Since as long as we could remember growing up as kids, DC Comics has dominated the animated landscape. Their DC Animated Universe began with Batman: The Animated Series in 1992. It has since grown into animated films in 2007 when Warner Premier and Warner Brothers Animation started their line of animated feature films based on some of their beloved comic series and original stories by incredible writers. A total of 38 films – with a 39th in development – and 15 with a connective universe, Warner Brothers shows no signs of slowing down. We also explore the films released before the launch of DC Animated Original Films. Any DC Animated Film between 1993 and 2020 are what will be our top contenders.
10. Justice League Dark (2011)
Based on the 2011 comic book run of the same name, Justice League Dark introduced us to the mystic side of the connected DC Animated Film Universe. With supernatural elements threatening the world, the Justice League are unmatched to take on such a threat. Batman sets off to recruit sorcerers and demons to battle this entity before they take control of the world as we know it. Now with a team of Batman, John Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman, Etrigan and Swamp Thing and Black Orchid, we can only hope it is enough to save the world. Every character is well rounded as they all get their time to shine and show off their abilities. The stand out being John Constantine.
After playing Constantine in the CW Series, Matt Ryan has become the ideal man to play the cynical English Hellblazer. So much so that Matt Ryan has come back to reprise his role in the spin-off film Constantine: City of Demons, the sequel Justice League Dark: Apokolips War and the live-action series Legends of Tomorrow. Furthermore, after the release of Batman: The Killing Joke, they announced the continuation of R-Rated films. This allowed them to give Justice League Dark the accurate depiction it deserved from its source material.
9. Batman/Superman: Apocalypse (2010)
Based on the 2003 Superman/Batman written by Jeph Loeb’s comic run between issues #8 through #13, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse was a sequel to the film Batman/Superman: Public Enemies. When a strange object crashes in Gotham Harbor, Batman investigates the crash site to discover a girl with abilities matching Superman’s. After further investigation they discover her name is Kara Zor-El, the cousin of Kal-El. As Kara tries to make a life for herself as an Earth girl, she struggles to control her abilities. Wonder Woman quickly recruits her to live on Themyscira to hone her powers with the Amazons. However, things take a turn when Darkseid becomes intrigued by Kara and tries to manipulate her into being the leader of his honor guard, The Furies.
Not only did this film follow the comic’s story fairly accurately, but it also managed to follow the similar art style as shown in the comic book and brought to life by the animation team. Though the story focuses mainly on Superman and Kara, it would be a crime not to mention the show stealers of Big Barda and Darkseid. Highlights come from Wonder Woman and Barda taking on the Furies and Superman and Kara facing off against Darkseid. The film also brought back our favorite voice actors for the World’s Finest. Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy return as Superman and Batman, respectively.
8. Batman/Superman: Public Enemies (2009)
The first film to Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is also based on the same comic series that was a story arc that took place between issues #1 and #6. Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly return again as Batman/Superman: Public Enemies kicks off with a major twist with Lex Luthor elected President of the United States. As one of his first acts as President, Luthor enacts a new law that allows the government to employ superheroes to work for the government under Luthor’s leadership. Understandably, Batman and Superman’s mistrust for Luthor puts them on everyone’s radar as rebels against the United States.
But when Superman is framed for the destruction of Metallo with Batman as an accomplice, Lex Luthor puts a warrant out for the World’s Finest. Villains spanning the DC Universe and Luthor’s newly employed superheroes are now on the hunt for Batman and Superman. Batman/Superman: Public Enemies is such a fun ride, as we witness the vast gallery of rouges and heroes try to apprehend our heroes. Everyone from Mongul to Mr. Freeze, Captain Atom to Starfire, and a culmination that leads to an incredible battle between two of DC’s greatest and majority of the DC Universe. With the added bonus of the appearance at the end of the ultimate toy we all wish we had as a kid.
7. Justice League: Doom (2012)
A sequel to Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Justice League: Doom is based on the comic written by Mark Waid. JLA: Tower of Babel, released in 2000, between issues #43 and #46. One of my favorite scenes from DC’s Animated Films comes when Batman shouts “The Justice League is under attack!” and when Alfred responds “By who Master Wayne?” Batmans answers “By me!” As we know, one of Batmans best traits is his ability to plan ahead. But the Mirror Master manages to sneak into the Batcave and download files from the Batcomputer that contains ways to subdue each member of the Justice League in case one of them ever became a threat. Mirror Master hands the files over to Vandal Savage who has altered the schematics to not just weaken the League, but kill them.
