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).
30. Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)
Anthology films are always going to be a mixed bag. When you have multiple writers and directors all contributing to a larger narrative, you’re definitely rolling the dice on quality control and this film is no different. Some stories are fucking terrible, some of the animation is ugly as sin, the pacing is a bit of a slog and there’s really only one stand out story in the whole damn package.
But it adds one of the absolute best ideas to the Batman mythos since Nolan had Batman be trained by Ra’s Al Ghul. Every single person that encounters Batman in this film, sees something completely different. To some, he’s a demon, to others, he’s a soldier and to a select few, he’s just a man in a mask. The idea that the myth of Batman would skew our perceptions, is a really interesting one and is easily the best part of this film.
29. Superman: Red Son (2020)
When it comes to DC’s Elseworlds tales, two titles always come up: Gotham by Gaslight and Superman: Red Son. It’s a great premise for a story. What if Superman had been raised by the Soviet Union in the 1950s? In addition to an alternate twist on Superman, the film also features new takes on Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Green Lanterns. And like most new DC animated movies, the film changes the ending of the story so audiences won’t know what to expect. Truth be told, I prefer the original ending. There’s nothing wrong with how the film ends, I just prefer the comic version. The voice cast is pretty solid too with Jason Isaacs stepping in to voice Supes. If you’re a fan of the comic then you’ll probably enjoy the film.
28. Justice League: War (2014)
The beginning of the “New 52” universe that was a sort of reboot/alternate continuity to the rest of the DC films. I have no issue with anyone creating their own individual universes to pre-existing characters. I used to be a big fan of the old Marvel “What If?” comics and loved different runs on X-Men and Batman. It’s taking characters that everyone knows and loves and putting a new stamp on them. Sometimes that stamp is subtle and sometimes it’s a radically different change. The New 52 is not exactly radically different but for fans of the “Timmverse”, it’s a bit too little, too late.
Besides the character re-designs that I will never not bitch about (although, I do dig Wonder Woman’s costume in this), there’s really not much here to complain about. The voice acting is on point, The action is great and the story gets the job done. It’s not my Justice League but it’ll do.
27. The Death of Superman (2018)
Whether you love or hate Batman v Superman, I think we can all agree that the “Death of Superman” story happened too soon in the DCEU. We barely knew Henry Cavill’s take on the Man of Steel before he died at the hands of Doomsday Zod. This animated adaptation is different. It’s the tenth film in the New 52 Movie Universe. We are familiar hearing Jerry O’Connell’s voice coming out of Supes. He is part of the Justice League and friends with many of the members. When Doomsday arrives and Superman goes to fight him, we care more about every blow and drop of blood drawn. We don’t want Superman to die, but we know it’s coming. The stakes feel higher when a character has been a part of your life for longer. The Death of Superman understood that. Rest in peace, Kal-El (until your resurrection that is).
26. Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons: The Movie (2020)
Now this is the Deathstroke fans have been waiting to see on the screen. This movie earns every last bit of its R-rating. It’s a bloody, violent action-packed family affair with outstanding voice performances from Michael Chiklis as Slade Wilson and Sasha Alexander as Wilson’s wife. I’ve been a huge fan of the character since Manu Bennett’s portrayal on Arrow. There is something human about the character even when he is slicing people open. He honestly cares for his family and wants to do right by them. The film isn’t so much a film about taking down H.I.V.E. as it is about rekindling a lost family. I would gladly take more of what this film is about over another Batman movie any day.
25. Superman: Man of Tomorrow (2020)
The New 52 Movie Universe ended last year with Apokolips War and DC wasted no time in launching a new shared universe. We get to follow Clark Kent in his early days as a reporter at the Daily Planet and as Superman. It features appearances by Martian Manhunter and Lobo while briefly featuring a photograph of Batman. It feels like how Iron Man focused on Tony Stark’s hero journey, but still found room to setup the Avengers. This film is all about Kal-El coming to terms with his powers and finding a comfortable place on Earth.
