Dragon Ball Z is arguably the most popular anime on the planet, but its accompanying movies… well, not so much. The films are often repeat stories of whichever saga they happen to set in, adding nothing new to the franchise, while they are generally considered to be out of place within the DBZ canon. There are some notable exceptions, though. The more recent movies are part of the official Dragon Ball continuity, while a couple of the earlier specials have recently been canonized by both the manga and the anime.
Whether or not a movie is canon won’t necessarily impact its ranking, although expect to find the movies that go out of their way to confuse the timeline lower down on the list. All 15 legitimate Dragon Ball Z movies are featured, of course. The Trunks and Bardock TV specials are included as well, and so are three straight-to-video animations. The four Dragon Ball movies, as well as GT’s A Hero’s Legacy, are not up for consideration.
Let’s begin Every Movie in the Dragon Ball Z Franchise, Ranked.
20. The Return of Cooler
Cooler is one of two movie villains who’ve appeared more than once, and after the reasonable success of Cooler’s Revenge, we honestly wish he hadn’t returned at all. The Return of Cooler tries desperately to find a legitimate reason that Cooler could have survived being literally blasted into the sun. The result is a unique take on the sci-fi genre gone horribly wrong. While there are moments to enjoy in the movie, like Goku and Vegeta’s first ever team-up, we’re too busy trying to work out what the Big Gete Star actually does, and why Meta-Cooler would enslave New Namek of all planets, to actually pay attention to what’s happening.
Goku’s fight with Cooler features some of the worst animation in the series, and the subplots are completely uninteresting. Gohan, Krillin, and Piccolo fighting Cooler’s minions on Namek is way too reminiscent of the Frieza saga, while the minions themselves have zero personality and are far too easy to beat. Finally, the movie doesn’t even try to work within DBZ canon; Gohan’s apparently unable to turn Super Saiyan despite having already trained in the Time Chamber. It’s just another reason that The Return of Cooler has no place in the Dragon Ball franchise.
Whatever your thoughts on the Dragon Ball movies’ most profitable villain, this is undeniably a sorry way for Broly to go out. In the third and worst of the Broly movies, the Legendary Super Saiyan is cloned by scientists, who are searching for the strongest fighter in the world to test their bio-warriors. The film has almost the exact same premise as The World’s Strongest– the second Dragon Ball Z movie, and one of the most popular. There are plenty of unimaginative ideas on this list, but rehashing the same story just to bring Broly back (and sludge Broly at that) is the Dragon Ball movies at peak unoriginality.
If there is a redeeming quality to Bio-Broly, it’s that Gohan, Vegeta, and (mostly) Goku are absent, while Goten, Trunks, Android 18, and Krillin are left to fight Broly (Mr. Satan is also there). It’s an interesting team-up, which offers a new dynamic and some funny moments. Most of the jokes, however, don’t land, and serve only to weigh down the action, which in itself is disappointing. The Z-Fighters get beaten down (as usual) until they find an unlikely way to win. And that’s the movie.
18. Episode of Bardock
The third of the original video animations and first on this list, Episode of Bardock can be loosely compared to The Return of Cooler. It’s a sci-fi story that’s been told a million times before, but at least it has a comprehensible, flowing narrative, even if it’s not a particularly strong one, and its attempts to tie the Super Saiyan legend together are laudable. It also poses no threat to the Dragon Ball Z timeline, given that it’s set roughly a thousand years before the main story takes place. These may not be glowing compliments, but Episode of Bardock is at least the first watchable movie on this list.
Its biggest flaw is that it tries to redeem its main character. Bardock – The Father of Goku is a glowing testament to the Saiyan race; Bardock is violent, abrasive, and has little regard for even his own family. The fact that he would later (or earlier) become the legendary Super Saiyan for a race he had only just met is a pretty cheap trick to pull, and to have Bardock go back in time in the first place is fan service taking priority over viable storytelling.
17. Plan to Eradicate the Saiyans
Speaking of fan service: Plan to Eradicate the Saiyans, the very first of the original video animations. The special pits Earth’s heroes against some of the most popular villains in Dragon Ball, and also some of the not-so popular ones. Goku faces off against Cooler, Future Trunks returns to fight Frieza, and Gohan and Piccolo take on Turles and Lord Slug (more on them later). Of course, this is all a ruse put in place by Tuffle survivor Hatchiyack, the big bad of the piece, who is eventually defeated by a Kamehameha, Final Flash, Masenko, and Burning Attack combo.
