It’s no secret that Batman is one of the most iconic and popular superheroes of all time. No matter what issues DC has in igniting their live-action cinematic universe, they can always count on the Dark Knight to bring people to the theater. Likewise, some of the best DC Animated Original Movies are all Batman-centric, with stories that range from completely original to direct comic book adaptations.
Regardless of whether you grew up with Batman: The Animated Series, The Batman, or maybe even Batman: The Brave and the Bold, the diverse interpretations of the Caped Crusader have allowed for countless animated features, many with completely unique tones. From dark and broody noir period pieces and superhero team-ups to 70s martial arts-inspired action adventures and LEGO comedies, Batman has done just about everything. But out of all the Batman animated films out there, these are the best of the best that captures the true essence of Gotham’s dark protector.
10. The Batman vs. Dracula (2005)
Maybe an unpopular choice, but The Batman vs. Dracula is not at all what you’d expect, and also exactly what you think. Based on the five-season long (and terribly underrated) The Batman animated series, this feature chronicles Dracula’s (Peter Stormare) awakening, resulting in an evil plot to resurrect his dead bride and envelope Gotham City in complete darkness. This movie’s actually pretty scary, especially for young kids, and features a terrifying vampire Joker (Kevin Michael Richardson) who robs a blood bank before getting into it with our favorite Caped Crusader.
Speaking of Batman, Rino Romano proves his worth here as the Dark Knight Detective, stepping it up from The Batman series by playing heavily into Bruce Wayne’s personal life and relationship with Vicki Vale (Tara Strong), who sadly never returns to the animated series. As Batman faces this supernatural foe, his strength and intellect are challenged like never before. The Batman vs. Dracula is a truly unique Batman feature that is unexpectedly pretty great. Also, watching the Penguin (Tom Kenny) become Dracula’s new “Reinfeld” is kind of hilarious.
9. Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998)
A continuation of Mr. Freeze’s (Michael Ansara) arc in Batman: The Animated Series, Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero takes place years after Batman’s last encounter with the icy villain. Embellishing on Freeze’s tragic backstory from the episode “Heart of Ice”, SubZero sees the former doctor on edge as he tries desperately to save his dying wife. Of course, to save her he needs to find some viable organs from a living donor, and that donor just so happens to be Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl (Mary Kay Bergman).
As Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Robin (Loren Lester) fight to stop Freeze, it becomes hard to know how to proceed as the villain’s motives are genuinely pure (he is trying to save his wife’s life after all), though his means are both cruel and unnatural. This film came out less than a year after the heavily panned Joel Schumacher film Batman & Robin, which also featured Mr. Freeze as the primary antagonist (and what a joke that was…), and SubZero was heavily praised due to its more mature tone and compelling storytelling. It’s a great Batman feature that pushes the limits, with a compelling villain to boot!
8. Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)
Originally branded as the bridge between Christopher Nolan‘s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (which was released only weeks after this film), Batman: Gotham Knight is an anthology similar to The Animatrix, which follows six separate stories told about The Dark Knight. While everyone’s favorite Batman, the masterful Kevin Conroy, reprises his role in each segment, each story is told with a different animation style and by a different series of filmmakers.
Gotham Knight might be the most unique of all the Batman films there, as six different directors blend their respective visions to tell some of the most interesting tales to highlight our heroes’ mission. Some of the best segments include the Rashomon-inspired “Have I Got A Story For You”, the return of the Scarecrow (Corey Burton) in the David S. Goyer penned “In Darkness Dwells”, and “Deadshot”, which features Batman’s first encounter with the Suicide Squad villain played by Jim Meskimen.
7. Batman: The Long Halloween (2021)
Based on the critically acclaimed Batman story by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (this author’s personal favorite Batman story), Batman: The Long Halloween is a two-part animated feature that follows Batman (Jensen Ackles), Jim Gordon (Billy Burke), and Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel) as they work together to solve the recent string of holiday-themed murders. Ackles performance as the Dark Knight Detective might be a little odd to Supernatural fans at first, but he grows on you quick.
Just as in the comic version, The Long Halloween seamlessly blends the various facets of Gotham’s underbelly together, forcing Batman to balance his time between organized crimelords, Carmine “The Roman” Falcone (Titus Welliver) and Sal Maroni (Jim Pirri), with supervillains including Joker (Troy Baker) and Penguin (David Dastmalchian). This superhero epic is an intense ride, proving to be one of the best adaptations of one of the greatest Batman stories there is.
6. The Batman/Superman Movie: World’s Finest (1997)
Okay, so this one was originally a three-part episode of Superman: The Animated Series entitled “World’s Finest” which crossed the Man of Steel over with The New Batman Adventures, but The Batman/Superman Movie was eventually released on home video as a feature-length film, so we’re gonna count it. This is one of the most memorable Batman/Superman stories ever, with lots of action, suspense, and the origins of the official partnership between Kevin Conroy’s Batman and Tim Daily‘s Superman. What more could you ask for?
