Together, DC and Warner Bros. have created some of the greatest animated comic book films to date. Really setting the standard for what an animated superhero adventure could and should be, they continue to produce quality entertainment with their animated division. In fact, the infamous Batman story, The Killing Joke, is now getting the DC animated treatment, with voice actors Mark Hamill (the Joker) and Kevin Conroy (Batman) both returning to the roles that have made them legends. With over 20 years of animated films from DC, and more on the way, we wanted to take a look at their collection in order to separate the best from the rest.
Here are Screen Rant’s 12 Best DC Animated Movies of All Time.
12 Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths (2010)
An adaptation of the comics Crisis on Earth-Three and JLA: Earth 2, the animated adventure Crisis On Two Earths sees our Earth-Prime heroes go up against their evil Earth-3 doppelgangers, the Crime Syndicate. Aided and warned by the heroic Earth-3 Lex Luthor, the Earth-Prime JLA must combat the evil Syndicate on both worlds.
This film not only gives us a faithful interpretation of the infamous Crime Syndicate, but also gives us a JLA who are well-established and coordinated. While none of the major voice actors associated with the DC/WB animated universe lent their talents here, the film is still a great entry into their animated library of films. The film also stands above some others thanks to its PG-13 rating, and darker overtones.
11 Justice League: War (2014)
A much more recent entry on this list, Justice League: War is an adaptation of the New 52 story, Justice League: Origin. This film introduces us to a new DC animated universe set within the confines of the New 52 canon.
Regardless of how any of us feel about the New 52’s handling of the characters, War is still an immensely fun, compelling, and visually spectacular retelling of how the core members of the Justice League came together. Featuring Firefly's Alan Tudyk’s cocky Superman and Jason O’Mara’s newer take on Batman, War is a well-balanced and adult reintroduction to an animated universe many of us were already in love with. It could very well end up serving as the basic framework for a live-action Justice League film at some point.
10 Batman: Assault On Arkham (2014)
Based in part on the the Arkham video game series, Assault On Arkham is a unique entry into the animated universe. The name Batman in the title may draw a lot of people in, but don’t be fooled. This is not a Batman film. The film may open up with the Dark Knight, but he really fills more of a supporting role, as the film actually focuses on the villainous group known as the Suicide Squad.
Hands down the best representation of the Squad put to film to date, Assault On Arkham displays not only the squad’s uneasy companionship, but also the brutal leadership of Amanda Waller. Waller orders the team to retrieve a thumb drive with files on all past member of Suicide Squad and its operations. Unwilling to let that information be exposed, Waller sends the team into Arkham Asylum, where the squad not only has to fight against guards, but the inmates themselves. Troy Baker reprises his role as the Joker from Arkham Origins, and we see some great scenes between he and Harley that detail their demented relationship. Altogether, this film gives a comprehensive and entertaining look at the Suicide Squad, complete with the sort of adult themes and violence necessary for such a story. Many viewed the film as a testing ground for a live-action take on the Squad, one that clearly went well.
9 The Dark Knight Returns: Part 1 (2012)
The electric opening to this two part adaptation of Frank Miller's classic miniseries, The Dark Knight Returns: Part 1 introduces an older, grizzled Dark Knight who is forced to come out of retirement to defeat a new and dangerous enemy, the Mutants. In his struggle to recapture the brutal physicality of the Batman and adopt a new Robin, Carrie Kelly, Bruce shows us why he is the only man worthy of the cowl. Not only does Batman beat the living hell out of gangsters and Mutants alike, but he helps reestablish Batman as the symbol he once was.
Inspiring former outlaws to become part of an underground group known as the Sons of Batman, and instilling fear in others, Bruce Wayne’s journey to become the Batman once more makes for a riveting story that makes us fall in love with the man he’s become and reminisce about the man he once was. Of course, former Robocop Peter Weller's voice work as the Dark Knight certainly didn't hurt. DC has a fantastic track record when it comes to casting voice roles, and they certainly hit it out of the park with Weller.
8 Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015)
Slightly uncommon for the DC animated universe, Gods and Monsters is an elseworld story (a standalone, alternate universe-type of tale) that drastically changes the Justice League members not only in appearance and voice acting, but in origin as well. We see a Superman who was raised by Mexican immigrants (and also happens to be the son of General Zod), Batman as a vampiric scientist named Kirk Langstrom, and Wonder Woman as a New God from the now peaceful Apokolips. Though major changes were made to the characters' origins, their personalities and actions are still highly reminiscent of their more mainstream depictions.
One of the most explicit and mature animated stories told by DC, Gods and Monsters is a violent and sexy tale of the Justice Leaguers being framed by an unknown enemy. Struggling with societal acceptance, unchecked power, and a frame job pinning several murders on the members, this version of DC's Trinity has extremely different ways of handling issues than the Justice League we know and love. This film definitely pushed the boundaries of animated storytelling, even for the already mature DC.
7 Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)
There are actually two versions of this film, a rated and unrated version. Both are great in their own regard, but the unrated version takes the film to a whole new level, with added violence and more intense dialogue. Without a doubt one of the most emotional stories told by DC, including their live-action ventures, Return of the Joker continues the large overarching story of Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond. It shows the everlasting struggle between the Bat-Family and the Joker, by showing not just flashbacks but finding an interesting way to bring the Joker back into the fold, long after his supposed death.
The way in which the Joker is brought back is intense, horrifying, and deeply personal for all involved, making for a film too good not to mention on this list. Also, keeping in line with the established story arc from the animated series, legends Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill came back to finish the story as both Batman and the Joker, providing some of their finest voice work to date.
