Grab your cowl and soup up the Batmobile, as we prepare to delve into the colorful but dangerous world of Batman animation. Taking the Caped Crusader from page to screen at the stroke of a paintbrush has gifted us a whole new world since Super Friends in 1973. Although Batman didn’t get his own animated feature film until 1993, the Warner Bros. machine hasn’t stopped churning them out since.
They've covered many of the Dark Knight’s most famous storylines and tackled some of the greatest Batman and Joker or Batman and Robin relationships out there. While others have voiced Bruce and Mr. J, Batman their animated counterparts have become synonymous with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. Elsewhere, the great and the good of Batman writers and directors have thrown their hat into the ring, giving us no less than 30 movies.
As the DC Animated Universe threatens to overtake the live-action films in quality, you can’t argue that the animated movies don’t consistently offers solid animation, gripping stories, and characters more memorable than Rachel Dawes. So, from wayward offspring to frozen foes, owls to anime, what are the 15 Greatest Animated Batman Movies?
15 Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)
Where did it all go wrong for Batman: The Killing Joke? What could’ve literally been the best animated Batman movie ever was left as a colorful blot on the Dark Knight’s horizon. Given that the majority of DCAU films are based on comic book storylines, you'd think it was a formula they had cracked by now. However, the brilliant pages of Alan Moore’s work and the ultimate Jim and Barbara Gordon story didn’t do well with its 2016 reboot.
Several of the original Animated Series actors reprised their voice roles and this was only the second Batman film to garner an R-rating, but The Killing Joke’s short page-run led to a drawn out feature-film. You could pretty much fast forward to the key scenes of Barbara’s infamous Oracle maiming, or Jim’s fairground torture, and do away with a lot of fluff. Sam Liu and Brian Azzarello entirely invented a Batman/Batgirl opening which adds nothing and, is in fact, a snooze at best.
While it may be known for defining the Gordons up until the New 52 reboot, sadly The Killing Joke on screen focused too much on Barbara and not enough on the glorious pairing of Conroy and Hamill as Batman and Joker. The Killing Joke is by no means the worst animated Batman movie, but it just scrapes into the top 15 because its source material was so influential.
14 Batman: Mystery Of The Batwoman (2003)
By 2003 we were already brimming with Bat Family members, but Curt Geda shoehorned one more in for good luck. This time it was Batwoman, a thorn in Bruce’s side as he took on Penguin, Rupert Thorne, and gangster Carlton Duquesne. There were multiple suspects, including Detective Sonia Alcana, Wayne Tech’s Dr. Roxanne "Rocky" Ballantine, and Duquesne’s daughter Kathy.
Mystery of the Batwoman did just what it said on the box; it was a mystery. With the brilliant twist that all three suspects were actually Batwoman at various points, it pulled off a Scream-esque finale that no one saw coming. However, copying The New Batman Adventures' style, it is a little less gritty than its predecessors and it was missing something to make it a wholly memorable film.
Elsewhere, when watching the film back, the animation style on Penguin is particularly old-fashioned. Perhaps we are used to a more menacing today, but here he looks like Mr. Monopoly has been eating a few cakes. If you want to see Batman alone and battling his foes, then Mystery of the Batwoman is not for you, but if you want to see a lovable Bruce fumbling with romance while battling crime, roll on up.
13 Son Of Batman (2014)
With only a loose tie to the Son of Batman storyline, Warner Bros. aimed to introduce Damian Wayne to the DCAU in style - and mostly succeeded. There was humor running just beneath the surface of one of the most noir Batman animations out there. Admittedly, it reeks of a New 52 rehash and, apart from a few direct lines pulled from the comic books, don’t expect to see much of Grant Morrison’s work here.
Several key players like Tim Drake, Harley Quinn, and Jeremiah Arkham are omitted from the film, and while this may seem in bad taste, they're replaced with the likes of Ra's al Ghul, Killer Croc, and Nightwing. Also, Deathstroke takes on the role of the film’s main antagonist, expanding an interesting relationship between him and Talia Al Ghul. It may be controversial to knock her down from the film’s main bad guy, but Talia as a sympathetic mother is an interesting decision.
The big talking points from the film are the army of Man-Bats, bringing Dr. Kirk Langstrom to the forefront as one of Gotham’s most underused characters. Also, the dramatic fight between Damian and Dick seemed so natural, it's almost wrong that it wasn’t in the original run. Seeing the two Robins go up against each other with crisp animation perfectly sets up the Damian Wayne trilogy.
