Live-action comic book movies currently have a vice grip on the zeitgeist. From the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the DCEU, it has become a never-ending battle to see which comic house has a firmer grip on audiences. That said, there's one area in which DC has regularly dominated over the years: the realm of animation.
That's what we're going to discuss today. We have combed through all of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies --which kicked off in 2007 -- and we have put together a handy ranking to see which one came out on top. We have a whopping 30 movies to get to, so let's kick things off with a film that made its debut at San Diego Comic-Con 2017.
30. Batman And Harley Quinn
It's a shame that one of DC's most recent animated properties (and one that exists within the continuity of classic DC animation, no less) also turned out to be one of its worst. Batman and Harley Quinn is an attempt to inject some comedy into the dynamic of the titular partnership (plus Nightwing), but the result is an immature and sophomoric take on the Gotham landscape that misses the mark. Don't waste your time with this one; it's legitimately bad.
Many people criticized the DCEU's handling of The Death of Superman in 2016, but that arguably pales in comparison to how bad Superman/Doomsday treats the material. Not only does the animated adaptation of the classic 1990s story arc rush through the actual "death" part of the story, but it also gives Doomsday a criminally small amount of screen time. This story arc deserved better, and Superman/Doomsday failed to deliver on its promise of emotional resonance.
28. Batman vs. Robin
It's a testament to the quality of DC's animated films that we only have to wait for No. 28 on this list to reach movies that are watchable. That said, Batman vs. Robin remains a sorely disappointing adaptation of the endlessly cool The Court of Owls story arc that completely circumvents the mystery of the Illuminati-esque organization in favor of thrills and a war in Gotham. The result? A story with far less heart than the comic book that inspired it.
27. Teen Titans: The Judas Contract
There are few Teen Titans storylines more iconic than The Judas Contract, and 2017's animated adaptation of the arc is a fun-but-hollow take on the source material. Make no mistake, this movie is heavy on action and laughs, and it will definitely keep the interest of anyone looking for a thrill. That said, the core conflict against Deathstroke isn't particularly well-executed, and it feels more like an episode of TV than a full-blown movie. A must-watch for die-hard fans, but not much more.
26. Green Lantern: First Flight
Green Lantern's origin story is invariably one of the more challenging mythologies to flesh out because of how dense the material is for DC newcomers. However, Green Lantern: First Flight is a flawed-but faithful first step for someone looking to learn more about Hal Jordan. It's not a particularly complicated story, but it's a fun, space-based sci-fi romp and one of the few Lantern-specific stories that DC Animation has ever committed to, which instantly makes it stand out.
25. Justice League: Throne Of Atlantis
Aquaman has long stood as a harder sell for mainstream audiences compared to other DC heroes, which is one reason why Zack Snyder's live-action Justice League leaned so hard on the "talk to fish" jokes. That said, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is a solid action flick that does a good job of showing us Arthur Curry's path to his status as king. Orm and Black Manta are underdeveloped as villains, but the film is an otherwise solid entry in the line of New 52 adaptations.
24. Superman: Unbound
One thing casual fans might not know about Superman is just how complex his mythology can be when you dive into the intricacies of Krypton. That's something that Superman: Unbound attempts to tackle, and while the film isn't particularly groundbreaking from a narrative point of view, it's full of decent Kryptonian action and it shows why Superman (along with Supergirl) is the optimistic hero that the people of Earth have come to know and love.
23. Batman: Bad Blood
Batman: Bad Blood stands apart from other recent animated Batman movies because it's not even really a Batman story at all -- or, it's not a Bruce Wayne Batman story. This film is a deep dive into the Bat Family side of the DC mythos as Dick Grayson takes over the cape and cowl in the wake of Bruce's disappearance. The film has a tendency to get somewhat crowded, but it's a fun and action-heavy romp that should appeal to most Batman fans.
22. Son Of Batman
Son of Batman is an adaptation of Grant Morrisson's Batman and Son storyline, but it's the loosest form of adaptation. The movie focuses on Batman as he attempts to raise a violent and impetuous Damian Wayne after the murder of his grandfather, Ra's al Ghul. Meanwhile, Deathstroke tries to seize power in the League of Assassins, and it's up to the Dynamic Duo to stop him. The story doesn't entirely work in practice, but Son of Batman is tonally very interesting.