This film asks questions that makes the audience question our heroes and Batmans methods. How would we be able to stop an evil member of the Justice League? Could they be stopped? Should documents like this be trusted in the hands of anyone? Or is it a breach of trust? Sometimes we get so caught up in the idea that our heroes will always be a beacon of hope as they fight for truth and freedom, but we also forget that they are also characters that are fleshed out and have dynamics that we don’t consider might make them snap, and when that happens how are we supposed to defend ourselves from them. Making this film not only an exciting scene to witness as the Justice League try to survive the onslaught of the Legion of Doom, but also a compelling and thought provoking story.
6. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)
A rare occasion when an animated film receives a standard and uncut version, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker was a dark tale that gave us an unforgettable story with closure to many of the characters from The New Batman Adventures. Taking place in futuristic Neo Gotham, an old Bruce Wayne continues to assist his young prodigy Terry McGinnis as the new Batman. A threat that Terry and Bruce never expected to face emerges as the thought to be dead Joker resurfaces in Gotham with a new look and new gang of henchmen to once again bring chaos to the brave new Gotham. What made Return of the Joker so dark was the effect Joker’s reappearance took on those around him, as he was believed to have died during Bruce’s crusade as Batman and the psychological torture Joker inflicted on his Allies.
Despite the film’s age, it still holds up as an engaging story regardless of its stance in the Batman Beyond and The New Batman Adventures. Plans for a sequel, involving the return of Selina Kyle and secrets related to the connection between, Terry and Bruce, were announced but later scrapped after the animated series was cancelled. Luckily the television run of Justice League Unlimited gave us a brief adaptation of that story in the episode “Epilogue” in the season one finale. Any fans of the Batman Beyond series who feel like they still need closure might want to check it out.
Also read: 10 Great Movies from DCEU Directors
5. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Breaking new ground as the first animated superhero movie to have a theatrical release, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was a spin-off of the acclaimed Batman The Animated Series. Loosely based on comic book by Mike W. Barr’s Batman: Year Two in which Batman faces off against The Reaper, which is where the inspiration of Phantasm comes from. Since the death of his parents, Bruce has spent his life preparing for the day he can give back to Gotham and make sure the tragedy he faced as a child doesn’t happen to anyone else.
But when he meets Andrea Beaumont he is smitten and begins to fall in love with her. As he makes his first attempt as a vigilante to stop an armed car robbery, he fails and begins to question the path he is on. Unsure if the life he is living is what his deceased parents would want for him, he decides to end his conquest and asks Andrea to marry him.
But life for Bruce Wayne is never easy when Andrea leaves under unknown circumstances, ending her engagement with Bruce. Broken once again, Bruce realizes he lost his last chance at a normal and dawns the mask as Batman. Mask of the Phantasm not only tells the story of Bruce Waynes transformation into Batman, but gives us a bit more back story that lead him to put on the cape and cowl, making this one of the more relatable and emotional Batman stories.
4. Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (2020)
For the conclusion to the DC Animated Film Universe, we couldn’t have asked for a better final entry. Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is a follow up film to earlier entry Justice League Dark. Here we see the ultimate team up between the Justice League, Justice League Dark, Teen Titans and the Suicide Squad. Thought to be defeated after the events of Justice League: War, the League quickly learn that Darkseid is not through trying to conquer Earth and has been plotting another invasion to make our heroes suffer for their previous victory over him.
As we are conditioned to see our heroes overcome adversity and win the war against his army of paradooms, we witness the massacre of Earth’s defenders and the new order of Darkseid. Now with the few weakened heroes and a planet under the control of the Lord of Apokolips, we are left wondering what will happen now. In a desperate attempt to overthrow the Dark God a band of Superman, Raven, John Constantine and Etrigan the Demon recruit the surviving heroes and villains try to reclaim their planet. This film brought everything to the table and took risks we never thought we would see in a DC animated film and solidified Darkseid as the ultimate DC supervillain. And now with the shared universe coming to an end, we are anticipating what they will do next.
