11 Intriguing DC Animated Movies to Binge-Watch During the Lockdown
Compared to its rival superhero universe under the house of mouse, the DCEU has largely been hit or miss. The MCU’s live-action films have been a consistent stream of blockbusters while the DCEU has been more of a roller coaster ride.
But since 2007, Warner Bros. Animation has been producing high-quality animated movies set in the DC universe and, in 2013, kicked off the DC Animated Movie Universe (not to be confused with the DC Animated Universe), an interconnected storyline leading up to Darkseid’s invasion in Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. These animated movies are intended for mature audiences—characters die, heroes have affairs—and explores themes that MCU wouldn’t touch.
Although many of the movies since 2013 share a loose continuity and can be viewed chronologically, each film is a standalone and all are solid stories that can be viewed in any order. Most stories are pulled directly from comic book storylines in varying degrees of faithfulness to the source material, so comic readers and fans should be able to hop on to any of the films without trouble.
Here’s a handy list in no particular order of some of the best ones to keep you busy during the extended quarantine.
The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 and 2
Set in the ’80s and based on the seminal Frank Miller classic of the same name, The Dark Knight Returns sees an aged Bruce Wayne don the cape and cowl after a decade in retirement following the death of Robin, Jason Todd. Crime is on the rise once more in Gotham, forcing Wayne to fight crime with a body slowed down by old age.
The first part sees Batman close the chapter on old enemies and makes new ones as his vigilantism puts him at odds with a government-employed Superman, who keeps his super heroics low key due to government regulation. The clash between the two titans is what inspired Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman but the animated film puts the DCEU version to shame. The two-part film is one of Warner Bros. animation’s best and if you want to stop with this, you’ll be in a good place.
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
On the other hand, if you want to go down the rabbit hole of the DC Animated Movie Universe, there’s no better place to start than The Flashpoint Paradox. Directed by Jay Oliva, the showrunner behind Trese, the film has recognizable beats from the CW’s Flash, where Barry Allen wakes up to a world where his mother is alive. But the rest of the world has changed, including Allen himself. He no longer has his superpowers and the rest of the Justice League are wreaking havoc on the world rather than protecting it.
The whole multiverse concept being built up in the MCU was preceded by DC’s Arrowverse as well as The Flashpoint Paradox. There’s a post-credits scene that teases Justice League: War, so if you’re looking to binge, that should be up next on your list.
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
This standalone film from 2010 was released before the DC Animated Movie Universe so it exists outside of continuity, but it may as well be part of it because it plays with the concept of alternate universes that’s DC Comics’ playground. Based loosely on Grant Morrison’s JLA: Earth 2, the film finds a heroic alternate version of Lex Luthor recruiting the Justice League to fight twisted mirror versions of themselves in his universe. The evil Justice League, unimaginatively and expectedly called the Crime Syndicate, clash with the heroes in the ultimate battle of good versus evil.
If you’re a fan of Grant Morrison, his take on Superman is a true celebration of the big blue boy scout. Another standalone tale based on Morrison’s 12-issue limited series, this Superman tale is unique in that it eschews the overused origin story (everyone knows Superman is the last surviving son of Krypton) but instead imagines Superman in his last days. He develops a form of super-cancer after prolonged exposure to the sun thanks to a trap set by Lex Luthor, and the film explores his final year in a form of “12 labors” as he makes use of all his super abilities to make the world a better place than he left it. As a bonus, the animation mimics Frank Quitely’s unique art style.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
Just as All-Star Superman is done in Quitely’s art style, this less cerebral, less poignant standalone tale is a bombastic nod to Ed McGuiness’ larger-than-life super heroic art style. Based on McGuiness’ and Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman comic book series, this eerily prescient tale sees villain Lex Luthor ascend to the U.S. presidency, and the world’s finest duo team up to take him down. Not the finest or deepest of Warner Bros. animated movie offerings, but a popular action-packed choice that’s perfect with popcorn. It’s about as brash and explosive as All-Star Superman is restrained and introspective.
Batman: The Killing Joke
If you can get past the egregious and unnecessary sex scene (told you DC animated movies are made for mature audiences) between Batman and Batgirl—controversial at the time it was released in 2016 and still a jilting story point today—this adaptation of the Alan Moore classic is an intense watch. Regardless of how much of the spirit of Moore’s story is translated into film, both the comic and the animated movie remain among the best Joker stories of all time. This also features some of the best performances ever by the best Batman ever, Kevin Conroy, and the best Joker ever, Mark Hamill.
Batman: Year One
Quite possibly the best thing out of this animated film is Bryan Cranston as a young Jim Gordon, who has just moved to Gotham City from Chicago with his pregnant wife. The story follows Bruce Wayne donning the mantle of Batman for the first time upon his return from a 12-year hiatus where he essentially acquired the skills to become Batman. But it’s less a Batman story than it is a Jim Gordon one, and among the DC Animated Movies, Year One provides one of the most truly human takes on the world with a gritty exploration of the deep corruption in Gotham City’s very own police department.
Superman vs the Elite
Based on arguably one of the greatest single-issue Superman stories of all time, Action Comics 775 by Joe Kelly, this film centers on the premise of Superman’s refusal to kill and how it stays relevant in an increasingly violent world. He faces the Elite, a new breed of anti-heroes led by a powerful telekinetic, Manchester Black. The Elite have no qualms about killing criminals and don’t mind a bit (or a lot) of collateral damage. This disregard for life goes against Superman’s very core, and the planet just isn’t big enough for both of them.
It might be unfair not to include at least one Wonder Woman film in this list, but this animated film is pretty much the inspiration for Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman and stands full well on its own. It’s fairly similar to the DCEU film in terms of story beats and should serve as a reminder that sometimes, the simple things are best and can cleanse the palate of missteps like Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984. If anything, this animated movie reinforces the idea of how good a character Wonder Woman is and that she needs more solo movies like the other big two of DC’s trinity.
Batman: Under the Red Hood
Quite possibly the best DC animated movie of them all, this film is based on the story arc of the same name written by Judd Winick. Opening with the tragic death of Jason Todd at the hands of the Joker, the film fast forwards to five years later where a mysterious vigilante named Red Hood has been brutally killing Gotham’s criminal underworld. The film is a poignant and tragic exploration of the darker path that Batman could have gone. The clash of ideologies is similar to the one that Superman faces in Superman vs the Elite, but where Batman faces an eerily familiar mirror rather than a completely different entity. This version of the Red Hood was introduced in comics in 2005 and has become one of the most popular characters in the Batman canon.
The full catalog of DC animated movies is streaming on HBO Go.