The 10 Best DC Animated Movies

(Welcome to Let's Get Animated!, a column that spotlights the best of film animation. In this edition: the best DC animated films, from direct-to-video movies to theatrical releases.)

Marvel Studios may rule at the box office, but DC can proudly claim dominion over animated movies. Usually released direct-to-video, animated movies based on DC Comics have recently made the leap to theaters with Teen Titans Go! To the Movies — though a few recent direct-to-video films have seen limited theatrical release. But DC has long established itself as an animation titan, thanks to the movie spin-offs of its acclaimed series from the '90s and early 2000s, and thanks to its ever-expanding DC Universe Animated Original Movies.

Now with 32 DC Universe movies in the bag, and even more to come, let's do our favorite thing: rank them. We picked the top 10 DC animated movies, which range from more recent fare in the DC Animated Original Movies initiative to classic features related to Bruce Timm's DC Animated Universe.

10. Batman: Year One

There is a plethora of Batman-led animated films, to the point that it almost becomes obnoxious. But it makes sense — the Caped Crusader is still the DC Universe's most popular character and the one guaranteed to sell the most Blu-rays. Not to mention, those movies are just that good. But Batman: Year One stands apart from the rest in that it's just an okay Batman movie, but it's a damn good Jim Gordon movie. Based on the Frank Miller story of the same name, Batman: Year One follows a young Bruce Wayne's origin story, as he takes on the mantle of Batman and ascends to become a powerful symbol against crime. The slow-burning animated film follows a lot of the beats of Miller's 1988 graphic novel, but places great emphasis on the fascinating partnership between Batman and Jim Gordon. Bryan Cranston is fantastic as a wary, disillusioned Gordon, and in a prescient twist, Gotham's Jim Gordon Ben McKenzie voices Batman. There are a few distinctly Miller-style flairs in Batman: Year One that don't gracefully make the transition to modern day (Catwoman is a dominatrix for some reason...?) but it's a masterful adaptation of one of the most iconic Batman adventures to date.

9. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox

It's not often you get to see the Flash headline a film, and he does it with gusto in Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. The dark, thrilling, and brutal film depicts a dystopian alternate reality in which a war between the Atlanteans and Amazons threatens the fate of the world. But whenever the film teeters too far into grim-dark territory, Barry Allen brings it back from the brink. Barry's signature combination of empathy and enthusiasm is the anchor for this film, which gives a frenetic, shocking portrait of a dystopian reality that could have easily been too bleak to bear. Here, Wonder Woman is a murderous Amazon queen, Batman is a grizzled Thomas Wayne, the Joker is the psychotic Helen Wayne, Superman is a skeletal time bomb, and the Justice League doesn't exist. And then there's the undercurrent of tragedy: that a grief-stricken Barry Allen accidentally created this timeline when he went back in time to save his mother from murder. It's a premise that sounds great on paper, but ended up a bit of a convoluted mess in Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert's comic book run that launched the New 52 age of DC Comics. But in the Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, it just works. It's thanks to the emotional core that Barry Allen provides, transforming The Flashpoint Paradox into controlled mayhem instead of all-out alternate reality insanity.

8. Wonder Woman

Before Gal Gadot captured our hearts as Diana of Themyscira in 2017's Wonder Woman, Keri Russell stepped into the bright red boots in the DC Universe's 2009 Wonder Woman. The animated movie depicts a fairly simple and familiar origin story: Diana of Themyscira is a bright, young Amazonian princess who longs to leave the utopian island she lives in. But the crash-landing of American fighter pilot Steve Trevor onto Themyscira triggers an avalanche of events, resulting in the bloodthirsty god of war Ares escaping from his prison on the island. Diana is entrusted with a mission to bring Steve back home and to capture Ares before he can bring the world to war once again. You could see the 2009 Wonder Woman laying the template for the live-action version we've come to know and love, though unlike the 2017 film, the 2009 Wonder Woman takes place in modern day. The film expertly juggles Diana's introduction to modern day with Wonder Woman's dense Greek mythology, all while building a sweet, whirlwind romance between Diana and Steve (an utterly charming Nathan Fillion).

7. Justice League: Doom

Loosely based on Mark Waid's JLA: The Tower of BabelJustice League: Doom manages to transform one of the most beloved comic storylines into a taut, action-packed movie. The animated film was the first direct sequel in the DC Universe initiative, coming right off the magnificent Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. And it could have easily stumbled out of the gate with all of the expectations riding on it. But Justice League: Doom is a relentlessly entertaining hour and a half film that exposes the darkest secrets and greatest weaknesses of the Justice League, all while pitting them against their greatest foe yet: Vandal Savage. Yes, the film is surprisingly slight considering its dense source material, and yes, Batman does take center stage again, but it's a vibrant, expertly crafted, and surprisingly introspective film that gives you a new perspective on some of your favorite heroes.

