But in case that seems like too long a wait – especially since the first Justice League team-up won’t arrive until 2015 – we’ve got you covered. Warner Bros. and DC Comics have been hard at work for years now, turning their best comic book arcs into animated films with the help of their most trusted talent.
For comic book fans, or fans of good super-powered storytelling in general, we’ve decided on our Top 10 Animated Superhero Movies. See if your favorite made the list.
Director: Lauren Montgomery, Sam Liu
Written By: Dwayne McDuffie
Though Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths originally began development as a bridge between the Justice League animated series and Justice League Unlimited, it’s more directly based on Grant Morrison’s Earth 2, which was itself based on Earth 3 of the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths comic book continuity. Crisis on Two Earths provides a look at an alternate reality; one where DC’s heroes have become the villains, leaving Lex Luthor to seek out our world’s Justice League to save the day.
The plot offers an opportunity to see the darker sides of each hero not just highlighted, but taken to their villainous extremes. Unsurprisingly, it is Batman’s counterpart who embodies the most terrifying and nihilistic ideals, offering the Bruce Wayne we know the chance to show what keeps him from ever becoming a true villain.
The storytelling isn’t as ambitious as other films on our list, but the wealth of super-on-super action and nods to fan-favorite heroes and villains make it a solid animated feature for the TV series’ continuity.
Director: Lauren Montgomery
Written By: Tab Murphy, Jeph Loeb, Michael Turner
Based on the critically-praised “The Supergirl From Krypton” comic book arc, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is centered around the heroic pair’s discovery of, you guessed it, Kara Zor-El, a.k.a. Supergirl. Superman’s cousin and fellow Kryptonian survivor crashes into Gotham City blessed with all the Man of Steel’s powers, but none of his discipline.
Never one to miss an opportunity, Darkseid takes advantage of the newest piece on the board by enacting a plan to claim Kara as his own apprentice. A trip to Apokolips and a knock-down, drag-out fight with Granny Goodness and the Female Furies soon follows, showcasing some truly accomplished and memorable actions sequences that not only feature the principal characters, but supporting characters like Wonder Woman and Big Barda as well.
Every effort is taken to translate Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner’s words and art into motion, so those who know the books front to back may not be as surprised by the plot twists and turns. To anyone who missed the story, the journey to the realm of the New Gods is one we recommend.
Director: Lauren Montgomery
Written By: Dwayne McDuffie, Mark Waid
Justice League: Doom calls on all the best-known League members, pitting the world famous heroes against the Legion of Doom. In a pleasant surprise it’s the villains who get the upper hand this time, exploiting each of their respective nemesis’ weaknesses as part of a master plan for – what else? – world domination.
Translating Mark Waid’s original “Tower of Babel” arc wasn’t easy, requiring several changes to the details and even a replacement of the central antagonist. But shockingly, the changes largely work in simplifying the story and building suspense. As entertaining as the action is, it’s the justice paid to each of the heroes that most resonates.
A truly dark and brooding glimpse into Batman’s paranoia and chronic distrust, the film manages to blend classic mythos with DC’s New 52, enhanced by sharp dialogue and crisp animation. Doom provides a fun but powerful Justice League story – a worthy tribute to the late (great) Dwayne McDuffie.
Director: Lauren Montgomery, Bruce Timm, Brandon Vietti
Written By: Duane Capizzi, Bruce Timm
It’s the story that shocked the world (for a while), and with Superman: Doomsday those who missed the death of Superman the first time around now have their chance. The fist-fight with Doomsday starts the show, but is just the beginning of the story.
Skipping over the long line of imitators and successors to Superman’s vacant throne, the film instead focuses on the lengths to which Lex Luthor will go to attain his ultimate victory over Metropolis’s guardian – even in death – and what it is that keeps Kal-El relevant after all these years. The only criticism we could level against Doomsday would be the noticeable absence of other heroes in the DC universe.
That said, there’s enough Superman – or, Supermen – to keep any fan of Superman: The Animated Series happy. Elements of the story will be familiar to some, and the scope may be smaller, but the plot gets to the heart of the character with skill and reverence. And for that, we love it.
Director: Lauren Montgomery
Written By: Michael Jelenic, Gail Simone
With Wonder Woman, DC and WB provide a more mythically-infused introduction to the mystical, hidden island of Themiscyra and its inhabitants: goddesses in human form, none more potent than princess Diana.
The plot may sound like a fairy tale, but that all changes when Colonel Steve Trevor crashes on the island, bringing the world of men and Amazons crashing together. The chemistry between Steve and Diana is the heart of the story, with writing that is charming, witty, and most of all, believable. The great dialogue is made even better by vocal performances from Nathan Fillion and Keri Russell.
Understandably, signs that the same fiery relationship will be playing a significant role in casting the Wonder Woman TV show has us optimistic. But for those still skeptical about whether Amazon could work – or that a Wonder Woman film could both stand on its own and fit well into a Justice League universe – we think a viewing of Montgomery’s film will change your mind.