21. Superman vs The Elite
There generally seem to be two different types of Superman stories that get made these days: the action-heavy ones that don't ask too many questions about the nature of existence, and the more cerebral stories that focus heavily on his godlike status. Superman vs. The Elite falls somewhere in the middle, as it centers on The Man of Steel as he faces off against a new crew of "heroes" who are willing to use lethal force in their quest to take down criminals.
20. Green Lantern: Emerald Knights
If Green Lantern: First Flight is an introduction into the Green Lantern lore, then Green Lantern: Emerald Knights is the advanced course. Told through a series of vignettes, the film offers up various glimpses at some of the most iconic Lanterns (such as Kilowog and Mogo) and explains the tenets of the Corps through each of them. It's a solid approach (with excellent narration by Nathan Fillion), but the only real drawback is the lack of a strong central narrative.
19. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is the Michael Bay movie of DC Animation. It's big, it's loud, it's muscular, and it's not something that you should think too hard about. That said, the film offers up one of the best depictions of the World's Finest partnership, and the result is a movie that leans heavily on themes of friendship in the face of wildly different personalities. Beyond that, the action is some of the best that DC Animation has ever produced.
18. Justice League vs. Teen Titans
It's the Teen Titans facing off against the Justice League, what more could you possibly want? All jokes aside, Justice League vs. Teen Titans is an interesting examination of how DC's sidekicks can face off against their mentors when the demonic Trigon takes control of the older heroes' minds. It's a solid action romp that doesn't leave much of a lasting impression, but that might simply be due to the fact that Young Justice consistently did a better job with storylines like these.
17. Wonder Woman
When compared to characters like Batman or Superman, Wonder Woman hasn't received quite as much love in the animation department over the years. That said, her one solo outing as an animated DC heroine is nothing to scoff at. Wonder Woman is far from DC's best animated adventure, but it's proof that The Amazon should be allowed to stand front and center in more DC stories (live-action and animated alike) in the coming years.
16. Batman: Assault On Arkham
For years we will continue to wonder how much better Suicide Squad could've been if it followed Batman: Assault on Arkham's template for success. Telling the story of a Task Force X break-in at Arkham Asylum, the film takes a Dirty Dozen approach to the villain/anti-hero team while keeping The Caped Crusader hidden in the shadows. The result is a perspective on Batman that we seldom see in a movie, and one of the more unique animated films in recent memory.
15. Justice League: War
The Justice League's origin story has been told a variety of different ways over the years, but one of the more recent entries in that canon is Justice League: War. An action film in the purest sense, the film shows off some spectacular visuals and features a fairly-accurate adaptation of Justice League: Origin. The only true weak spot is the voice action (particularly for Wonder Woman), but as a whole, it's a perfectly serviceable superhero romp with some great character moments -- particularly for Batman.
14. Justice League Dark
There isn't just one Justice League out there, and last year's Justice League Dark is a fun introduction to the more gothic and supernatural DC superhero team. There's an argument to be made about whether or not Justice League Dark works by including Batman (most certainly not a core member) among its ranks, but the film's off-kilter and generally weird approach to its heroes is something to be appreciated. Besides, it is impossible not to love John Constantine in anything.
13. Batman: Gotham Knight
Taking an approach to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy akin to The Animatrix, Gotham Knight is a series of short films set between the events of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Featuring some truly spectacular voicework by Kevin Conroy, not every short is a phenomenal work of art, but Gotham Knight's highest highs are something to behold. Beyond that, the music (particularly in the "In Darkness Dwells" sequence) is absolutely fantastic from start to finish.
12. All-Star Superman
Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman is often hailed as one of the best Superman stories ever written, and the animated adaptation is a worthy take on the dense source material. Not placing a heavy premium on its action (and all the better for it), the film tells an emotionally-gripping story about a terminally-ill Superman doing everything that he can for the world ahead of his impending death -- while also finding ways to say goodbye to everyone that he loves.
11. Superman/Batman: Apocalypse
Do you want to know why Batman is an undeniable badass who can stand alongside gods? Watch Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. It features one of the coolest Batman moments ever seen in an animated DC movie, and the film's core narrative of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman venturing to Apokolips in an attempt to save Supergirl's life from Darkseid is a fascinating story about how far they will go for one another. Despite the nature of the title, it is a story full of hope and persistence.