12 Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)
There is something whimsical about an alternate reality tale, casting off expectations and effectively getting away with murder (sometimes literally) without fear of fan retribution. The Flashpoint Paradox animated film proves that said paradox wasn’t just a jumpstart to the New 52. The film may be overcrowded by the likes of Deathstroke and Lois Lane, while Martha's time as the Joker feels too short, but the Wayne family gets its time to shine.
Flashpoint was gloriously gory, as a much older Batman, voiced by Kevin McKidd, tried the best to control his bloodlust. Showcasing a world where Thomas Wayne lost his wife (to villainy) and his son, it is clear how easily any version of Batman could become a bloodthirsty vigilante.
Representing a disbanded Justice League akin to the end of Captain America: Civil War, Batman was still the key to the group and somehow held it together in this shattered reality. You can argue all you want that Flashpoint is a Flash-centric film, but that doesn’t make Flash the best character - not by a long shot. By messing with the formula of what we know about Batman, Flashpoint was a brave outing for the Caped Crusader.
11 Batman vs. Robin (2015)
The middle ground of the Damian Wayne trilogy is also arguably its best, introducing the Court of Owls and pitting mentor against student with Star Wars-style glee. While Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin line from the late '00s saw Dick Grayson under the cowl, Batman vs. Robin sticks to the classic pairing of father and son. We see Damian struggling to shed his assassin ways and inadvertently bring a whole court of enemies knocking at the door of Wayne Manor.
It was never going to be easy to cram Morrison’s story and Scott Snyder’s fantastic Court of Owls into 76 minutes, but director Jay Oliva tried his best. Diehard Batfans will complain that too much is left at the roadside, but there is enough there to satisfy existing experts on the series and newcomers alike.
The Talons are there mainly for the elaborate fight scenes, which are well drawn in blacks and red, and the climactic final battle is well worth the wait. The Court themselves are the political string-pullers of Gotham, made all the more menacing by their beaked masks. There are only two things that let the film down: an ambiguous ending that clearly was just there to set up the third film, and the fact that there isn’t really enough Batman vs. Robin for a film with such a title.
10 Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998)
While it may not be hard to top Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero freezes any idea of its predecessor, then smashes it with a hammer. Ditching Arnie and the snow puns, it is “ice” to see a more serious side to Victor Fries less than a year after he lost nearly all his credibility. Serving as a standalone sequel to Mask of the Phantasm, SubZero seems to tell the story that Schumacher wanted to, but didn’t know how.
It may be illegal to murder people just to save your cryogenically frozen wife, but that doesn't stop audiences feeling a swell of emotion for poor Mr. Freeze from minute one - something Schwarzenegger took an entire film to earn. It's a particularly grim tale where Freeze intends to harvest Barbara Gordon’s organs while Dick Grayson rushes to save her. With an Arctic lair and abandoned oil rig, Michael Ansara’s serious Freeze paces around like an archetypal Bond villain.
Where SubZero rules, though, is by disproving the people who thought it would be an inferior accompaniment to the live-action film. Well, look how wrong naysayers were. Not only a solid Batman adventure, SubZero also reinvented Mr. Freeze long before the New 52 even thought about it. To top it off, what other Batman movie features a polar as a house-pet?
9 Batman: Assault On Arkham (2014)
Assault on Arkham is what Suicide Squad could’ve been Will Smith may have been a competent Deadshot, but here Neal McDonough is the out-and-out leader. There is no Rick Flagg clogging up proceedings, Bruce pops up just when we need him, and Amanda Waller lives up to her “Wall” nickname. Taking the style of Rocksteady’s Arkham games, a cockney Penguin and the dripping walls of Arkham look even better in cartoon form.
There are the obvious casualties, like KGBeast, while Black Spider lasts slightly longer but fades into a lackluster background character. It is the women that make up Assault, but it isn't just the Harley Quinn show. Killer Frost rules, with Jay Oliva and Ethan Spaulding finding unique ways for her to use her powers. Elsewhere, King Shark’s lovable lughead eclipses Killer Croc’s addition to the live-action. With Shark in early drafts of Ayer’s film, we can’t help but feel like he should’ve stuck with the original plan.
While Suicide Squad barely got to flash Joker’s metal grill, Assault cleverly built up his role, perfectly voiced by Troy Baker. It all concludes with a Joker-filled finale. Again leaving the story open for a continuation, it is a safe bet that many people would rather see Another Assault on Arkham than a second run with Ayer's live-action squad.