3. The Dark Knight Returns (2012/2013)
After some deliberation I first considered to pick one of the two parts to this masterful film. However, I don’t believe it would be given justice when really they should be viewed as a whole. Written by the legendary Frank Miller and released I 1986, The Dark Knight Returns orever changed the new standard for Batman storytelling.
The Dark Knight Returns: Part I picks up with Bruce Wayne at age 55 who has retired his Batman persona after the death of Jason Todd. Still with a hunger for danger and thrill, Bruce tries to avoid the increase in crime that has been plaguing Gotham City. But as a deadly gang called The Mutants bring Gothams crime rate to an all-time high, Bruce comes out of retirement and with the assistance of Carrie Kelly as the new Robin, Batman sets out to end the mutants.
In Part II, the reappearance of Batman sets off a spark in the Joker as he makes his way back into Gotham to reunite with his long time enemy. However, not only has Batman set off the Joker but also the government as they have put an end to heroes and superheroes. The President then orders Superman to either convince him to stop being Batman or arrest him, which leads to one of the most epic and memorable moments in comic book history.
The Dark Knight and the Man of Steel face off in the streets of Gotham that finally answers the highly debated question “Who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman?” with a satisfying answer you have to see for yourself. As one of the most celebrated Batman stories, the film is a faithful adaptation of the comic book that will stand the test of time as one of the best DC animated films.
2. Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
Combining two important comics Batman: Death in the Family and Batman: Under the Red Hood, this film explores the origins of the mysterious Red Hood. When Ra’s Al Ghul hires Joker to create a distraction for Batman so he can carry out his own agendas, Joker takes the ploy too far, kidnapping Robin (Jason Todd) and brutally killing him before Batman arrives to save him.
Five Years later, a vigilante known as the Red Hood emerges in Gotham to try and end crime on his own terms. Batman and Nightwing make an effort to investigate and discover the identity of the Red Hood, leading to shocking results. Batman: Under the Red Hood was tough not pick for the tough spot as the film borrows from its source material so well, while also allowing it to be a story in its own right. It is especially difficult not to give it the top spot considering the incredible voice cast for the film.
Although we always feel a little empty when Kevin Conroy doesn’t reprise his iconic vocals for Batman, Bruce Greenwood gives a very good performance. He manages to capture the somber tone required for some scenes and the aggressiveness in others. Other mentionable performances come from Neil Partick Harris as Nightwing and John DiMaggio as Joker. But the break out star comes from Jensen Ackles as Red Hood. This debut that makes us want to see him in a live action interpretation. Ackles flawlessly takes this character and makes it his own, giving us the voice I can’t help but hear when I read the comic books.
1. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)
When it comes to DC’s long run of Animated Films, it doesn’t get better than this. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox is based on the game changing Flashpoint, released in 2011 and written by Geoff Johns. This sees the Flash tapping into the speed force to take him back to the day of his mother’s death and save her from that incident, altering the DC Universe as we know it.
But when Barry Allen awakens, he finds world on the brink of collapse as Wonder Woman and the Amazons are at war with Aquaman and the Atlanteans. With no powers, Barry tries to find Batman to find answers and possibly reverse what has been done. To his disbelief, when he arrives to Wayne Manor he does not find Bruce Wayne, but his father Thomas Wayne. Thomas survived the attack against his family that took the life of Bruce and set Thomas on the path to becoming Batman.
Other twisted plots fill the film such as Cyborg as the ideal superhero, the government capturing Superman, and Martha Wayne losing her mind from the death of her son to become The Joker. The Flashpoint Paradox takes us on an insane ride executed perfectly from the animation combined with CGI to the exhilarating story that keeps you on your toes begging for more. Warner Brothers brought forward all of their best talents to create the best in their collection, we couldn’t have asked for a better way to kick off the shared DC Animated Film Universe
In the hopes that this list pleases the fans of DC Animated Films, I also hope it inspires others to dive into these films. I always tell people newly interested in comic lore but don’t want to take the time to read the comics to go towards the cartoons, the next best thing.