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Best Batman Animated Movies

Comic book fans who unfavorably compare DC movies to their superior Marvel counterparts are right that a lot of the live-action flicks aren't up to the task. But be careful not to discount animated features, because there, DC truly shines. And unsurprisingly, a lot of their best work revolves around Batman, who broods at the center of one of comic book history's richest worlds. Almost no other fictional hero can draw upon such a deep bench of supporting characters, so many unforgettable villains, or a city as dark and endlessly fascinating as Gotham. So it's to be expected that animated movies set here, and around these timeless characters and stories, are simply unmissable. 

Whether these movies are adaptations of seminal graphic novels, part of an animated series, set in a universe established in live-action films, or simply stand-alone one-offs, they're all fantastic. For your viewing, crime-fighting pleasure, we've taken the liberty of assembling a list of the best-ever Batman animated movies.  

Batman: The Killing Joke

All due respect to "The Long Halloween," "The Dark Knight Returns," and "Arkham Asylum," but "The Killing Joke" just might be the most legendary Batman graphic novel of all time. In it, we see the Joker's origin: He was a failed stand-up comic who was disfigured after falling into a vat of acid during a botched heist, which he planned to use to support his family since his comedy career wasn't doing the trick. Later on, he paralyzes Barbara Gordon, kidnaps her father, and takes him to an abandoned carnival, where he plans to exhibit him in a freak show. There, he's confronted and defeated by Batman. It's a deep, dark, tragic look into one of comic book history's most infamous supervillains, and it's been a huge influence on Batman stories ever since.

Not surprisingly, we got an animated adaptation of the influential story in 2016's "The Killing Joke," which was also, believe it or not, DC's first R-rated film. Critical reception was mixed, however. Many felt that the prologue, which drastically changes and sexualizes Batman and Batgirl's relationship, was unnecessary and added nothing to the overall story. We tend to agree. Still, the rest of the movie was praised for sticking closer to the source material, and is therefore a must-see for Batman fans who want to witness such an indispensable story on screen.

Batman: Assault on Arkham

This movie is less of a Batman movie and more of a Suicide Squad animated feature. And if you're thinking they named it the way they did because they didn't want to associate themselves with the stench of the 2016 "Suicide Squad" debacle, keep in mind that "Assault on Arkham" came out a full two years before David Ayer's mishap (which, according to him, was supposed to look completely different).

The animated movie, actually set in the same universe as the "Arkham" video game franchise (specifically, after "Origins"), follows Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and several other members of the Suicide Squad as they break into Arkham Asylum and try to recover vital information stolen by the Riddler. Meanwhile, Batman is also lurking around, trying to find a bomb planted by the Joker before it goes off (because we can't have a single Batman story without the Joker, apparently).

There's a lot to enjoy in this movie set in one of the most recognizable locations from Batman lore. The voice acting and animation especially are as solid as what you'd expect from DC animated movies (which is to say, very high quality).

Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Yes, really. This 2019 movie, featuring an A-list voice cast (including "Crazy Ex-Girffriend" leading lady Rachel Bloom, John DiMaggio, Kyle Mooney of "SNL," impressionist Jim Meskimen, and others) and based on the 2015-2016 three-part crossover comic series "Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," follows the Caped Crusader and the Ninja Turtles as they try to take down The Shredder and Ra's al Ghul.

It sounds like it could turn out as mindless adolescent schlock, but it's actually a pretty well-done movie, all things considered. In fact, it boasts a hard-to-match rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so take it from us or the critics: This movie is worth watching when you get a chance. As critic Mike McGranaghan put it in his 3-out-of-four-stars review, "'Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' is a DC animated movie that successfully combines their worlds into 87 minutes of pure fun."

Is it a necessary movie, or something that deepens our understanding of these characters? Not really. But it's plenty of fun and smart enough not to try to be anything else.

Batman vs. Robin

Based largely on Scott Snyder's "Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls" storyline, 2015's "Batman vs. Robin" follows Damian Wayne, Bruce's son, who often goes out in costume as Robin. While fighting crime, Damian struggles heavily with his dad's "no killing" rule and ends up getting blamed by Bruce for the demise of the villainous Anton Schott, who kidnaps and mutilates children.

Turns out, the masked assassin who was actually responsible for the killing belonged to the Court of Owls — a shadowy organization that Bruce once suspected was behind the murder of his own parents. Meanwhile, Damian begins to believe his destiny actually lies within this dangerous secret society, leading to conflict between him and his father. In the end, they're forced to team up against the assassins, but Damian is left struggling with his identity. It's some surprisingly deep stuff that's nailed by the voice actors and animators.

