While Marvel is lauded for the way it has constructed its cinematic universe, DC is not credited for excelling against its competitor in another arena: original animated films. Since 2007, DC’s Animated Film Universe has spawned 26 films, with more yet to come. Based on continuities from storylines within DC Comics, the films have excelled at adapting their stories to an animated film format for mature audiences.
They are a perfect solution for those who enjoyed television series like “Batman: The Animated Series” and “Justice League: Unlimited” but don’t read the comics. But with 26 options to choose from, which ones are worth watching? To help out, we’ve compiled a list of the films that managed to stand above the rest thanks to their execution and adapted storyline.
15. JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR
Released on February 4, 2014, the first film from the New 52 continuity of DC Comics, which also jumpstarted its movie universe, “Justice League: War” is a film that captures the essence of what DC is constructing in its animated platform. The film acts as an origin story of sorts for the Justice League, bringing together a group of unlikely superheroes as they must repel an alien invasion. With a rash of mysterious kidnappings occurring throughout Gotham, Central City and Metropolis, it is soon revealed that a group of aliens, led by Darkseid, is set to invade the Earth, and this bunch of superpowered heroes must band together for the first time to save the planet.
With Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Cyborg and Shazam acting as the main heroes, the film does a great job of quickly expanding on the characters’ personalities while using a great blend of action and comedy throughout. The film simultaneously acts as an origin story for Cyborg and integrates his story well enough with the plot that it doesn’t feel as though it’s trying to do too much. For those looking to get into DC Original Films, “Justice League: War” is a good first stop.
14. SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY
Based on the “Death of Superman” storyline from the comics, “Superman: Doomsday” follows the Man of Steel as he contends with the rampaging monster known as Doomsday. Despite its immense power, Superman is barely able to defeat it, although it costs him his life in the process. As a result, Metropolis is forced to live life without a Superman, and his friends suffer in various ways as a result of his death. Soon, the arrival of a familiar face sets a sinister plot in motion that could spell danger for Metropolis and the entire world.
Despite the various mixed opinions fans have about the film, it was commercially successful and is the only DC animated movie to hit $12.5 million in sales. It may verge drastically from the original storyline, but “Doomsday” has great callbacks to its adapted material, and comics fans will enjoy the various nods and Easter eggs within the film. While it does not have the same animation quality when compared to its contemporaries, “Superman: Doomsday” set the trend for mature animated DC content and illustrated the potential these films have.
13. SUPERMAN/BATMAN: APOCALYPSE
Based on the “The Supergirl from Krypton” storyline from the monthly Superman/Batman comic created by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness, the film charts the likes of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as they contend with a startling discovery: a young Kryptonian girl by the name of Kara Zor-El, revealed to be Superman’s cousin. The trio must wrestle with this new development and help Kara to adjust to life on Earth. Meanwhile, the villainous Darkseid looms on the horizon and has his eyes set on Kara as a new addition to his army.
When talking about this film, it is important for viewers to realize that it is a Supergirl story. If you’re looking for a more Superman-Batman centric story, this isn’t it. However, “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse” exposes us to a more parental side of Superman as he teaches Kara what it means to live on Earth while charting her growth and eventual journey towards following in her cousin’s footsteps as a superhero. The film also boasts the talented voice acting of Kevin Conroy (Batman), Tim Daly (Superman) and Susan Eisenberg (Wonder Woman), who are renowned for playing these roles in the DC Animated Universe.
12. SON OF BATMAN
What would Batman’s son be like exactly? Well in “Son of Batman,” we find out pretty quickly. Based on the comic storyline of the same name, the film chronicles his meeting with Damian Wayne, who is revealed to be his son with Talia Al Ghul. Heir to the League of Assassins, Damian is trained from a young age to succeed his grandfather Ra’s Al Ghul. However, their headquarters is attacked by Deathstroke, who looks to take the position for himself. With Ra’s falling in the attack, Talia whisks Damian away to Gotham for Batman’s protection. The only problem? Damian is selfish, arrogant and hell-bent on taking revenge against Deathstroke alone. It will take all of Batman’s patience to reign him in.
This film serves as an origin story for Damian, who has become quite popular as one of DC’s latest Robins. He presents an interesting take on the Robin mythos and is more complex than he appears. In many ways, he is like his father, and the dynamic between the two is fun to watch, especially as they begin to slowly understand one another. Batman fans of any and all kinds would do well to give this film a look.
11. JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS
All his life, Damian’s only had to rely on his strength. This time around, he has to learn to depend on the strength of others. After a mission goes awry when he disobeys orders from Batman, Damian is taken to Titans Tower, where he joins Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy and Blue Beetle as part of the Teen Titans. Being who he is, Damian has trouble meshing with the team, believing himself to be above them in every way. Meanwhile, a dark shadow looms over the Justice League and possesses them, leaving the Titans as the only force capable enough to stop the beleaguered Leaguers and defeat its malevolent, demonic possessor.
