The Worlds of DC films have had its ups and downs. In fact, it mostly had its downs, with fans and critics reacting to the films with a shrug at best and vehement disgust at worst. The films, which include Man of Steel, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman are often a mixed bag in terms of quality, and they never seem to coalesce in the way that the MCU films do. However, there are still DC fans hoping for big changes as the movies head into a new phase of filmmaking. Aquaman and Shazam appear to be offering more fun, action-packed outings, while the limited glimpses of Wonder Woman 1984 seem to indicate a sequel that will deal with some interesting historical material from that era. That being said, one section of DC's filmmaking branch that is typically overlooked is their often excellent animated films.
The animated DC films, also sometimes known as the DCAU (DC Animated Universe), has been offering up beautifully animated adaptations of famous comic book storylines since the late 2000s. These films often feature some truly great voice acting, along with excellent animation styles and storytelling. In many regards, these films often end up being better than any of the live-action films. However, that's not to say that there haven't been some weak points. No studio is going to produce films that are good 100% of the time, however, the DC animated films seem to get it right more than they get it wrong. So where can one start with these films if they want to see some of the best and skip some of the worst? These are 10 DC animated films that are better than anything the Worlds of DC has done (and 10 that are worse).
20 BETTER: ALL-STAR SUPERMAN
Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman is rightly considered to be one of the best Superman stories ever told, so it only makes sense that when it was translated into an animated film, it would end up being one of the best ever produced by DC. While it takes some liberties with the original story, All-Star Superman remains as compelling as ever.
One of the scenes that remains in the film, translated directly from Grant Morrison's story, is when Lex Luthor is finally able to see the world from Superman's point of view. He realizes that everything is connected and that he could have saved the world a long time ago if he had wanted. It's a powerful moment performed beautifully by voice actors Jamie Denton and Anthony LaPaglia.
19 WORSE: SUPERMAN UNBOUND
Superman: Unbound isn't necessarily a terrible Superman animated movie -- it's just that it doesn't really have that much going on. Adapted from the work of Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank, Unbound tells the story of Superman battling Brainiac and stopping his attempt to put Metropolis in a bottle.
Compared to other Superman stories, this one is lukewarm at best. It wraps up a little too neatly at the end, and even though Superman is stripped of his powers in Kandor and must enter a battle of wits with Brainiac, the whole thing is just a little too formulaic to be truly entertaining.
18 BETTER: WONDER WOMAN
Even though Wonder woman already got her own Worlds of DC film that, by most metrics, was a far better film than anything else in the same cinematic universe, she actually already starred in her own animated, self-titled adventure in 2009. The film tells essentially the same origin story as the film, with a few key differences.
The voice work in this film is incredibly strong, with Keri Russell playing Diana and Nathan Fillion as Steve Trevor. The film pulls from all corners of Wonder Woman's history to tell a story that is both exciting and completely respectful of the character's storied past. Overall, this would be a great companion piece to Patty Jenkins's live action film.
17 WORSE: SUPERMAN/BATMAN: APOCALYPSE
There is one really big problem with Superman/Batman: Apocalypse: in contrast to Superman Unbound, the film just has far too much going on to tell a truly cohesive and well-plotted story. Not only does it deal with the origin of Supergirl, but it also manages to throw in Wonder Woman, the Amazons, and Darkseid on top of that.
That's not to say that a movie can't have a lot going on, or that multiple plot threads can't come together in a meaningful way. It's just that Apocalypse tries too hard to have its cake and eat it too, ultimately losing a lot in the process. Sometimes, when it comes to telling a good superhero story, less really is more.
16 BETTER: JUSTICE LEAGUE: DARK
Getting to see cult favorite characters like John Constantine, Etrigan, and Swamp Thing in a film was rewarding enough, but having the DC animated films adapt the first run of Justice League Dark also paid off in how it told a story about the more magical side of the DC Universe.
The film is dark, spooky, and features some great character work. Its only weakness may be having Batman shoehorned into the story. However, that might have been necessary for people less experienced with these characters or stories. Seeing Batman as an audience surrogate is a strange experience, though. That being said, it doesn't put too much of a damper on the story.
