What are the best DC animated movies? While Marvel Studios has dominated the landscape of live-action superhero movies for a long time now, the DCU has been left flagging. Whether it’s a lack of a coherent vision from Warners or the absence of a Kevin Feige figure leading the shared universe, we don’t know.
What we do know is that the DCU could be something really special, because DC has been crushing it with some of the best animated movies for more than a decade now. Seriously, some of these films are up there as the best movies in the genre, and we don’t just mean animation; we mean the best superhero movies in general.
But with more than 50 DC-made animated films available, it can be difficult to know which ones are best. So we at the Digital Fix dug into our collection of action movies to bring you a comprehensive list of the best DC animated movies.
Here are the 10 best DC animated movies of all time:
- All-Star Superman
- Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
- Wonder Woman
- Batman & Mr Freeze: SubZero
- Batman: The Long Halloween
- Superman vs The Elite
- Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
- Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
- Batman: Under the Red Hood
- Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
All-Star Superman (2011)
While it doesn’t quite live up to Grant Morrison’s seminal source material, All-Star Superman is still a brilliant story that digs into the humanity at the core of the Man of Tomorrow’s character.
Few stories have ever captured the magic of Superman quite like this, and I’d be lying if there wasn’t some grim satisfaction in seeing Lex Luthor, of all people, realize far too late how he’s wasted his life in a vendetta against the Man of Steel.
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)
Adapting one of DC comics’ most ambitious crossovers was no small feat, but The Flashpoint Paradox actually improves on its source material. The time travel movie tells the story of The Flash, who accidentally breaks time by trying to save his mother from being murdered. (Sounds very familiar to The Flash’s 2023 movie, doesn’t it?)
With time broken, the Flash finds himself in a strange world where nothing is as he remembers it, and he has to set right what’s gone wrong. The Flashpoint Paradox is a more coherent, more focused version of the comics’ story that drops all the confusing tie-ins to focus on The Flash and his adventures in this strange new dystopia.
Wonder Woman (2009)
Wonder Woman serves as an origin story for Diana Prince (aka: one of the best DC characters ever) and details her first adventures with the crashed pilot, Steve Trevor. While these characters would go on to be played in the real world by Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, their animated counterparts are just as likable, if not more so.
Funny, well-cast, and surprisingly violent, there’s a lot to like about this particular incarnation of Wonder Woman; it’s just a shame they never really did anything else with this version outside of the Justice League animated films.
Batman & Mr Freeze: SubZero (1998)
While Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is often praised as the best thing we got from Batman: The Animated Series (including everything else on this list), the dirty secret is that SubZero is probably better. There, we said it.
Exciting and surprisingly thoughtful, the film takes everything great about Batman: The Animated Series and expands it, including a rather operatic take on Mr Freeze. Many critics at the time the film was released actually said they wished this had been the movie Joel Schumacher made rather than Batman and Robin.
Batman: The Long Halloween (2022)
Batman: The Long Halloween might be the greatest Batman story ever told, so much so that Nolan and Reeves cited it as inspiration for their bat-blockbusters. Essentially, The Long Halloween set the tone for how all future Batman tales would be presented. And it makes sense, because this movie certainly leans into a gritter, more noir-inspired take on the Caped Crusader.
This animated version dares to be different, taking creative license with the well-worn story that’ll leave even the most comic-literate viewer astounded.
Superman vs The Elite (2012)
As a moral exemplar, superheroes don’t kill; everyone knows that. Well, everyone except your edgy friend and their red-hot take that ‘killing the villain would solve so many problems.’ Superman vs. The Elite examines this argument by pitting the Man of Steel against a new team of anti-heroes who aren’t afraid to get their hands bloody.
The film takes the time to examine the merits of both arguments before showing the inherent flaws in someone who kills people, saying, ‘people who kill people should be killed.’ Ultimately Superman vs. The Elite is an optimistic film about the value of human life and the importance of principles even in the face of a seemingly unstoppable challenge.
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)
Superhero stories have always involved evil versions of our favorite costumed crime fighters, but Crisis on Two Earths takes things a little further. Crisis on Two Earths doesn’t just give us an evil Superman and Batman. It gives us an entirely evil Justice League. (How’s that for some superhero movie villains, eh?)
A surprisingly philosophical film, Crisis on Two Earths, is ultimately about finding purpose in an infinite multiverse and realizing that no matter what you think, you do matter.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)
DC animated movies are many things, but you wouldn’t say any of them are particularly scary. Well, except for Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, which is a harrowing watch. On paper, it’s simply a battle between Terry McGuiness’s Batman and a returned Joker, but in reality, it’s so much more than that.
Return of the Joker pushes the Clown Prince of Crime to new unhinged heights. The Joker kills with impunity, tortures children, and even figures out the Dark Knight’s biggest secret. Truly this film reminds us why The Joker is one of the best Batman villains of all time. It’s a scary watch made all the better for its cathartic ending, where the new Batman lands a blow on the Joker that Bruce never could. He laughs at him.
Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
What Batman does is dangerous, and few films show that, like Under the Red Hood. It opens with Joker brutally murdering Robin, and things only get darker from there. Like Superman vs. The Elite, this film asks fundamental questions about its main character’s core philosophy, but it offers no easy answers.
Instead, it offers a mature, more adult take on the caped Crusader and the danger he puts people in. Fundamentally Under the Red Hood is a film about the difficult line vigilantes like Batman walk on the precipice between good and evil, and it reaffirms that ultimately, as flawed as he is, Batman won’t kill because he believes that tomorrow can be better than today.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
The granddaddy of all DC animated universe movies and a contender for the best Batman film ever made, Mask of the Phantasm is a borderline masterpiece. Loosely based on Batman: Year 3, this tense thriller tells the tragic story of Bruce Wayne’s lost love and the murderous vigilante known as the Phantasm.
Heartbreaking and exciting in equal measure, Mask of the Phantasm asks the audience to consider whether Bruce’s quest is good for him. Tragically, vengeance ultimately robs Bruce of any chance of healing, ensuring he will always be the Dark Knight.
Now we’ve shared our thoughts on the DCAU, why not check out our guide to all the new movies coming in 2023? Or, if you’re curious as to where the DCU is going next, you can read our article explaining how to watch all the DC movies in order or check out our guide to DC Studios slate entitled Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters.
We also have guides on how to watch all the Batman movies in order and how to watch all the Superman movies in order. We’ve also got breakdowns of the Batman actors and Superman actors, too. You can also learn about the Superman Legacy release date and the Aquaman 2 release date via our handy guides.
Finally, we’ve also got a feature discussing the five things we want to see from James Gunn’s new DCU, and one we don’t. Basically, it’s a good time to be a DC fan.