Fans of the 2003 animated series and the comics should enjoy this film, as it captures the essence of the Teen Titans well. It also delivers a strong sense of nostalgia as these adolescent heroes hone their skills while dealing with their own personal issues and internal struggles. The dynamic between the Titans is one of the best aspects of the group, and it is great to watch Damian’s character progression as he integrates with the team and learns to trust people other than himself.
10. WONDER WOMAN
For those wondering what to expect from DC’s live-action “Wonder Woman” this summer, their animated film adaptation could give you a pretty good idea. Based off of her rebooted 1987 origin story by George Perez, this storyline follows Princess Diana as she is eager to escort a crashed United States pilot back to the world of man. Even though her mother forbids her, Diana decides that she will win her place as ambassador. Meanwhile, an evil shadow looks to cause chaos in the world once again, and it is up to Diana to take her place as its protector.
Released in 2009, the film is the only animated title that has adapted a Wonder Woman origin story, which is difficult, given the nature of her complex origin and the number of reboots it has been given. Despite that, the film has a great blend of action, comedy and a much-needed feminist sensibility in a story about Wonder Woman. For those looking forward to the live-action film this summer, this animated adaptation should provide a pretty good blueprint for what to expect from DC’s female icon.
9. BATMAN VS. ROBIN
Serving as the sequel to “Son of Batman,” this film continues following Damian and his progression as a superhero. Having taken on the mantle of Robin in full, he must now grapple with the Court of Owls, a secret crime syndicate within the shadows of Gotham looking to take control of the city. A large organization consisting of highly-trained assassins, the Court has set their eyes on the former young assassin. While fending off the owls, Damian must continue wrestling with his inner demons as he asks himself the following question: is he truly a superhero, or will he forever be an assassin?
Unlike “Son of Batman,” this film takes a darker approach as it continues to expore Damian’s idea of restraint. As an assassin, he was taught to finish his opponents by killing them. As a superhero — especially as a Robin — he’s under Batman’s no-kill policy. This film is about Damian finding his own path, and his complex background makes it so that he can still easily go in either direction. “Batman vs Robin” makes for a much more interesting Damian, and is perhaps one of the best insights into the character onscreen.
8. GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT
Green Lantern hasn’t necessarily had the best public image since the disaster of the 2011 Ryan Reynolds live-action film. Its animated adaptation, however, does justice to the Green Lantern Corps. The film centers on Hal Jordan, a test pilot who inadvertently becomes the first human to be named to the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic peace-keeping force in the universe. After coming across a dying Abin Sur, Jordan is named his successor and subsequently placed over Sector 2814, which includes Earth. Being the first human, he is not welcomed with open arms and has to prove himself worthy of wearing the ring. Meanwhile, sinister forces plot to take down the Green Lantern Corps and it’s up to Jordan to unearth the truth behind these forces.
For those looking to explore the Green Lantern mythos, “First Flight” is a great first step. While the “Justice League” series focuses on John Stewart, Jordan is the trailblazer for humans here, and is rendered as a character with suitable love. The action-packed sequences convey the scope of what the Lanterns have to offer and its stunning animation makes the ride that much more enjoyable. With their powers, uniforms and roles as peacekeepers, they are actually comparable to the Jedi in “Star Wars,” and will be a huge hit for SW fans looking for a new fix.
7. SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES
“Superman/Batman: Public Enemies” focuses on a Superman on the run from a Lex-Luthor controlled government, who uses his newfound power as President to win the trust of the people while hiring superheroes to work for the government. When a Kryptonite meteor is revealed to be heading towards Earth, Luthor uses it in a scheme to frame the Man of Steel, placing a $1 billion bounty on his head. With no one else to go to, Superman must team up with Batman as they elude superhero and supervillains alike while finding a way to stop the meteor and clear Superman’s name.
With its compelling plot and large DC cast, the film makes for an engaging thrill ride that keeps you guessing at every turn. It’s hard to go wrong whenever Luthor is a villain, and being President only increases his already high threat level. It was also a great commercial success, being one of only three DC animated film to eclipse $10 million in sales. Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly reprised their roles from the DCAU as Batman and Superman respectively, and together make the film feel like something that would be in a “Justice League” episode.
6. BATMAN: BAD BLOOD
Unlike most DC Animated Films, “Bad Blood” is not based on any comic storyline, but it still does a phenomenal job at adapting some well-beloved characters from the Batman mythos. The film acts as an ensemble introduction of the Bat Family, focusing on Robin (Damian), Nightwing, Batwoman (Katherine Kane) and Batwing (Luke Fox) as they seek to discover what happened to Batman, who mysteriously disappeared in an explosion while dealing with a group of criminals. With their main Bat out of the lineup, it’s up to the rest of the fam to put their training and experiences to the test to work together, because this time, Gotham is going to need more than Batman to save it.
“Bad Blood” is a great film to introduce viewers to members of the Bat Family who are unfamiliar with them, while comic readers will love seeing fan-favorites like Katherine and Luke faithfully adapted from their source material. Like their mentor, the Bat Family are often complex and multi-faceted individuals who operate within a lot of gray areas and face their own share of internal struggles. Any and all fans of Batman need to give this film a shot.
5. JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS
Protecting their own Earth is a hard enough task for the Justice League. Having to worry about the fate of another one would be unimaginable. In this 2010 instalment, the League encounters a Lex Luthor from an alternate dimension, who seeks help in combating a group of villains known as the Syndicate, each of whom is an evil parallel to the members of the Justice League. To aid the heroic Luthor, Superman and the rest of League decide to travel to this alternate dimension to save this other Earth in an ultimate battle over the fate of an entirely new world.
Exploring alternate dimensions is always a plus, and this one is no different. With a heroic Luthor and a President Slade Wilson (Deathstroke), this other Earth has some intriguing elements to it. On the other side, the Syndicate are very akin to the League in both fighting style and personality, though admittedly opposite. Their sense of dominion is just as strong as the League’s sense of Justice, which makes for some engaging dialogue and action between the two groups. If you’re a fan of interdimensional travel and alternate dimensions, “Crisis on Two Earths” is well worth your time.
4. JUSTICE LEAGUE: DOOM
Based on the “Tower of Babel” story arc, “Justice League: Doom” chronicles a group of villains who form the Legion of Doom to take down the Justice League. To do so, they infiltrate Batman’s computer and obtain the files containing each League member’s various weaknesses. Within these files are also specific methods that were developed to defeat the members in the event that they become evil or turn rogue. With such critical information in the Legion’s hands, the Justice League find themselves in a difficult position as these protocols are used against them and must find ways to overcome them.
This film excels at showing the lengths Batman will go to protect the world. The fact that he always has a sliver of doubt about everyone, even his own allies, is a pretty good look into his paranoid psyche. It also puts him at odds with the rest of the League, who were unaware of the protocols that he developed. The fact that he didn’t develop any for himself begs the question as to whether Batman is right to have such methods while drawing upon themes of power and trust. Out of the DC films, this is perhaps the most thought-provoking.
3. JUSTICE LEAGUE: FLASHPOINT PARADOX
Changing the past doesn’t always change it for the better, as the Flash, Barry Allen knows all too well. “Flashpoint: Paradox” takes place in an alternate timeline, when, after an encounter with Professor Zoom, Barry wakes up in an alternate reality where everything is changed: the Justice League doesn’t exist, his mother is alive, he isn’t married to his wife Iris and the world is in an apocalyptic state thanks to a war between the Atlanteans and the Amazons. With no speed powers in this bizarre universe, Barry has to find the source of this change and get back to his own timeline before his memories change permanently and he’s unable to leave.
With its debut in 2011, “Flashpoint” was a major game changer for DC as it became the event that introduced their relaunched “New 52” comic titles. While the “New 52” was met with its fair share of criticism and eventually forced DC to undergo its recent “Rebirth” initiative, there’s no denying the impact “Flashpoint” had on the continuity of its characters. Seeing it adapted as a film is a DC lover’s dream come true, and its engaging plot makes it a must-see for any superhero fan.
2. BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD
Contemporary Batman stories are often darker and more tragic than most other superhero yarns, and “Under the Red Hood” is about as dark and tragic a Batman story as there is. Remembering the torture and death of former Robin Jason Todd at the hands of the Joker, Batman is suddenly forced to contend with a mysterious threat known as the Red Hood. Wearing a red mask, this mysterious figure is causing all kinds of havoc in Gotham, blatantly killing criminals and amassing followers in a violent crusade against crime. Even stranger is the fact that he appears to have some sort of familiarity with Batman.
The Red Hood presents an interesting character challenge for Batman, as he has no remorse when it comes to killing criminals. This is in direct opposition to Batman, who makes it a point to never kill criminals or use guns. With his ideology and methods challenged by this new figure in Gotham, Batman is pushed mentally in ways that he’s never been pushed before, especially as the deeds of his past with criminals weigh on him. “Under the Red Hood” is Batman storytelling at its finest, and is worthy viewing for all fans of the Dark Knight.
1. BATMAN: YEAR ONE
The epitome of comic and graphic novel storytelling, “Batman: Year One” is the pinnacle of DC films at its finest. Based on the story arc of the same name, “Batman: Year One” chronicles the return of billionaire Bruce Wayne after 12 years traveling the world. Armed with new skills, the Wayne heir officially begins his crusade against crime in Gotham as Batman. Even though much has changed in the city since his departure and a deep criminal underworld runs the city from the shadows, Bruce isn’t giving up. With his world turned upside down ever since the murder of his parents, the first year of Batman proves to be a critical one.
Lauded by many fans as one of the greatest Batman stories ever written, “Batman: Year One” is a dark, gritty and mature adaptation that longtime fans and newcomers can enjoy. It is also a prime example of what makes DC animated films so successful. DC’s ability to adapt powerful storytelling like this is unparalleled in animated features, and even among all of the cartoon portrayals of Batman that have surfaced throughout the years, there’s no doubt that this film is among the best.
Did your favorite DC animated film make the cut? Let us know in the comments!
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