Animated movies are an amazing medium to convey a storyline because they have no restrictions, all that’s needed is a wide imagination. Especially superhero stories which can be directly adapted from the comic books and made into a movie, point by point, without any constrains. Making animated superhero movies gives the maker ample freedom compared to live-action movies. A great source material can be translated directly to an amazing movie if done correctly.
There have been numerous superhero animated movies in the past decade. Comic books storylines from both DC and Marvel have been used to make these movies. Marvel may be having the upper hand when it comes to live-action superhero movies but when it comes to animated superhero movies, DC has by far mastered the craft with some exceptional films under their banner. Most of the animated superhero films on this list were direct-to-video projects with a few rarely getting a theatrical release. Here is the list of top animated superhero movies ever made. You can watch several of these greatest superhero animation movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
25. Ultimate Avengers (2006)
Ultimate Avengers, the third Marvel feature on this list, and the first one in Marvel Animated Films’ eight film line-up of animated features is exactly what you’d expect it to be, nothing more, nothing less. It shares virtually the same storyline as 2012’s ‘The Avengers’, but the treatment is what makes all the difference, with some fine voice acting on display here, while the animation is pretty good too. However, compared to other DC giants, this one doesn’t age too well, and proves good only as a Saturday matinee time viewing. As a hardcore Marvel fan, you may love it. But if you’ve been introduced to DC’s animated cannon, this one can pass off as comfort food at best.
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24. Justice League: War (2014)
‘Justice League: War’ is a direct adaptation of the DC comic book story ‘Justice League: Origin’ by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, based on the New 52 continuity. It is directed by Jay Oliva who is credited to have directed and written some of the best and most amazing animated superhero films the DC cannon has to offer. This famous storyline brings in Justice League’s most feared nemesis Darkseid into the mix, as the league unites in an effort to fend off the titanic threat he poses. Much of the film’s plot with respect to Cyborg’s connection to the Motherboxes and how they were the key to fighting off Apokoliptic threats formed the inspiration for the 2017 live action Justice League film. The film is entertaining, and serves as a serviceable reboot of the animated universe into the New 52 continuity, yet it leaves a lot to be desired if the first coming together of the league is to be put into account.
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23. Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017)
Remarkably better than its prequel ‘Justice League vs. Teen Titans’, ‘Teen Titans: The Judas Contract’ pits the titans against the mercenary Deathstroke, while a mysterious new member, Terra, tries to fit in as the titans grow suspicious of her. Since the film solely focusses on the Teen Titans unlike its predecessor, I’ll be honest, it does help DC’s case that they have a whole new cannon of films in their lineup that do not feature their heavy lifters, including Batman, Superman and the league. It does keep a variety in the offerings. As a film, ‘Judas Contract’ gets the pacing bang on, and the action, especially the bits involving Robin and Deathstroke where there is more hand to hand, are impeccable. Blue Beetle has more stuff to do this time around, and his powers are more significantly explored here. All in all, not in the league of DC’s earlier animations, but still an entertaining one.
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22. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)
‘Superman/Batman: Public Enemies’ is the kind of relentlessly fun movie that is too fast paced to be considered anything other than casual viewing. If there is one unanimous vote on the qualities of this animated feature, ‘entertaining’ would easily be among the most resounding ones. Contrary to their most popular storylines, here Batman and Superman team up to fend off hoardes of attacking supervillains, all after a bounty on Superman’s head after Lex Luthor becomes President, and Superman is wrongly framed for a murder he didn’t commit. A lot goes on in the film except this, but as the title suggests, the longest and best subplot of the film involves Batman and Superman fighting side by side with the occasional banter, bringing down villain after villain. The geek in me was more than satisfied when the credits rolled.