This is another movie that doesn’t really have a place in the series, but it’s forgivable in this case. Plan to Eradicate the Saiyans is pure fan service, top to bottom, with Frieza returning along with the movie villains, Future Trunks making an appearance, and a devastating combination of all our favorite attacks to end the day. Fan service is absolutely forgivable when it’s just fan service. Unfortunately, the special tries to tell a story, which is ultimately impossible to take seriously. It’s worth watching for the Dragon Ball callbacks, but as an original, standalone piece, Plan to Eradicate the Saiyans adds nothing new to the franchise.
16. The Tree of Might
Now that we’re done with the genuinely bad Dragon Ball Z spin-offs, we usher in a new era of perfectly acceptable, if slightly dull movies and specials. Exciting times! We start with The Tree of Might, which is just fine, but that’s all it is. There’s just nothing particularly memorable, or even exciting included in the third DBZ movie to set it apart from the rest. In fact, it’s the same story as the actually canon Saiyan saga, in that a surviving Saiyan lands on Earth to inadvertently reveal new information to Goku.
Turles as a concept is an interesting idea, and he and Goku share some well-choreographed battle sequences, but for every action scene, there’s a Gohan and Icarus scene to cancel it out, while the villainous minions are once again wasted. Not to mention the fact that Turles regrows Gohan’s tail. It’s such a small detail but so blatantly a plot device, without any explanation or build-up, that it means The Tree of Might has to fall below the other par-for-the-course DBZ movies on this list.
15. Broly – Second Coming
Second Coming is as bland as Bio-Broly when it comes to its plot, but it does at least have one thing going for it. First and foremost, Second Coming doesn’t pretend that it’s anything but an action flick. You can sit and laugh through the first half of the film, which features some strong Goten and Trunks moments, and a wacky dinosaur subplot that wouldn’t hurt if it didn’t exist. All you need to know is that Broly is back.
The second half allows you to switch your brain off entirely, and watch Gohan and Broly’s battle. The action is actually really strong here, and Gohan gets the spotlight for the first time since growing up. Goten and Trunks get in on the action, somehow Videl doesn’t die, and then Goku shows up because the movie (like Dragon Ball in general) can’t follow through on having someone else be the hero. The family Kamehameha that follows is an iconic Dragon Ball Z moment, and it rounds off a high-tempo sequel that offends no one.
14. Super Android 13!
Super Android 13! is Broly: Second Coming, except with androids and a few more memorable moments. The films relies entirely on action; we get battles in the city and the arctic, which are both Dragon Ball firsts (not including Trunks’ future timeline). Vegeta and Piccolo get epic introductions, while the triple Super Saiyan power up is equally epic, given that Super Saiyans were still relatively fresh at the time. It’s also the first time we see Goku, Vegeta, Trunks, and Piccolo fight the same enemy all at once. Of course, Goku winds up saving the day, but his absorption of the Spirit Bomb was unique at the time, so we’ll let that one slide.
The villains are completely void of personality, as you’d expect, but Androids 13, 14, and 15 aren’t what weighs the film down. Dr. Gero lives on inside a super computer for absolutely no reason, because the movie could have played out exactly the same had he not been there. His involvement only further highlights how out of place the movie is within the Dragon Ball continuity, and how similar it is to the Android and Cell sagas. Like the entries before it, Super Android 13! is all over the place as an actual movie, but it’s worth a watch for the individual moments.
13. Lord Slug
Lord Slug sees the return of a Namekian villain in a movie that tries to remind us of Dragon Ball’s King Piccolo, with mixed results. The titular character arrives on Earth and conquers the planet with the intention of using it as a spaceship. It’s hardly revolutionary, but it does offer us new information about the history of Namek, which at least gives Piccolo something to do in the movie.
