Frequently Asked Questions
There is no simple answer to this question, but I shall do my best.
Toei Animation originally animated the movies in a 4:3 aspect ratio (equivalent to the square-ish size of a typical old-style television set.) However, they intentionally animated the movies with the intention of being cropped, so as to fit onto Japanese theater screens. In other words, they were very careful in animating the movies, so that no details would be lost when cropping for a theatrical exhibition. All theatrically-release Dragon Ball/Z/GT movies were, indeed, cropped for their theatrical release, but animated from the beginning by Toei knowing they would be cropped.
It gets even more confusing with the American DVD releases. Early American Dragon Ball/Z/GT movie releases were in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Usually in America, this is the aspect ratio associated with cropping a theatrical movie to fit an old square-shape television set. In actually, the OPPOSITE is true.
This is Toei's original 4:3 animation, BEFORE it was cropped for Japanese theatrical exhibition. In other words, these versions actually had MORE picture than the Japanese official theatrical releases! However, as was previously stated, these movies were created with the intention of being cropped for widescreen exhibitions, so these movies actually had more picture on the screen than was ever meant to be seen.
The latest "double features" released in America of the Dragon Ball Z movies properly crop the movies back to their Japanese widescreen exhibition aspect ratio, and are enhanced for viewing on widescreen televisions. At long last, American audiences have the "properly cropped" versions that only Japan has had for years.
However, one of the double features was of the Trunks/Bardock specials. These originally aired on TELEVISION, in a 4:3 aspect ratio, and were intended to be seen as such. That said, this double feature HAS been cropped, and is no longer in its proper original aspect ratio intended for viewing.
Which versions of the movies should I buy?
Like the series itself, the movies have many different reissues that have come out over the years. All American movie releases are in the 4:3 open matte fullscreen ration except where stated otherwise.
-Pioneer Versions: The old Ocean Group that dubbed the show did the first 3 movies - Dead Zone, World's Strongest, and Tree of Might. While long out of print, these dubs are considered far better and closer to the Japanese script than the more recent FUNimation redubbed versions.
-Ultimate Uncut Editions: When FUNimation was doing this discontinued line of episode releases, they put out a 3-pack containing their redubbed versions of the first 3 movies. It is not necessary to get this box, as all of the movies have since been reissued/remastered/etc.
-Individual Releases of the Movies: Put out on DVD from roughly 2000-2006, all of the movies from Lord Slug to Wrath of the Dragon (basically all of the Z movies except for the first 3) got individual disc releases. The two TV specials are reissued in this format as well. These versions include character profiles and some other minor featurettes that do not appear on later releases. However, all of these individual releases are out of print.
-Double Features and Triple Feature: All of the Z movies (including the TV specials) got reissued in this format, in steelbooks. These were also available on Blu-ray. Remastered by FUNimation and featuring the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, this was the first "consistent" release line of every Z movie.
-4 and 5 packs: Basically the same discs as the double/triple features for the Z movies, combined into 3 boxes worth of content, allowing someone to collect all the movies with relatively few purchases.
-Dragon Ball Movie Box: A box set featuring all of the original Dragon Ball movies, except for Curse of the Blood rubies.
-Dragon Ball Movie 4-Pack: A box set with all 4 Dragon Ball movies (including Blood Rubies), remastered by FUNimation. These are in the 4:3 aspect ratio and not the theatrical 16:9, for some strange reason, as most of FUNi's recent reissues went back to doing the theatrical ratios.
So, the simple answer is this: For the Dragon Ball movies, get the 4 pack. For the Z movies, get the 4 and 5 movie packs. There are rumors FUNimation may do Dragon Box releases of the movies, however nothing has been confirmed. In the meantime these releases are your best bet.