You can never seem to run out of comic book movies. Between DC and Marvel, there are hundreds of heroes who’ve had at least one movie adaptation, and who knows how many are still in development hell or haven’t been able to gain a more mainstream audience. Needless to say, if you look up comic book movies on say, Netflix, you’re going to get an absolute avalanche of recommendations.
But, at the same time, many consider the animated versions to be a bit on the ‘kiddie’ side, however, we would like to digress by saying that aside from Nolan’s trilogy, some of the best comic book movies have been the animated adaptations. Let’s get into the best comic book animated movies of the 2010’s.
The best animated comic movies can, for some, display their bias towards either one of the big two (DC or Marvel), and while we would like to claim impunity for that, we can’t because fanboys will be fanboys and we happen to be suckers for good animated comic book movies. With that being said, the comic book animated movies on this list all merit to be here, and have proven themselves to be of good entertainment value over the years. Entries from all franchises and both DC and Marvel have been considered, and according to our assessment, we’ve concluded that while Marvel as of recent has had some success with live-action films under the Avengers banner, DC is still king of animated movies, and will likely to continue its reign of domination, now that Batman: The Long Halloween Part: 1 is out.
Now, without any further ado, let’s get into ranking the best animated comic book movies of the previous decade.
6 Best Animated Comic Book Movies of All Time
Let’s face it: when it comes to live-action feature films, DC has been kind of straggling ever since Christopher Nolan stepped out, and while many do praise some of the subsequent entries (like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or Justice League), they simply haven’t been able to pull of numbers as Marvel has had. However, with the animated movies, we feel like this is reversed: DC stays on top, ever since the original Justice League: Unlimited, and Marvel has lagged behind ever since. So, here are the best comic book animated movies.
Batman: Under the Red Hood
One of the best story arcs, and one which spawned the best animated movie, we think, that is at par with any Marvel flick. It is based on the ‘Death in the Family’ story, which follows a resurrected-from-the-dead Jason Todd (previously the second Robin), who takes up the alias of the Red Hood and starts cleaning up Gotham, killing drug lords and basically standing in the way of everything Batman stands for. The animated movie, as many argue, capitalizes extremely well on the comic; it starts off in Bosnia, where Batman speeds towards an unknown location, while Ra’s Al Ghul is being briefed of the Joker and the ‘the boy’, which is Todd and who’s been kidnapped by the former. We see a poignant scene as Joker kills Todd, leaving Batman grieving for his sidekick. Later on, Batman struggles with controlling the Red Hood, and after learning of his identity, seeks to repair the damaged man.
The movie is arguably one of the high points of the DC Animated Universe, and features an equally impressive ensemble cast. We see a healthy amount of sparring, fights and some chases which leaves the viewer absolutely spellbound. Then there’s the dialogue, which, as you can expect from a story as epic as this, is absolutely top-notch and is delivered perfectly by the voice actors. There’s also a good amount of character development; as we see both the characters eventually coming to terms with what the Joker bought upon both of them.
Bruce accepts the whole tragedy as something that he’s bound to bear, whereas we see Todd blaming Bruce for not killing the Joker, allowing more people to be affected. At the end, we see an epic clash: Todd gives Batman an ultimatum: kill either him or the Joker, which Batman expertly defuses, but is distracted by the Joker. The movie ends at yet another cliff-hanger; Todd is nowhere to be found, the Joker is returned to Arkham Asylum, and Batman concludes by saying, “This changes nothing; nothing at all”.
Justice League: Doom
Moving away from Batman (but still keeping him in the spotlight), we have the second entry on this list, which is the incredibly popular Justice League: Doom, based on the Tower of Babel story arc. As this is the Justice League, expect to see the typical DC awesomeness, but cranked up several notches. Batman is still the centre of attention, but we’re not complaining about that. It holds a Rotten Tomatoes score of 87 percent, so you know it’s good.