On top of all that, the World’s Finest superheroes are in it together to expose Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown) in his latest criminal endeavors and take down the Joker (Mark Hamill), who of course has been hired to kill Superman with a huge chunk of Kryptonite at his disposal. The stakes feel high, and the battles are explosive! Plus, there’s a well-done love triangle between Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, and Lois Lane (Dana Delany) that kind of steals the show…
5. Batman: Year One (2011)
Based on the gripping Frank Miller origin story of the same name (that was Batman’s definitive origin for the better part of 30 years), Batman: Year One moves back and forth between the story of Bruce Wayne (played by Ben McKenzie years before his starring role on Gotham), who has recently returned to Gotham, and Jim Gordon (Bryan Cranston), as he struggles against the clearly corrupt GCPD. If this one might feel a lot like Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, that’s to be expected given that both films were based on the same comic book source material, but this is essential Batman viewing nonetheless.
Year One features an amazing supporting cast that includes Eliza Dushku as Selina Kyle aka Catwoman, Jon Polito as Commissioner Loeb, Katee Sackhoff as Detective Sarah Essen, and Grey DeLisle as Barbara Gordon, though McKenzie’s Batman and Cranston’s Gordon are the clear stars of the show. Batman: Year One might be an incredibly straightforward Batman movie, but it’s one that chronicles the most important time in Bruce Wayne’s life as he grapples with his own destiny.
4. Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
Batman: Under the Red Hood is one of the rare Batman films to make significant changes to the original source material that actually makes the narrative more compelling. Written by Judd Winick (who also wrote the original “Under the Hood” comic storyline), Under the Red Hood tells the story of the second Robin, the one whom the Joker (John DiMaggio) brutally murdered before his partner could arrive. Batman is played here by Bruce Greenwood (who also voiced the character in the Young Justice animated series) and his performance is immaculate, hitting every broodingly emotional beat.
As the Red Hood (played by Jensen Ackles, who was born for this role) forces his way through Gotham’s criminal underworld, killing everyone in his midst, Batman is confronted by the ghosts of his past and the demons that continue to haunt him. Yeah, we’re talking about Ra’s al Ghul (Jason Isaacs)… This film is excellent, and if the next few weren’t so dang amazing it would easily be the best animated Batman feature on this list. The final scene between Batman, Joker, and the Red Hood results in chills every time.
3. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)
Not every Batman movie features Bruce Wayne as Gotham’s primary protector, and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is undoubtedly one of the best. Set in the futuristic Neo-Gotham, Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle) is the Batman that Gotham needs, mentored by an aged Bruce Wayne (once again, Kevin Conroy), and continues to fight against all sorts of new Jokerz. But when an old evil reemerges, Bruce Wayne is confronted with his worst failure, and Batman with his greatest challenge.
When the Joker (played again by Mark Hamill) returns, Neo-Gotham becomes his most dangerous playground. As Terry discovers the hidden secrets of Bruce’s past, we witness a heartbreaking flashback to the world of The New Batman Adventures, where we learn what really happened to former Robin, Tim Drake (Matthew Valencia). This definitive close to the Batman Beyond story had two different cuts because of the censors (the Uncut version is the better, though the other is still excellent). If you haven’t checked this one out yet, Return of the Joker is a must-see for any true Bat-fan.
2. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012-2013)
Based on Frank Miller’s most definitive Batman work, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is a two-part animated feature that pulls no punches as Batman (Peter Weller) sets off on his final mission in the cape and cowl to restore order in Gotham. Set in an alternative (and futuristic) version of the 1980s, the 55-year-old Batman is joined by his latest Robin, Carrie Kelly (Ariel Winter), to take on the evil gang of Mutants who have ruled the city with fear. This one doesn’t skimp on the blood or violence, though it shockingly retains a PG-13 rating.
As The Dark Knight Returns unravels, Batman is confronted with the sins of his past and must deal with his oldest enemies – Two-Face (Wade Williams) and the Joker (Michael Emerson), the latter of whom finally pushes Batman to his utter-most limit. This results in even more trouble for the Dark Knight as Superman (Mark Valley) arrives to handle his formerly retired ally in events that would prove to be the eventual inspiration of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. This adaptation of Batman’s most definitive graphic novel is panel-for-panel accurate, seamlessly bringing to life Miller’s greatest work.
1. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
The definitive Batman animated feature, and many’s definitive Batman theatrical film proper, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm delivers an original Batman story that dives deep into Bruce’s past while also forcing him into the future. A continuation of the beloved Batman: The Animated Series, this film features Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill in their most iconic roles as Batman and the Joker, in what might be their most intense confrontation yet. But alongside the boys is the Phantasm (Stacy Keach), a mysterious assassin with an eye out for old mobsters and the Clown Prince of Crime…
The climax of Mask of the Phantasm is brilliant, bringing together all the film’s threads, such as Bruce’s long-lost love Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delany) and her tragic past, to create an explosive finale that no Batman film has yet to top. Not only are Andrea and Bruce’s pasts explored here, but also the criminal past of the Joker, before he was driven insane by a vat of random chemistry. Plus, Batman is pursued by the GCPD in a scene that feels like it’s right out of Year One, which feels right out of the comic book.