Jun 25, 2023

15 Batman Animated Movies Every Fan Needs to See

Batman animated movies over the years have demonstrated a wonderful breadth to the iconic superhero that keeps fans coming back for more.

Last year’s live action The Batman movie reacquainted fans to the vast possibilities that the character of the Batman can offer up to the feature film medium. The DC superhero is widely considered to be one of the greatest comicbook superheroes of all time, and it’s easy to see why. The character has been handled by countless storytellers over the years and manages to retain a characteristic nuance in his fictional persona as the most dangerous and capable mind across the comic book superhero genre.

At the same time, Batman has never been a one-note superhero; from being the sour anti-hero, to the master tactician, to the classic detective, animated movies featuring the character are never dull and often gives way to a lot of variety. For a fan, all these different shades of the character that have remained consistent through the years is often his greatest draw. Here are 15 Batman animated movies that every fan needs to see.

The comic book source for Batman: Year One is considered the definitive origin story for the modern Batman, making it an essential watch for all Batman fans. The Frank Miller comicbook arc was also a major inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, establishing core aspects of the Batman lore as the Falcone crime family and the crime-fighting partnership between Batman and James Gordon.

The movie features Ben McKenzie as a young Bruce Wayne navigating his earliest days as a crime-fighting vigilante, and Bryan Cranston’s James Gordon settling into Gotham and discovering the deeply-rooted corruption in Gotham’s police force. Batman: Year One is hailed for being a highly faithful adaptation, and the moment of revelation that gives birth to the Batman persona is definitely a must-watch scene for any Batman fan.

A celebrated adaptation of an iconic Batman story, Batman: Under the Red Hood narrates the heartbreaking aftermath of Jason Todd’s death at the hands of the Joker. It picks up five years after the fateful incident, where a mysterious new figure calling himself the Red Hood begins causing havoc in Gotham’s criminal underworld, demonstrating a lethal ruthlessness towards criminals and a detailed understanding of Batman’s tactics that remind the latter of the second Robin.

Judd Winick, who wrote the iconic comic book story behind this movie, was also involved in developing its screenplay. He ensured that the vision behind the source was not only retained, but also elaborated upon in the animated film. The end result is as powerful as can be expected, and the latter half of the movie where Red Hood pours his heart out to his former mentor is truly devastating.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was the very first feature film in the DC Animated Universe, and is arguably the most important Batman animated movie of all time for how it distills the absolute best that a Batman story can be. Released as a companion piece to the universally adored Batman: The Animated Series, the movie told an original story portrayed in the animation style of the series.

Most importantly, it showcased the same creative passion, telling a mature story that concerned itself more with its characters’ deepest struggles, and the extent to which they can go to find hope and meaning in a dismal world. Its characters were also voiced by the same legendary cast as the animated series, including Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker.

Related: Every Batman Voice Actor In Chronological Order

Batman: Bad Blood stands out as one of the most entertaining and involving movies to feature the entire Bat family. It has easily one of the most intriguing opening premises of all the Batman animated movies out there, as Bruce Wayne is shown to die early on in the movie. The absence of the central figure leaves the rest of the Bat family to fill the void, and it’s Sean Maher’s Dick Grayson who steps up by filling in the role of Batman while they investigate Bruce’s death.

Bad Blood does justice to this idea with a balanced story that nicely integrates new characters such as Batwing and Batwoman, as well as ghosts from the past in the form of a vengeful Talia al Ghul.

If you’ve enjoyed Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy without ever having watched Batman: Gotham Knight, then you had best get on it soon. The animated film was originally released as a midway point between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and delivered a riveting take on the Caped Crusader through the anthology route — a rare example of one among animated superhero films.

The movie featured six different Batman stories, each by a different creator, and introduced new members of Batman’s rogues’ gallery that weren’t seen in the live action films, with Deadshot appearing in one of the vignettes. The most exciting aspect of this movie, though, is the sublime way in which Batman’s fictional persona works with the anthology format.

Gotham Knight is all about Batman as the terrifying myth; the movie does a marvelous job of sketching out this quintessential Batman trait by framing itself as stories told by a group of kids to each other. The animation medium works remarkably well for exploring this theme, with the animation styles of the different vignettes wildly exaggerating the visual narrative at times to conjure a sense of ambiguous terror associated with the character.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is a two-part adaptation of the famed Frank Miller story, where Batman clashes directly against Superman. This was the very same comic book story that inspired the 2016 live-action film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But while the Zack Snyder-directed live-action film failed to breathe life into this iconic story, the 2012 live action movie was a compelling take on the same, even scoring a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The two-part animated movie utilized a well-rounded screenplay to carve out strong emotional cores for its different story arcs, placing the aged Batman’s return against an alternative Cold War timeline, where the government is more concerned with maintaining its power and image than with the actual well-being of its citizens. Besides the penultimate encounter between Batman and Superman, we also see one of the darkest encounters between Batman and Joker ever, where Batman is driven to the breaking point.

Related: Ben Affleck's Canceled Batman Movie: Everything We Know

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox narrates a crucial turning point from DC Comics, where The Flash inadvertently creates an alternative timeline. The Flash is essentially the protagonist and the narrative perspective for this movie, where the Justice League heroes are on an all-out war with each other. But the standout character in this memorable film is its version of Batman.