If you know about the legendary Tower of Babel arc, it depicts the apparent betrayal of Batman of the Justice League members, as plans drafted by him to incapacitate them are put into action, later revealed to have been done so by a super-villain. Batman then sets about returning the League members to their original conditions, and sets off to confront the ‘Legion of Doom’. The comic ends with Batman leaving the JLA after members fail to see his side of the story: a league of superhumans that lacks a failsafe is not something that Batman can stand with, so he parts his ways.
The movie substitutes the main villain in the comic (Ra’s Al Ghul) for Vandal Savage, and Plastic Man and Aquaman are substituted by Cyborg, who is a key hero in the movie and is later inducted into the JLA for his services. The animated movie might be for kids, but the message it conveys is pretty deep: anything that is powerful in itself requires a fail-safe as a way to keep its power in check. This self-imposed accountability is something that everyone in power needs, and Batman concludes that while his plans getting stolen were an issue, the plans existing were not, and that ‘in another scenario, I’d do it again’, prompting the JLA to eject him. The movie ends with Superman holding Batman a Kryptonite bullet, conveying the sense of trust the JLA still has with Batman’s idea of self-accountability.
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
One of the greatest stories ever told, and the most significant story arc in the DC Extended Universe, the Flashpoint Paradox is when great story writers get a shot at the age-old question about alternate universes, and what life and personas would be like there. The Flashpoint Paradox is a movie that has delighted both DC fans and non-fans, simply because of the compelling storyline, the incredible voice acting and the simple yet exceedingly disturbing plot (if you look at it from Earth Prime’s perspective) that the Scarlet Speedster finds himself in.
As it is with all alternate dimensions, everything is topsy-turvy. Batman is no longer Bruce Wayne, it’s his father, Thomas Wayne now, and the Joker is, weirdly enough, Martha Wayne. The Justice League doesn’t exist at all: Wonder Woman and Aquamanile are infighting, Superman is an emaciated Kryptonian who has been incarcerated since day one and resembles a half-dead weakling. Barry Allen, the Flash, is tricked into tapping into the Speed Force and skewering the timeline, landing in this world.
As he comes to grip with an alternate reality where is mother is alive but he is no longer married to his love interest, he finds a way to bring it all together, and brings in a violently reluctant Flashpoint Batman, ultimately ending the war between the Amazonian and the Atlantian, all the while trying to defeat Reverse Flash, who is the mastermind behind all this. At the end, DC comes in with its trademark poignant scene; Thomas Wayne writes a letter to his son, delivered through the Flash, to be delivered in the original dimension to Bruce. The movie ends with Barry speeding off, having returned back to the original timeline, where things are still under control.
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
Continuing with the theme of reverse heroes and alternate dimensions, we have on our list the not-too-famous but engaging enough, the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, where we, for the first time, see Owlman; the anti-hero famed for being the true contemporary of Batman; a man equaling (or exceeding) Batman is both brains and brawn. As the name suggests, there are two Earths, where the superhero situation is reversed. On the one hand, you have your normal Earth, where Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Flash all constitute the JLA, are the good ones, and fight rogues like the Joker and Lex Luthor. On the second Earth, you’ve got the villainous equivalents of the JLA, this time around, called the Crime Syndicate.
The story starts with the heroes of the second Earth, Jester (supposed to mirror Joker) and Lex Luthor, both steal a secret weapon and escape the Crime Syndicate, with Jester getting killed in the process and Luthor escaping to the first Earth, which of course causes confusion among the JLA. However, Luthor manages to convince Superman of the reality that exists in the second Earth and gets them to help him over there. What ensues is a battle between ideological polar opposites and physical equivalents, climaxing during the battle between Batman and Owlman, that ends with one of the most memorable dialogues that Batman has ever uttered: “There is a difference between you and me. We both looked into the abyss. But when it looked back at us, you blinked”, establishing the fact that while these two looked and were similar, there was still an inherent difference between the two. It’s that kind of psychological self-reflection and depth that we’ve come to love animated movies from DC, and Batman in general, since he doesn’t fight jumped up and superpowered villains but rather common, everyday dilemmas that require people like us to make a choice.
