The best DC animated movies of all time

DC Comic’s cinematic universe might be off to a financially successful (if artistically shaky start), but DC animated movies have been wowing audiences for years. Starting with 2007’s Superman: Doomsday, DC Universe Animated Original Movies are drawn from the most significant stories in DC comics history. In a little, over 10 years, DC Comics has released 29 films, with even more on the way.

Unlike the cinematic adaptations, which have tried to build an expanded universe like Marvel Studios, DC’s straight-to-video animated movies celebrate the myriad takes on these classic heroes found in the comics. In other words, instead of trying to connect everything together, these full-length features, for the most part, simply strive to tell great standalone stories. Curious where to start? Here’s our list of the best DC animated movies to date. 

The best DC animated movies

1) Justice League: The New Frontier

DC Comics has been spinning tales since the 1930s, with the beloved Justice League forming in 1960. The New Frontier is a throwback tale to the post-World War II world of DC Comics, showing your favorite heroes as they join forces for the first time to defeat an otherworldly evil that threatens to destroy Earth. The New Frontier works as an introduction to these heroes for new fans and a love letter for devotees. Taking its time to explore each member of the Justice League, The New Frontier shows why characters with near-godlike powers would need humans like Batman and Green Arrow at their side.

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2) Green Lantern: First Flight

Part of what makes DC Comics so special is how they fully embrace the inherent weirdness of its characters. Take Green Lantern, for example. He’s a space cop with a green ring that can make anything its chosen owner thinks up, shoot laser blasts, and help its owner fly through space. The Green Lanterns have only one weakness, the color yellow. First Flight tells the origin of Hal Jordan, the first modern Green Lantern, as he is gifted his ring and forced to confront a powerful conspiracy within the Green Lantern Corps. 

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3) Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

Batman isn’t just doom and gloom, especially when he partners with his old pal Superman. Following one of the duo’s best team-up storylines, Public Enemies finds the world’s finest heroes framed as enemies of the state by President Lex Luthor. With their worst enemy in charge of the country, our heroes must fight through their rogues gallery and friends alike if they hope to clear their names. Stuffed to the gills cameos, explosive action, and a giant mecha Batman/Superman robot Public Enemies is a reminder sometimes comics are best when they’re just fun.

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4) All-Star Superman

Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman is arguably one of the finest comic series in history. This reimagining of Superman presents us with a hero who finds out he has only one year to live. Endeavoring to live his remaining life to the fullest, All-Star Superman shows viewers the warm heart at the center of the Man of Steel. Some of the tonal shifts are a little odd, but by paying careful attention to recreating Frank Quitely’s art while honoring the spirit of Morrison’s story, All-Star Superman sets itself apart from other adaptations by crafting its own world. We know Superman isn’t dead, but it’s powerful to imagine how he would go out if he could on his own terms.

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5) Batman: Under the Red Hood

What mistake haunts you? For Batman, it’s the day he was unable to stop the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin, at the hands of the Joker. If Batman had been willing to kill the Joker early in his career, countless lives would have been saved, albeit at the cost of violating his own moral code. Is sparing the life of a villain worth the victims they’ll eventually take? It’s a question Batman must face when a new crime lord appears in Gotham, ready to spill blood in the name of protecting the city in a way our hero won’t. What starts as a hard-boiled crime drama soon takes a mystical turn, resulting in a rare and altogether satisfying Batman story.  

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6) Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

The Justice League may be heroes on our Earth, but what about the multiverse? It turns out on another alternate Earth, our heroes are are part of the Crime Syndicate, a villainous organization that has taken over the planet with eyes on conquering the multiverse. Crisis on Two Earths gives a delicious reimagining of these classic heroes as super villains whose acts of terror drive Lex Luthor to super heroics. It’s exhilarating watching these familiar heroes face their darkest instincts, with Batman in particular making choices that bring his status as a pure hero into question. Smart without being overwhelmingly dark, Crisis on Two Earths is brilliant from start to finish.