15 WORSE: JUSTICE LEAGUE: DOOM
What would happen if a supervillain got their hands on all of Batman's Justice League failsafes? Though it is adapted from the "Tower of Babel" storyline in which the Justice league faces their greatest threat because of one member, Justice League: Doom fails to overcome its weaknesses in order to tell a cohesive story.
The biggest problem is that, like Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, this film feels like it's trying to take on way too much to make any lasting impression. In addition, while the "Tower of Babel" storyline was great in showing how Batman has serious trust issues, the film largely misses that point in favor of heroes fighting a bunch of villains.
14 BETTER: GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT
The Green Lantern origin story was terribly mangled in the big screen version starring Ryan Reynolds. So much so, that even Reynolds can't stop making fun of himself for being a part of it. Luckily, for Green Lantern fans, there is a version of the origin story in the DC animated canon that captures everything the movie missed.
Green Lantern: First Flight does a much better job in portraying Hal Jordan's transformation into the Green Lantern and seeing the universe through his eyes. Rather than relying on a lot of expository dialogue and audience hand-holding, we get the opportunity to take the journey with Hal as he joins the Green Lantern Corps.
13 WORSE: SUPERMAN VS THE ELITE
Superman vs the Elite positions itself as asking the question of whether a hero like Superman has any place in the modern world. It then takes any nuance in regard to posing that question and hurls it out the window by having Superman face off against a team of antiheroes who are almost too cartoonish for this animated film.
The film adapts the "What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?" storyline from Action Comics, which in itself was sort of an obvious retaliation to stories questioning the need for pure Superheroes in the modern world. Ultimately, if the film's simplistic take on this question doesn't turn you off, the bizarre animation style will.
12 BETTER: JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER
There might not be another DC animated movie with as much style and substance as The New Frontier. Not only is this Elseworlds story exciting and well-told, but it also allows every hero to shine on their own merits. Eventually, when the Justice League finally does come together, the film shows just how important and inspiring this particular group of heroes can really be.
Adapted from Darwyn Cooke's multiple award-winning limited series, New Frontier puts the action firmly in the past, while still managing to tell a modern and relevant story. The animation and character designs, hewing closely to the original illustrations, showcases some of the greatest Golden Age designs of superheroes and puts a new spin on a classic Justice League story.
11 WORSE: JUSTICE LEAGUE: THRONE OF ATLANTIS
The Justice League finally meets and joins up with Aquaman in Throne of Atlantis, a film that simultaneously tries to tell Aquaman's origin and a greater Justice League story. Unfortunately, it comes up short on both fronts. While there is some good banter and dynamic relationships between the members of the team, the film just can't seem to rise to the occasion.
Throne of Atlantis, like many of the weaker films on this list, is trying too hard to do too many things at once. In addition, the Aquaman story it is telling is all too familiar to fans and doesn't add anything new to the character. The whole thing only serves as his introduction to the team and offers little else in the way of storytelling.
10 BETTER: BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD
Under the Red Hood is a far better film than even some of the live-action Batman movies. It's one of the most compelling and memorable Batman stories and it challenged one of the Dark Knight's most steadfast rules. In those ways, Under the Red Hood could only be a success when translated to an animated film, and it stands as one of the best ones ever made.
Under the Red Hood captures both the action and the emotion of the original story, yet never gets lost or bogged down in details. It does a fantastic job at focusing on one of the worst moments in Batman's life, as well as how he deals with the consequences of his actions. It masterfully deals with the question of why Batman never just puts an end to the Joker, while not offering an easy answer.
9 WORSE: THE KILLING JOKE
The Killing Joke, written by Alan Moore, is one of the most influential and celebrated Batman stories of all time. The repercussions of its events permeated the Batman storyline for years and it finally gave fans an origin story for the Joker. So why is the animated version of this story so incredibly bad
The Killing Joke fails mostly because of the unnecessary and frankly insulting additions to the story. This includes a romantic relationship between Barbara Gordon and Batman, as well as some truly offensive stereotypes. For a story that is already fairly controversial, there was no need to add these pointless elements that only serve to weaken the impact.
8 BETTER: JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE FLASHPOINT PARADOX
The Flashpoint Paradox is one of the more interesting stories to make into an animated feature precisely because of its complexity. When Barry Allen awakens in an alternate timeline, he must figure out how things got to be the way they are and uncover a stunning truth in the process.