His extended battle with Slug’s henchman is some of the best Piccolo action in the movie series, while his energy transfer ultimately wins Goku the battle. Gohan, Icarus, and even Chi-Chi also get some time in the limelight, before Goku takes center stage with a new transformation. In the lead up to Super Saiyan, but without any idea what it would look like, Toei ran with their best guess as to how they thought Super Saiyan would turn out. Looking back, it’s confusing and predictable (kind of like the rest of the movie), but it rounds off a pretty unique action sequence in a movie that doesn’t get enough credit.
12. Resurrection ‘F’
Resurrection ‘F’ may seem like it’s low down on this list, but if it wasn’t for that battle with Frieza’s soldiers, as well as the perfect animation all round, you might have found the movie even lower. The first half of the film is strong enough; Whis’ training of Goku and Vegeta is the highlight, but even that only serves to showcase just how out of hand the power scale has become by this point. It culminates with the Z-Fighters’ battle against Frieza’s army, which is 10 minutes of Dragon Ball at its absolute best. Then Frieza gets out of his chair-y thing, and everything starts to go wrong.
That first-form Frieza can one-punch Gohan, or even that Golden Frieza can match Super Saiyan Blue after just four months of training is ridiculous. Beerus and Whis are in the second half of the movie only as plot devices. Their presence lowers the stakes significantly when you realize that either could end it in seconds, and Whis’ temporal do-over is cheap storytelling, even before it means that Goku steals the win from Vegeta. The film actively backs away from taking risks, and it takes as many liberties with series continuity as the non-canon movies on this list.
11. Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan
The Legendary Super Saiyan turned Broly into an iconic Dragon Ball villain, despite his never appearing in canon, and it’s easy to see why. Broly is a complex character (especially for one introduced in the movies), with incredible power and definite shades of PTSD. Unfortunately, the movie fails to delve deeper into Broly’s hatred for Goku, explaining only that Goku cried a lot as a baby, which was, like, super annoying… or something. Somewhere in Broly is a thread connecting this to the destruction of planet Vegeta, but his way of letting us know how much his childhood truly affected him is to scream “Kakarot!” several times over.
Baby Broly’s power level of 10,000 is an interesting idea, but on reflection, King Vegeta’s plan to kill a baby that powerful makes no sense considering what we know about the Saiyans. And why wouldn’t Broly want revenge on Vegeta as much as Goku? Once the backstory is finally out of the way, all we have left is mindless action, which is just not enjoyable, considering Broly’s power. It makes even less sense that Goku would easily defeat him with the energy gained from four weakened Z-Fighters. The film scores points for being entirely original, but its execution is shoddy.
10. Yo! Son Goku and His Friends Return
The second original video animation, Yo! Son Goku and His Friends Return was released as recently as 2008. There’s basically no story – it’s barely a movie at all at just 30 minutes – but it’s a half-hour of pure Dragon Ball fun, and a welcome return for the characters we hadn’t seen in over 12 years. Goten and Trunks initially fight villains Abo and Kado, with Gohan guiding them through it, and everyone leaving it to Goku and Vegeta to save the day. Krillin and Yamcha even take part in the action, while Piccolo, Bulma, and the rest are exactly as we remembered.
The special also introduces Vegeta’s brother Tarble to the franchise, who has actually been confirmed as canon in Dragon Ball Super. Tarble is instantly likable, providing us with an insight on Saiyan traditions, as well as comedic relief as he watches the Saiyans’ battle. The film is all-around funny, and everyone is on form without the restraints of an actual plot. After the Buu saga fell a little flat, Yo! Son Goku and His Friends Return was the light-hearted return the franchise desperately needed.
9. Cooler’s Revenge
Cooler’s Revenge is a pretty blatant attempt to cash in on the worldwide success of the Frieza saga, but it’s a formula that works, and once you get past the repetitive story, there is a lot to enjoy in this movie. It’s a simple premise: Frieza’s conveniently never-mentioned brother seeks revenge on Goku, and with Cooler comes his very own Ginyu Force. Salza, Neiz, and Dore aren’t quite as flamboyant or memorable as the illustrious quintuplet, but they make for an exciting showdown with Gohan and Piccolo, which finally sees the return of the Namekian’s extended arm technique.
