It’s time to conclude this epic list and give these flicks the recognition they deserve. Marvel may have the edge in the big screen world, but DC surely has the upper hand in the animated world. The cream of the crop here, only confirms that.
14. J.L.A: Gods and Monsters
Bruce Timm made a bit of a comeback producing and co-writing this movie after going a brief hiatus. Thankfully he delivered a very strong entry to the DC animated movie line that had otherwise been lacking in the last few releases. Gods and Monsters turned out to be, not only a breath of fresh air, but a totally new and re-imagined universe for the DC trinity of Superman, Batman & Wonder Woman. These are not the characters we think we know so well, but they’re not entirely unrecognizable either. Superman is the son of General Zod in this tale. He is also raised by Mexican immigrant parents. Kirk Langstrom is Batman who is, in fact turning into a vampire bat with an insatiable blood lust. Wonder Woman is the daughter of Darkseid. These changes give these characters a noticeably different world view. They’re not always nice, and they’re not always selfless in their crusade. Aside from these hooky concepts there lies an interesting story as well. It’s thoroughly compelling throughout and delivers a climatic ending to boot. Voice acting is solid from almost everyone involved. If you want something fresh and engaging, check this out.
13. Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths
Crisis On Two Earths tell an interesting story but the bread and butter is in the movies execution. It’s thoroughly entertaining. It’s a simple enough premise…The JLA vs themselves, sort of. The DC universe is known for having multiple Earths that contain multiple versions of characters we know and love. In this case, the JLA face off against the villainous side of themselves called The Syndicate. It’s intriguing to see the road not taken for some of these characters, especially someone like Batman. What would he really be like if he did go just a little bit further over the edge? Another plus for the movie is it’s similar feel to the fantastic Justice League Unlimited TV series. It plays off the shows strength while still having it’s own distinct flavor. Voice acting for this one is solid. Actor, James Woods plays a particularly good evil Batman( Owlman). There are also some great lines in it, that showcase depth and humor. As an added treat you get a supposed origin to Wonder Woman’s invisible jet. The explanation for Wonder Woman even having a jet is worth the watch alone.
12. Green Lantern: First Flight
Warner Bros. finally gives Green Lantern: Hal Jordan his first well deserved, full length animated feature. On the one hand, it’s a wonderful entry to the lineup DC had at that point. On the other hand it makes one wonder how the big screen creators could’ve screwed up so badly on Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern? First Flight was everything the big screen version should’ve been and it did it in less time and a vastly reduced budget. It’s an origin story that most fast enough not to bore us with the details and it showcases Sinestro as much as he needs to be showcased. Think of it as the Green Lantern version of Denzel Washington’s, Training Day film. A lot of it is Sinestro showing Hal Jordan the ropes, but along the way we see Sinestro for who he truly is. The animation is solid. There are some very exciting action pieces that simply demand your attention. The story is so fast that sometimes it could afford to take it’s time an explore certain things a little further. It’s a good first entry for Green Lantern, but Sinestro steals the show.
11. Green Lantern: Emerald Knights
The sequel to the excellent First Flight film proves to be even better than it’s predecessor. It also improves on the short film concept that Gotham Knight tried to do when it came out. Emerald Knights features a series of short stories that focus on different members of the intergalactic Green Lantern Corps. All the stories are exceptional despite showcasing a lot of lesser known characters that may not be as appealing as Hal Jordan. Every short is worth watching just for the animation alone. It’s some of the best to come out of the DCU. One of the short stories is based on a comic story by writer, Alan Moore called ” Mogo doesn’t socialize”. This is just one of the highlights that this collection of shorts has to offer.
10. Superman/Shazam: The Return Of Black Adam plus DC shorts
The collection of short films for this installment is easily the strongest for me. All 4 shorts arguably do more for the characters than any of their big screen counterparts. We know this is especially true of Jonah Hex. Remember that horrible movie with Megan Fox?… I try to forget too. The Jonah Hex short featured in this collection is an accurate portrayal of what this awesome character can offer to audiences. I think an HBO or Netflix show would do this character justice. The Green Arrow short is a ton of fun and also a much more faithful interpretation of the character than the Arrow TV show. The Spectre is one of my favorite DC characters so I was thrilled with the prospect of having a short based on his adventures. It turned out to be pretty damn good too. The longest short is the titular Superman/Shazam story. It’s worthy of it’s lengthier run time. It’s a nice modernization of the Shazam mythos. The voice acting on display here is top notch. Warner Bros. and DC really did a good job in picking the talent for this one. Give this a try and you won’t be disappointed. At the very least you’ll regain your respect for Jonah Hex.
