy looking to be Goku. He does end up fighting Goku in the end, but his drive as an antagonist is wholly unique to him. The closest villain in the series to match his personality is Gero and he wouldn’t be appearing in the manga until years after this movie first aired. Along with some of the best animation Toei has ever done and a chilling arctic aesthetic, The World’s Strongest is early DBZ animation at its finest.
4 Fusion Reborn
Perhaps the most imaginative of the original thirteen Dragon Ball Z movies, Fusion Reborn takes the series’ afterlife premise and runs absolutely wild with it. The denizens of Hell, (HFIL if you're a Funimation nerd,) have started running amok on the Earth and it’s up to Gohan and Gotenks to suppress the onslaught. Meanwhile, Goku and Vegeta, in their deceased glory, fight off the fearsome Janemba, the cause of the Hellish takeover. What results is a movie where Gohan defeats Freeza with ease, Gotenks fights Hitler, and Goku and Vegeta fuse into Gogeta in one of the most iconic moments in DBZ. Colorful and endlessly imaginative, Fusion Reborn is DBZ at its most untamed.
3 History Of Trunks
History of Trunks is, by far, the most emotional film in the franchise. Taking place in Trunks’ desolate timeline, the movie follows his training with Gohan and his eventual trip to the past. 17 and 18 standout as perhaps the most hopeless challenge in the entire series in this movie. Future Gohan is defeated at every turn, and his inevitable death is soul crushing as a broken Trunks cries over his master’s dead body.
Despite the somber, almost offensively so, atmosphere, History of Trunks doesn’t forget the core of Trunks’ character arc: hope. He stands no chance against the Androids, but he still holds on hope. No scene says this better than when Bulma tells her son that with Goku around, anything felt possible. As Trunks travels back to the past, the viewer knows, even without watching the series prior, that his hope has been justified all along.
2 Bardock: The Father Of Goku
Akira Toriyama once referred to Bardock: The Father of Goku as a story he couldn’t personally write. Focusing on the last few days of the Saiyan race, this movie gets to the core of the Saiyan-Freeza conflict. As Bardock, a borderline villain, gains the ability to see into the future, he desperately struggles to stop Freeza before his race can be genocided. He fails, of course, but the result is a truly hopeless endeavor. This is a movie inherently about failure but, unlike Resurrection F, it doesn’t give our hero a chance to learn from his mistakes. Bardock: The Father of Goku is perhaps the single greatest original idea Toei has ever come up with.
Just make sure you don’t watch Episode of Bardock after.
1 Battle Of Gods
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