10. Batman: The Killing Joke
There was quite a bit of controversy surrounding the release of The Killing Joke back in 2016, and while the Batgirl/Batman romance prologue still doesn't entirely sit well with us, we can't deny that the parts of the film that directly adapt Alan Moore's source material are some of the most intense moments ever produced by DC Animation. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy have seldom been better together, and The Killing Joke remains well-worth your time.
9. Justice League: Doom
Batman prepares for everything, including how to take on his allies. However, what if those contingency plans ever fell into the wrong hands? That's the question posed by Justice League: Doom and the animated adaptation of Tower of Babel tells a compelling (albeit very abridged) tale of how one man's secretive actions can put the lives of those he loves in danger. Plus, it has Batman punching his way out of a buried coffin, which is just wholly badass.
8. Justice League: Gods And Monsters
What if a child inspired by the teachings of General Zod made his way to Earth? What if Man-Bat took Batman's spot in the Justice League? What if the DC Trinity was rounded out by a daughter of New Genesis instead of Themyscira? Those are questions posed by the alternate-reality depicted in Justice League: Gods and Monsters, and the result is one of the most original and fascinating reimaginings of DC lore that we have ever seen.
7. Batman: Year One
The animated adaptation of Batman: Year One isn't the best Batman story ever committed to film, but it is undoubtedly the best Jim Gordon story. Bryan Cranston delivers a phenomenal performance as the young, optimistic cop in his new position on the GCPD, and Batman: Year One's grounded, gritty, and noir take on the Batman mythos is one of the most mature and compelling versions of this world DC Animation has produced yet.
6. Justice League: New Frontier
The Justice League's print history dates all the way back to halfway through the 20th Century, and Justice League: New Frontier is a film that aims to capture the spirit and style of that era. Very much an homage to the Silver Age of comic books, it expertly combines the bright and cheerful tone of the era with a darker and more visceral atmosphere that's a bit more in-line with what modern-day audiences expect. The blend works, and New Frontier is absolutely well worth your time.
5. Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths
DC has become iconic for its exploration of the multiverse, but few DC movies have ever captured the vast, infinitesimal nature of the concept quite like Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. The film centers on a conflict between the Justice League and their multiverse doppelgangers, The Crime Syndicate, and offers up some profoundly chilling philosophy about the nature of existence. The doesn't peak in its action scenes, but in the moments where Batman and Owlman debate the meaning (or futility) of human decision.
4. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Pt. 1
Compared to almost any other movie on this list, the adaptation of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns might be the most faithful of the bunch. It's a brutal tale of an aging Bruce Wayne's return to action after a decade out of the field, and it captures the bizarre 1980s aesthetic of the comic with striking detail. The standout sequence of the whole thing? Batman facing off (pun intended) against Harvey Dent between two skyscrapers.
3. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
The Flashpoint story arc has dominated conversation in recent years because of its inclusion on The Flash TV series, as well as the announcement of The Flash: Flashpoint solo movie in the DCEU. That said, it seems arguable that the arc wouldn't have nearly as much traction with non-comic book readers without the expertly-crafted Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox from 2013. It's dark, it's brutal, and it makes smart changes to the source material that help tell a cohesive and streamlined story.
2. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Pt. 2
Part 1 of The Dark Knight Returns is an excellent adaptation of Frank Miller's work and an introduction into that world, but Part 2 is damn-near perfect and better in almost every conceivable way. The film maintains the brooding atmosphere of Part 1 but dials the weirdness up to 11 by diving headfirst into the Joker storyline, the nuclear blackout storyline, and by offering up a better Batman vs. Superman fight than anything seen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
1. Batman: Under The Red Hood
It couldn't be anything else. Batman: Under the Red Hood is a dark, unflinching, and faithful tale of Jason Todd's return to life that smartly emphasizes his hatred for The Joker and his lack of understanding towards Batman's no-kill rule. As a whole, the film is an emotional and action-packed roller coaster (with great vocal performances by Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, and John DiMaggio), but the final few minutes between Batman, Joker, and Jason are what elevate it to pure classic status.
What's your favorite animated DC movie?