I recently watched and reviewed the latest – and quite possibly final – film in the One Piece franchise. Afterward, I took a moment to pause and reflect how One Piece really is a massive series to behold, with several hundred hours of runtime spread across well over a thousand episodes. In addition to that great volume, there are now fifteen “movies” and a dozen “specials,” and I use quotes because the practical distinction between the two gets a little blurry. Though they generally do not and cannot fit perfectly into the main continuity of the story, they often shine like the gems one finds amid a dragon’s hoard of gold.
It’s interesting, at least to me, how the movies and specials developed alongside each other as the series progressed. The early ones were fairly short, not even an hour long, as well as simplistic and formulaic. Though, in truth, the franchise has been using the same formula from the start, in the series arcs, in the movies and specials, even in the very first One Piece OVA, the one produced in 1998, before the anime ever began, the next year. But I digress, my point being that the first few movies and specials, like the arcs in the show, were short and simple.
The next batch of movies and specials began to grow gradually longer, with more fleshed out stories that felt less like slightly-longer episodes and more like actual feature-length animated films. Some have added to the backstories of beloved characters like Zoro and Nami, and several began to draw on and refer to events in the anime, or even bring minor side-characters in alongside the main cast.
Then came the recaps, which just present events which we already know from the series, just much more concisely. I skip all of those.
Finally, the most recent movies, Stampede and Red, have been absolute madhouses, gifts to the longest fans, so jam-packed with characters from the anime that they quite nearly overwhelm the story itself with, “here’s everyone, here’s the box they’re trapped in, and here’s us shaking that box with all our might.”
It’s all great fun, and there’s a surprising variety to be found. Some are very dark in tone, some are hilarious, some are more bland, some are grand adventures, and some are pandemonium unleashed.
Naturally, after watching Red, I just had to watch and re-watch all of the movies and specials, and thus I just had to rank my personal favorites! I could not resist! 😉
So now I present to you, my wonderful audience, my top twelve favorite One Piece movies and specials! I recommend all of them (outside the recaps), but especially these! 🙂
12) Curse of the Sacred Sword
The fifth movie, where we meet a figure from Zoro’s past as a pirate hunter, a hero who has been possessed by a mystical sword with an unquenchable thirst for blood. To save this man and his followers, who were once just and noble protectors, the Straw Hat Pirates must assist the local villagers in the enactment of a sacred ritual. They pass through traps galore and overcome many enemies, just to create a chance at destroying the cursed blade and saving those trapped under its influence.
This one’s at the bottom of the countdown just because of how blandly it handled Zoro’s confrontation with his old comrade. If not for that, this zany adventure in an exotic land, where they must defeat Zoro’s friend in order to save him, would be a bit higher up.
11) Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island
The crew comes upon what appears to be a most fantastical island of wonder, adventure, and tests of skill. In truth, it is actually the bloodstained garden of a single nefarious flower which has bonded with a most devilish man, a man who delights in inflicting misery onto others even as he indulges in the illusory assuaging of his own agony. As the bonds of the Straw Hats are strained and broken, even Luffy’s great and indomitable will is brought low.
I would say this is, by far, the darkest installment of the One Piece franchise. While such makes it a most riveting movie, it also earns a spot near the bottom of this countdown. That, and how it’s the minor characters who save the day, in the end, which is a touch anticlimactic.
10) Dead End Adventure
A good long while before Stampede, the Straw Hat Pirates get themselves into another pirate gathering centered around a race. Looking for fun and profit, they pit themselves against a number of infamous names as they scurry for the grand prize. But duplicity, betrayal, and revenge abound behind the scenes, centered around a particular pirate with a most unsavory reputation, with many ill deeds to his name. It’s going to take all the wits and will which the barely-fledged Straw Hats have to overcome their enemy, and survive the terrible wrath of the seas as well.
There is a certain charm to the earlier days of the Straw Hats, which is how they initially began to build their massive fan base. This movie is fun, full of intriguing, twisting plots as well as action, it was clever how they came up with a way to defeat the villain, and it was so sweet seeing lost loved ones reunite in the end. 🙂
A once-honorable officer in the Navy has gone far off the deep end. In addition to being extremely brutal and merciless even to pirates who are clearly not bad people, as well as his former allies and comrades, he embarks upon a mission to unleash a most devastating cataclysm upon the world. Countless innocent lives are at risk as the Navy scrambles to stop him, but all in vain. The only hope of the New World lies with the Straw Hat Pirates, who are drawn into the fight as a matter of honor, survival, and retrieving Luffy’s hat.
