During San Diego Comic-Con in 2006, DC announced that they would begin creating animated films based off beloved comic book storylines, starting with stories adapting “Death of Superman”, Darwyn Cooke’s sublime “New Frontier”, and the Wolfman/Perez story “Teen Titans: The Judas Contract”. They even claimed they’d try to emulate those stories’ art styles. Fans got…two of those, and only one was even a good adaptation, and that’s about what DC comic fans have dealt with for these adaptations ever since.
Over ten years since that announcement, Warner Bros. Animation has brought us over three dozen films based on some of the coolest characters DC Comics has ever created, with most of them being adaptations of well-known comic book stories. Some of them have actually been great adaptations of the comics they’re based off. But since talking about those aren’t any fun, CBR’s instead chosen to bring you 15 DC animated films that ruined the stories they’re based off. Before we begin: these films don’t necessarily have to be bad and in fact, some of them are great movies…they’re just horrible adaptations. They skip over key character moments or cool scenes in favor of cutting the time down or making things simplistic, and sometimes just miss more than they get right.
15. TEEN TITANS: THE JUDAS CONTRACT
“The Judas Contract” is easily the most iconic storyline in all of Teen Titans history, covering how the team dealt with a deep betrayal by one of their own allies to their greatest enemy. The story was initially meant to be adapted as one of the first wave of DC Animated films that would cover classic comic book storylines, but was eventually canceled due to a lack of “broad fanbase appeal” before finally coming out over a decade later earlier this year.
Of course, when it came out it was literally nothing like the actual comic book, covering only the most broad plot points while changing up the Titans roster and being set in the present day instead of being a cool ’80s period piece. It also doesn’t even attempt to adapt George Perez’s gorgeous, iconic art style.
14. SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES
In 2010, DC animated films delivered another adaptation of comic book story arc, taking the first arc of Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman comic book and turning it into a film. “Public Enemies” would see DC’s oldest and most well-known heroes team up together in a world where Lex Luthor has been elected President and is attempting to use his power to restrict the actions of vigilantes, eventually leading the Man of Steel into a trap where he’s framed for the murder of long-time Superman rogue Metallo.
From there, Superman spends most of the film (and the comic) on the run from Lex’s own special super-team while trying to clear his name with the help of the Dark Knight. Public Enemies’ biggest problem is that it’s forced to cut things for time, like the fight between Batman and Lex, and appearances by Superman and Batman’s respective supporting super-casts.
13. JUSTICE LEAGUE: FLASHPOINT PARADOX
Regardless of how anyone feels as far as the overall quality of “Flashpoint”, there’s no denying that this 2011 crossover is one of the most important DC storylines of all time, responsible for completely resetting the universe and turning it into The New 52 that lasted for half a decade. And for what it’s worth, Flashpoint Paradox adapts that storyline pretty well, showing the “broken mirror” DC Universe that’s been altered because Barry Allen went back in time to stop the Reverse-Flash from killing his mother.
If the story has any flaws, it’s that the film is too short and can’t adequately convey the feeling of a ruined universe the way the comic did, with its myriad of tie-ins that showed you multiple sides of conflict in this world. This added a lot of depth that had to be pulled out from the film adaptation in order to save time.
12. BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE
“Batman: The Killing Joke” is easily one of the top five most iconic stories of all-time. It tells the story of the Joker’s attempt to break Batman, as he believes that all it takes for any human being to become the same as him is just “one bad night”. This is a Joker that, up to this point, we’d never seen before — sadistic and terrifying, this single story would be what transformed the character into the top tier Batman villain he is today, as he permanently crippled Barbara Gordon and kidnapped and tortured her father as well.
The Killing Joke should’ve been an easy short film for DC to adapt, but instead they added a needless, gross scene and relationship between Bruce and the far younger Barbara before the events of the comic itself because the story wasn’t long enough for a full film.