8 Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker (2000)
The Joker is back... or so it seems. Return of the Joker took an aged Bruce to the very end of his days, then had him pulled him out of retirement once more by a plucky Terry McGinnis. It almost seamlessly bridges the gap between The Animated Series and Batman Beyond, giving us the crossover we always hoped for. However, to get the real version of the tale, you simply have to watch the unedited DVD release.
With Henry Rollins and Melissa Joan Hart voicing the madcap band of Jokerz, it is a veritable A-list cast, with Hamill and Conroy again in their respective roles. Return of the Joker is a pretty standard mystery that we could see coming, thanks to flashbacks of Joker’s “death” and what happened to Tim Drake. There is, however, a bittersweet irony and a nod to A Death in the Family as Tim suffers a fate similar to Jason Todd. Like Flashpoint Paradox, Return of the Joker crafts an almost alternate world where Curt Geda took all bets off the table.
Batman Beyond was braver and bolder that the rest of the Batman animations and Return of the Joker remained faithful to that. Part Blade Runner, part Ghost in the Shell, future Gotham is a technological terror brought to life. While McGinnis is an adequate “new” Batman, the film would be nothing without the grizzled, lonely Bruce Wayne; a grim depiction of what he will eventually become.
7 Batman: Return Of The Caped Crusaders (2016)
It may be hard to find a voice duo who can top Conroy and Hamill, but Adam West and Burt Ward may just be it. Even in their advancing years, the duo exuded gusto by returning to the roles that made them household names. Ward plays the Boy Wonder will all the awe and “jeez Batman” quips you would expect, while West is still the stoic and calculating Caped Crusader.
Perfectly tying in the with the explosion of Batman ‘66 memorabilia, Caped Crusaders is a campy nostalgia trip that is unlike any other Batman story out there. Anyone for a TV dinner? Sadly, with the passing of Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, and Frank Gorshin, most of the villains are voiced by (pretty good) soundalikes. While you can barely recognize Julie Newmar as Catwoman, Jeff Bergman does a glorious Romero impression.
With the classic theme tune, crazy dancing, and a ludicrous plot, you feel like you never left the ‘60s. Almost a direct sequel to the shark-repelling 1966 film, Caped Crusaders rightly earns its place, and the promise of an upcoming Shatner-filled sequel.
6 Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)
If there was a unique way to tie together the first two of the Nolanverse Batman films, Batman: Gotham Knight surely takes the crown. Told in an entirely fresh way, the film takes influence from Japanese culture without leaving the confines of Gotham City. While it may fall short of The Dark Knight, which came out shortly after, people need to stop comparing Gotham Knight to the live-action films, because it was anything but!
Even though Batman legend Bruce Timm umbrellas the film, there is a rotating merry-go-round of writers and directors who put pen to paper. Gotham Knight’s eclectic storytelling technique means that you effectively get six films in one, so if you ever feel one area is weaker, there isn’t a long wait until the next segment.
It is when “Darkness Dwells” takes us beneath the city that Gotham Knight really shines. With Nolan’s partner in crime David S. Goyer at the helm, “Darkness Dwells” gives us a terrifying Killer Croc and a return visit from Scarecrow.
However, it is the Deadshot-lead finale (also named "Deadshot") that offers a Guy Fawkes parody and an “all guns blazing” fanfare to round off the show. Gotham Knight is a fascinating experiment and study in both writing and style.
5 Batman: Year One (2011)
Frank Miller can sure make a dirty Batman story. His 1987 story arc Year One is a seminal piece of work for Bruce Wayne. This time, Batman finds a new voice in Ben McKenzie, who was ironically the actor who went on to play a young Jim Gordon on Fox’s Gotham. Confining the story to literally the events of one year, Year One has a clear structure from the start.
Highlights include a much more edgy Catwoman. Seeing Selina Kyle stalk the streets as a dominatrix continues the genius character alteration from the comics, while Eliza Dushku voices her with all the charisma you would expect.
Year One may be about a young Bruce Wayne returning to Gotham, à la Batman Begins, but it is foremost a bonding tale between Wayne and Jim Gordon. Bryan Cranston is everything we want from Gordon, part police officer, part father, but also wholly human and imperfect. There is a satisfying climax that cements the pair and we also get a beautifully shot Joker tease to send a shiver down our spines.
For Year One, there is one minor flaw - while a narrative style works on the page, it can across as a little corny on film; a problem that Miller’s Sin City also suffered. With the Year One story spawning the likes of The Long Halloween, we can only hope that it too will eventually find itself in animated form.