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21. Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010)
One of the very few films in the DC cannon to showcase Supergirl as a character, and a damn good one at that, ‘Superman/Batman: Apocalypse’ is the story of Krypton’s last living remnants all the way, with Batman and Wonder Woman playing significant albeit supporting roles. The story is primarily centred on Kara Zor-El’s origins, her struggles to adapt on Earth as Superman did, and the relationship she shares with Superman, growing under his care as Kal-El too values her as his only living blood relative. The action packed bits of the film involve Kara being kidnapped and taken to Apokolips where Darkseid plans to make her a part of his army, while the trinity rescues her. I saw this on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and didn’t regret a second of it. It is EXACTLY that kind of film.
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20. Doctor Strange (2007)
‘Doctor Strange’, also with the moniker of ‘The Sorcerer Supreme’ in some versions, is part of Marvel Studios animation conglomerate, Marvel Animated Features (MAF). The movie shows us the origin story of Dr Stephen Strange and the journey he undertakes from being a successful surgeon to the master of the mystic arts. The origin story, as it was: with Dr Strange being involved in a serious accident that renders both his hands irreparably damaged, following him visiting the Himalayan region in Nepal, looking for spiritual treatment and ending up being trained by The Ancient One to become the Sorcerer Supreme, and squaring off against Dormammu: was adapted by the MCU in the 2016 live action film of the same name starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s all there, and the animated version, like the live action version, is full of humour, action and mind blowing, amazing graphics that are just an introduction to the magical, mystical world of Doctor Strange.
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19. Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018)
‘Batman: Gotham by Gaslight’ is easily the most atmospheric Batman film to date, including even the live action ones. Much of that is owed to the Victorian era setting of the film that is almost flawless, with buildings, streets, public spaces, bars, transport and even street lamps being given added detail to stay true to the setting. As somebody with a keen interest in buildings and design, it was a delight watching this reincarnated version of Gotham city. The art direction is the real star of the show here. That is not to take away a lot of other things the film does get right, including the villain, the serial killer Jack the Ripper, the else worlds storyline and Batman’s fight sequences and alterations of all his gadgetry and weaponry to suit the era. My only qualm is that since it acts as more of a spinoff rather than operating in the same continuity, it is the least ‘Batman’ like of all animated films. It simply could have been a noir murder mystery thriller without Batman, and it’d still be this good.
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18. Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)
‘Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths’, directed by Lauren Montgomery and Sam Liu introduces viewers to an alternate universe, where the Justice League are the bad guys calling themselves the “Crime Syndicate”. Ironically enough, Lex Luthor and Jester (the good guy counterpart of the Joker) are the heroes in this alternate universe. With an interdimensional travel device, Lex Luthor of the alternate universe arrives in the currently ‘normal’ universe and asks for the league’s help to fight the Crime Syndicate. The plot gets interesting as the league squares off against alternate versions of their own selves: Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Power Ring, and Johnny Quick. No points for guessing which is which.
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17. Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (2018)
Let’s just agree that almost everything that DC has put out till date is better than the live action ‘Suicide Squad’ film released in 2016, and any and all incarnations of the Task Force X henceforth are what the live action feature should have been. Saves us all a lot of time. Coming to ‘Hell to Pay’, the film is set in a different continuity than the ‘Arkham’ one, and features Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Killer Frost, Copperhead, and Bronze Tiger being recruited by a now terminally ill Amanda Waller to retrieve a mystical device. The film continues DC’s good run in the animated category this year, and is also an addition to its slew of R rated animated features. Agreeably so, since the film is ultraviolent in places, and the violence and killing, especially of primary characters, can get a little disturbing.
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16. Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)
‘Batman: The Killing Joke’ is based on the famous one shot graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. The Killing Joke is one of the darkest animated films out there, there is no two opinions about that. The R-rating on the film is completely warranted. It was, however, criticized for changing some crucial plot points from the graphic novel, including the relationship between Batgirl and Batman and Barbara’s torture at the hands of the Joker was a bit too graphic for an animated feature. It still does remain one of the best animated DC flicks around, showing us the origin of the Joker and exploring the paradoxical relationship between Batman and the Joker. It is dark, dreary and psychologically insightful, but should not be missed to explore what DC comics embody at their best. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill who voiced the Batman and The Joker in the legendary animated series return to voice the characters which adds to the credibility of this adaptation.
