The 10 Best DC Animated Movies

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.

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