4 The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)
Will Arnett’s appearance in 2014’s The LEGO Movie may have been brief, but it was enough to warrant the most fun Batman adventure to date. In comparison, The LEGO Batman Movie makes Return of the Caped Crusaders looks like a Frank Miller film. Color, characters, and a sympathetic Joker were splashed in our faces in a movie that wasn’t just for kids.
LEGO Batman worked wonders by keeping adult fans entertained with just about every possible reference we could hope for. From shark repellent to George Clooney’s rubber nipples, and the most obscure of Batman’s villains, they was all there. Meanwhile, the actors bounced off each other and Arnett and Michael Cera became an adorable Dynamic Duo.
Relationships were the core of the story, which also had a heart - something that Bruce Wayne has been accused of lacking. The soundtrack may not have been as happy as “Everything is Awesome,” but “Friends Are Family” hammers home the message of the film.
3 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Pt. 1 & 2 (2012/2013)
There aren’t many Batman films we would call must-buy, but the two-part Dark Knight Returns is one of them. Part 1 establishes a dystopian Gotham, while Part 2 is a Joker story and full-on Batman v Superman, which may explain why Snyder based so much of his film of the comic book source.
While you might fear that Frank Miller’s dark world was too... dark, Jay Oliva and Bob Goodman managed to flesh out these grimmer moments without making them cartoony. As a 55-year-old Bruce is pulled out of retirement “again,” and is joined by (a somehow still alive) Alfred and a new Robin. Jason Todd is dead and spunky Carrie Kelly is the newest Robin.
There is no new villain (apart from the band of mutants) and yer aren’t trying to figure out who is hidden under some mask - it's all classic Batman foes. A “reformed” Two-Face lords over Part 1, while a catatonic Joker awakens for the final act and goes full-Joker in Part 2. However, the main villain here is actually Superman.
We get crazy new imaginings of an overweight Selina Kyle, the death of Joker, and the ultimate Batman and Superman fight that is almost impossible to top. While both films work on their own, The Dark Knight Returns as a whole is a beautiful addition to any collection.
2 Batman: Under The Red Hood (2010)
No film has trod the line of good and evil in Batman as dangerously as Brandon Vietti’s Under the Red Hood. The Red Hood has been a formidable specter in the world of Batman since 1951, but here it gets a fresh coat of scarlet paint for the 21st Century.
By combining parts of the Death in the Family storyline, the DCAU goes some way in reforming the underwhelming Jason Todd. It is no secret that Todd is effectively the Damian Thorn of the Robins, and making him Red Hood was a genius move translated perfectly from the comics.
It may be a predictable reveal, but yer don’t really mind, probably since Judd Winick, who wrote the Under the Hood comic, was back onboard. During the film, Hood isn’t really a villain and the bad guys are a delectable trio of Black Mask, R’as al Ghul, and Joker - Black Mask in particular finally gets some deserved screen time, here played by Prison Break’s Wade Williams.
The unique premise is Batman “ghosting” to the past, instead of full-blown flashback scenes, avoids taking away from the main action. We get to see Todd’s street urchin background and even the famous scene where he tried to steal the tires off the Batmobile. As both a Batman and a Robin tale, Under the Red Hood lifts reveals the complicated relationship between the Dynamic Duo.
1 Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm (1993)
Perfection may be a bold turn of phrase, but Batman: Mask of the Phantasm gets just about as close as possible in continuing the dark universe from The Animated Series.
Much like in The Dark Knight Rises, Batman is forced into fugitive mode, hunted for a crime that the audience knows he didn’t commit. From the secluded parking garage opening to the explosive finale, Phantasm sets the tone on the right side of dark.
Free from the time constraints of a Saturday morning cartoon, Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski take their Gotham to great new heights, as well as introducing Andrea Beaumont. As a possible love interest, Beaumont overshadows the likes of Chase Meridian and even Vicki Vale, although she is no Selina Kyle.
As a character, Phantasm is a ghoulish Grim Reaper, whose reveal throws the book on gender stereotypes out of the window for a real jaw-dropping moment. The Batman and Joker battle in the “City of the Future” exhibit is mind and scene-blowing, giving Joker the best villain lair of any Batman feature.
Conroy and Hamill bounce off each other with ease, while the flashbacks give us an origin to Hamill’s Joker in his first feature voicing the character. Mask of the Phantasm is still a treat 24 years later and may possibly be one of the greatest animated films out there (sorry The Lion King). It's without a doubt the greatest Batman animation ever made.
Which is your favorite animated Batman film? Sound off in the comments below!
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