It’s hard to think of a medium where the Dark Knight of Gotham hasn’t made his mark. Batman and his distinctive gallery of villains have taken a prominent place in pop culture, and over the past thirty years, that’s included animated features as well as live-action films.
Batman first jumped into animation in 1993 on the back of his critically and commercially successful runs at movie theaters and on television. That was when he kicked off what would soon be called the DC Animated Universe (DCAU). Across that and the wider DC Universe animations, he’s subsequently appeared in more films than any other DC superhero.
The Caped Crusader’s animated adventures have showcased different versions of Gotham’s guardian, as plenty of famous names added their voices to his gruff vigilante persona and softer playboy alter-ego. Naturally, the legendary voice of animated Batman, Kevin Conroy, appears in this list, but he’s joined by performances as diverse as those of Will Arnett and Adam West.
Here are Batman’s greatest appearances in animated movies.
Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub Zero (1998)
On release, Sub Zero was overshadowed by 1997’s live-action Batman and Robin, but it quickly proved to be a superior look at Mr. Freeze’s tragic history. The cool villain deserves his co-credit in the title, and Michael Ansara is pitch-perfect as the misguided rogue. The final film of Batman: The Animated Series before Batman Beyond and The New Batman Adventures took over, it effortlessly appeals to kids and adults alike.
The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
How could one Lego film contain the Caped Crusader? Probably the highest-profile movie on this list, The Lego Batman Movie also delivers the most laughs. It’s no surprise that the mix of Batman’s billionaire arsenal and gruff seriousness lends itself to the comedic energy of the Lego universe. In this spin-off from The Lego Movie franchise, Will Arnett makes the character his own, as callbacks to Batman’s long history on film are thrown at the screen. As the Joker once said, “Where does he get all those wonderful toys?”
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
The film that started the DCAU was also the peak of Batman: The Animated Series and one of the Dark Knight’s greatest films. The only surprise is that this continuity took so long to be picked up in the comics. The chilling Phantasm only reached the page thanks to Tom King’s Batman and Catwoman in 2020. Despite being rushed to a theatrical release, this film has it all, balancing romance and danger with Bruce Wayne and the Joker’s past, and Shirley Walker’s incredible gothic score deserves a special mention.
Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)
This interesting anthology film bridges the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Six shorts were produced by Japanese animation studios, mashing the epic world Christopher Nolan was creating on the big screen with anime sensibilities. Many of the scripts came from well-known comic book writers. Its bold format allowed it to explore concepts outside the film series’ realism, like Gotham rogue Killer Croc. It’s a distinctive, edgier, and slightly more violent slice of animated Batman that paved the way for feature-length experiments like 2018’s Ninja Batman.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)
Many fans have a soft spot for this future incarnation of Batman and his cyberpunk adventures have staying power. Even as DC has spun off many future and multiversal Batmen, the appeal of young Terry McGinnis remains. Along with Harley Quinn and Renee Montoya, just another successful character created by animation and comic pioneers Bruce Timm and Paul Dini in their DCAU continuity. This animated Batman’s original series lasted two years, and this feature-length adventure may be a high point.
Batman: Return Of The Caped Crusaders (2016)
There’s room for a host of Batmen, as proved by the enduring appeal of the 1960s Batman TV series. Both Adam West and Burt Ward returned for this animated spin-off. It’s not the most refined or classic film on this list, but it stands as a worthy 50th-anniversary tribute to a very distinctive Batman. Few fictional characters can pick up and run with a personality from 50 years ago the way they do in this.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)
Jeph Loeb adapted his influential storyline from the 2003 Batman/Superman comic for this sixth release in the DC Universe Animated Original Movie series. Superman and Batman’s similarities and differences have been explored countless times, but perhaps never better than in this story in which Lex Luthor is the President of the United States and has his sights firmly set on Metropolis and Gotham’s most famous sons. A well-received adaptation, its success inspired a sequel in 2010.
Batman: Gotham By Gaslight (2018)
Adaptations of classic Batman comic book storylines have had mixed results. But for every disappointment (Killing Joke, we’re looking at you), there’s a surprise. Here, creators including longtime animated Batman producer Bruce Timm, seized the chance to absorb classic American horror and Sherlock Holmes adaptations in this version of Gotham. This Elseworld’s entry embraced its R Rating to create a memorable and stylish Batman film.
Batman: Under The Red Hood (2010)
There are pros and cons to dipping into Batman’s continuity-rich history in an animated feature. This film did well to capture the character and history of Jason Todd as it focused on the mysterious return of the troubled vigilante. The way it captured the former Robin’s relationship with Batman and the Joker earned it a spot as one of DC’s best-regarded animated films. After playing Jason Todd, Jensen Ackles would return to the DC Universe as Batman for The Long Halloween in 2021.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Parts I & II (2012, 2013)
DC has adapted several famous Batman storylines, but they don’t come more high-profile or high-pressure than Frank Miller’s 1986 epic. It was so large that it had to be split into two volumes. It doesn’t play with its source material the way some other adaptations do. The Cold War and mid-1980s time period remained, as did the newscaster inserts that had such an impact in Miller’s original. This is a fascinating example of a classic transferred to another medium.