If you went to the movies this weekend, the chances are that you saw The LEGO Batman Movie. The spinoff of The LEGO Movie has become a total phenomenon in the days since it hit theaters, as critics and audiences alike have flocked to it. As time goes by one thing has become increasingly apparent: The LEGO Batman Movie isn't just a fun expansion of a hilarious LEGO side character. It's a genuinely enthralling piece of Batman fiction that snaps neatly into the greater Batman mythos.
On that note, we have taken it upon ourselves to put together a list of the best animated Batman movies ever made. The Dark Knight is easily the most regularly adapted cartoon character from any comic book mythos, and plenty of films inspired by his exploits have debuted in recent decades. Check out our list of entries and let us know your favorite animated Batman movie in the comments section below! Now let's get started with a dark and brutal tale of Batman's early days during his first year on the streets.
8. Year One
Frank Miller's Batman: Year One is unquestionably one of the most iconic and influential Batman comic books ever committed to paper, and the 2011 animated adaptation of the story completely captures that iconography. Faithful to the nature of the story, this is one of the most grounded animated Batman stories ever made, as it depicts Bruce Wayne (Gotham's Ben McKenzie) struggling to figure out how to operate as Batman in the early days of his career. It is an incredibly faithful adaptation of the iconic Dark Knight narrative, and it elevates the story further with the powerful voice acting of Bryan Cranston as Commissioner Gordon -- who in many ways is the real main character in this version of the story.
7. The Killing Joke
I have a confession to make: my personal take The Killing Joke has softened quite a bit since the film debuted at San Diego Comic-Con in 2016. While the movie is still a wonderful adaptation of Alan Moore's legendary graphic novel, the animation is not great (likely a result of the R-rating reducing the budget) and the Paris Franz prologue centering on Batgirl does not hold up on repeat viewings. That said, once The Joker shows up, the film kicks into high gear. The parts that directly adapt The Killing Joke are damn near perfect (and the voice work of Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy remains unparalleled), but there's too much filler to earn this bold R-rated take a higher spot on this list.
6. Gotham Knight
Gotham Knight technically isn't one single film; it's a compilation of six separate vignettes all seemingly taking place between the events of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight -- although the exact continuity is vague at best. One centers on a group of children who view Batman as a magical, mythical creature, while another focuses on Bruce's ability to withstand intense pain (as well as his training to do so), and the final segment involves him going after Floyd Lawton when the sniper is hired to murder Jim Gordon. All are different in their own ways and all of them are fantastic. If Gotham Knight proves one thing, it's the fact that there is no definitive way to do Batman in animation, and artists should be willing to take more risks with him.
5. Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker
Despite the fact that Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker primarily aims at a younger audience who grew up with the classic Batman Beyond series, the movie is one of the darkest and most original Batman tales ever committed to film. The film centers on Neo Batman Terry McGinnis as he faces off against a newly resurrected Clown Prince of Crime -- whom Bruce assumed had been dead for decades. It's a film that dives deep into the psychology of the clown, as well as the fundamentally different way that a new Batman would fight him. Terry isn't the brooding figure that Bruce is; he's a smartass, and that's ultimately his secret weapon against a guy who's always looking for a laugh.
4. Under The Red Hood
When it comes to Robin stories, nothing comes close to the maturity and intensity of Under The Red Hood. The film opens with an abridged version of Jason Todd's death in the A Death In The Family storyline, and subsequently moves to present day Gotham City as a darker and more jaded Batman must face off against the vicious Red Hood -- who somehow seems to know everything about him. Fans of the source material know where this story goes, but the film ends on a seriously emotional climax involving Joker, Red Hood, and The Caped Crusader that never gets any easier to watch. Under The Red Hood is a modern Batman classic full of action and intrigue, and it's arguably the animated film currently the most deserving of a live-action adaptation.
3. The Dark Knight Returns
There's a reason why Zack Snyder was so quick to mine this material for Batman V Superman; it works. Before movies like The Killing Joke and Justice League Dark taught us that DC could get away with an R-rated story involving The Caped Crusader, The Dark Knight Returns was probably the darkest animated Batman story ever committed to film. Luckily, the darkness completely pays off in this one, because The Dark Knight Returns is a genuinely enthralling two-part epic that captures everything that we love about Frank Miller's iconic story. Peter Weller's older and more seasoned voice work for the brooding hero admittedly takes some time to get used to, but it's a performance that grows on you over time, and watching him take part in these iconic Batman scenes is nothing less than fantastic.
2. The LEGO Batman Movie
It's a real testament to the iconography of The Caped Crusader that the most recent (and arguably the most outlandish) depiction of the character is also one of the best. In the words of LEGO Batman himself, "I have aged phenomenally." The LEGO Batman Movie is a far more comedic take on this mythos, but the sheer amount of love and research that went into (literally) building this LEGO version of Gotham City is unparalleled. The film is chock full of DC deep cuts, and Will Arnett's hilarious take on the character is a pitch-perfect spiritual successor to Adam West's lighter and more pleasant Batman from Batman '66. The LEGO Batman Movie isn't necessarily edgy, but it shows a borderline insane understanding of the Batman universe.
1. Mask Of The Phantasm
Despite the fact that it's the oldest movie on this list by a fairly wide margin, Mask of the Phantasm still reigns supreme as the best animated Batman movie ever committed to film. The film utilizes the iconic "dark deco" art style that made Batman: The Animated Series so instantly recognizable, it features some of the best voicework of any DC properties (particularly from Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill), and it expands on the Batman mythos in ways that stay perfectly true to the character. Without getting too deep into spoiler territory, The Phantasm is a fantastic, original Batman villain, and the movie remains one of the definitive Batman stories to this day. There's even an argument to be made that this is the best Batman movie ever made, but that's a debate for another day.
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Originally from Connecticut, Conner grew up in San Diego and graduated from Chapman University in 2014. He now lives in Los Angeles working in and around the entertainment industry and can mostly be found binging horror movies and chugging coffee.