Top 10 DC Animated Movies

With the animated movie on Netflix growing every single day, I thought I should drop what I believe to be the top 10 DC animated movies of all time. I will confess that I haven’t seen all of them (a travesty in and itself I know), but I have seen the vast majority of them. You’re not going to find any Superman titles on this list frankly because I think he is a horrible hero, but his character is essential for the League if that makes any sense.

So let’s start this list off at #10!

#10 – Justice League Gods and Monsters

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Coming in at #10 is none other than Justice League: Gods and Monsters. Taking place in  an alternate universe this movie is a great change of pace from the classic heroes we’ve grown to love. The League is only composed of the three core members: Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Batman is no longer Bruce Wayne but Kirk Langstrom (Man-bat in normal continuity), a college student who took an experimental serum and became a vampire. Superman is now not opposed to lethal force and is no longer the son of Jor-El but that of general Zod. Wonder Woman is not the princess of Themyscira and Greek Olympian but wife of Orion son of Darkseid. The three of them operate as a kill squad and have a reputation for maximum casualties. When scientists around the US start dying and the Justice League is framed, it’s up to the trinity to clear their names and find the culprits. The movie was created by Bruce Timm who is famous for Batman the Animated Series which is probably why I enjoyed this movie as much as I did.

 

#9 – Batman: Bad Blood

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Taking the #9 spot is none other than the most recent addition to the Batman arc of the DCAU Batman: Bad Blood. The reason that this story didn’t come in higher on the list is because it falls into the same problem many big blockbuster superhero films have, too many plot lines and villains. The main villains of the film is a squad of fairly (in my opinion) B and C list Rogues along with Talia Al’Ghul and the Heretic. The movie also introduces us to Batwoman, Batwing and a VERY brief time of Dick as Batman. When Batman is missing and presumed dead after an explosion at a warehouse where he saved Batwoman, Dick must take up the mantle of the Bat and find out what is going on in Gotham city. With Batwoman, and Batwing getting 10 minute introductions, and the Heretic being the main villain of the film none of their origins are fully explored and if you miss a couple lines of dialogue then the story falls apart.  That being said the final act of the film is great and the choreography is astounding as with all the entries on this list; the only issue is the convoluted and excessive number of plot lines.

 

#8 – The Dark Knight Returns Part I & II

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There is no secret why these movies are on the list, Batman V. Superman. The reason they are lower on the list than some might put them is the one off nature that they have. Yes, they were made of a comic book from the late 80’s and it was a direct to film adaptation, but they came out around the same time the first Avengers movie came out and DC Comics had launched headlong into the New 52. The story is great, an aging Bruce Wayne retired after the death of Jason Todd. A ruthless gang called the Mutants has taken over Gotham City, and begins to terrorize the people. Batman comes out of retirement which causes problems for some villains Two-Face and Joker. The drawing style is very iconic of Frank Miller and the animation team kept as close to the source material as possible. The first part concentrates on Batman’s battle to take out the Mutant gang and the introduction of Carrie Kelly to the title of Robin. The second part is centered around the use of Superman by the US government to end conflicts and to remove stubborn superheroes who refuse to retire. The final confrontation between Batman and Superman is iconic and was a major influence for the Batman V. Superman film by Zack Snyder.

 

#7 – The Batman Vs. Dracula

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This movie is not that well known, at least among comic fans that I know. I was a huge fan of The Batman series that aired on teletoon for 5 seasons. The villains were excellently drawn and it brought a newer younger inexperienced Batman to the front. Rino Romano did excellent as the voice of Bruce Wayne and Kevin Michael Richardson added a new darker voice to an already more animalistic Joker, the series also featured Adam West as Mayor Grange. The movie takes place after the fifth season of the show but without any of Batman’s supporting cast i.e. Batgirl or Robin. The movie focuses on a young woman being pursued by Penguin through a Cemetary who accidentally awakens Dracula. Dracula then hypnotizes Penguin and turns Joker before making an army of vampires to try and take over Gotham. One of the scenes that stands out is when Batman and Joker fight in a blood bank after Joker has been turned. In order to get away with the EXCESSIVE amounts of blood, they had the lights knocked out in the film. This allowed for a pale blue light to illuminate the fight having the blood appear as a black liquid; although it was very obvious what the substance was. The movie used the exact same animation style and choreography from the show and kept all the subtle nods that made the show great.