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15. The Incredibles 2 (2018)
Let’s face it: The Incredibles 2 was THE sequel Disney and Pixar fans were waiting for, and it took fourteen years for the film to finally get made. Like all 90s kids, I too flocked to the theatres to witness the Parr family be ‘incredible’ again. To be honest, it was obvious that it was never going to hold a candle to the first; that is the burden of a legacy. However, as a film that simply has a story to tell about a group of endearing characters we were introduced to back in 2004, it is perfectly entertaining and more than serviceable. There are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments, most of them having Jack-Jack at their centre as the family discovers and deals with his new superpowers. There is no two words about it: Jack-Jack is the star of the film. But at the film’s centre is the familial bonding, occasional bickering, and the teamwork that make it a success, like the first one.
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14. The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
The Lego Batman Movie was to the DC universe, what Deadpool was to Fox’s Marvel-X-Men universe, revelling in equal parts self-mockery and self-aware humour that mined the most laughs. Hearing Will Arnett as Lego Batman in his first appearance in The Lego Movie was an absolute treat, and the Warners announcing a spinoff stand-alone Lego Batman film was only a matter of time after that. The animation in the film was flawless, and the jokes mostly hit their intended mark, making sure you breeze through its entire runtime. The finale with possibly every villain from every other WB owned property was a bit much, but that is more than made up for by all the action, gorgeously animated, and first rate voice acting from supporting players including Michael Cera as Robin, Ralph Fiennes as Alfred and Zack Galifianakis as The Joker. Needless to say, the film belongs to Will Arnett’s stumpy and narcissistic Lego Batman.
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13. Justice League: Dark (2017)
‘Justice League: Dark’ is DC’s introduction into the mystic universe, where the presence of magic as an entity opens up a lot of possibilities for the future. One of the many positives of the film, and the main one here, is the presence of John Constantine, who is too cool a character to star in an ensemble movie without overshadowing possibly everyone present. Lucky for us, we also have Batman accompanying the ‘darker’ league, and the resultant team-up is the stuff of DC dreams. It is refreshing to see Zatanna, Deadman, Swamp Thing, Etrigan, and Constantine especially in a mainstream DC animated production while the main players take a back seat, as the new unlikely team gears to fight off supernatural threats.
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12. The Death of Superman (2018)
‘The Death of Superman’ was WB’s attempt to retell the iconic storyline in much greater detail and depth, being more faithful to the source material than the 2007 animated flick ‘Superman: Doomsday’, and for most of its running time, it is exactly that. 2018 has been a good year for DC animated movies, barring Batman Ninja, and ‘The Death of Superman’ seems to be its pinnacle. Yes, the film looks noticeably different from its comic book counterpart, being set in the new 52 continuity, but I have to admit that as a result of the new continuity, it was great fun to watch the entire Justice League battle it out against Doomsday, rather than just Superman. We all know how it ends, with some nice groundwork setting-up for its direct sequel ‘Reign of the Supermen’, something that the 2007 animated flick completely glanced over. However, until the climactic showdown too, the script is engrossing enough to keep you hooked, uncovering a more personal dilemma for Superman.
The climactic fight between the league and Doomsday, who finally IS the mindless killing machine he is meant to be, and finally between him and Superman is brutal, explosive and in itself, worth the time you spend on this film. Makes me wonder though, if they can get it right in the animation department, why is the live action department bereft of such achievements?
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11. Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014)
Directed by Jay Oliva and Ethan Spaulding, ‘Batman: Assault on Arkham’ is set in the same universe as the Arkham video games. It is loosely based on a number of famous Suicide Squad storylines, telling of the cohorts of Amanda Waller recruiting incarcerated super villains to break into Arkham and recover a drive containing critical information. Batman is naturally cynical of the idea and keeps a close watch, never surfacing to the fore unless absolutely necessary. The film, in that sense, belongs mostly to the members of the squad, including Harley Quinn, Deadshot, King Shark, Captain Boomerang, Killer Frost and Black Spider, and their chemistry together. The film packs a punch with its many twists and turns, and the final confrontation between the squad, Batman and the Joker is dazzling to say the least. In a nutshell, ‘Batman: Assault on Arkham’ is everything the live-action ‘Suicide Squad’ should have been.
