The 10 best DC animated movies, ranked

The bizarre Superman movie Red Son (now on digital release) is the latest in an onslaught of weird and wild DC animated movies. Critic Travis Johnson picks the 10 best.

Superman: Red Son is the latest DC Universe Animated Original Movies to fly faster than a speeding bullet into the home market. Based on the 2003 comic written by Kick-Ass and Kingsman creator Mark Millar, it tells the tale of a world in which baby Kal-El’s Kryptonian spacecraft landed not in rural Kansas, but in Stalinist Russia, and Superman is a hero of the U.S.S.R.

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Pretty wild, huh? But DC/Warner have been producing animated movies based on their superhero properties for ages now, and they’ve delved into some pretty weird—but canonical!—territory for story material. While the big screen DCEU may have floundered, the small screen stuff has been pretty consistently fun.

So, if you feel like some DC action but can’t stomach the thought of Batfleck or Leto’s Joker, give this lot a shot.

10. Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014)

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Not really a Batman movie, although it takes place in the continuity of the Arkham Asylum computer games. Assault on Arkham is actually a Suicide Squad movie, and a far better one than the live action version we got a few years back. For those not in the know, Suicide Squad is basically “The Dirty Dozen with DC villains”.

In this instance there’s a mixed bag of baddies, including Deadshot (Neal McDonagh), Captain Boomerang (Greg Ellis), Harley Quinn (Hynden Walch), King Shark (John DiMaggio) and more. They are pressganged by the formidable Amanda Waller (CCH Pounder) into breaking into Arkham Asylum to swipe a gizmo from The Riddler. Violence and betrayal ensues in the accepted fashion.

9. Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017)

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Splitting the difference between the joyfully juvenile Teen Titans Go! and the moody sturm und drang of the live action Titans (which ironically seems more childish than the ‘toon), this one is an adaptation and updating of the classic 1983 comics storyline by Marv Wolfman and George Perze. The Titans (Robin, Blue Beetle, Raven, et al) are betrayed by one of their own to the villainous mercenary Deathstroke (the great Miguel Ferrer in what was to be his last role).

While it lacks the depth of its source material, you get a lot of bang for your buck with this one. If it makes you want to check out the classic comics run, it’s done its job.

8. Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018)

Where to watch

Truly if you can’t enjoy Batman fighting Jack the Ripper, you can’t enjoy life. This adaptation of the Elseworlds graphic novel by Brian Audustyn and Mike Mignola (Hellboy) posits Batman (Bruce Greenwood) emerging in 19th century Gotham City, where a recently immigrated serial killer is slaughtering prostitutes by the bushel. Drenched in gothic atmosphere and boasting sharp reinterpretations of Alfred (Anthony Head), Catwoman (Jennifer Carpenter), Poison Ivy (Kari Wuhrer) and more, this is a top tier reimagining of the Dark Knight.

7. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2011)

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The Flash (Justin Chambers) finds himself in a very dark alternate timeline. Aquaman and his Atlanteans have sunk continental Europe, Wonder Woman and her Amazons have conquered Britain, Superman doesn’t exist, and Bruce Wayne is dead: his father Thomas has taken on the mantle of Batman while his mother, driven insane by her son’s death, is the Joker.

The Scarlet Speedster must unravel the mystery—but he doesn’t even have his powers! One of the better alternate universe takes on the DCU, The Flashpoint Paradox leans very dark—some heroes die by the carload while others are the ones doing the killing. Not one for the younger set, but a blast for adolescents and the adolescent at heart.

6. Wonder Woman (2009)

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Seven years before Gal Gadot played the Amazon Princess in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Keri Russell voiced her in this sterling origin tale, whose plot fairly closely maps onto what we eventually got under the direction of Patti Jenkins in 2017.

After pilot Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion) crash lands on the mythical island of Themiscyra and discovers a race of wise warrior women, their princess Diana wins the right to escort him back to “man’s world”. However evil God of war Ares (Alfred Molina) has plans of his own, and they involve plunging the world into conflict. While the live action film deserves praise for breaking the so-called superheroine “curse”, this epic proved that the story had chops all along.

5. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012/2013)

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This massive two-parter is not up to the genre-bending standards of its source material, but that’s because Frank Miller’s comic is one of the best of all time. Instead, it’s merely very, very good. Years after the Batman disappeared a new wave of violent crime brings the vigilante (Peter Weller) out of retirement, but the world is a much darker place now, and has no room for a loose canon like the Dark Knight.

Superman (Mark Valley) is tasked with bringing him down, and so the stage is set for the final Batman story. The problem with the Dark Knight Returns is its been stripped for parts over the years, deeply influencing countless different takes on the Batman story. But the original is unquestionably powerful, and this take on it captures much of its mythic grandeur.

4. All-Star Superman (2011)

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The late Dwayne McDuffie adapts the first rate limited series by writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely, giving us a Superman story that reminds us why he’s the World’s Greatest Superhero. After his cells are supercharged by solar radiation, Superman (Jamie Denton) is dying. As he takes stock of his life, we essentially get a tour of the Superman “universe” as envisioned by Morrison, packed with weird and wild flights of imagination, mind-blowing sci-fi concepts, high ideals, and warm humanity.

It’s often cheaply said that the pure-hearted Superman is both boring and difficult to write well; this modern classic proves at least the first part to be a lie.

3. Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)

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Yes, the 2011 live action Green Lantern movie starring Ryan Reynolds was, well, dreadful, made all the more so knowing that it was presaged by this note-perfect animated origin story. Test pilot Hal Jordan (Christopher Meloni) is recruited to the ranks of the titular intergalactic space cops in time to contend with traitor Sinestro (Victor Garber) in a truly epic, universe-spanning sci-fi that displays all the scope and imagination the live version lacked.

2. Justice League: The New Frontier (2009)

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A gorgeous recreation of the late Darwyn Cooke’s 2004 miniseries, this is another Green Lantern (David Boreanaz) origin of sorts—the difference being it’s set in the early ‘60s, when the Silver Age superhero renaissance was kicking off, and puts its characters in that historical and cultural context.

So you get Superman (Kyle McLachlan) and Wonder Woman (Lucy Lawless) fighting in Indochina, lots of references and allusions to Kennedy’s Camelot, and a whole heap of deeper cut characters, like the Challengers of the Unknown, the Blackhawks, Adam Strange and more. For old comics fans it’s a delight, but for newbies it’s still a startling work of artistic clarity.

1. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

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The first feature spun out of the sublime Batman: The Animated Series (1992) and the best Batman origin story ever told. In the present day Batman (Kevin Conroy) hunts down the Phantasm (Stacy Keach), a vigilante killing retired mobsters. In flashback we see how the Dark Knight almost turfed his crimefighting life in favour of the love of Andres Beaumont (Dana Delaney). Could the two storylines be connected? Well, of course, and it’s probably got something to do with The Joker (Mark Hamill).

This is the pinnacle. Not just the best film on the list but one of the best Batman films of all time, melding the sleek, dark deco style of the animated series to a story with depth, pathos, grandeur, and a new spin on the overly familiar “birth of the Bat” storyline.