DC has been churning out a bunch of memorable live-action films and TV shows lately. Fans are chomping at the bit to see Jason Mamoa crush it as Aquaman, not to mention the much-anticipated Doom Patrol show starring Brendan Fraser as Robotman.
But I’m here to talk about what comic book fans and purveyors of long-form animated cinema already know: the DC Universe’s animated films are absolutely, hands-down, some of the best in the industry.
With top voice acting, slick animation, and complex plots that surpass what “cartoons” typical tackle, DC has consistently churned out quality feature-length animated films that excite fans every time a new one is announced.
Whether you’re unfamiliar with some of these movies or maybe just want to be reminded of titles you should definitely rewatch, take a look at some notable entries in the DC Animated Universe.
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
You may have heard of the upcoming Flashpoint paradox movie starring the lovely Ezra Miller as everyone’s favorite speedster, but if you’ve never seen the animated film of the same name, you’re in for a treat.
Set in an alternate timeline where none of your favorite and familiar superheroes are acting like you’d think they would (Batman uses guns and the Joker is, well, let’s just say different) Flashpoint is a gritty and brilliant DC Universe installment, filled with more “Oh snap!” moments than you can shake a stick at.
Batman: Under the Red Hood
You can’t talk about DC without mentioning Batman, and this entry into the series tells a standalone story so poignant, it’ll have you reevaluating everything you stand for. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration (not for me), but in the film, Batman’s foe surpasses him in skill and basically has a “better,” more efficient way of Batmanning than Batman can — or will — attempt.
There’s just the little question of ethics. Fans of anything Batman will love how the Caped Crusader’s methods get called into question, along with cameos and references to past Gotham natives.
The comic book world was stunned when the Man of Steel first sacrificed his life battling Doomsday to save Planet Earth. I remember being a young kid waiting patiently in the car and looking out the window at my older brother in the comic book store as he bought the issue. When I finally got my chance to read it, I was bowled over.
Often screen adaptations of your favorite book disappoint. But DC pretty much always comes correct when it comes to adapting these iconic storylines for their animated original movies. This film is no exception, perfectly capturing both Superman’s awesome battle with Doomsday and the shocking empty following after his loss.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman: The Animated Series redefined what cartoons could do. Heck, the TV series even had Steven Spielberg direct one of its episodes. Decades later, it’s still one of the most memorable series to ever air on network television.
Similarly, Mask of the Phantasm upped the ante of what a straight-to-video cartoon movie could achieve. The animation improved on the already revolutionary style of the popular TV show (it was drawn on black paper, giving it that dark, film noir feel) but it was clear that a lot of time and effort went into crafting not just a pretty movie, but one with a compelling storyline.
Green Lantern: First Flight
Although fans have been clamoring for another live-action Green Lantern film, the character (and its different iterations) has had more than its fair share of adventures in the DC animated universe.
First Flight tells the story of Hal Jordan and leads into an epic battle where he joins the other Lanterns against Sinestro. The movie had its US broadcast premiere in January 2010, and is lauded as one of the best DC animated feature-length films ever.
Batman: Assault on Arkham
If you want to see more of the Suicide Squad in action, look no further than this 2014 release. Featuring a unique animation style and a trove of awesome DC characters (fan favorite Harley Quinn, anyone?) Assault on Arkham has got the goods for comic book villain fans.
In it, Batman’s on a race against the clock to find a bomb the Joker hid. Meanwhile, the band of villains break their way into Arkham for a change in order to obtain some information the Riddler stole.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns was a comic book phenomenon. It was the first time readers saw a grizzled, old Batman struggling to operate effectively in a cruel new world.
What’s most interesting about the way TDK was produced is that it feels, as if it was lifted straight from the comics, panel by panel. Every scene and nuance was brought to life: it’s as if someone took the comic, put it through some Weird Science type of machine, and POOF, an incredible film came out of it. This one’s a two-parter, so plan a couple of nights to watch it or get ready for some binging.
Justice League: The New Frontier
DC comics played a big part in creating a vast mythology spanning decades, and many of our favorite characters have evolved to reflect the times we live in today.
New Frontier is a throwback to a “simpler time,” showcasing the heroes we’ve all grown up with, only set in the time period from which they were born. Set in the ’50s after the Korean War, this film is an homage to the feel-good wholesomeness of a bygone era but without the cheese. It’s every bit as awesome as the other DC films on this list and was a bold step from the animation studio.
It’s difficult to put all of the great DC animated feature-length films on this list, and I’m sure there are a few on here that you want to see get some love. Which is your favorite? For me, it’s gotta be Flashpoint, because I love the sheer audacity of the writer, who managed to turn everything topsy-turvy while still staying true to the DC universe. Watching that get turned into a brilliant animated film is just icing on the cake.