Batman: The Killing Joke
You’ve been seeing a lot of Batman and DC on this list, and trust me, it is justified. Because if it were to be a list of anything other than animated movies, we might have given others a chance, but nothing else comes close. Not when you’ve got movies like Batman: The Killing Joke, which is one of the most talked-about movies, comic books and story arcs of all time. Batman is a franchise filled to the brim with philosophy and whatnot, and we think that it just might be the best of them all.
The Killing Joke is basically a Batman movie, but from the perspective of his arch-nemesis; the Joker. See, what you have to understand is that within the Extended Universe, there exist many villains, many possibilities and many origin stories. And the Killing Joke can be described as the ‘best origin story for an iconic villain, in a series characterized by both’. Because this movie, for the first time, paints the Joker as an everyman who descends into madness and chaos, and what sets this movie to absolute perfection is the fact that this descent is shared by the very man trying to stop him: Batman.
The movie shows that just like Bruce, Joker was once an upstanding citizen of the society, driven to insanity and madness by a series of unfortunate incidents happening in quick succession. Dubbed the ‘all it takes is one bad day to turn insane’ monologue, it has become one of the most iconic dialogues and characteristics of the Joker, and still continues to be a major theme in superhero movies.
The movie shows a tumultuous relationship between Batman and Batgirl, which attracts the attention of Joker, who in a bid to show Batman just how easy it is to go insane, cripples Batgirl and tortures her father and police commissioner James Gordon to break him. Once he fails to break him and show Batman his side of the story, he goes on the infamous monologue, all the while implying that just as he descended into madness within a day, something caused Batman’s life to spiral downwards like that too.
Bruce offers help, but the Joker declines it, saying it’s too late and ends with a joke. This scene follows where the Joker and Batman share a laugh, realizing that both are equally mad; the only difference is that they’re each on the other ends of the spectrum and while everything about them is different, they both share ‘that one day that bends life out of shape’. Absolutely thrilling psychological story.
The Dark Knight Returns (Part I, II)
The final and quite possibly the best comic book animated movie of the 2010’s, and the best story arc, period. Many movies have come and go, many have made their marks on the industry, but nothing else compares to The Dark Knight Returns, which is argued by many to be the ultimate Batman story arc, and with the mastery of the DC Animated Universe behind it, we already knew that this was going to be a masterpiece of Nolan’s Dark Knight proportions, and the movie blows everything out of the ballpark to become the masterpiece that hasn’t been topped ever since.
Based on Frank Miller’s comic of the same name, The Dark Knight Returns follows what is essentially the end of Batman as an entity. Although the same end has been foreshadowed in many other pieces of entertainment, the most defining one is the one shown in this movie. From games to comics, Batman has been often called the Dark Knight, and the plan, which supposedly kills the Batman, was called Operation Knightfall, which is what essentially The Dark Knight Returns is about. However, one of the most significant aspects of it include the Batman and Superman fight, and the portrayal of the US government, WWIII and the role these superheroes play in preserving the spirit and democracy of America.
The movie shows an old, worn-out Bruce Wayne, who has hanged his cape after the death of Jason Todd. He is forced back into the vigilante position after Gotham is overrun by Mutants, a criminal gang. It is where he finds his new protégé, in the form of the first female Robin (Carrie Kelley). After defeating the Mutants, the situation at the nation front is boiling as WWIII looms near, and Superman is enlisted to help avert a nuclear showdown between the two superpowers.
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After Superman deflects a nuclear bomb and the USA encounters a nuclear winter, Batman, with his gang Sons of Batman, keep Gotham under control as the rest of the country descend into anarchy and chaos. Under orders from President Reagan to bring in Batman, we see the ultimate fight between the Son of Krypton and the Gotham Knight, with the latter coming out on top owing to his plethora of resources, intelligence and bravery. Batman then utters his final dialogue “I want you to remember the one man who beat you” before seemingly dying of a heart attack, later revealed to be a false attack. These are the best comic book animated movies of the decade.