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10. Planet Hulk (2010)
One of the three Marvel movies in this list, ‘Planet Hulk’ is based on the famous Marvel storyline of the same name by Greg Pak and Carlo Pagulayan. The Hulk is deemed to be too dangerous to be on Earth by the Avengers, who then plan to have him sent over to a more peaceful world. All does not go as planned, and the Hulk wakes up mid-flight, wreaks havoc in the shuttle and it crash lands on Sakaar, where he is taken prisoner and forced to fight in gladiatorial contests. All of this may sound familiar since 2017’s ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ had a part of its script derived from the ‘Planet Hulk’ storyline, with Thor thrown into the gladiator contests. The animated feature, however, focusses solely on Hulk’s time on Sakaar, and becoming Sakaarson. ‘Planet Hulk’ is fast paced, has some solid hand to hand action and is mostly worth it for its runtime. A fun ride, all in all.
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9. Batman: Year One (2011)
Based on the comic book arc of the same name written by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, ‘Batman: Year One’ is one of the most faithful comic book to animated adaptations there is. The film showcases the initial years of Lt. James Gordon as he is transferred to Gotham to work for the GCPD, and Bruce Wayne returning home after training to become a vigilante and unleash his crusade against crime in the corrupt, crime ridden city. The film has an inherently dark tone, and a mature outlook that is uncommon for animated flicks. Gotham is beautifully realised and personified in this take on the caped crusader’s story. One of the major strengths of the film though is its voice cast; Bryan Cranston is unsurprisingly excellent as James Gordon, an outsider to the murk of Gotham city, as is Ben McKenzie as a young Bruce Wayne fitting into the shoes of a crime fighter, and the tender yet volatile relationship shared between them is brought out well in a few dialogue exchanges between the two.
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8. Justice League: Doom (2012)
The plotline of ‘Justice League: Doom’ follows Vandal Savage stealing Batman’s contingency plans against the members of the Justice League, should they go rogue, and hires Cheetah, Star Sapphire, Bane, Metallo, Mirror Master and Ma’alefa’ak, each sworn nemesis of one of the league members to fight and target their weaknesses based on the Bat’s plans. ‘Justice League: Doom’ is action packed, with some great fight sequences showcasing the strengths and weakness of all the superheroes in the league. The internal conflict the league faces after almost being completely taken down, with questions being raised on Batman’s intentions about the contingency plans, their sheer ingenuity, and how the league comes out of it form the best bits of this superbly entertaining animated feature.
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7. Big Hero 6 (2014)
It rarely does get better than when all the elements that you love from the Disney movies combine with all the elements that you love from the Marvel movies. Add to that the trademark Walt Disney gravitas and character depth, and a tear jerking moment, populate with extremely funny characters against visually vibrant and gorgeously animated backdrops (here, the backdrop is San Fransokyo, a city in the not so distant future). The result is a film for all ages and minds, one that steals your attention and heart from the word go. ‘Big Hero 6’ is a pleasure to watch, as you dive deeper into the world of Hiro Hamada, a fourteen years old robotics genius, his friends, and Baymax, one of Disney’s cutest creations in a while, as they band together to form an unlikely group of heroes.
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6. The Incredibles (2004)
The only animated superhero film on the list that is not based on a comic book! Disney and Pixar are known for their endearing animated films with most achieving critical acclaim and box office success. ‘The Incredibles’ is no different. Directed by Brad Bird, ‘The Incredibles’ is the story of a family having superpowers who after lawsuits have to live a ‘normal’ life far from their superhero days. That changes and our heroes are forced out of retirement when Mr. Incredible is kidnapped and the city faces an imminent threat from the villainous Syndrome. The film received a theatrical release unlike most animated films on the list, and till date remains one of Disney Pixar’s best, most original offerings.
