There are tons of animated films starring the Dark Knight, but which are really worth your time?
Now, this isn’t going to be a typical list. No top fives or best to worst. Just my personal recommendations of Batman animated movies, based on categories that I think they belong in. Without further ado…
Best Original Movies
This is for the films that tell fairly original stories, and do interesting things that make them stand out.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
My personal favorite of all the animated movies, this gem recently got a Blu-Ray release at last. It’s definitely worthy of praise. When a new vigilante called the Phantasm starts killing off mobsters, Batman is inadvertently framed for the murders. His investigation finds connections to his past, and the woman he fell in love with and nearly gave up his crusade for. Complicating matters is when the mob hires the Joker to take out their foe, whoever it is, setting the Dark Knight, the Clown Prince of Crime, and the new threat in town on a collision course. With gorgeous animation, amazing acting, a truly engaging mystery and a brutal climax, this film is great for fans and newcomers alike.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
The only full length movie for the adventures of Terry McGinnis, the Dark Knight of the future, this entry finds the young hero going up against a seemingly resurrected Joker. Terry is not only forced to face off with his predecessor’s greatest enemy, but must unravel the truth of what happened the last time the original Batman and Joker fought, and how he’s managed to return. Another great film for its action and mystery, and the Hannibal Lecter-inspired redesign for the Joker is still creepy.
Batman: Gotham Knight
Created as a tie-in to the Christopher Nolan films, meant to bridge the time between Batman Begins and the Dark Knight, this anime-anthology has six short stories that do tie together, but can be watched on their own. It also features Kevin Conroy returning to the voice for the first time since Justice League Unlimited ended. Each short is written and directed by a different pair, and is one of the more unique films to feature Batman. While it is meant as a tie-in, it can be watched on its own, and is quite an experience.
Batman and Harley Quinn
The most recent entry, and while technically a team-up movie, it’s still really unique. When Poison Ivy and the Floronic Man team up on a plan to create their ideal plant-based world, Batman and Nightwing have no choice but to recruit Harley, who’s trying to stay away from the hero and villain crowd. What follows is a raunchy, hilarious adventure that had me laughing more than I expected.
Best Team Movies
When Batman isn’t the only main character, they end up here.
Justice League: Doom
After a battle with the Royal Flush Gang, the Justice League go back to their own individual lives and issues, only for a new threat to strike at them: a group of their villains, led by Vandal Savage, calling itself the Legion of Doom. And their first move against the League are all plans formulated by Batman himself to take out his teammates. Not only does Batman play a major role in the plot, but the action and heroic moments are all awesome. This film is basically the one I hold all Justice League movies against as a measuring stick. It’s that good.
Batman: Bad Blood
Taking elements from Grant Morrison’s recent run with the character, the story follows after Batman is presumed killed in a battle with a group of villains. Nightwing finds himself now having to take the role of Batman, and with the help of the new Robin, Damian Wayne, a new Batwoman and a high-tech armored hero called Batwing, try to find out what happened to Bruce, and stop an evil plan that’ll change the world. While Batman himself takes a backseat here, it’s a great film showcasing the Bat-family in a great adventure.
Justice League Dark
When a wave of supernatural evil starts affecting the world, the Justice League is at a loss. When Batman receives a message telling him to find John Constantine, he ends up forming a team alongside the infamous sorcerer, featuring the likes of the Demon Etrigan, Deadman and Zatanna. While Batman lets Constantine take the lead, he is probably at his most hilarious here, being the straight man and skeptic as he finds himself out of his comfort zone with all the supernatural. And he still keeps pace as the new team investigate the case. Also, it features Matt Ryan reprising his role as Constantine, so that only is worth the watch.
Not a category I expected to write, but here of the films meant as comedies that fans should enjoy.
The Lego Batman Movie
Don’t you judge me. This film is not only hilarious, it’s also a fanboy easter egg filled film. From the many references to different stories, films and adaptions in the past, to its overwhelming cast of characters from the franchise’s history. The story is at its core about Batman finding out how much he needs other people in his life. And also, it’s a Lego movie, so of course it’s hilarious and charming. Also, it’s probably the most family friendly one on this list.
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders
An animated film based on the classic 60’s series, with Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar reprising their roles as Batman, Robin and Catwoman? You bet I’ll put it here. With the same kind of insane campy humor and action as the classic show, with a host of jokes poking fun at everything from the Nolan films to the modern comic depictions of Batman, this is fun for both fans of the old show and fans of the franchise in general.
And now we get to the films that are flat-out meant as adaptions of stories we’ve seen before in print.
Batman: The Killing Joke
I know it’s weird to start this part off with such a controversial adaption. The original story had a lot of criticism for its treatment of Barbara Gordon, and the 30 minute prologue created exclusively for this adaption probably makes it even worse. That said, skipping the first 30 minutes results in one of the most amazing adaptions I’ve seen. In particular, hearing Mark Hamill speak the most iconic Joker lines in comics in the most important Joker story is something I’ve wanted for years. If you do watch this, skip the first 30 minutes. Believe me, it’s worth it.
Batman: Year One
My review is still up here on the site, so if you need more details, look there. Sufficed to say, this adaption of Frank Miller’s classic story detailing the start of both Batman and James Gordon’s beginnings to their time as crimefighters in Gotham is really good. Of particular note is Bryan Cranston as Gordon, a role I think he was born to play.
Batman: Under the Red Hood
An adaption by Judd Winick, who wrote the comic story itself, the film follows Batman as he’s put face to face with his greatest failure. A new criminal, the Red Hood, has appeared and started to take control of the underworld from crime boss Black Mask. As Batman realizes that the Red Hood is probably Jason Todd, the second Robin, who was murdered by the Joker years ago, the battle becomes a lot more personal. From the top notch voice acting (including a truly unnerving Joker played by John DiMaggio) and the adaption fixing the biggest plot problems from the comic, it’s one of the most highly rated films on the list.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Whether you’re watching it as the two films they were initially released as, or the complied film they became later, this adaption of Frank Miller’s best Batman story is quite a marvel. From the voice cast to the direction to the animation, it brings one of the most influential comics of the last 30 years to life in an amazing way. Not much else to say except to watch it for yourself.
Come back soon, as we take a look at storylines that would serve as good inspiration for the DC Cinematic Universe’s upcoming Batman film.