Category Archives: Digital

The Best and Worst of DC Universe Animated Original Movies

General Rules

As promised, I am beginning my revisting of the superhero/comic-book genre by splitting things up into categories.  The easiest of the categories with the most substance has to be the work DC has done in animation between 2007 and now.  The key to these movies is that they are geared to the PG-13- or R-rated crowd versus family-friendly. For the purposes of these rankings, I am making the following caveats:

  • Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is excluded due to it being released in movie theaters first.  I will address it as part of the DC Theatrical Releases rankings.
  • While they were released in the 90s, I will include the direct-to-video Batman animated movies that preceded the bulk of what is known as the current DC Universe Animated Original Movies as par tof my evaluations.
  • The DC Showcase Original Shorts Collection will be included for evaluation since it was released on its own despite three of the shorts appearing as extra features on 3 of the main movies.
  • The following are excluded due to my rule of not having watched them yet:
    • Teen Titans: The Judas Contract
    • Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay
    • The Death of Superman
    • Reign of the Supermen
    • Justice League vs. the Fatal Five
    • Batman: Hush
    • Wonder Woman: Bloodlines
  • As much as I will try to avoid it, I do have a natural tendency to be biased for Batman, and biased against Superman.  It’s not that Supes is a bad character; it’s more of a case that he has been better served in these movies when shown as part of the Justice League versus his solo efforts.

Best of

When I think of the term “Best of”, I equate it to terms of quality and rewatchability.  Think of this list as the ones I would have with me on a desert island, with the others gone the way of the dodo.  Rather than ranking them 1 to x, I will simply list them in chronological release order.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

This was DC’s first direct-to-video flirtation with a PG-13 or R rating.  The release was initially delayed due to concerns from WB about its dark nature.  Thankfully DC released a “director’s cut” a few years after Batman Beyond left the airwaves.  A solid story with great voicework that does veer into the darker side of Joker and Batman.

Justice League: The New Frontier

This was one of the first reviews I wrote regarding DC’s animated movies; click the title to read more detailed thoughts.  That said, I do wish DC would invest in doing other animated features similar to this in artwork and Silver Age stories.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

A good introduction to the Injustice League from a different Earth, as well as the concept of the Multiverse.  James Woods makes a good Owlman, and is easily the standout for this movie.

Batman: Under the Red Hood

An iconic Batman storyline adapted faithfully for animation.  This was the first attempt at adapting a lengthy storyline to animation since DC’s first attempt with Superman:Doomsday (read the Supes review to see how not to do it), and you can tell they learned from previous mistakes.  While Bruce Greenwood is not Kevin Conroy, he is still a good choice for the Dark Knight.

DC Showcase Original Shorts Collection

Headlined by the short Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam, DC wisely put this collection out so that people could enjoy the small stories that they had brought to life via animation.  My favorite is The Spectre, with some great vociework by Gary Cole.  The shorts for The Spectre and Jonah Hex are definitely more adult, but serve as morality tales.  The Green Arrow short helps lighten things up within the collection.

Batman: Year One

While the title leads you to believe it is about Batman’s introduction to Gotham City, it is most definitely Jim Gordon’s story, just as it was in the comics.  Between this and UTRH, you can tell DC is hitting its peak with quality in animation and story-telling.

Justice League: Doom

What I like about this movie is that it shows that Batman trusts no one and has contingency plans for dealing with all of the heroes, including himself.  While the team feels rightly betrayed, one can’t deny that Bats makes some solid points at the end.

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Based on one of the first Elseworlds graphic novels DC ever published, this turn-of-the-century take on Batman is enjoyabel for both Batman fans and Sherlock Holmes fans.  DC did a great job in bringing this story to life.

Honorable Mentions

While the following are good, I had to draw a line somewhere.  Here are some decent almost-made-its:  Wonder Woman; Green Lantern: First Flight; Green Lantern: Emerald Knights; Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox; and Justice League Dark.

Worst of

If “Best of” is evaluated in terms of story and rewatchability, then “Worst of” has to be those that DC seemed to rush into production or not really care about the quality of what was being produced.

Batman: The Mystery of the Batwomen

A forgettable feature set within the Batman: The Animated Series universe.  About the only thing I remember from it is the use of Kelly Ripa’s voice.  It has been several years since I watched this.

Superman: Doomsday

DC almost killed off this run with its first entry.  It has not held up well through the test of time and even caused to DC to revisit it by remaking it into The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen.

Justice League: War

A case of DC trying to tie into the New 52 by adapting the first 6 issues of Justice League from that run.  It was a weak story in print, and even weaker in animation.

Batman: The Killing Joke

This was a tough selection.  While the animation quality is good and the voicework is superb, one cannot ignore other issues.  In order to flesh out the movie to be animated-feature-length, the storytellers decided to add in a controversial storyline revolving Batman and Batgirl.  While I am not a prude and one can see at times that there was some possiblity of romantic entanglements for the two, what was presented was done simply for additional shock value in a story that already dealt with possible rape and severe mental trauma.  While I am glad that I watched it and while there may be parts I appreciate, this is one storyline that should have remained in print and not been adapted.