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5. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)
Considering all of Batman’s alternate continuities, Batman: Beyond is hands down the coolest one. To introduce probably the most iconic comic book supervillain into that continuity to resurface, and having him voiced by Mark Hamill is just a stroke of opportunistic genius, I suppose. The film is in the same vein of amazing as ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ and even the animated series, the animation style being remarkably different, since ‘Beyond’ served as a direct sequel to TAS set in the future, but I admit that it is a tad bit darker. The Joker here is absolutely terrifying, probably even in the same vein as the Joker from ‘The Killing Joke’. The story is pretty standard Batman-Joker fare (which is already stellar in its own right), but seeing Terry McGinnis prove himself worthy of the Batman mantle and the well-choreographed fight sequences make it rise above the rest.
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4. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Considered the best Batman animated feature for years altogether and easily in the best superhero movies hall of fame, ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’ is a direct continuation of the critically acclaimed animated TV series. It has the original voice cast of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as The Joker, and if that isn’t reason enough to watch it, I’m sure the added nostalgia value it carries will do the job. The film, today, enjoys the status of a cult classic in the animated arena, and scores high on the basis of its non-linear narrative, alternating between Batman’s early crime fighting years and the current menace, and an excellent villain in the Phantasm, who is an original creation solely created for this film, but if included in Gotham’s rogues, is sure to rank among the best ones.
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3. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)
Based on the fan favourite storyline ‘Flashpoint’ written by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert, this film sees Barry Allen travel back in time to save his mother from being murdered. As the Flash’s penchant for messing up timelines goes, his attempt to travel back in time and fix his past results in an anomaly, a fracture in time that creates an alternate reality where he doesn’t have his powers, the world does not know of the existence of Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are at war and Thomas Wayne is the Batman as Bruce is the one that died at the hands of Joe Chill. The bizarre chain of events is set into motion indirectly by the Flash’s arch nemesis Professor Zoom, who intends to trap him in the alternate reality and kill him. In one of DC’s most iconic storylines, this animated movie delivers what it promises and it is a treat for faithful comic book fans. Jay Oliva directs this superb flick adding another feather in his cap.
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2. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Part 1 & 2 (2012, 2013)
The big daddy of all superhero movies is based on one of the best Batman comic book arcs of the same name by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson. Bruce Wayne is in his mid-50s, retired and no longer Batman. Gotham is in shambles flooded by crime, while Batman is forced to return to save and liberate Gotham. Superman works for the government and is asked by the President to arrest Batman. What happens next is as epic and as iconic as it can get. The finale Batman vs Superman fight, is seen in all its glory with Batman in his armoured suit. Another larger-than-life animated gem under the direction of Jay Oliva, it is near perfect. It’s gritty, it’s dark and it’s everything a Batman adaptation should be. The animation is fantastic keeping the comic book art in mind. Divided and released direct-to-video in two parts, it is one movie not to be missed at any cost.
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1. Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
‘Batman: Under the Red Hood’, in my humble opinion, is truly the best animated superhero feature out there. Hell, I’d put it under the category of one of the best superhero flicks ever, animated or not. It rarely gets better than this one when it comes to superhero films. Based on the DC comic book arc ‘Under the Hood’ by Judd Winick and taking bits from another classic story arc ‘A Death in the Family’ by Jim Starlin, the film shows the death of the second Robin Jason Todd at the hands of The Joker, and his eventual resurgence as the feared vigilante Red Hood. The makers do an impressive job with assembling the voice cast that includes Bruce Greenwood as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Jensen Ackles as Jason Todd, John DiMaggio as the Joker, Neil Patrick Harris as Dick Grayson/Nightwing and Jason Isaacs as Ra’s al Ghul. However, the real props here go to the writing department in crafting out what easily the most personal Batman story yet. The final confrontation between Batman, Joker and the Red Hood qualifies for absolute comic book gold, and is testament to the legendary status DC has required with its stories in the animated arena.
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