#6 – Justice League Vs. Teen Titans

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One of the newer additions to the DCAU is Justice League Vs. Teen Titans. The movie itself is pretty generic but what sets it apart from the rest is that chemistry that is shown between the Titans. This movie introduces us to a new version of the team consisting of: Starfire, Beast Boy, Blue Beetle, Raven, and Robin (Damian). Initially Damian is placed on the team to learn to work as part of team and during his first sparring match with Blue Beetle he is horribly burned. Raven uses her magic to heal him and the team begin to bond and trust each other. The Demon Lord Trigon uses his power to take over the League and forces the Titans to combat those that they idolize while trying to find a way to stop Trigon and save the League. As with all the newer additions to the DCAU the choreography  and animation is top notch and even the limited GCI is used well. The true heart of the film comes from the carnival scene where the Titans learn to bond and become friends. The Sequel Teen Titans: The Judas Contract was good, but it wasn’t as good as this one or the rest on the list.

#5 – Justice League Crisis on Two Earth

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Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is the DC animated movie that I ever watched, the first being Batman Beyond the Return of the Joker. This movie solidified the DC multiverse and brought some of the greatest voice actors in to voice characters. Gina Torres delivers a stellar performance as Superwoman (evil Wonder Woman), but the standout role for me was James Woods as Owlman (evil Batman). The story is that on Earth-3 the roles are reversed, the heroes are the villains and the villains are the heroes. Earth-3 Lex Luthor steals a Quantum Trigger from the Crime Syndicate (Earth-3 evil Justice League) and  teleports to Earth-1 and requests to meet the Justice League. When the League discovers he is telling the truth they agree to help him and are teleported to Earth-3. the final confrontation comes between Batman and Owlman who have both travelled to Earth Prime (the center of all reality). In the ensuing fight Batman delivers one of the most chilling lines from any DC animated movie “You’re right, we both stared into the abyss… but when it stared back at us… you blinked”. Like I said before the voice acting on this film is spectacular and the story does a great job of introducing new viewers to the extended DC multiverse.

#4 – Justice League Doom

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Justice League Doom is based on the Tower of Babel story. In this story Ras Al’Ghul breaks into the Batcave and steals plans that Batman has prepared for taking down individual members of the Justice League should they become rogue. The plans are referred to as Agamemno contingencies (in case you are curious). In the film version it is Vandal Savage and a group of villains that become the Legion of Doom who steal the plans. Savage plans to direct a massive Solar Flare to the earth cooking “2/3 at most” of the planet and becoming tyrannical leader of the remaining 1/3. In order to do this he needs the Justice League incapacitated and recruits villains from a multitude of Rogues galleries to aid him in his fight. Some of the dialogue in this film is quite exemplary and several voice actors were perfectly cast (looking at Nathan Fillion as Hal Jordan). The overall story and each individual members’ personal growth and acceptance of the plans makes for a very compelling movie that ends in what can only be termed as obvious. This movie definitely has replay value just like every movie on the list and the recording of some of the Agamemno Contingencies that are on Youtube is just amazing.

#3 – Batman V Robin

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I will be the first to admit that I really don’t like Damian as Robin. He is a pompous arrogant child who thinks that he is entitled the world because of who his parents are, and he needs to be taken down a peg (like they did in Batman Inc. #3). This story brings in one of the greatest Batman arcs since Knightfall and that would be the Court of Owls. This is the starting point of Greg Capullo and Scott Snyder’s run on Batman that also included Death of the Family and Endgame.  In this film Batman is pitted against the mysterious and legendary Court of Owls while he struggles to bond with his son. Damian believes that Bruce will never trust him and lashes out by frequently running off into the night on his own where he encounters Talon, the hitman for the Court of Owls. Batman must not only save his son from Talon, and his city from the clutches of the court; but he must also save his own mind from the assault of the Owls. This movie continues into the modern DCAU which is heavily influenced by the New 52 and features Jason O’Mara again in the titular role as Batman.

#2 – Flashpoint Paradox

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The Flashpoint Paradox is probably the best Justice League movie ever to have been made. The movie follows the comic of the same name which helped to restart the DC comic universe into the New 52. In this film Barry is taunted by Zoom that no matter how fast he is, he can never save the one person who mattered. Barry then uses his powers to travel back in time and save his mom from being murdered, and in doing so creates an alternate timeline. One where everything is almost the same but slightly different, for example… Bruce Wayne was shot in the alley that night and his father became Batman while his mother went insane and became the Joker. Barry must find a way to get his powers back, unite what heroes he can and stop the global extinction. While I am not a huge fan of the animation style of this film (the males look like HUGE V’s with all their muscles and thick necks) it does have an original quality to it. The dialogue amongst characters is top notch and it’s interesting to see just how if things had played out slightly different how much everything changes.  I have personally watched this movie over 10 times and I’m still entertained by it to this day.