11. JUSTICE LEAGUE: DOOM
In 2012, DC released a sequel to their popular Crisis on Two Earths film. This time, they adapted Mark Waid’s incredible JLA: Tower of Babel storyline, where Ra’s Al Ghul discovers Batman’s contingency plans for dealing with the Justice League, nearly killing them all by setting each individual plan into motion. The film instead sees Vandal Savage assemble his own Legion of Doom and use similar plans in order to take out the League once and for all before he can enact his plan of creating a new civilization.
Though a decent enough film, the major problem with Justice League: Doom is that is absolves Bruce of any consequences by the end. He’s responsible for nearly taking out the Justice League and they can’t even be bothered to temporarily remove him from the team while he earns their trust back? Lame.
10. BATMAN: YEAR ONE
Batman: Year One is one of the most well-known comic book series of all time, and the announcement of an adaptation in animated form was a huge deal when it was announced. Following a Batman at the beginning of his career, it sees Bruce return to Gotham after over a decade abroad with the intent of cleaning up his home town. The story is notoriously vacant of Batman’s typical super-villains, instead focusing on the mobsters and organized crime that originally gave the city its seedy reputation.
Batman spends most of his time teamed up with Lieutenant Gordon, one of the only clean cops in the city, while he tries to achieve his goals. The film is a largely faithful adaptation, but at only sixty four minutes the film is far too short. Worse still, the comic’s largely introspective nature makes it a rough adaptation no matter what.
9. JUSTICE LEAGUE: THRONE OF ATLANTIS
After Warner Bros. Animation decided they wanted a single continuity for most of their films going forward, the next few were all set inside of an alternate version of DC’s “New 52” continuity, including Justice League War, and this, the Throne of Atlantis. A loose adaptation of Geoff Johns’ Justice League-Aquaman crossover only a few years prior, the film followed the story of the Justice League dealing with an invasion from a mysterious group… that is eventually revealed to be the lost people of Atlantis.
Throne is one of the few entries on this list that hewed as close to its source material as possible. Still, it loses quite a bit of time having to introduce Aquaman because he wasn’t in Justice League: War, and it’s refusal to use other DC heroes outside the League tones the drama down and makes several scenes feel not nearly as tense as they should.
8. JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR
Both in the comics and in animated form, Justice League: War is a follow-up to the story of “Flashpoint”. In continuity, it’s the first major story of the New 52 universe after Flash sets things right in his past and things return to a slightly altered version of the “normal” world he’s used to. In both versions, the seven major heroes who form the Justice League unite in order to take down Darkseid, a powerful alien dictator who brings the full military force of his planet Apokolips to bear against Earth in order to bend it to his knee.
Justice League: War is a fairly faithful adaptation to the comic book version, but it does unfortunately replace Aquaman with the young hero Shazam, which is a fairly large change to the “Big Seven” dynamic the comic book was going for.
7. BATMAN VS. ROBIN
DC became a little obsessed with Damian Wayne during the New 52 era, and nowhere is this more plain than inside many of the DCU animated films, where Damian is either introduced into stories he had nothing to do with (like in Teen Titans: The Judas Contract) or he existed in the story originally but his importance is massively overblown, like in Batman: Bad Blood, or here in Batman vs. Robin.
A loose adaptation of the “Court of Owls” story, Batman vs. Robin starts out with the two characters investigating kidnapped children and winds up as a massive mess featuring Talia, the actual Court of Owls, and an argument between Damian and Bruce over trust issues. Scott Snyder’s original “Court of Owl” story was actually plenty straightforward without needlessly complicating it.
6. JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths has one of the more complex backgrounds of DC’s animated films. It began as a completely different thing called Justice League: Worlds Collide, intended to be the crossover that explained Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. After being canceled, it was reworked to remove all references to the DCAU continuity and became the film we ended up getting.
