Remember the good old days when Marvel and DC competed for the audience’s affection with those straight to DVD animated movies? You know, that golden era before cinematic universes and streaming platforms were a thing? Back then, animated shows like Justice League Unlimited and The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes mainly catered to kids; while animated features like Hulk vs. Wolverine and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns presented more mature stories to cater to longtime adult fans who wanted a little more edge from their animation.
Then Marvel Studios released The Avengers in 2012 and the film’s worldwide success quickly proved that live-action superhero movies could be more lucrative and cater to both parties. Of course, it didn’t take long for Marvel Entertainment to slowly move away from animated features to focus its efforts on expanding its live-action film universe. And as was the natural order of things, DC tried to keep up with the House Of Ideas by jump-starting their cinematic universe with 2013’s Man Of Steel. But so far, the ride’s been a little shaky.
Fortunately, that setback made DC re-evaluate its strategy. The entertainment division soon returned its attention to the TV shows and animated features that had done so well for them in the past. And over the years, the Distinguished Competition has managed to create a very impressive library of animated movies that will almost make you forget about their stumbles with their live-action DCEU. The best part? Most, if not all of those fantastic titles are free to watch for all HBO Max subscribers. So whether you’re a longtime fan nostalgic for that good old DC animated feel or just a new fan who’s curious about those comic cover-like thumbnails that you’ve seen on your HBO Max subscription home page, these recommendations are some of the best DC animated movies to get you started.
10 Batman/Superman: Apocalypse
Based on the comic book storyline, “The Supergirl From Krypton,” from the Superman/Batman comics, this animated feature wastes no time jumping straight into the action. Batman finds a confused and naked Kryptonian girl wreaking all types of havoc near Gotham. So he decides to take her to the only other Kryptonian he knows on the planet, Superman. And after having an awkward conversation with the girl, the Man of Steel is happy to find out that he has a cousin! However, the celebration is not entirely blue skies and yellow suns. Unfortunately, as the new Kryptonian on Earth, Kara Zor El, has not gotten used to her superpowers yet, which draws the attention of both Wonder Woman and the villain Darkseid. With each side attempting to win her over — and Superman in the middle fighting to protect his only Kryptonian family from outside influence — Kara’s emotions are put to the test as she tries to find her purpose in a new world.
A gritty and mature retelling of the Supergirl origin story, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is full of hard-hitting action and drama as the newly formed bonds of the House of El are tested from Themyscira to Apokolips. It’s certainly, one of the better DC animated movies so far. Definitely a good one to get your feet wet and prepare for the more intense titles on this list.
9. Flashpoint Paradox
Based on Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert’s 2011 crossover story arc, Flashpoint Paradox follows the Scarlet Speedster as he uses the Speed Force to go back in time and save his mother from being killed in the past. In doing so, he inadvertently creates an alternate timeline; one where the Justice League no longer exists. Instead, Thomas Wayne is Batman, Superman is the property of the United States government, and the Atlanteans are at war with the Amazons. And to top it all off, he’s lost his powers! Probably one of DC’s most pivotal animated films to date, Flashpoint Paradox is unofficially the film that kicks off the DC Animated Movie Universe (DCAMU) which heavily incorporates elements from DC’s New 52 comic relaunch in 2011.
Filled with incredible action, high-stakes drama, and alternate versions of popular DC heroes, Flashpoint Paradox is a great watch for any fan familiar with the basic histories of their favorite DC characters.
8. Justice League: Dark
Many fans are familiar with the Justice League’s standard roster: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Cyborg, and Aquaman. But sometimes, there are supernatural forces that are beyond even their capabilities or understanding. Enter Justice League: Dark, a paranormal team created by Batman to handle the magical and mystical conflicts that the League can’t deal with on its own. Together, the team made up of John Constantine, Zatanna, Etrigan, Deadman, Swamp Thing, and Black Orchid join Batman investigating a string of violent murders that may have been caused by magic. And as their journey takes them deeper into the world of demons and wizardry, they find that solving the answer is a lot more complicated than they think.
A stand-alone movie among the more traditional titles of DCAMU, Justice League: Dark is an eerie, mature, and humorous one-shot that makes for a good break after binge-watching a few of the other more intense titles. If you’re looking for a break from the superhero mundane, Justice League: Dark is definitely one of the best DC titles to add to the queue.
7. Son Of Batman
As part of DC’s new shared animated universe, Son Of Batman introduced Bruce Wayne’s son Damian Wayne for the first time onscreen. Adapted from Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert’s storyline Batman and Son, the film finds Batman pulled into the middle of a war between Slade Wilson a.k.a. Deathstroke, and Ra’s Al Ghul’s League Of Assassins. And to make matters more complicated, Ra’s daughter, Talia Al Ghul has just revealed that Bruce is the father of her ruthless and often calculated son, Damian. So in order to keep Damian away from the League’s conflict with Slade and hopefully rehabilitate the young boy, Bruce chooses a different course of action: train Damian to become Batman’s new Robin!
An interesting new take on the Batman and Robin dynamic, Son Of Batman is a nice blend of dry humor and beautifully choreographed action that opens a new chapter in Bruce’s life and finally brings one of DC’s more popular modern characters — Damian Wayne — to the small screen. Definitely a must-watch for any Batman fan.