9. Wonder Woman
We finally get a solo Wonder Woman animated movie simply titled ” Wonder Woman”. It serves as a modernization of her sometimes convoluted origins. It provides enough context for any newcomers to our favorite amazon warrior. It balances various tropes very well. Like Thor, Wonder Woman can get quite chessy if not done with the utmost finesse. They make it humorous enough without making fun of the source material. It’s as much a character piece as it is anything else. The attention to detail in her arc just shows the love and appreciation the creators have for her. Her supporting cast gets that same detail. Steve Trevor shines thanks to Nathon Fillion but the true star is Keri Russell’s Wonder Woman. She is the Wonder Woman we all deserve. She’s compassionate yet firm. She kicks ass when she has to but isn’t blood hungry. The creators don’t dumb her down either. She’s naive about dealing in the modern world but she isn’t stupid. The villains are also a strong point. Hades proves a formidable and truly cool DC villain. One can only hope that 2017’s big screen version of Wonder Woman is remotely as good as this small animated feature.
8. Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker
The only film to come out of TV’s Batman Beyond universe turns out to be a gem. This movie turned out to be so good it could easily place higher on this list but the decisions started to get hard and I had to go with my gut. For those unaware, the Batman Beyond universe is set a considerable amount of years in the future. Bruce Wayne is well into his 80’s and has passed off the cape and cowl to a younger Batman named Terry Mcginnis. SO how is it that the Joker is back? Well, that’s the mystery. It’s a great story that brings back all of Bruce Wayne’s bad memories of his worst foe back into the forefront. It’s especially cool to see Terry battle against the Joker we all know and love. Mark Hamil returns to voice the clown prince of crime, and he’s great. There’s a particularly dark flashback sequence in the movie that sends chills down the spine. It’s got a surprising amount of emotinal heft for something that was still technically aimed for a younger audience,, but the less spoilers you get about the movie, the better. It’s also penned by Batman T.A.S. great, Paul Dini, what more do you want?
7. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
The only truly great DC animated movie made after Bruce Timm’s brief departure from the animated movie line.Based on the comic by Geoff Johns & Andy Kubert, it’s basically a nice alternate reality tale where everything is different except for one person. The Flash. Basically one morning Barry Allen wakes up and finds out that his Mother is alive and well. That’s not all. He quickly discovers that there are no other costumed heroes out there except Batman. Superman never existed and Aquaman and Wonder Woman are power mad dictators. The world is in shambles and no one really knows why… Except Flash. It’s wonderfully paced, with not a moment wasted. I especially love all the subtle( And sometimes not too subtle) references to the DC universe as a whole. It really makes for an enjoyable experience for the DC fanboy, not that you have to be one to enjoy it. As much as it says Justice League on the box, make no mistake, this is a Flash story. Easily one of the best portrayals of the character that there’s been. An important thing to point out here is that it is quite violent. DC held very little back. This is a brutal world and never does it show more than in the climatic ending. Exhilarating right to the end, a must watch.
6. Justice League: New Frontier
Shifting gears away from Flashpoint’s dystopic world, to the innocent time of the 50’s and 60’s. Based on Darwyn Cooke’s ” New Frontier” period piece, we get a glimpse of the early beginnings of Hal Jordan( Green Lantern), Martian Manhunter and the Justice League as a whole. IN a rare case, the movie might actually be better than the source material, which speaks to the effectiveness of this movie. It’s a brilliantly crafted story that blends all the various plot points so beautifully. Every thread leads to something. Some might argue that the payoff isn’t as good as the journey and they may be right but dammit, it’s awesome. The voice actors are nearly all pitch perfect. If the action spectacle of the superhero genre is too much for you, then this is the movie to watch. It carries many themes that get explored all the way to the ending of the movie. It’s sort of an answer to Alan Moore’s Watchmen without intending to be. It demonstrates that you can tell a sophisticated tale for both younger and mature readers without delving into the hyper violence. Not to say that this is light viewing, quite the contrary. From romance, to fear mongering to racism to morality, this one’s got it all. I find that those looking for awesome looking action tend to be underwhelmed, but thats not what the movie is truly going for anyway. There is enough action sprinkled around to sustain most people but the story is where it’s at. This clip is a wonderful example of an alien trying to fit in by simply copying what it sees on Television.