What makes The Flashpoint Paradox such a great story is its alternate outcomes for so many famous characters. Not only that, but it deals with themes of regret and responsibility. Time travel can always get a little crazy when used as a plot device, but Flashpoint Paradox never overplays its hand and instead focuses on the emotional impact of changing things for the worse.
7 WORSE: SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES
Public Enemies, while not a terribly made DC animated film, has far too much going on to keep the focus on the things that matter. Lex Luthor has been elected and has declared the titular heroes enemies of the state, putting on the run while they also try to stop an asteroid from destroying Earth.
For a film that should really be focusing on the relationship between Batman and Superman, the film seems to relish throwing in obscure characters for quick cameos. These unnecessary asides combined with an animation style that bulks up every character far too much make for a disappointing journey with two of DC's premier characters.
6 BETTER: BATMAN: YEAR ONE
Back in the '80s, nothing could stop Frank Miller, who, in the span of two years, wrote two of the most lasting Batman stories ever. One of those was the absolutely brilliant origin story, Batman: Year One. The original comics were a huge influence on the story and style of Batman Begins, but the animated adaptation is just as good, if not better.
Featuring some excellent voice work from Ben McKenzie and Bryan Cranston as Batman and Commissioner Gordon, respectively, Batman: Year One is an almost completely faithful recreation of its namesake comic series. It is gorgeously animated and, despite some dated Frank Miller dialogue, remains relevant to modern issues of crime and poverty.
5 WORSE: SON OF BATMAN
The entire trilogy of films featuring the story of Damian Wayne is pretty hard to get through, but the initial offering, Son of Batman may be the worst one. By telling the story of Damian Wayne, it focuses entirely too much time on a character that was never that popular to begin with.
Damian and Bruce never quite seem to gel throughout these films, and Son of Batman really represents the worst parts of Damian Wayne. Even though he is eventually able to overcome some of his worst impulses, he still feels unnecessary. In addition, his story is dragged out over two more films, and the subplot involving Deathstroke and Ra's al Ghul feels rote and tired.
4 BETTER: JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS
Crisis on Two Earths is one of the only Justice League films in the DC animated canon that takes on a lot of story without feeling like too much. In the classic tale of alternate universes, a heroic Lex Luthor teams up with the Justice League in order to take down a crime syndicate made of alternate universe versions of all the classic DC superheroes.
This film is great in how it handles the conflict between the two superteams who eventually have to put their differences aside to save both versions of Earth. A particularly nice touch is Owlman (though he is played by controversial actor James Woods) and his relentless nihilism, claiming that nothing matters since there are there are infinite universes with infinite possibilities, rendering all choices and free will completely moot.
3 WORSE: JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR
The worst offense of Justice League: War was kickstarting a shared animated DC Universe in which the tone was already too dark and the characters were just weak overall. This film lowered expectations for anything really great to come out of the new shared universe and unfortunately set a precedent for some tonal difficulties in the storytelling.
On top of that, the story in this particular animated entry is far too muddled, and the action is as busy as it is unsatisfying. This entry felt too much like the Worlds of DC films that would come after it, despite the fact that the darker tone and more intense violence was always the problem with these films.
2 BETTER: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
It's one of, if not the most recognizable, memorable, and celebrated stories in the Batman canon, and when the time came to make The Dark Knight Returns into an animated film, DC got it right. The story of an older Bruce Wayne re-entering the world of crimefighting has had a long-lasting influence on the Batman films, and having it told in its purest form was a treat for fans.
The film follows Frank Miller's original plot almost to the letter, with only a few alterations. Even still, the heart of the story is still there, along with Batman's ultimate showdown against Superman. The film came out three years before that same fight would be portrayed in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and it is still the superior portrayal of that battle.
1 WORSE: BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM
Why does it seem like it's so difficult to tell a good story featuring the Suicide Squad? Assault on Arkham does its best but really falls short in every storytelling aspect. Everything about this animated film is almost just as bad as the live action Suicide Squad. On top of that, this film even manages to squander the goodwill of including Batman voiced by Kevin Conroy.
One of the greatest weaknesses of Assault on Arkham is the inclusion of a blatantly evil Amanda Waller. While her comic counterpart (and even the version from the live action film) is often portrayed as residing in a moral grey area, here she is just downright evil, taking away any nuance or commentary on ethics this movie might have had otherwise.