Tag Archives: Streaming

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.

Rethinking Superhero and Comic-Book Movies

When I started this site back in 2007, movies inspired by known superheroes or comic books were still in their infancy as a genre.  Who knew that 12 years later we would see a genre that would not only grow exponentionally, but also dominate most cinematic discussions?  You can see the height of this naivete with my list from June 30, 2008, where I listed what I thought were the top 10 superhero movies of all time.  Marvel had just released what would end up being entry #1 of 22 in what is now known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU); Chris Nolan had just released the second entry of what would become known as The Dark Knight Triology; and DC was starting to dominate the animated movie front via Blu-Ray/DVD.  Streaming services were starting to be visualized, but not in wide production.  Additionally, movies and franchises like Kingsman: The Secret Service, Kick-Ass, A History of Violence were actually pulled from graphic novels and small comic-book series not known by most, with studios taking some risks in developing those properties.

If the period of the late 90s and early 2000’s was consumed with fanboys/fangirls angrily drawing battle-lines between Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, then 2008 would see the rise of a war that looks to put those earlier battles to shame: the MCU versus the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).  With the events (on- and off-screen) of the past 3-5 years in both franchises, fans on each side have only gotten more steadfast in their positions and leave little room for those that enjoy both.  What is interesting is that lost in all of the debate would be the following:

  • Marvel has surrendered the animated movie arena to DC
  • While some movie-watchers bemoan the live-action offerings from DC, many do not realize that DC has been quietly producing 2-3 animated offerings per year over the past 10-12 years, with many being well-received.
  • Despite some missteps by WB and DC, the DCEU is realizing that the way to compete with Marvel is to frame their “universe” differently.  As the DCEU moves away from the idea that each movie must be firmly tied to the other movies, the storytelling and offerings improve, giving audiences credit for understanding that not every movie has to set up the next one and that not each one has to have crossovers.

As these thoughts have been bouncing around in my head, it does force me to rethink how I need to evaluate this genre that has exploded with content.  As a result, I will be revisiting my 2008 Top 10 list and framing it differently.  I will also build out lists evaluating Marvel and DC separately; to try to do both together is a fool’s errand of the magnitude of one of Don Quioxte’s quests.  This will give me some content to develop over the next 1-2 months in between movie reviews and other items.

As always, comments are welcome below…