“Dis”Honorable Mentions

After peaking with Batman: Year One, DC definitely spenty the next few years being the “McDonald’s” of animated features.  Crank’em out, regardless of quality, and people will consume them.  I am as guilty as everyone else for feeding this mentality.  A number of releases after the peak could have been on the “Worst of” list.  That said, it seems that quality is improving and maybe we will see a new renaissance.

St. Elmo’s Fire

When I first started this blog 7 years ago, part of the mission was to highlight movies that were no longer available on the big screen that people should see.  Yet I didn’t want to review everything I came across while flipping channels.  So any movie seen at home had to be on DVD.  That evolved to Blu-Ray, and now it evolves to include Digital (downloaded or streaming).  One of the neat things right now is that VuDu and Flixster are running promotions to give you 5-10 movies for free.  Unfortunately these are not all good movies, but free is free.  I may never watch 17 Again, but it costs me nothing but a little pride by having it in the digital locker.  It is through this promotion that I acquired tonight’s subject.

The mid-80s were an interesting time for movies.  John Hughes was at the peak with his Breakfast Club/Pretty In Pink crew.  Studios kept looking for the next John Hughes-like project to capture those easily spent dollars from teenagers and young 20s.  As the Brat Pack started growing out of high school roles, so did the audience.  St. Elmo’s Fire was supposed to have the winning formula: 3 cast members from The Breakfast Club (Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, and Ally Sheedy), Rob Lowe, and a director by the name of Joel Schumacher.  To be honest, the worst thing for this movie tonight was me seeing his name at the beginning; it definitely led me to looking for faults.  When this came out in January of 1985 (yes, almost 30 years ago), I was just in 9th grade.  I saw the trailer and had no interest in it.  As the years went by, I still never found a reason to watch it, despite friends being amazed that I never had.  It was the random selection for tonight, as I wanted to watch a movie that I had not seen.  Since it has been 30 years since this movie came out, I am not really worried about giving too much away; that said, if you haven’t seen it, know that I am going to be talking about major plot points.

The movie centers around a group of friends that have just graduated college, and are trying to find their way into making that next step in the journey of life.  Sadly, the person or persons who wrote this story took the easy path of creating one-dimensional characters.  As the plot was being written, one can tell that there is no confidence in the audience to handle the real consequences of certain problems and events of the movie; that results in many of the subplots being trivialized at the end, making the viewer feel cheated of resolution.  Here is my breakdown of the subplots:

  • Emilio Estevez – In a random emergency room encounter, he spots his college freshman crush, Andie McDowell.  Over the course of the movie, he tries to gain her attention and affection.  The only problem is that he becomes obsessive to the point of stalking.  Yet, he seems fine by the end of the movie after getting a kiss from her.  This story seems to fuel the argument that it is ok to stalk women as long as you get some attention from them.  Terrible character, terrible actions, absolutely no consequence.
  • Demi Moore – Her character is the attention whore of the group.  She lives extravagantly and does drugs as a way to impress everyone.  Eventually her house of cards falls apart, and she shows depression.  Again, though, no consequence, and certainly no discussion of her drug habit.  The closest is a 1 minute scene where two of her friends try to talk to her and she runs away.
  • Judd Nelson/Ally Sheedy/Andrew McCarthy – This was a cliché nightmare.  Judd Nelson wants to be a mover and shaker, and wants Sheedy to be his wife.  She wants to take things at a moderate pace.  McCarthy spends the first half of the movie dealing with people thinking he is gay.  This leads to the stereotypical denials and angry reactions.  Of course this was in 1985, when AIDS hysteria was at its height and homosexuals were used as punch lines in movies.  So after McCarthy spends the first half of the movie being mysterious, he all of sudden moves in to sweep Sheedy off her feet after she has an emotional breakup with Nelson over his infidelity.  Sheedy’s character felt the most genuine through out the movie, which made her one of the few sympathetic characters.  McCarthy would have been equal had the story not anchored him with the idiotic gay “red herring” plotline.
  • Rob Lowe/Mare Winningham – This was actually the plot line that felt the least contrived.  Winningham loves the bad boy Lowe, which is not popular with the family.  She also wants to focus on working her job, which allows her to help those in need.  yet her family wants her to get hitched to some no-name guy, stay home and spit out kids.  The fact that she stays true to her ideals and finally stands up to the family is good character growth.  It is her strength in telling Lowe no over and over that eventually gets Lowe to realize that he can’t be “Peter Pan” forever and he must grow up.  That said, his character is one that does not deserve any of the rewards he receives.

st elmo fire

Ultimately, this movie represents what would happen if the worst of the Seinfeld crew merged with the worst parts of the Friends crew, and you removed all of the comedy.  Even those that complained about the group from How I Met Your Mother being unrealistic would find them genuine next to this group of characters in this movie.  By the time this movie ended, I was ready to email and call every person who ever told me to watch this movie, and ask them for $8 to cover what I would have paid to see it in the theaters in the 80s.  A majority of the characters are irredeemable and everything that was made to feel important at the beginning was thrown away by the end of the movie.

My advice: Skip this movie – there are so many better movies out there.  Instead, spend 4 minutes and watch the only good thing to come out of the movie: John Parr’s song, Man In Motion…

St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)–John Parr