#1 – Batman Under the Red Hood

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This movie right here, this is the best DCAU movie to ever have been made. I could spend an entire post talking just about this movie alone (and i might in a future post). It’s no secret how much I like this movie just based on the number of times I have referenced it in the past on other posts. The movie follows the Death in the Family story line and continues with it. It opens with the murder of Jason Todd and ends with a confrontation that went down in history. A mysterious figure known as the Red Hood shows up in Gotham and starts taking over the drug trade, no matter what Batman does his adversary always seems to be one step ahead of him and know his every move.  This movie features Jensen Ackles as the voice of Red Hood and Bruce Greenwood as the voice of Batman. Greenwood would later go on to continue voicing the Bat in the animated series Young Justice of which I am also a huge fan (and super excited for season 3). The choreography in this movie is astounding and it highlights one of the darkest times in Batman’s past making him appear even more human.

 

There you have it my top 10 animated DCAU movies of all time, agree or not it’s all relative ,but if you have any good comments post them below!

Why An On Screen Joker Will Never Be Perfect

Unless you are completely devoid of any sort of film and pop culture media attention, pretty much everyone is familiar with Batman and his nemesis, The Joker. To date there have been 3 live action film portrayals (if you count the Batman movie from the Adam West TV series then add another for Caesar Romero) of the Joker to date. While mainly only the older generation are familiar with Jack Nicholson’s gangster approach from the 80’s Tim Burton classic, pretty much everyone the world over is familiar with Heath Ledger and Jared Leto’s performances.  While many criticize Jared Leto’s take on the character for looking more like a joker thug than the clown prince of crime himself; I think we didn’t get enough screen time for him in Suicide Squad to accurately form an opinion. Heath Ledger stands as the defining live action portrayal of the character for mostly every Batman movie fan, and while his time as Mr. J was iconic and can never be replaced; his anarchist approach to the character lacked the luster that makes the Joker who he is.

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Mark Hamill will forever be the Joker in my view. I grew up with Batman the animated series and the 90’s X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons as staples in my daily and weekend routine. Every time I see Mark Hamill credited on a title card of a Batman movie i get a little giddy, same can be said with Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman, nobody can beat him.

Despite his many incarnations, there is just one problem with the Joker as a villain in a live action movie, you can’t capture who he is and plenty have tried. I applaud every actor who has taken a stab at bringing the Joker to the big screen, but they all seem to fall short in some regard.

Caesar Romero who brought him to life in the Adam West 60’s TV show took the practical Joker aspect and ran with it. Jack Nicholson from the 80’s classic took the gangster approach and nailed it. Heath Ledger took the Anarchist/mind game aspect and got the closest of anyone. Jared Leto tried to amalgamate all these characteristics into this performance and wound up with the unbalanced psychopath we received very briefly in Suicide Squad. Despite seeing Suicide Squad several times in the theatre, I will be first to admit it was a terrible movie… The story was garbage, the villain was ridiculous, and for being one the top billed actors in the movie, Jared Leto clocked in roughly 15 minutes for the 2.5 hour movie. I digress… that’s a topic for another time.

Comic Examples

To fully grasp who the Joker is as a character I’m going to run through a list of some of the worst things he’s done.

*Warning… some spoilers ahead for the New 52 comic run of Batman

Killing Joke

To start with a classic, let’s look at the Killing Joke by Alan Moore. This is the only story to have given us a possible origin for the Joker. It was originally meant to be a one off story, but due to it’s popular success it was included in the Batman canon. Most recently it received inclusion into the DCAU ( DC Animated Universe) with Hamill and Conroy reprising their respective roles. While it was a very faithful adaptation they included an unnecessary Batgirl plot at the beginning that culminated with her and Batman having sex on a rooftop and then Batman ghosting her (like he does with everyone). The story goes like this… Joker decides to prove that all it takes is one bad day, just one, to reduce the sanest man on the planet to someone like him. He targets Commissioner Gordon as his victim and during the commissioner’s weekly visit to his daughters house, shows up and shoots her through the spine paralyzing her. his thugs beat and abduct the commissioner while Joker strips and photographs Barbara as she bleeds out on the ground. It is implied that some sort of assault takes place but recently when asked about it Alan Moore said that ” No. That was never our intention to imply that type of thing”.  Joker then uses these photos to torture the commissioner after stripping him naked and parading him around a demented circus. Batman shows up to save the day and the story ends with one of the most ambiguous panels ever.