It is fascinating to me how so many villains in One Piece can be so one-dimensional, while others are much more complex. The villain this time was once a hero, but the many losses he suffered drove him to madness, until he seeks to destroy what he once fought to protect. Thus, this movie is far less happy-go-lucky and more a riveting struggle born of many tragedies. There’s still the usual humor, of course, and it is absolutely adorable to see Nami as a child again. 🙂
Out of all the specials and movies, this one certainly fits in most naturally in the actual canon. Taking its name from the message which Luffy sent out to his crew around the world, to postpone their rendezvous from three days to two years, the events of 3D2Y take place early in that time skip.
As Luffy is training under Silvers Raleigh, and still reeling from the death of his brother, Ace, he finds that his friends and allies from Amazon Lily have been targeted and taken by a new enemy. An infamous pirate of yesteryears escaped Impel Down in the midst of the chaos wrought by the mass jailbreak, and as he’s looking for revenge on all those who wronged him, his first move is to take the underlings of Boa Hancock. Thus do Luffy and Hancock have to work together again, with some unexpected help from Buggy the Clown, in order to rescue her people and stave off the destruction which their enemy seeks to inflict on the world.
Not only is this classic One Piece fun, but it’s chock full of goodies for the fans. Buggy and his crew, which are the very best at interpreting everything Buggy does in the single most positive light possible, are a hilarious addition, and the small contribution of Perona and Mihawk is a nice little treat as well. Hancock and her girls are absolutely wonderful allies, yet again. Seeing Luffy as he’s struggling to master new abilities, including the debut of his Red Hawk attack, is gratifying, especially as he’s trying to heal after losing Ace. That is sharply contrasted with the enemy he faces, including a man who is already a master of the abilities Luffy is training in, and who no longer values his own brother, and who constantly rubs Ace’s death in Luffy’s face. Basically, he was a perfect manifestation of all of Luffy’s negative emotions, including guilt, sorrow, rage, and fear. Cliche, perhaps, but emotionally effective.
7) Giant Mecha Soldier of Karakuri Castle
After accidentally rescuing an old lady trapped in a treasure chest, the Straw Hat crew give her a ride back to her home island, in exchange for the possibility of a great, golden reward. The detail is in finding this legendary treasure, for which they have to both work with and compete against three stooges, to follow the clues and unravel the mystery. Soon enough, the truth is known, and the pirates find that they are the only ones who can protect the world and, more immediately, a beautiful and ancient creature from one man’s small-minded exploitation.
This is one of the more fun and funnier movies of the franchise. That tone can occasionally shift a bit much, as one moment the villain is hilarious, and then they’re formidable and dangerous, and then they’re hilarious again, but overall it’s just good fun. Action, humor, treasure hunting, and a grand adventure! The Straw Hats get soooo close to actually having and using a good and proper treasure!
6) Heart of Gold
Halfway through the countdown, and we’re already reaching towards the upper crust, the greats, starting with this special prelude to One Piece Film: Gold. 🙂
Pirates and Navy alike are after a great and mysterious treasure known as the true gold. The key to finding it lies with a young girl who is more than she seems, whose estranged father created the true gold and also the traps which guard where it lies hidden. Seizing a moment to escape her pursuers, she falls into the hands of the Straw Hats, who follow her in a race with their foes, even down into the belly of a great beast, to find the true gold, the truth behind it, and the most priceless treasure of all: family.
It’s another fun treasure hunt, filled with action and laughter. Add in the introduction of a feisty, conniving, little girl, who is oh so adorable as she undermines her own schemes due to her inability to keep her inner monologue within her own head, and this special certainly earns a higher spot. Especially for what the Straw Hat Pirates teach her about trust and family. Alas, the biggest point against it is actually the villain. For all that he gets a temporary advantage over the Straw Hats, he’s fairly lackluster in his swollen desire to hunt for treasures, such that he ostensibly dies as a he is submerged in stomach acid, chasing the light of the true gold.
5) Adventure of Nebulandia
An unexpected reunion with old rivals starts out all in good fun, but soon turns sour when it is revealed to have all been part of a clever, intricate trap set by a very skilled opponent. Fun and games suddenly become a desperate struggle with their lives on the line, but how do the Straw Hats and their allies overcome an enemy who seems to have seen every move they make ahead of time, and who will be satisfied with nothing less than their heads?
I’m going to have to write a post about the villains of One Piece sometime. Some of them are trite and relatively mundane in their evil, but others are truly interesting, such as this brilliant Navy tactician who, in many ways, pushes the Straw Hats harder than almost any other enemy they’ve ever faced, and all with the use of his brain instead of some grand superpower.