6. Justice League: War
Based on the New 52 relaunch comic, Justice League: Origin, by Geoff John and Jim Lee, Justice League War is the first animated feature film in the DCAMU series. When Darkseid’s Parademons are discovered kidnapping people and placing Mother Boxes in various places across the country, Green Lantern begins to investigate; only to find out that Batman is also hot on the trail. Together, they recruit Superman on their search and soon find that other heroes are also drawn into fighting against the invasion. Of course, It doesn’t take long for Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Shazam, and Batman to cross paths against Darkseid’s forces and thus, the Justice League is born!
As the first ensemble film in the DCAMU, Justice League: War builds up the action fast and provides amazing fight visuals that will keep you engaged throughout the story. Each hero gets a chance to shine in their own slice of the movie, and by the time they come together, you are totally invested in their interactions as a team. With a good balance of intense fight scenes, humor, and a great storyline, Justice League: War is definitely one of the best DC animated movies to date.
5. Batman: Hush
Loosely adapted from the 2002 comic book story arc of the same name by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee, Batman: Hush is a DCAMU feature set shortly after the events in The Death And Return of Superman. There’s a new villain named Hush in town, and he’s mysteriously pulling strings behind numerous plots in Gotham. And somehow, he seems to know everything about Batman: including the fact that he’s Bruce Wayne! Possibly one of Batman’s greatest villains to date, Hush manages to manipulate the likes of Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Superman, Harley Quinn, Scarecrow, and the Joker in a grand scheme to finally end the Batman once and for all. Taken to the limit, Batman races to find Hush before the villain can manipulate anyone else, and this time, it really is personal.
Batman: Hush is but another installment of the DCAMU full of action and mystery with an exciting twist involving Batman’s rogue gallery. With cameo appearances from Batgirl, Nightwing, Lex Luthor, and even Lois Lane, Batman: Hush gives fans a great DC animated experience full of their favorite characters while capturing the essence of what makes Batman one of the world’s greatest superheroes: his detective skills.
4. Batman Vs. Robin
Loosely adapted from the Batman: Court of Owls arc written by Scott Snyder, Batman Vs. Robin is set sometime after the events from the Son of Batman feature. While on the search for abducted children, Robin stumbles upon the existence of a secret organization in Gotham — The Court of Owls — that is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their objectives; even if it means killing. Unfortunately, the allure of their ideology draws Damian to the organization, and it will take everything that Bruce has at his disposal to keep his son from going back to old habits. Eventually, tension causes Batman and Robin to butt heads on several occasions until they finally decide to resolve the issue the only way they know how: with their fists!
This is a deep, thoughtful look into Damian’s inner conflict between his assassin upbringing and his new role as a hero. It certainly tests Bruce’s strength and fortitude as a father. Packed with hard-hitting action and a suspenseful storyline, Batman vs. Robin is an excellent watch for fans of the popular Damian Wayne character.
3. Teen Titans: Judas Contract
If you loved the Teen Titans on Cartoon Network in the early 2000s, then you’re going to love this particular feature. Also set in the DCAMU, Teen Titans: Judas Contract features a new roster as the new Robin, Blue Beetle, Raven, Beast Boy, and their leader Starfire investigate Brother Blood for his alleged participation in illegal human experimentation. With their latest member Terra Markov acting distant and their founding member, Nightwing affecting the balance of leadership, the Titans face new challenges as a team while they adjust to the new dynamic. But as they begin to get closer as a unit, an old enemy rears its ugly head to upset the balance and destroy them from the inside.
Teen Titans: Judas Contract does a great job of incorporating recognizable characters like Speedy and Kid Flash from the old Teen Titans series on Cartoon Network, while still progressing forward with references like Terra’s last name “Markov” from more modern Teen Titan focused shows like Young Justice. Filled with action, humor, and a level of maturity that’s almost as dark as Titans on HBO Max, Teen Titans: Judas Contract is an excellent title for adult DC fans looking to reconnect with the cartoon memories of their childhood.
2. Batman: Bad Blood
Picking up after the events of Batman vs. Robin, Batman: Bad Blood is another great title in the DCAMU series that’s worth a watch. The Dark Knight has disappeared and the Bat-Family are pushed to defend Gotham in their mentor’s absence. But Robin, Nightwing, and Batwoman are not about to give up on Bruce just yet. As their investigations into his disappearance lead them to a masked villain known as “The Heretic,” the Bat-Family find themselves in the fight of their lives to uncover a personal mystery that is a lot closer to home than they could ever imagine.
Batman: Bad Blood is another excellent look at the Batman mythos that focuses on his sidekicks and their ability to come together as a team to find the Dark Knight. And as a unit, the interactions that the three sidekicks have amongst each other are priceless. If you’re a big fan of the Batman brand, then Batman: Bad Blood is a great addition to your DC animation list.
1. Death And The Return Of Superman
This one is for all the Superman fans who weren’t entirely happy with Zack Snyder’s approach to one of the most significant events in DC history. Based on the crossover event created by DC editor Mike Carlin and a list of writers too long to name, The Death and Return of Superman is split into two feature films: The Death Of Superman and Reign Of The Supermen. The Death Of Superman focuses on the Justice League’s graphic battle with Doomsday, leading to Superman’s untimely and unbelievable demise. Meanwhile, The Reign of Superman introduces four mysterious new Supermen seemingly determined to fill the void left by his death.
Unlike other adaptations of Carlin’s story, The Death and Return of Superman is a fully fleshed-out retelling of the iconic event from the comics. The two-part saga digs deep into Superman’s influence on the world before his death while introducing characters like Cyborg Superman and The Eradicator afterward to twist the ideals he stood for. In my opinion, it’s arguably the best animated adaptation of a comic book arc so far.