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Moving on to 1999 in the No Man’s Land story arc joker once again targeted Jim Gordon for his madness. Following a massive earthquake in which a lot of Gotham city is destroyed, several of Batman’s Rogues make a play for control over the crumbling city, one of which is Joker. He starts by executing a police lieutenant on Christmas Day and then he proceeded to kidnap all of the babies in Gotham (no idea how he achieved this… just roll with it).  At the time Jim Gordon’s second wife Sarah Essen was trying to track down where the babies had been taken and stumbled onto the broken down police station that Joker was using as a hideout. Detective Essen confronted Joker who was holding a newborn in his arms. joker demanded that Essen lower her gun on he would drop the baby, Essen did as was asked and the Joker dropped the baby anyways. Essen lunged and caught the baby before it hit the ground and Joker drew his gun. He placed it against her head and said “Merry Christmas” then shot her in the head leaving all of the babies alone with her blood pooling around them.

Death In the Family

A Death in the Family is one of the defining stories in the Batman mythos. Not only does it highlight the cruelty of the Joker but it also brings Batman’s biggest failure to the forefront. During the story Joker learns who the birth mother of the second Robin (Jason Todd) was and bribes her into assisting him, to get the Boy Wonder alone. Jason’s mother helps the Joker and eventually Robin ends up in the clutches of the Joker. With Batman too far away to do anything about it (Robin had run off by himself to find his mother) Joker began to severely beat Jason with a crowbar. He leaves a bloodied and beaten Jason in a warehouse with his mother tied up and blows the warehouse up as Batman arrives to save him. In a final act of heroism Jason had attempted to shield his mother from the blast with his body, his mother remained alive long enough to tell Batman Joker’s plan for a nuke he had acquired.  Both Jason Todd and his mother died because of the Joker and his insatiable appetite for violence.  Jason has since been revived as The Red Hood an anti-hero with a precondition for violence and killing.

Moving into the New 52 run of Detective Comics we are shown just how far Joker is willing to go to mess with people. At the end of vol. 1 Faces of Death we are shown Joker undergoing a procedure where he has the Dollmaker remove the skin from his face, which he leaves hanging on a hook for the GCPD and Batman to find then disappears for a year.

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He returns in the second crossover event for all the Batman related titles called Death of the Family. In this arc, Joker tries to prove that Batman’s allies (the “Bat Family”) are what make him weak and that without them they could get back to the “Good old days with just the two of them”. Joker then kidnaps all of the members of the Bat family and stages a mock dinner party in the caves under Gotham City where he convinces them all he is going to feed them their faces which he had cut off.  It is also worth noting that at this point Joker had broken into GCPD lockup and stolen his face back and was wearing it.

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Up And Coming Joker

These are just a few of some of the most despicable acts Joker has done through his main comic continuity. This doesn’t include some of the things he has pulled in the various Batman video games and some TV shows. Cameron Monaghan gave a great performance as a young Joker in Gotham, and he has vocalized his desire to play Carnage in the upcoming Venom movie from Sony. Carnage was based heavily on Joker and the two roles tend to be synonymous with each other.

© Benjo Arwas Photography 2014 // @BENJOARWAS // http://www.benjoarwas.com
© Benjo Arwas Photography 2014 // @BENJOARWAS // http://www.benjoarwas.com

Stigma Around The Role

There was a belief for many years that the fact of Heath Ledger’s suicide was due to how intensely he got into the Joker as a role. Many claimed that you can’t play someone as insane as the Joker without ending up insane yourself. Heath Ledger lived in a hotel room by himself for one month in preparation for the role and kept a Joker journal with some truly disturbing things. He also came up with the joker make up himself from make up he bought at the drug store. Christopher Nolan also allowed Heath Ledger to direct the joker hostage videos that were used in the final cut of The Dark Knight. Jared Leto who is famous for his method acting tried to embrace the insanity as the Joker and from what we saw in Suicide Squad he was a little lacking.

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The Real Reason

The real reason that we will never see a “true” Joker on the screen is that because of what they can get away with. In comics you can get away with a lot more than you can on screen. In a comic you could show Joker slaughtering dozens of people and it wouldn’t garner a mature rating. But in a film and to do it justice, it would require a minimum of a 14A rating, preferably an R rating to do it right. This would limit the exposure and potential earnings by reducing the viewing demographic. While Deadpool and Logan proved an R rated superhero movie can absolutely make money, smaller budget movies are able to make the big bucks easier due to the revenue/expense ratio. Batman would be a tent pole blockbuster for the DCEU and as such would need a massive budget. To rake in the kind of money they would want they wouldn’t be able to give it an R rating. With Matt Reeves set to helm a new Batman trilogy for the DCEU things are looking up. He has already stated it will be a noire influenced detective film, which I think is the perfect setting for Batman. With Deathstroke set up as the main villain, my only concern is when we will see a true Joker adaptation on the screen.