Director: Jay Oliva
Written By: Bob Goodman, Frank Miller
It was Frank Miller who helped shape Batman into the ‘Dark Knight’ we know and love, and with Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 his pivotal story is recreated in painstaking detail. From the dark undercurrents of despair to the not-suitable-for-children violence, Miller’s vision of an aging Batman pushed to extremes is brought to life better than we had hoped.
Set ten years after being forced into retirement by laws against vigilantism, a fifty-five-year-old Bruce Wayne must put the cape and cowl back on to cleanse Gotham’s streets before they are lost for good. Familiar faces appear along the way, as Batman is forced to suffer and brutalize like never before, putting every bit of him to the test.
Commitment to the brutal violence and terror Miller made a key part of Batman makes The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 a must-see for any Batman fan. Part 2 will will release soon, promising a fight for the ages and the return of Batman’s greatest foe. Better see the first chapter before then.
Director: Sam Liu
Written By: Stan Berkowitz, Ed McGuinness, Jeph Loeb
When DC first launched their Superman/Batman line of comics, they turned to writer Jeph Loeb and artist Ed McGuinness for the first story – ultimately, one of the best to date. Both the story and style of “Public Enemies” have been faithfully recreated here in animated form, and the results speak for themselves.
After being elected President of the United States, Lex Luthor (surprising nobody) declares Batman and Superman enemies of the state. Sending both fellow crime-fighters and iconic supervillains to bring them in, the heroes-turned-outlaws have no choice but to outsmart and out-punch the rest, proving why they’re the top dogs.
Plenty of nods to both fan-favorite and lesser-known villains, memorable action and a story that sings in motion as much as it did on paper all make Public Enemies one of our most beloved animated superhero films. And yes, the Batman/Superman robo-rocket is still included.
Director: Brandon Vietti
Written By: Judd Winick
An adaptation of the 2005 Batman comic book story line “Under the Hood” by Judd Winick, Batman: Under the Red Hood delves into the darkest chapter of Bruce Wayne’s life under the cowl, and the Batman’s greatest failure – the death of Robin at the hands of the Joker.
If that wasn’t enough of a challenge for director Brandon Vietti, traditional voice actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill make way for Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek) and John DiMaggio (Futurama) as Batman and Joker, respectively. Both actors don’t just suffice, but offer new takes that may become overnight favorites for some. Supernatural star Jensen Ackles voices the eponymous villain, and does a good job of it.
Those who’ve read the comics already know the mystery of the man under the mask, but the film manages to successfully change up the story and pacing for the new format, while still making every emotional moment land just as it was intended. Terrific action, stellar voicework and faithful versions of the entire Bat-family make it a must-see film for any comic book fan.
Director: Brad Bird
Written By: Brad Bird
Pixar’s foray into the realm of superheroes, The Incredibles focused not on origin stories, but the impact exceptional gifts have when heroes settle down and start a family. And the resulting drama and comedy was, in many ways, a side to heroes and villains that had never been addressed.
A family film that both kids and parents can take plenty away from (the dinner tables scenes rang a bit too true for some of us), writer/director Brad Bird didn’t skimp on superhero antics (and a dose of 007 )that were genuinely refreshing. The action and style even helped Bird earn the task of saving the Mission: Impossible series.
For The Incredibles‘ ability to make superpowers work on screen like never before (and in ways only digital animation made possible) it became an exceptional entry in the very genre it set out to explore – the mark of a truly great film, and one that proved the genre can still surprise us.
Director: Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski
Written By: Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Pasko, Michael Reaves
While older than the other films on our list, there’s no mistaking the fact: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is one of the best Batman movies made so far. The fact that it’s animated is an afterthought, and at the time, it proved that cartoons weren’t just for children anymore.
Inspired shot composition, exceptional vocal performances, genuinely clever writing and unrelenting animation all work to make Phantasm one of the best-paced, best-directed superhero movies, period. Granting a glimpse at the life Bruce Wayne almost led, the film delivers a new story, a sliver of Batman’s “Year One” origin and a hero more familiar, relatable and human than Christopher Nolan ever attempted.
Those entrusted with rebooting Batman for Justice League aren’t likely to follow our advice of simply remaking the film shot-for-shot, but a viewing of Phantasm would certainly teach them a few lessons.
Those are only ten, but everyone is sure to have their favorites on both the Marvel and DC sides. DC Comics has certainly gotten a head start on the animated front, but it remains to be seen if the company will be able to translate the proven track record of Bruce Timm, Lauren Montgomery and Co. into live action blockbusters.
For Marvel it’s the opposite: proven success with live-action, but still so much untapped potential on the animated feature front; hence why you find DC ruling this list.
Fans still have The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 to look forward to next year. And with Superman: Unbound and Justice League: Flashpoint also confirmed, this list may need some adjustment before long.
Which comic book stories do you think shined in animated motion? Or better yet, which ones should be next?
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