5. Superman vs The Elite
MY favorite Superman movie of all time. Based on Joe Kelly’s ” What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and The American Way?” Nothing else seems to capture the essence of what makes Superman who he is more aptly than this movie in my opinion. I always say it’s the perfect Superman story for any Superman hater because it addresses the very complaints most of them have with the character head on. This movie rises up above just being another generic comic book movie into something far deeper. It’s a simple enough story that’s told remarkably well. After years of having Superman on the scene, a new group called the Elite appears. They are a much more brutal type of superhero that goes to places that Superman never could. They kill, and the public seems to like it. Amongst many questions of right and wrong it poses the most important one. Why does Superman? The answer to that is all the more powerful when you see it unfold in the movie. Superman doesn’t compromise his values or his beliefs, no matter what. That becomes his greatest flaw and his greatest virtue. The movie plays on that very well. I found that by watching this unfold you see that his greatest weakness is not always Kyrptonite. The overly angular animation might put off a few but it doesn’t matter. The story, acting and action are too solid to be ignored.I think the message to take away here is no matter what kind of heroes you think we need, Superman will always be Superman and there will always be a need for a hero like him. If you were disillusioned watching Batman vs Superman than watch this. It will make you believe in the power of hope again.
4. Batman: Year One
The classic story from Frank Miller and co. get’s the movie treatment it deserves here. Nolan’s Batman Begins touches on various things from that story but this animated movie gives us, an almost panel for panel adaptation. Add Bryan Cranston voicing Jim Gordon and you;ll see why the end result was as good as it is. It’s as much a Gordon story as much as it is a Batman one. The inner monologue Gordon has gives the movie a delightfully crime noir feel throughout. Corruption, violence and prostitution are running rampant in Gotham and it’s rotting the city to the core. Enter Batman. It doesn’t pull punches and we’re better as an audience for it. We see his inexperience starting out as Batman. He makes mistakes and so does Gordon, both professionally and personally. The animation is exceptional here. They did a commendable job translating David Mazzucchelli’s distinct artwork on screen. A story this iconic had a lot of pressure going in but it thankfully met expectations and delivered a great Bat-flick.
3. Batman: Under The Hood
This movie definitely outdid it’s original source material. It cut the fat and refined the great points in writer, Judd Winnick’s Under The Red Hood storyline. It’s the story of Batman’s greatest failure coming back to haunt him, the death of Jason Todd. Jason Todd was the second Robin after Dick Grayson gave up the mantle. On one of many missions with Batman, Robin runs into the Joker and becomes one of his many victims. The movie covers this flashback sequence in some detail. It’s brutal and unforgiving in it’s portrayal. Fast forward to the present day and a new crime fighter is on the scene that goes by the Red Hood. His identity is a mystery but there is some connection to Jason Todd that hits Batman on a personal level. Once the Joker gets involved the stakes become that much higher. The movie plays on some similar themes that Superman vs The Elite touched on, and that is of the choice never to kill. Is is justified to totally abide by that code even in the case of someone like the Joker? Batman has to face that letting him live might have led to the death of Jason Todd. The Red Hood certainly throws that right in Batman’s face time and again. There’s a great scene at the end that touches on this the best. It’s one of the most tense and emotionally charged scenes I’ve ever seen in animation. Actor Bruce Greenwood nails playing Batman/Bruce Wayne. For my money the best to do so since Kevin Conroy. It’s a very dark and bleak story but not just that way for the sake of being that way. The script is masterful in making the dark moments have real depth and the payoffs of this are aplenty. The animation matches the quality of the script and the acting, giving us the nuance necessary for the big dramatic moments. For a long time this was the premier Batman film the DC animated line released and depending on who you ask, it still very well may be.
2. Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm
The first animated feature for DC is also the only one to have a limited theatrical release. I missed out on watching it on the big screen but I would LOVE to watch it in that format today. Mask Of The Phantasm spins directly out of the critically acclaimed Batman: Animated Series, as you can tell by the distinctive Bruce Timm art style. A team of writers, including the great Paul Dini, were charged with writing the story and script, and each gave the movie their distinct flavor to the work. Having a larger budget allowed the creators to put a lot more attention to detail. The animation is better than it ever was and every punch or line of dialogue can be heard with crystal clarity. Even the music gets an added umph to it. As for the story, the movie is really an amalgamation of 2 or 3 Batman comics, namely Batman: Year one and Batman: Year Two. I feel it greatly improves on the source material, particularly Batman: Year Two. The movie adds it’s own little things here and there and the end result is the benchmark of any good superhero movie, not just an animated one. When an animated movie can transcend in that way you know you’re watching something special. Something, even timeless perhaps. Both Kevin Conroy( Batman) and Mark Hamil ( Joker) arguably give their best performances as their respective characters but it’s Dana Delany who really makes an impression. Delany was so good that I feel she helped elevate everyone else involved. Her performance as Andrea Beaumont( Bruce’s first true love) really helps to create a rich an engrossing character who will forever be remembered fondly by fans.
Aside from seeing Bruce Wayne’s journey to become the Dark Knight for the first time, we also get an even rarer thing, especially for flashbacks. You get to see a time where Bruce was happy. His relationship with Andrea Beaumont made him happy enough to not even want to become Batman anymore. It only helps to make Bruce Wayne more human. Everyone of us has good memories to go along with the bad no matter how traumatic an experience we had. Watch the movie to see how the tide turns and how ultimately Bruce Wayne becomes Batman anyway. I’ve always loved this moment between Bruce and his parents.
Check out this classic and you won’t be disappointed.
1. The Dark Knight Returns : The deluxe edition
Speaking of classics. we get to The Dark Knight Returns. Nearly 3 hours running time for this epic masterpiece based on Frank Miller’s seminal work. This turned out to be Executive Producer, Bruce Timm’s last movie before taking his hiatus, and what a way to go out. The creators behind this movie knew full well the amount of care that had to be taken in adapting, possibly the greatest Batman story of all time. When this project was announced early on you could see that they were certainly making an effort to stay close to the source material. They announced it as a 2 parter, indicating that no vital moments would be cut from the story. Once it became as seamless movie once it was released in a deluxe edition.
The story is one about an Batman coming back out of retirement to save the city once more. Bruce Wayne’s in his 50’s and crime is as rampant as ever, while Batman hasn’t been seen in 10 years. It’s a strong character piece that really dives into why Bruce Wayne is Batman, and just how much he needs to be Batman. Eventually Bruce can’t keep watching Gotham go down the hole and he can’t continue to block out the voice in his head that seems to be screaming out for him to return as Batman. It’s especially interesting to see where Batman’s supporting characters are at that stage in their lives. Gordon is weeks away from retirement and Harvey Dent finally had reconstructive surgery on his face to repair any lingering reminders of being Two-Face. And the Joker? He’s been in a comatose state for years, that is, until Batman resurfaces. It’s a timeless story that is still very much a reflection of 1980’s America but can also be applied to various parts of the rest of the world. it’s psychologically complex and even politically charged. The role that the media plays is also something very unique to The Dark Knight Returns. In some ways things haven’t changed, if anything, they may be even worse in today’s world.
We also get a great sense of finality to this epic. It very much feels like this will be the last time for certain conflicts that arise. Many films have been greatly influenced by Dark Knight Returns including Batman vs Superman. For my money, Dark Knight Returns gets their conflict right, as evidenced by this tense exchange between the 2 men.
It’s a mature, sophisticated take on a classic hero that boils down everything that Batman is about. No stone is left unturned here. Big kudos has to go to all the voice actors especially Peter Weller, who does a good job playing an older Bruce/Batman. The fight scenes are OUTSTANDING. The best I’ve seen of any animated feature. Even the musical score is fantastic. I was hard pressed to find something that could match, or even surpass Mask Of The Phantasm but if anything could, this would be it.
Hope you enjoyed the list! Hope you’re as excited by the upcoming Killing Joke as I am.