Adapting elements of the 1964 “Crisis on Earth-Three” and Grant Morrison’s JLA: Earth 2, it focused on the Justice League coming into contact with their evil counterparts from a parallel world. Crisis on Two Earths is on its own a good movie, but it leaves out tons of cool twists that JLA: Earth-2 had, including the idea that “evil must always win” was simply a rule of the Crime Syndicate’s universe.
5. SUPERMAN/BATMAN: APOCALYPSE
The sequel to Superman/Batman: Public Enemies was yet another story from Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman run (“The Supergirl from Krypton” arc that brought Kara Zor-El back into the DC Universe), and had the honor of being the first sequel to a DC animated film ever. When a meteor lands on Earth that has a spaceship embedded inside containing a girl with powers not unlike Superman’s, Clark decides to help train Kara and help her learn how to use her abilities.
Unfortunately, Darkseid knows about her landing on Earth and starts to make his own attempts to kidnap her and twist her to his own personal desires. This adaptation was decently accurate, but still decided to cut out a lot of cool bits like Kara’s eventual introduction to the rest of the superhero community, a landmark moment for a character missing from the DC Universe for over a decade by that point.
4. BATMAN: BAD BLOOD
Batman: Bad Blood is kind of a cheat, since it’s not an exact adaptation of any one story, but is instead clearly inspired by “Battle for the Cowl” and some of Batman, Incorporated. It deals with the aftermath of an adventure where Bruce is believed to be dead, and how all the heroes he’s inspired since then deal with that loss.
Though Bruce’s “death” in the comics is somewhat controversial, the stories that arose while he was unable to watch over Gotham are generally regarded as some of the best of all time. Unfortunately, Bad Blood doesn’t allow Bruce to even stay dead long enough to do anything fun with it. Battle of the Cowl wasn’t the smartest story ever, but there was a lot of potential to show how Dick, Jason, and Tim all approached being Batman differently that was abandoned in favor of other plotlines.
3. SUPERMAN: UNBOUND
When Geoff Johns took over Action Comics in 2008, he made the Man of Steel one of the most interesting characters in superhero comics at the time, providing us with several classic stories featuring Superman and some of his most iconic villains. So naturally, when DC decided they were going to adapt one of these stories, “Brainiac”, fans were excited to see how it would turn out.
Unfortunately, in an effort to both save time and avoid having to tie into any stories before or after “Brainiac”, Superman: Unbound wound up stripping much of the emotional resonance that was found in the comics. It also didn’t even attempt to emulate Gary Frank’s gorgeous, detailed art style and instead gave Unbound the same generic look of most other DC animated offerings.
2. SON OF BATMAN
In 2014, another of Grant Morrison’s legendary comic book stories was brought to life in the form of “Son of Batman”, an adaptation of the very first arc of his 2006-2013 Batman run, “Batman and Son”. In that story, we see a routine Batman adventure turn into him meeting his former lover Talia Al Ghul…and their son, Damian.
The comic version of this story is a simple, standalone story that’s largely about the different methods Talia and Bruce use to raise their child. Its ending is simultaneously bombastic and heart-rending, as Damian wants nothing more than to see his mother and father get back together so they can be a real family. The film on the other hand, complicates things by adding Ra’s, Deathstroke, Lazarus Pits, and all sorts of unnecessary junk that was never in the source material.
1. SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY
Debuting over a decade ago in 2007, Superman: Doomsday is the first of DC’s animated films that made the conscious choice to directly adapt a classic comic book storyline. The original DC storyline was a sprawling adventure that took place across two whole years and dozens of issues of comics, seeing the Man of Steel lose his life in a massive battle against Doomsday, and the story of his eventual rebirth and return to the DC Universe. Love it or hate it, it helped lay the blueprint for later line-wide events…but Superman: Doomsday stripped most of the cool parts out.
Instead of getting to meet cool characters like Steel and Superboy, we’re left with a bunch of Lex Luthor created clones due to the film’s attempt to disconnect itself from the wider DC Universe. If there’s any proof needed this story wasn’t done proper, they’re doing it over in 2019.
What movie do you think should’ve made this list? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
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