Besides that fascinating aspect of this special, this doesn’t have a treasure hunt or a land in need of liberation from a tyrant. This is a straight-up rescue mission and showdown with the local Navy, and it is both brilliant and exciting. Toss in the return of Silver Foxy and his crew, as well as what is simply some very good pacing for a multi-threaded story, and this is one of the funnest and most suspenseful rides in the franchise.
The only details I thought held it back was the obvious mole planted within the ranks, and how the enemy’s final scheme relied on shooting Luffy, the one thing which everyone knows is useless!
In search of fun and fortune, the Straw Hats come to a massive ship, a floating Las Vegas, owned by the richest man in the world, who wields the power of gold in more ways than one. It goes well at first, but they fall victim to the scam, the trick which has left many a poor soul in impossible debt. To overcome, they must use all of their wits and wiles, throwing their bodies and brains at a world which drowns souls in cruelty and greed. Fortunately, they get a bit of help from an old friend and rival of Nami, a fellow thief and trickster. They’re certainly going to need all the help they can get when facing down an enemy for whom money is quite literally power.
It’s fun, it’s sleek, it’s stylish: Gold in a nutshell! It’s great to see a bit more of Nami’s past, as Curse of the Sacred Sword gave us a snapshot of Zoro’s, complete with an old friend and kindred soul. Mind you, the duplicity of this fellow thief was something that could be seen miles away, as she plays all the sides against each other in order to steal the single most massive fortune in the world, but, well, nothing’s perfect! 🙂
Being so Nami-centric – and I will always love when the spotlight shines on my anime crush – Gold is basically a heist movie, One Piece style. The Straw Hats have to do a lot more sneaking around than is their usual, at least until the final showdown kicks off and they can get down to simply kicking ass. Both of which, the sneaking and the action, are tremendous fun to watch, as are the thrills of the initial setup. And dang, the Straw Hats look good in so many different outfits! 🙂
In this 22-year-anniversary gift to the fans, the pirates are having a festival! It’s a complete madhouse with loads of familiar faces, all of them on the hunt for a magnificent prize, a piece of the legacy of none other than the King of the Pirates, Gold Roger! Pandemonium erupts as the pirates race and fight, the Navy invades, and all the eyes of the world turn towards their festival. But as the authors of this bedlam unveil themselves, dangling a true and genuine shortcut to the One Piece itself like a carrot before the eyes of the world, so do they unveil the truth of their scheme: to create a time of chaos and conflict which will overturn the world, just so they can outshine the impact of all the other pirates, past and present. The only hope for the world lies in a hastily-formed alliance of pirates, marines, warlords, and even revolutionaries. Let the stampede begin!
Between many of the pirates we’ve come to know and love, touching on the roots and very premise of the show by invoking Gold Roger, the displays of power and resilience of the heroes as they are set against the desired anarchy of their enemy, and everything else, this is non-stop action, thrills, and fun, fun, fun! The massive cast might be a bit overwhelming to keep track of, as so many characters are thrown into the shrinking box of the plot, but it turns out pretty great! And to top it all off, Usopp has a moment to shine as his scheme pulls the final rug out from under the super-powerful villain who dismissed his value! Oh, yes, he may well be the weakest of the Straw Hats, but he’s also the most wily! I love it! 🙂
2) Strong World
As the Straw Hats learn of a mysterious threat to their homelands, they find themselves scattered across a dangerous land where only the fittest can hope to survive. Fighting for their lives and loved ones, they face a most dangerous enemy, a menace from the days of Gold Roger now returned and aiming to take over the world in a wash of bloodshed. Poised on the brink of realizing his ambitions, all the enemy needs now… is Nami.
This is probably the single “best” One Piece movie out there, as Empire Strikes Back is the “best” Star Wars movie. Alas, the criteria is “favorite,” not “best.” 😉
And this movie came really close to taking the top spot by storm, as most every aspect of it, from the animation and the music to the plot and the pacing and even one of the most perfectly balanced casts, is extraordinary. No complaints here! With possible exception to how the enemy is finally beaten just by hitting him really, really, really hard, LOL!
Luffy reunites with a beloved friend from his childhood, the daughter of Shanks, who has now become a famous musician, making her official debut to the entire world, in the form of her first live concert. Alas, this heartfelt reunion soon turns sour as her madness is unveiled in her scheme to take the entire population of the world forever into a dreamland under her control. To save everyone she threatens, a multitude of faces, representing diverse world powers, must come together to fight her in both the dream world and the real world, foremost among them the two most important men in her life: her childhood friend and her father.
I admit freely, this one comes in at number one almost entirely due to the music. I love this soundtrack! 🙂
Even besides that, however, there is just such a massive emotional impact made by this great crescendo of the franchise that, madhouse or not, I simply can’t help loving this movie to pieces. It’s just so poignant and beautiful.
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