The movie naturally enjoys an enviable score on Rotten Tomatoes. Critic Felix Vasquez, Jr. of Cinema Crazed sums it up nicely: "['Batman vs. Robin' is] a very good DCU animated offering with brisk action, good pacing, and compelling character drama."

The Long Halloween, Parts I & II

1996-1997's "The Long Halloween" storyline, which examines a young Batman's struggle against the mob and the origins of Two-Face, among other major developments, was a huge influence on 2008's "The Dark Knight" and is widely considered to be one of the most important graphic novels in Batman's history. That of course makes it an obvious choice to adapt, and luckily, Warner Brothers and DC Comics decided to do just that in 2021.

The two-part animated series features "Supernatural" alumnus Jensen Ackles as the World's Greatest Detective, Josh Duhamel as Harvey Dent, and Troy Baker as Joker. Catwoman, Commissioner Gordon, Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni (the latter two are mobsters you might remember from "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight," respectively) make appearances as well. Even Calendar Man shows up here, and despite his goofy shtick of date-related crimes, he's actually pretty intimidating.

Now, we can't say this examination of a young Bruce, who's still getting his Bat-legs under him and discovering who he's supposed to be, is superior to the original, unmissable graphic novel (seriously, Bat-fans have no excuse not to read that one at some point). But we can say it's a worthy, faithful adaptation that's well worth a watch.

Batman: Gotham Knight

This 2008 animated anthology supposedly takes place in the same universe as Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy, between the first and second films. Don't let the fact that Kevin Conroy voices the Caped Crusader instead of Christian Bale, or the fact that the stories aren't necessarily essential to enjoying or understanding the live-action films, discourage you from checking it out. It's a collection of five short deep dives into Nolan's specific, hyper-realistic take on Gotham.

In one story, a few young friends recount seeing Batman take down the Man in Black, a high-tech criminal. In another story, the Man in Black has escaped, and Lieutenant Gordon hand-picks a few good cops to track him down. In the next, Lucius Fox toys around with tech that will eventually be used for electronic surveillance in "The Dark Knight." In the fourth story, a Catholic priest is kidnapped, and Gordon and Batman believe Scarecrow is involved. In the fifth and final short, Batman is injured and trapped in the Gotham City sewers.

Each story here has its own unique visual style and tells a miniature Batman story through a small lens, allowing you to experience what it'd be like to catch a glimpse of the World's Greatest Detective in action.

Batman: Year One

Based on Frank Miller's legendary four-part graphic novel of the same name from 1987, this 2011 animated adaptation is about as faithful to the source material as you can get. Perhaps the best part of the story is the focus on both a young Bruce Wayne, who's returned to Gotham after twelve years to wage his war on crime alone, and Jim Gordon (played expertly by Bryan Cranston), who's a good cop recently transferred to the shockingly corrupt and rotten Gotham City Police Department. Together, these lone wolves learn to trust and then rely on each other as they work to confront Gotham's criminal underworld.

The movie won significant acclaim upon release. Particular praise was levied at the movie's animation, voice acting, and faithfulness to the source material. Other critics did, in fairness, take issue with the movie's short run time. Some also said that the source material worked for and against the film, forcing it to focus too much on dialogue rather than action — but we can just look at that as good characterization. Overall, we think this is an excellent animated feature and a must-watch for fans of the character and this particularly influential story.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

When it first came out, most people didn't know what to do with "Batman Beyond," in which Terry McGinnis takes over the cape and cowl from an aging Bruce Wayne in the year 2039. But the series kept proving itself, eventually (and despite only being on the air from 1999 to 2001) serving as a springboard for an entire line of comics and merchandise centered around this epic sci-fi take on Gotham. And of course, it was further legitimized by an animated movie of its own: 2000's "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker."

In this movie, which features the epic animation style and unstoppable voice cast of the beloved "Batman: The Animated Series" (meaning Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne and Mark Hamill as the Joker), the new Batman takes on the Joker, who (as the title suggests) has returned. When Bruce Wayne is almost killed in one of the super-criminal's attacks, Terry takes up the mantle to avenge his mentor and bring down the Clown Prince of Crime for good.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film boasts an eyebrow-raising score, with a critics consensus that reads, "This feature length entry in the 'Batman Beyond' mythos sends off the Mark Hamill-voiced Joker in thrilling fashion, hitting the same caped crusading peaks of the original series." Luckily, Hamill has returned as the character several times since (although not necessarily part of the same storyline), but other than that, we couldn't agree more.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Parts I & II

Based, of course, on Frank Miller's epic 1986 graphic novel of the same name, "The Dark Knight Returns" follows an older Bruce Wayne as he comes out of a decade-long retirement to confront the Mutants, a dangerous street gang who's overrun the city since Batman was last seen. Obviously past his physical prime, Batman now must rely on old friendships, brute force, years of experience, and advanced tech to get the job done in this two-parter from 2012 and 2013.