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7) Wonder Woman

Did you fall in love with 2017’s hit Wonder Woman live-action film? Make time for the far superior animated movie. While the beginnings of both films are strikingly similar, they diverge wildly during their second acts, with the animated Wonder Woman diving directly into the modern world in her battle against Ares. There’s a humanity to Wonder Woman that other superheroes often lack, in part because her separation for our society makes her more adept at noticing its problems. Sure, the world almost ends and the fight scenes are staggering, but this film would be worth a spot on this list simply for showing Diana to be the greatest hero in the DC universe. At bare minimum, if you have children sit them down and show them this scene if they ever try to argue about gender norms.

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8) Justice League: War

2011’s New 52 reboot was DC’s attempt at starting fresh after decades of continuity made reading their comics a chore for new fans. While the plan didn’t exactly work for the print books—DC returned to its original continuity in 2016—it did have its moments of brilliance, most notably, Justice League: War. It’s a thrilling retelling of how the New 52 Justice League came together to stop the vile intergalactic warlord Darkseid from destroying Earth. With incredible animation that rides the line between anime and the classic DC cartoons and an action-packed story, War proves that even unnecessary comic book events can birth great things.  

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9) Justice League Dark

Sick of the big name DC heroes? Well, too bad. This movie still has Batman in it, but the Dark Knight is backed up by the finest mystical icons the publisher has to offer, from the criminally underrated Deadman to John Constantine. The DC playground has worked for decades because it’s a world where every kind of story flourishes. Superman can save the day while these hidden magic heroes protect us from other unseen horrors. Blending horror and superhero action takes finesse, and Justice League Dark is a masterclass how to turn comic books into dark fairy tales.

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10) Teen Titans: The Judas Contract

The ’80s revival of the Teen Titans served as a way for DC to poach some of the youth audience Marvel had gained with the X-Men’s explosive popularity. It was a gamble that paid off, with the series building heroes like Cyborg, Nightwing, and Starfire into the beloved icons they are today. Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is a modern update of the team’s most important storyline, a years-in-the-making betrayal from a beloved fan favorite. While the animated movie has some changes due to differences in comic book and cartoon continuity, the spirit of the story shines through. Thanks to their uber-popular cartoon, Teen Titans has rarely had a chance to explore the more mature sides of their stories, but Judas Contract opens the doors for those angles without ever getting bogged down in darkness.

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11) Superman vs The Elite

If you’ve ever heard someone mutter that Superman is lame and a relic of a bygone era, show that person Superman vs The Elite. When a new superhero team with lax views on killing hits the streets, Superman finds himself at odds with public opinion. As Superman wrestles with his place in the modern world, he discovers troubling questions about the Elite, culminating in staggeringly animated final fight. Writers rarely raise the reality that maybe Superman is holding back so he doesn’t hurt people, a fact The Elite finds out with terrifying clarity when the Man of Steel cuts loose. The animation is a little strange, but the story is a love letter to why Superman matters.

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12) Teen Titans Vs. Justice League

Being a sidekick sucks. No one takes Robin as seriously at Batman and the less said about Aqualad the better. Still, there’s a reason sidekicks have earned the respect of the most powerful beings on Earth, and in a pinch they can hold their own against any force on Earth. That theory is put to the test in Teen Titans vs. Justice League as the DC Universe’s biggest guns are possessed, leaving it up to their proteges to save the world from those tasked with protecting it. Judas Contract is a better film, but if you want to feel its full impact, make sure you watch this first.

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13) Son of Batman

Each Robin has represented a different aspect of Bruce Wayne, from Dick Grayson watching his parents die to Tim Drake’s full embrace of being a detective. Son of Batman introduces the most controversial Robin yet: Damian Wayne, Bruce’s lost biological son who has been raised by the League of Assassins. As Batman struggles with his role as a father, new obstacles arise, like training his son not to kill criminals or run off to take on supervillains on his own. Part one of a three-part story, Son of Batman serves as an exploration of Batman’s deep history while opening the door to his modern future. Also: It features an army of Man-Bats, and we’re always down for animal-human hybrids.