Meanwhile, Goku’s battle with Cooler looks stunning, and each gets a new and exciting transformation. Cooler reveals a masked form beyond Frieza’s fourth, while Goku’s latest Super Saiyan transformation, complete with bird resurrection, is one of the most underrated power-ups in the series. Cooler doesn’t develop as much as we’d like, and ultimately falls into the same trap as his brother, but hey – if it ain’t broke…
8. Wrath of the Dragon
The last official Dragon Ball Z movie before Battle of Gods revived the franchise, Wrath of the Dragon is not only one of the most original movies on this list, but it’s also really good. For the opening two acts, anyway. The film begins in similar fashion to the Buu saga; with Gohan, Goten, and Trunks in lead roles. Gohan is protecting the city as Great Saiyaman, while Trunks meets one of the few non-villains to be introduced to the movies. Tapion’s backstory is equal parts tragic and captivating, and he brings Future Trunks’ sword into the present timeline.
With the final act all set up, our heroes face off against Hirudegarn in a battle with high stakes and genuine character moments. And then Goku shows up and beats Hirudegarn. Tapion thanks Goku, despite never having spoken to him through the entire movie, and sets off, never to be seen again.
For 40 or so minutes, Wrath of the Dragon is the full ensemble of Dragon Ball Z characters at their best, and as so often happens, all but one fade into obscurity in the final 10. We expect Goku to dominate these movies by now, but not one in which he had hardly featured at all, and especially when Ultimate Gohan, who easily overpowers Super Saiyan 3 Goku, is fighting the same battle.
7. Bojack Unbound
Gohan does at least have his own movie: Bojack Unbound, which takes place right after the Cell Games, just as Gohan was preparing to take the title of lead character (funny how things turn out). The movie kicks things off with a World Martial Arts Tournament-style knockout event held by Mr. Satan, and the Z-Fighters all show up to participate, besides Goku – who is still dead – and the exiled Vegeta. This gives the likes of Future Trunks and Tien a chance to stand out, but Gohan steps up when the tournament takes a dark turn.
Bojack and his pirate henchmen reveal themselves, and the movie makes a noticeable shift from fun and humorous to dark and stylized. After some strong action scenes, Gohan is the only one left standing, and with a little help from his father, turns on the Super Saiyan 2 in another epic transformation. Bojack Unbound doesn’t try to be anything spectacular; it’s a pretty steady film all round, and it’s one of the few to actually work within DBZ canon (even if it isn’t canon itself).
6. Fusion Reborn
It’s a shame that Fusion Reborn has to miss out on the top five, but it feels more like a collection of scenes than a movie in its own right. Dragon Ball just throws everything into this film, from fusions (duh!) and character reappearances to villain transformations and outright comedy. The result is iconic moment after iconic moment, and yet in hindsight, the build-up to Gogeta is unnecessarily long, and when he finally appears, his battle with Janemba is over way too quickly. Still, any Gogeta at all is good enough for us.
Meanwhile on Earth, Gohan and Gotenks are protecting the planet from the souls of Other World, released by Janemba. Frieza, for example, is dispatched in seconds by Gohan (looking at you, Resurrection ‘F’), while Adolf Hitler returns to retake control of the world. Yeah, that is actually a thing that happens. The film flits between Earth and Other World, and each scene brings a fresh surprise, be it edgy comedy or exciting action. Fusion Reborn is basically an overloaded mess, but also a showcase of top Dragon Ball moments, and a must-watch for fans.
5. Dead Zone
Dead Zone is the first official Dragon Ball Z movie, and it definitely shows. It does look a little dated, but in a way that reminds us of the original series (never a bad thing), and the Dragon Ball characters are all key to the film. Kami even gets in on the action, which in itself is some of the best-choreographed in Dragon Ball history, particularly the battle between Goku and Garlic Jr.’s minions. The film is well-paced, leading to a final battle that opens the door to Goku and Piccolo team-ups, villain transformations, and Gohan’s rage boosts.
Where Dead Zone really excels is its villains, who are somehow just as exciting to watch as the heroes. Garlic Jr. has real-life motivations, and his own overconfidence actually leads somewhere, as he opens the Dead Zone (literally the only thing that could defeat him) in what is still considered an inventive final sequence. In a trend that certainly would not continue through the series, his obligatory henchmen have actual personalities. Besides a couple of minor plot holes, there’s really nothing to dislike about Dead Zone.
