If there was one studio consistently kicking out amazing superhero films, it would definitely be Warner Bros. They have one of the most diverse and solid track records of any studio. They made an amazing Wonder Woman film 20 years before Marvel would make a film with a leading lady. They turned Batman into a vampire the same year Fox fucked up the Fantastic Four for the fourth time. Hell, they had three superhero team-up films before Marvel’s The Avengers came around. They perfected the genre years ago and continue to create interesting, fan pleasing films.
At this point you’ve probably realized I’m talking about Warner Brothers Animation and not the studio behind such gems as Martha: The Movie and Jared Leto and Friends. Why their live-action films are such a mess is baffling to me considering right down the hall, for a fraction of the budget, one of their divisions is killing it. Just bring those folks over to make your film. It ain’t hard. But I digress.
In honor of SAW’s Superhero Month, let’s pay our respects to the studio that should have been tasked with creating DC’s live-action shared universe in the first place.
This is the 50 Greatest DC Animated Movies of All Time (not including Lego films).
20. DC Showcase Original Shorts Collection (2010)
Totally forgot about this one, didn’t you? Another anthology film but unlike Gotham Knight, this one is solid throughout. There’s not a single weak link in the bunch and every segment is so strong, it feels as though they were originally pilots to unmade shows. Some are just an action set piece while others create a distinct universe that feels lived in.
The Green Arrow one for example, is just a fight at an airport. A well choreographed fight but there’s no time to set up character or backstory. It’s just two guys shooting arrows at each other while the Spectre feels like an old ’70s revenge film that would’ve played in dirty ass grindhouse theaters. It’s my favorite in a collection of winners.
19. Batman Ninja (2018)
Superheroes have been around for so long that they can be inserted into any time period with relative ease. So when DC released a film that basically boils down to “Batman in Feudal Japan” I said, “why not!”
I really did not think I was going to like this film as much as I do. However, once I got past the anime designs, I actually enjoyed the film. In attempting to stop Gorilla Grodd, Batman, Catwoman, multiple Robins, and the vast majority of Batman’s rogues gallery are transported back in time. Batman arrives after everyone else (for reasons that are never explained) and has to find and reassemble his team. The more I talk about it, the more I realize that there’s actually not a lot that makes sense plot-wise about this film. The real highlights are really the animation and the fight sequences. So watch it for those reasons and don’t watch it if you want a coherent story.
18. Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019)
Probably the one area where DC gets a leg up on Marvel is when it comes to crossovers. Aside from the Punisher heading to the town of Riverdale to harass Archie and his pals ‘n’ gals, I cannot think of one memorable crossover featuring Marvel characters (aside from the countless DC crossovers). Meanwhile, DC feels like they encourage it. Various characters (but usually Batman) have interacted with Judge Dredd, Terminator, Spawn, Predator, Star Trek, the Man from U.N.C.L.E., the Power Rangers, the Looney Tunes, Scooby-Doo, and, of course, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It doesn’t matter if the story is garbage, people will be watching (or reading) for the sole purpose of seeing how these characters mesh and interact with one another.
Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles not only has a great story, but it is also sort of realistic in the sense that it doesn’t feel forced. Ra’s al Ghul teaming up with Shredder seems obvious even if their master plan is ridiculous. The Ninja Turtles not believing in Batman is also a ridiculous, yet entertaining concept. Of course, mutant turtles wouldn’t believe a man dressed a bat would exist. Robin, Batgirl, and Alfred are also along for the ride to make sure there are enough Bat characters to interact one-on-one with the turtles. I would definitely take a second helping of Batman and the TMNT if DC were to offer it to me.
17. Justice League Dark (2017)
This shouldn’t be part of the New 52. What I mean by that is, this shouldn’t have included Batman. There is literally no reason he’s in this film other than the fact that DC gotta DC. Just like how the Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel’s only cinematic outlier, this should exist in its own little world. Outside of the world of super men and masked vigilantes. This should only include characters that have ties to the supernatural or paranormal. Other than Batman’s bizarre inclusion, this film nails what it sets out to do.
Side Bar: Of all the films Guillermo Del Toro had to abandon, his live action Justice League Dark hurts my heart the most. You already know Doug Jones was going to play Deadman and Ron Perlman would’ve been Swamp Thing and those two things are the most perfect things that could ever exist outside of Dawson playing Catwoman or Zane playing Luthor. Seriously DC, get it together.
16. Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (2018)
After Batman: Assault on Arkham and David Ayer’s Suicide Squad failed to give fans a good film focusing on the team, Hell to Pay finally delivered. The film borrows a few characters from Ayer’s version, but otherwise uses characters that haven’t been seen on screen before (or in a while) like Copperhead and Bronze Tiger. The character dynamics have always been the best part about Task Force X as these are villains who hate being thrown together to work for the government. Honestly, I don’t have much else to say about this film that wouldn’t be considered a major spoiler. There’s a character who appears and ties this film directly to a previously released film (which I had never really considered part of the New 52 Movie Universe). It’s an excellent reveal and one that helps set the stage for the remainder of this shared universe. Until James Gunn proves me wrong, this is the best Suicide Squad movie you can watch.
15. Batman: Soul of the Dragon (2021)
As I previously mentioned, superheroes can work in any time period. Soul of the Dragon is an original Batman story that places the character in a 1970s setting. It features a new backstory for Bruce Wayne that sees him train in Nanda Parbat with the likes of Lady Shiva, Richard Dragon, and Ben Turner / Bronze Tiger. It’s such a weird quartet to throw together, but it works. Each character gets their own moment and nobody overshadows the rest. Okay, that might not be entirely true because the opening scene with Richard Dragon is easily one the best part of the entire movie. It was so good that I would have been perfectly happy just following Dragon on a spy mission. DC needs to give this character his own series. I would watch it in a heartbeat.
14. Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998)
I truly believe, that if this went to theaters instead of being dumped straight to video, this would be as fondly remembered or have the same level of reverence that Mask of the Phantasm does. There is absolutely no reason why this film should be forgotten but it is. No one ever thinks of this film as one of the best but it should have never left the conversation in the first place.
The only negative is the fact that this is just a rehash of the phenomenal episode “Heart of Ice” from the animated series. But that’s like complaining that the Dark Knight Returns or Batman Year One are just shot for shot recreations of the books. The best movies on this list are all based on pre-existing books, so what the hell is the difference?
This should’ve went to theaters but Warner Brothers didn’t want two Batman films with similar plots playing at the movies at the same time. But I think they knew this film was better than Batman and Robin and they were afraid everyone would’ve went to see this instead. As they should have.
13. Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015)
This will be the most contentious ranking on this list. This film couldn’t be more controversial or polarizing if it tried and I fucking love every second of it. Superman as the son of Zod? Sold. Batman as a vampire? Double sold. Wonder Woman being a New God instead of an “old god” from Greek mythology? Jesus Christ, just take all of my goddamn money. I love everything about this film and if I was ranking them by personal bias, this would be a hard number 2.
It’s one of the only ones I continually revisit because it’s just so goddamn strong. But I understand why people wouldn’t like it. It’s a huge fucking departure from the norm but why is that a negative? These are technically only the characters in name only because it’s not Bruce Wayne as a vampire, it’s Batman. The two don’t always have to interchangeable. Mix the shit up. Take risks. Be bold. This film should be the example everyone uses when pitching a crazy new idea because sometimes the craziest ideas are the best.
12. Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (2020)
I’m going to dish you a bowl of cold hard truth right now. There will never be a live-action equivalent of Avengers: Endgame from DC Films. They couldn’t even release a Justice League film with only six members without fucking it up. Thankfully, DC has its shit together when it comes to animation. Apokolips War is the fifteenth and final film in the New 52 Movie Universe and offers fans the closest they will ever get to seeing DC’s version of Endgame. Assembling characters from its Batman, Suicide Squad, Superman, Teen Titans, and Justice League films, Endgame mostly focuses on three characters: Constantine, Raven, and Superman. It’s set after Darkseid has successfully conquered Earth and has either slaughtered or enslaved most superheroes. It’s a bloody, action-packed finale that cannot help but feel bittersweet. This is everything a live-action DC universe should be building towards.
11. Justice League: Doom (2012)
If I was ranking these films based solely on their plots, this would be number 1. Batman has secretly devised stratagems to neutralize his fellow Justice League members in case any of them turned rogue. When his files are stolen however and used against his teammates, the League is forced to confront the fact that the architect of their near-destruction is in fact one of their own.
It’s pound for pound, the best plot ever created for a superhero film because it creates believable conflict and drama. You understand the need for a contingency plan but you also get why they feel betrayed. Everything about this film works. The animation, the character designs, the story, the voice acting. It’s one of the only films on this list I have no issues with.
What have you thought of the list so far? Which DC animated films do you think will comprise the top ten?