6. All-Star Superman

Speaking of surprisingly introspective, the DC Universe made the bold choice to launch its initiative with the contemplative, slow-moving All-Star Superman based on Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's seminal comic book series. It seems an odd film to kick off a whole universe of mature animated films, but looking back at All-Star Superman, it makes total sense. The film perfectly captures the essence of Superman and all his aspirational values that many filmmakers, and even comic book writers, can't seem to grasp. It's an earnest and buoyant depiction of a superhero that has become so familiar to audiences that he's less of character than he is a cipher. But in All-Star Superman, he's painfully, achingly human. All-Star Superman chronicles the last year in Superman's life after he discovers that he is dying from absorbing a lethal amount of solar radiation. Though the story is interwoven with an action-packed plot involving Lex Luthor, the majority of All-Star Superman follows Superman as he settles his affairs, protects life on Earth, and spends time with his loved ones. It's a beautiful, moving animated film that does justice to Morrison and Quitely's profound 2005-2008 series.

5. Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

Reworked from an abandoned direct-to-video feature meant to bridge the gaps between the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited TV series, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths went on to become one of the best Justice League movies of the animated DC Universe. And a lot of it is thanks to James Woods, whose monotonous, coldly logical villain Owlman cuts a terrifying figure. Crisis on Two Earths follows the Justice League as they defend the Earth against the evil Justice League of Earth-3 — known as the Crime Syndicate — and their attempts for world domination. Half the fun is seeing our favorite superheroes meet and fight the bizarro versions of themselves, and the tag-team action sequences that ensue. But the great conflict lies between Batman and his counterpart, Owlman, as they engage in a battle of wits and philosophies. If you don't get chills during Owlman's monologue about the abyss, then I don't know you.

4. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

Batman Beyond was one of the great gimmicks gone right. It was based on a rather wild "what-if" premise: What if a wizened Bruce Wayne took a petulant teenager under his wing to become the new Batman in a neo-Gothic, cyberpunk wasteland? But it ran with it and went on to become one of the best shows to come out of Bruce Timm's DCAU. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker was the culmination of this bonkers series. Where Batman Beyond had taken careful measures to barely re-use Batman's most famous rogues — instead, they offered fresh, cyberpunk twists on the villain archetypes — Return of the Joker brings back...well, you know. Mark Hamill returns to voice his iconic villain in this Batman Beyond feature film, and he is terrifying. Even more terrifying is this film's PG-13 rating — allowing Return of the Joker to go to disturbing places that Batman Beyond could never consider, and indeed, were deemed so unfit for broadcast that two versions were released. But Return of the Joker's dark tone isn't the reason it's so great. It's the collision of two worlds: Hamill's gleefully chaotic Joker against Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle), who over the years had transformed from a punk kid into a bonafide hero. But Return of the Joker allowed him to tap into the brattiness that got him into Gotham Manor in the first place, in a thrilling, unnerving, and funny fight scene that is essentially "what if a snarky Peter Parker got into a Batsuit and goaded the Joker for 5 minutes?"

3. Justice League: The New Frontier

Nostalgia gets an Elseworlds twist in Justice League: The New FrontierJustice League: The New Frontier takes the art style of the Golden Age of comics and gives it the streamlined animated makeover in one of the best DC Universe Original Movies. Set on Earth-21 where the Cold War ended in the mid-'60s, The New Frontier presents an alternate version of the Justice League — one formed specifically to fight dinosaurs. The beautiful animation style is based on the comic written and drawn by the late Darwyn Cooke and is drenched in a rosy Americana optimism that gets to the heart of the Justice League: a team formed to protect humanity by working together. It's a simple, and maybe foolish thought, but one that Justice League: The New Frontier pushes with aplomb.

2. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Widely considered the best Batman film ever — and in some circles, even more beloved than The Dark Knight — Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is a glorious masterwork in storytelling. Part sweeping romance, part origin story, and part identity crisis, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm nimbly jumps across several decades in Bruce Wayne's early career as Batman as he faces his biggest foe yet: love. The film, directed by Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm, is loosely inspired by Mike W. Barr's Batman: Year Two comic book story arc and follows Batman as he reconciles with a former lover, Andrea Beaumont, and goes up against a mysterious vigilante who is murdering Gotham City's crime bosses. A surprisingly mature tale of love, tragedy, and betrayal, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is a wonderfully old-fashioned Batman movie animated in Timm's signature retro-'60s style.

1. Batman: Under the Red Hood

Batman: Under the Red Hood was one of the earliest films in the DC Universe Original Movies series, and they haven't been able to top it since. Based on the Under the Red Hood comic storyline by Judd Winick and Doug MahnkeBatman: Under the Red Hood cuts to Batman's greatest failure: the death of Jason Todd. The film dives into the complicated relationship between Batman and his second protege Jason Todd, the troubled streetwise kid who grows up in the shadow of Batman's first Robin, Dick Grayson. Violent and overreactive, Jason's hotheadedness gets him caught by the Joker, who kills him in an explosion — based off the Batman comic's surprising decision to kill the unpopular Robin based off of its readers' votes. But Under the Red Hood goes beyond that shocking death and deals with the aftermath: a revived Jason Todd takes vengeance against Gotham's criminal underbelly by doing what Batman can't — kill his enemies. It's a tragic, emotional, and fraught film that doesn't let up for one minute, and continues to be the DC Universe's best animated film to date.