4. The World’s Strongest
The second DBZ movie, The World’s Strongest, claims a sense of originality with which the later movies just can’t compete. In fact, it actually inspired the franchise moving forward; there are early signs of the Android arc in the movie, as an evil genius scientist attempts to defeat Goku with artificial humans, while Bio-Broly would later steal the exact same premise (for which we can’t thank it too much). The villain is literally a brain in a jar, and the whole thing feels like a heist movie, without the reliance on action– which makes the action even better when it does arrive.
The bio-warriors each show off a different set of powers, while Goku and Piccolo engage in one of their best ever battles. Master Roshi gets to throw down for pretty much the last time in the series (until Resurrection ‘F’, but the less said about that the better), and Gohan once again gives us a hint at his power. The movie is one of the longest at just over an hour, but there is so much to enjoy about The World’s Strongest that we guarantee those 60 minutes will fly by.
3. Bardock – The Father of Goku
The first of two TV specials, Bardock – The Father of Goku is basically a prequel to the Frieza saga. We get a glimpse of kid Vegeta, tail and all, vowing to one day dethrone Frieza. Baby Goku makes a cameo, being written off as a low-class warrior by his own father and sent off to destroy all life on Earth. The rest of the special focuses on Bardock, but serves more as a history lesson on the Saiyan race; filling in the gaps missing from the series, without ever retelling the same story twice.
Bardock is simply our main character in all this, but at no point is he your traditional hero. He is a cold-blooded killer, and after he foresees the inevitable (by way of a questionable plot device), he takes on Frieza alone with the pride we have come to expect from the Saiyans. It’s a desperate story that is only going to end one way. To the movie’s credit, it doesn’t try to portray Bardock as a match for Frieza – even after he blitzes his way through Frieza’s army in the best of its many action scenes – nor does it waste any time in portraying the Saiyans as anything other than what they are. Episode of Bardock missed the point entirely, but that shouldn’t take anything away from Father of Goku.
2. The History of Trunks
Another TV special, another prequel, and another pretty bleak story. The bottom line is that The History of Trunks has real stakes. There are no Dragon Balls in Trunks’ timeline, and each time Gohan steps up to battle the androids, you feel it every time the androids land a blow. You’re right there with the characters, and as Trunks and Gohan’s relationship develops, it becomes harder to accept that Gohan is eventually going to lose (though it does beg the question: why didn’t Future Gohan turn Super Saiyan 2?). His death leads to one of the most powerful moments in Dragon Ball, as Trunks becomes a Super Saiyan in the rain, surrounded by rubble that was once a city.
There isn’t a whole lot of fun to be in had in The History of Trunks. In fact, its willingness to go even darker and more depressing gives Trunks a kind of motivation that could never be explained through exposition. It adds a new layer, not just to Trunks, but to the entire Android saga canon. The film has recently been confirmed as canon itself by Dragon Ball Super, and we can’t think of another film more deserving.
1. Battle of Gods
After 17 years without an official Dragon Ball Z movie, it’s easy to claim that Battle of Gods is just a nostalgia fix, but it’s actually a great movie in its own right. Sure, the power scale is off the charts, and Pilaf feels thrown in to get the Dragon Ball fans on board, but if you take it for what it is, it’s the perfect return to the franchise. Obviously the action is flawless, lending itself impeccably to the modern animation style (we even get a remastered version of Goku’s original Super Saiyan transformation), and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the film is canon.
Beneath the surface, the existing characters are exactly as we left them, while the villains are just as compelling. Whis is like nothing we’d ever seen in the series, providing an air of mystery that would jumpstart future installments, while Beerus is ambivalent to the point of playfulness, which makes it even more terrifying when he loses his temper and releases the God of Destruction. Their character designs are also incredibly unique, as is the Super Saiyan God.
Goku’s defeat at Beerus’ hands is a movie first, while his shattered pride at not obtaining the God level on his own is Goku all over, and Vegeta gets a power-up that actually further develops his character. The visuals are stunning, the music is chilling, the moments are captivating, and together they make Battle of Gods the best all round DBZ movie.
What is your favorite DBZ movie? Let us know in the comments!
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