6 Wonder Woman (2009)
A precise and engaging telling of not just Wonder Woman’s origins, but the events before and after her becoming the warrior princess, Wonder Woman definitely makes the list for its masterful telling of what can be an enigmatic origin. This massively scoped epic incorporates nearly all of Wonder Woman’s greatest supporting characters, like Ares, Artemis, Hippolyta, and of course, love interest Steve Trevor. The villainous Cheetah even makes a cameo at one point.
As we follow Princess Diana’s journey to becoming Wonder Woman and venturing into the world of man, we see her develop from a skilled but naive woman into the layered and wise hero Wonder Woman. The film’s jam-packed but thoughtful storyline never lags for a second, hitting all the important beats with top-notch pacing. All the credit in the world is owed to DC animation veteran Lauren Montgomery, who also directed several other entries on our list.
For a hero as immensely popular as Wonder Woman, this animated film gives a faithful and exciting origin that does her character justice. We can only hope the live-action version is half as good as this.
5 Justice League: Doom (2012)
A condensed adaptation of the highly-regarded Tower of Babel storyline, Doom sees our heroes fall one by one due to precise and personal attacks carried out by the villainous Legion of Doom, attacks that were originally mapped out as contingency plans by Batman himself.
Keeping most of the voice talent from the critically acclaimed Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited shows (with an extra bump from nerd king Nathan Fillion), Doom takes us for an action packed rollercoaster ride as we see Batman struggle with the fact that his plans are being used to harm those closest to him. On top of this we get a great use of classic villains like Vandal Savage, the mastermind behind the whole operation, as well as several other well-known baddies, like Bane, Metallo, and Star Sapphire. An all-encompassing, fast-paced thriller, Doom stands out amongst other animated features for its riveting storytelling, stellar voice performances, and crisp animation.
4 Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)
An adaptation of the Flashpoint storyline, Flashpoint Paradox does a tremendous job of telling the story of Barry Allen, aka the Flash, and his efforts to reset the timeline after causing untold damage by going back in time to save his mother in the past. We follow Barry as he tries to navigate his way through this different universe and help with the conflicts burdening the new world he's found himself in.
The Flashpoint world has been torn apart by a war between Atlantis (led by Aquaman) and the Amazons (led by Wonder Woman) as Cyborg, the world’s premier superhero, tries to form his own ragtag Justice League to put an end to the war. Barry's arch-nemesis, the Reverse-Flash, also plays a particularly evil role in the events that unfold. A highly emotional storyline, we see Barry deal with the weight of his history-altering decisions as he tries to undo his mistakes, leading up to an ending that brings a tear to the eye of the Dark Knight himself. The Flashpoint Paradox succeeds in giving us everything an animated adventure needs and so much more with its sophisticated storytelling. We're completely onboard with a big screen adaptation, by the way.
3 The Dark Knight Returns: Part 2 (2013)
The second half of the animated version of Frank Miller’s masterpiece, Part 2 focuses on the newly reinvigorated Batman as he must go up against his arch nemesis, the Joker, and takes on DC’s most powerful hero, Superman. The rebirth of the Clown Prince of Crime, Batman’s final encounter with his most hated enemy, and the battle between the two titans of DC makes for some of the best cinema that DC and WB has ever made.
Not only are we given epic conclusion to two of the greatest rivalries in comics history, but we see Batman humiliate and defeat Superman in epic fashion. Dark, adult, and gritty, Part 2 of this film satisfies Batman fans one and all by showing us what the future could hold for DC's biggest heroes and our favorite comic book villain.
2 Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm (1993)
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was DC’s first attempt at a full-length, animated feature film, and it was an absolute home-run. Considered by many to be DC’s greatest animated venture, Mask of the Phantasm tells an amazing Batman story, unlike any before and after it. A film centered around a case of mistaken identity, romance, and classic Batman action, this film is a blast from start to finish. While as action-packed as they come, Phantasm focuses more on the storytelling than spectacle, keeping in line with the widely successful and award-winning Batman: The Animated Series.
Thanks to the potent combo of Bruce Timm’s direction and Paul Dini’s incredible writing, Mask of the Phantasm stands a cut above the other magnificent animated films from DC. If you haven’t seen this film, or if it's been a few years, don't worry — it holds up. Do yourself a favor and watch it immediately.
1 Batman: Under The Red Hood (2010)
While the animation and voice acting may be a notch below a few of these other entries, Batman: Under the Red Hood tells the most compelling and heart-wrenching Batman story, making it DC's most enjoyable animated film from start to finish.
Adapting the Death in the Family and Under the Hood storylines from the comics, this movie takes us on a Batman journey like no other, as he's forced to confront his greatest mistake as a crimefighter: the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd. Not only do we follow Batman through the grief of dealing with his partner’s death, but we are right alongside the Caped Crusader as he must fight the menace known as the Red Hood, who's later revealed to be Todd in disguise.
Watching as Batman struggles to try and rehabilitate his ex-partner and deal with the guilt associated with letting Robin descend into madness makes for some of the best storytelling you’ll see on film, animated or not. For fans of Batman, fans of DC, and fans of film, Under the Red Hood delivers a magnificent story that will make you feel the grief and anger of the characters on a visceral level. This is a MUST WATCH. Our fingers remain firmly crossed that the villainous Red Hood makes his way into DC's shared movie universe in the very near future.
Obviously there are other great DC animated films, but in an attempt to only include the very best, we may have left off one or two of your favorites. Which of DC's animated efforts did you love the most? Did your favorite make the cut? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.
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