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14) Batman vs. Robin

After spending his childhood being raised by assassins, Damian Wayne is having a hard time adjusting to his new father’s rules. Then one day he meets Talon, a vigilante member of the secret Court of Owls, who offers him a chance to fight crime on his own terms. This sequel to Son of Batman has a darkness to it, as Bruce fights against a secret society of murderers for the soul of a son he only just met. In the Batman and Robin trilogy, this entry is Empire Strikes Back, so don’t expect to walk away with a happy ending.

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15) Batman: Assault on Arkham

Batman might get top billing, but Assault on Arkham is honestly more of a Suicide Squad movie, placing the anti-heroes front and center in a darkly comedic heist film. Fan favorites Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Black Spider, KGBeast, Killer Frost, and, best of all, King Shark are sent into Arkham Asylum by Amanda Waller on a suicide mission to retrieve information from the Riddler. The only thing that stands in their way is Batman, and a terrifying inmate who escapes during their assault. Funny and at times brutally violent, Assault on Arkham is a fine tribute to the Suicide Squad and the Arkham video games that inspired it. We just wish Harley wasn’t so oddly sexualized.

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16) Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

This overstuffed story almost collapses under the sheer weight of how much it tries to pack into 78 minutes, but it ultimately sticks the landing. Weeks after the end of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, a spaceship crash lands in Gotham, revealing a confused and terrified Kara Zor-El, aka Supergirl. Welcoming his cousin to Earth, Superman takes her to live among the Amazons to learn to control her powers. Everything is going smoothly, until Darkseid kidnaps Supergirl for his own vile schemes. The plot and the action are exhilarating, though the animation (styled after Michael Turner’s original comic art) feels overly sexual for the story being told. This film also features the best Batman moment in any of the animated DC films, as our hero talks his way out a fight with a God.

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17) Justice League: Doom

On paper, Batman is the weakest member of the Justice League, brilliant but stuck with the limitations of a human in peak condition. In the world of mind control, doesn’t it make sense that he’d have thought up ways to take down the other members of the League just in case? Unfortunately, a team of supervillains steal that information, incapacitating the Justice League and placing humanity in jeopardy. Like all DC animated movies, this film is just too short to do the story justice, but in spite of its rushed plot, Doom is a shining example of superhero action. Justice League: Doom also marks the final film project Dwayne McDuffie, creator of Static Shock and one of the most important African-American writers in comic book history.

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18) Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Vol 1 & 2

Trying to squeeze Frank Miller’s landmark story, The Dark Knight Returns, into a 78-movie would be impossible, so instead DC split the story into two separate, feature-length parts. From an animation standpoint, this film is a triumph, accurately recreating Miller’s iconic stylized art while grounding its wilder moments. Even still, the charms that made it shine in the ’80s have somewhat dulled. From the overwhelming darkness and violence, to a Batman who is frankly sort of a jerk, The Dark Knight Returns succeeds in deconstructing the icon, but at the cost of removing much of what makes him fun.  

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19) Batman: Year One

Batman: Year One is an anomaly in the DC animated movies. Unlike the massive scope of the films before it, Year One is an almost-grounded story about the first year of Gotham’s two greatest crime fighters, Batman and Jim Gordon. While the film stays loyal to writer Frank Miller’s occasionally frustrating sexism, the story itself is a welcome change of pace for DC’s animated universe. However, if you watch these films for bombastic action, Year One’s tempered pace will prove more frustrating than inspired.

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20) Justice League: Throne of Atlantis

A large chunk of Throne of Atlantis is consumed by a half-baked Aquaman origin story that keeps the Justice League away on a separate mission until the end of the movie. The fight scenes are incredible, but the story is frustratingly uneven.

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Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance. 

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