The Joker is involved, too (because of course he is), coming out of retirement alongside Wayne to commit more acts of terror. Superman even shows up in the second part to deflect a Soviet nuclear missile before fighting Batman, seemingly to the death (don't worry, this particular match-up a lot better here and in the graphic novel than it was in the misguided "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice").

The voice cast is, as always, stellar. Peter Weller easily sells a grizzled, out-of-patience Wayne, Mark Valley shines as Supes, and Michael Emerson gives a delightfully unique performance as the Joker that manages to chill and thrill without trying to be a carbon copy of Mark Hamill's inimitable take on the character. Believe us when we say that both halves of this critically-acclaimed animated release are well worth your time.

Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero

Mr. Freeze, who turns to a life of crime in order to save his dying wife, is easily one of Batman's most underappreciated villains. In this enthralling 1998 animated movie, Freeze kidnaps Barbara Gordon (who can't seem to catch a break), planning to use her as an involuntary organ donor for his wife. Naturally, Batman and Robin chase him down in the hopes that they can save Barbara before the mutilating operation can begin.

Filmed as part of the beloved "Batman: The Animated Series" and thus featuring the same iconic animation style and voice cast, "Subzero" is a masterclass in superhero cartoon storytelling, if critical response is any indication. It won particular acclaim for its nuanced storytelling and the characterization of Freeze himself, who undeniably needs to be stopped but, at the same time, with whom you can't help but sympathize.

The movie is particularly noteworthy for being far more mature and less campy than Joel Schumacher's much-maligned live-action movies released around the same time, "Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin," despite "Subzero" being animated. It's proof that cartoons aren't just for kids.

Batman: Under the Red Hood

It always felt weird for a brooding loner like Bruce Wayne to pal around with a sidekick, much less a prepubescent boy in a gymnast's leotard. But that, of course, goes for all Robins, not just the generally controversial Jason Todd. Todd, it turns out, was so hated that fans actually voted to have him murdered by the Joker in 1988's "A Death in the Family."

And that murder scene is where 2010's "Batman: Under the Red Hood" starts off. This being a comic book story, Todd isn't dead forever. He's brought back to life by Ra's al Ghul's Lazarus Pit and, bitter at Batman for not saving him, dons the titular Red Hood and tries to clean up Gotham's criminal underworld by becoming a part of it and keeping gangbangers and drug dealers in line. To hear him explain it, you can't stop crime — you can only control it. Unsurprisingly, other big-time mobsters like Black Mask (played compellingly by Wade Williams) don't take too kindly to this snot-nosed upstart cutting into their business, and eventually turn to the Joker to finish the job he'd started years earlier.

We won't spoil the rest, because you need to see it. John DiMaggio delivers arguably the best voice performance of the Joker ever produced by someone whose name isn't Mark Hamill. But there's more to love here than just that. The ending even provides some deep, unforgettable insight into Batman's "never kill" rule.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

In 1993, "Batman: the Animated Series" was upping the ante week after week with its beautiful, gothic imagery, stellar voice cast, and a deep register of unforgettable characters lovingly rooted in comic lore. So it should be no surprise that "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm," a feature-length animated movie based on the series, would continue this streak of excellence that year.

In this movie, Batman is blamed for the actions of the mysterious Phantasm, who's haunting, hunting, and killing crooks and gangsters across Gotham. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne, still struggling with the death of his parents and the weight of his crime-fighting mission, falls in love with Andrea Beaumont and thinks he sees an escape from his lonely, violent life. After their engagement falls apart, though, Bruce recommits to vigilantism. At the same time, Mark Hammill gives perhaps his best-ever performance as the Joker, who confronts both Batman and the Phantasm in an abandoned amusement park.

We won't spoil the ending or the twist, because if you haven't seen this movie yet, you need to change that immediately. "Mask of the Phantasm" treats its source material like literature and its characters like human beings. It might have been one of the earliest animated Batman features ever, but it's arguably never been surpassed.