In the alternative universe shown in The Flashpoint Paradox, it isn’t Bruce Wayne’s parents who are murdered during the fateful night at the alley; rather, it is Bruce Wayne himself. This leads to the creation of one of the most intriguing alternative portrayals of Batman in the entire DC canon — one where the cowl is worn by Bruce’s father, Thomas Wayne. This version of the Batman is driven less by a desire to right the wrongs that have overtaken Gotham, and more by the bitterness of losing his son, and a seething urge to enact revenge.

The Flashpoint Paradox became the first movie in a new series of shared-universe animated movies by DC dubbed the DC Animated Movie Universe. Following immediately after that movie was Justice League: War, which sees the Justice League forming anew when an otherworldly threat begins to wreak havoc around the world. The movie begins with Green Lantern as he pursues a Parademon in Gotham City, and is quickly joined by Batman.

Although this movie features the rest of the Justice League members more fully, its take on Batman is definitely eye-catching. Justice League: War regularly comes back to Batman’s characterization as a tactical genius, someone with the mental fortitude to do anything required to win. This attitude subtly steals the scene on multiple occasions and also becomes a driving factor in the Justice League’s final victory over Darkseid.

Alternative portrayals of beloved comic book superheroes are always a fun experience to behold, and there are a fair few of them among DC animated movies. Batman Ninja, however, deserves a special mention as it’s basically an anime film featuring the Bat family, set in feudal Japan. The movie features character designs by Takashi Okazaki of Afro Samurai, and was released in both Japanese and English dubs, with famed anime voiceover artists lending their voices to the different characters.

The movie begins with Batman battling against Gorilla Grodd in modern-day Gotham, when the latter activates a time traveling machine that he’s been building. Upon landing in feudal Japan, he discovers that a whole collection of his rogues’ gallery along with the remaining members of the Bat family have already been at it in this new time and place for two years.

Batman Ninja is a visual feast with exciting action sequences and entertaining twists on established characters, with elements like a ninja army led by the Joker as well as a sumo version of Bane making appearances.

Related: 5 Reasons Batman Should Get the Spider-Verse Treatment (& 5 Why He Really, Really Shouldn’t)

A part of why Batman is such a popular character among comic book superheroes is because of the tragic lore written around him, which seemingly continues to reemphasize his brooding persona. The death of Jason Todd is one such incident that takes place a long way into Wayne’s career as Batman. Another one was the shooting of Barbara Gordon by the Joker, a famous story that was told in a standalone Batman comic by Alan Moore.

Batman: The Killing Joke is based on that comic book story, and while it made some additions that fans didn’t exactly agree with, it doesn’t pull back the blows that came with the Alan Moore comic book. The movie also features an origin story for the Joker, one of the more well-known ones out there that indirectly involves Batman.

A thoughtful deconstruction of an established character or universe is something seasoned fans always appreciate, and The Lego Batman Movie somehow managed to do that with a comedic take on the broodiest superhero ever. The second title to be released in the Lego Movie universe, The Lego Batman Movie brought it all together with a hearty plot that somehow held the same thematic concerns that historically plague the canonical Batman from the comics.

Issues of family and a sense of belonging take center stage as even the Joker is shown to engage in his villainy for Batman’s attention. At the same time, the movie is chock-full of references to numerous iconic moments from the Batman comics, which make it a truly involving watch for the true Batman fan.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is a sequel to Batman: The Animated Series, set in a futuristic Gotham that is protected by a new Batman, being mentored by an aged and retired Bruce Wayne. Ghosts from the past return in this new era as the Joker, who was presumed dead, makes a sudden reappearance and promptly begins to cause havoc in Bruce's personal life.

The original voice cast also made a comeback for this movie, but the movie is particularly watch-worthy for its treatment of the events surrounding the Joker’s death, which is sure to chill any Batman fan to the bone.

Related: 5 Reasons the DCU Should Release a Batman Beyond Movie

The demise of Jason Todd that was previously told in Under the Red Hood gets a fresh treatment in Batman: Death in the Family, an interactive film that explores various different possibilities that weren’t explored in the original comic book story. This makes for some compelling viewing as the paths that Jason Todd goes down if he is saved from the warehouse explosion is worth exploring.

Batman: The Long Halloween is based on a classic Batman-as-detective tale from the comics, focusing more on the grounded aspects of the character and the fictional city of Gotham as he investigates a series of holiday-themed serial murders. Matt Reeves’ take on The Batman drew heavily from this very same storyline, and the animated two-part adaptation takes its time building the suspense and winding up its punches.

The comic book story for Batman: Hush was written by the same writer as The Long Halloween, Jeph Loeb, and it comes with the same excellent focus on the detective aspect of the character. Hush is written as a deeply involving investigative thriller as the Batman finds himself facing off against a secret new supervillain who is not only putting an entire swath of his rogues’ gallery against him, but also holds intimate knowledge of Batman’s tactics.

BatmananimatedBatman: Year OneBatman: Under the Red HoodBatman: Mask of the PhantasmRelated: Every Batman Voice Actor In Chronological OrderBatman: Bad BloodBatman: Gotham KnightBatman: The Dark Knight ReturnsRelated: Ben Affleck's Canceled Batman Movie: Everything We KnowJustice League: The Flashpoint Paradox Justice League: WarBatman NinjaRelated: 5 Reasons Batman Should Get the Spider-Verse Treatment (& 5 Why He Really, Really Shouldn’t)Batman: The Killing JokeThe Lego Batman MovieBatman Beyond: Return of the JokerRelated: 5 Reasons the DCU Should Release a Batman Beyond MovieBatman: Death in the FamilyBatman: The Long HalloweenBatman: Hush