Not based on any existing comic story, the decision to pair Superman, Martin Manhunter, and Lobo together was brilliant. Their conflicting set of morals and opinions made for some really engaging fights and dialogue. Which means that I should be giving a shout out to the voice cast assembled for this film because it is great. Darren Criss brings a lot of that small town charm to role of Clark Kent while Ike Amadi and Ryan Hurst feel like the perfect fits for Martian Manhunter and Lobo. You also have Alexandra Daddario as Lois Lane (which makes me wish we could have gotten this combination in live-action), and Zachary Quinto as the calm, cool, and collected Lex Luthor. I definitely need another instalment in this burgeoning universe. It has the makings of being something special.
24. Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017)
Fun fact: I like Dick Grayson as Nightwing more than I do as Robin. Honestly, I feel like everyone should too. After he stepped out of Batman’s shadow and found his own identity, the character really became complete. Robin needs Batman. Nightwing doesn’t. Which is why I was glad to see Nightwing star in a film that didn’t have Batman in the title. “The Judas Contract” comics storyline is one that was in development for almost a decade before it was finally released as part of the New 52 Universe. The Judas Contract builds off what was established in Justice League vs. Teen Titans and features a lot of Nightwing and Starfire making slightly inappropriate remarks to a bunch of pre-teen crimefighters. It’s a fun, fast-paced, and action-packed story that should please fans of the characters.
23. Constantine: City of Demons: The Movie (2018)
I knew nothing about Constantine until his short-lived NBC series starring Matt Ryan. Then I fell in love with the occult detective. There’s something immediately charming about the character. Maybe it’s his snark or his lack of giving a shit, or maybe it’s just because I’m a fan of detective stories. Either way, the best decision DC has ever made has been to basically offer Ryan every gig that involves Constantine. He still stars as the character over on Legends of Tomorrow and has also voiced him in numerous animated projects. However, City of Demons is the first time since the NBC series where Constantine is the sole lead. We get to see him running around Los Angeles conning demons while hoping he can rescue his best friend’s daughter’s soul. It drags a bit in places, but Ryan’s performance makes up for it. I don’t care who ends up playing Constantine in the future, Matt Ryan will always be number one in my books.
22. Batman: Hush (2019)
This is the first New 52 Batman movie to actually feel like a Batman movie. Adapting one of the Caped Crusader’s most recent critically acclaimed storylines, Hush gives us the Batman/Catwoman romance we have been waiting to see back on screen since Batman Returns. The film is chock full of Batman’s iconic rogues gallery like Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, and the Riddler. It even manages to squeeze in an appearance by Superman. For fans of the comic version, I will warn you that the film heavily rewrites the ending, so you may or may not like the creative liberties the writers took. But as far as Batman films go, Hush uses as many Bat characters as possible. It’s something I wish we could see one day in live-action, but for now I’ll happily take another viewing of Batman: Hush.
21. Justice League vs. The Fatal Five (2019)
The DC Animated Universe was a huge part of many childhoods. It lasted for over a decade and when it finally ended it felt like we had lost a friend. Although Bruce Timm had talked about revivals in the past nothing ever materialized. Then Batman and Harley Quinn happened… and it was awful. A creative misfire that proved the DCAU was best left in the past. But the DCAU didn’t stay dead for long. Just a couple years later, Justice League vs. The Fatal Five came out and thankfully righted the sinking ship. Evoking fond feelings of the Justice League animated series, The Fatal Five features the returning voices of Kevin Conroy, Susan Eisenberg, and George Newbern as the DC Trinity. The story is solid and, while the focus is definitely on Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, the film finds time to give newer DCAU characters like Miss Martian and Jessica Cruz proper story arcs. If you somehow missed this when it came out, rectify that immediately. You deserve to feel like a child again.
What are some of your favorite DC animated films? Maybe they’ll show up later in the list!