Click here for Part One – Last month I began the Top Ten Best DC Animated Movies with: Emerald Knights, Public Enemies, Justice League: Doom, Superman: Unbound, and the New Frontier.
It was tough narrowing down these last few selections, because many of the movies on this list would easily rank among the best animated features of all time, but I assure you these Final Five are near and dear to my heart, and I did not rank them lightly.
Now for the Final Countdown…
5. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (Parts One and Two)
Even though this is probably on the shelf next to ‘Batman – the Brave and the Bold’ and ‘Scooby Doo Meets Batman’, this movie is definitely not for kids.
Frank Miller’s dark and brutal reinvention of the Batman mythos took the world by storm in his 1986 graphic novel, “The Dark Knight Returns”. TDKR is an alternative take on the Caped Crusader. Although The Batman began as a dark and brooding character back in the 40’s, for much of his life his stories were much more akin to the cheese-infused 60’s Adam West show than the vengeance-seeking gargoyle we all know and love today.
This was the one that shattered that image forever, all thanks to Frank Miller’s brutal brand of blood-soaked artistry. Between this and Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” (an equally political and violent thought provoking masterpiece), comics would never be the same again. It also highly influenced Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman” film (with Jack Nicholson as The Joker and Michael Keaton as Batman).
Frank Miller went on to write “Batman: Year One” (also adapted into an animated film, and well worth the watch) – often considered Batman’s quintessential origin story.
Knowing Miller’s works (Sin City, 300, etc) it’s a given that this is not a kid-friendly story from the get go. It’s set in a dystopian not-too-distant-future (of the 80’s that is) where an aging Bruce Wayne has hung up the cowl. The story also features a one-armed Green Arrow, a ‘reformed’ Harvey Dent, and Selina Kyle running an escort business.
When crime begins to escalate to incomprehensible proportions thanks to a gang called ‘the Mutants’, Bruce is forced out of retirement. After saving a young girl, she returns the favor and joins his crusade to save Gotham as Robin. Meanwhile the Joker, whose been in a catatonic state for years, suddenly comes to after getting wind of a rumor that The Dark Knight himself has… well Returned and cracks a very creepy smile…
Batman and the Joker have one final battle in an amusement park that ends with the Joker killing himself to frame Batman, in an effort to get the last laugh. This is followed up by a psychotic series of events that culminates in Superman (whose working for the government in this version) facing off against his former ally. The Man of Steel is ordered to take Batman in by any means necessary, but the Dark Knight was counting on it all along, thus ensues the single most famous face off in comics history…
Now about the movie: this has to be the single closest adaptation of a graphic novel ever made (right up there with the live action “Watchmen” adaptation), it is panel for panel, frame by frame, the same thing. The detail is uncanny! In fact, they crammed so much of the book into one movie that it had to be split into two parts!
To top it off, Batman is voiced by PETER (effin’) WELLER!
That’s right, Robo-Cop himself.
4. THE FLASHPOINT PARADOX
As far as dark and violent sci-fi sagas go, this one is genuinely heart felt. In the comics there were several spin-off miniseries about each of the characters, and this movie manages to brilliantly blend them into one cohesive tale. Plus Ron Pearlman has a cameo as Deathstroke.
When ‘Flashpoint’ was first announced, anticipation was initially ‘meh’ at best. Avid comic readers were starting to get fed up with DC’s ‘Crisis’ event books, mucking up continuity every few years. Flashpoint proved to be a full on reboot, but the story itself was far different from the previous convoluted crossovers… it was more than just an excuse to hit the reset button, it was a damn good story.
Written by Geoff Johns, this was a twisted Twilight-Zone-like tale about an alternate universe where things have gone horribly awry, primarily from Barry Allen’s point of view. Barry (The Flash) Allen wakes up without his powers, in a world where his mom is still alive, but everything else in his life has changed for the worse, and he’s the only one that seems to notice.
Emperor Aquaman of Atlantis is at war with Wonder Woman and her Amazons, Kal-El is a prisoner in an underground bunker, Hal Jordan never became Green Lantern, and Batman is a crazed gun-toting, alcoholic seeking revenge for the death of his… son?!
The ultimate villain of the piece is the Reverse Flash, a time traveling villain who managed to alter history… or did he?
3. WONDER WOMAN
This movie is just plain AWESOME!
A lot of people still associate Wonder Woman with the Lynda Carter series. Those people need to watch this version. Seriously, if the studio execs just took this script and made it into a live action big-budget blockbuster it would rake in more money than a Vegas casino’s profit margin for the year. The animated movie features the voice talents of: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, and Rosario Dawson. The story (written by comics legend, Gail Simone) is loosely based on (fellow comics legend) George Perez’s “Gods and Monsters” story line.
For those of you that don’t know, in addition to being gorgeous, Wonder Woman is a badass Amazon warrior princess, and this movie does a fantastic job at portraying just that, beautifully. It rightfully delves into her mythological backstory, with more Greek myth references than Clash of the Titans. And just like Greek mythology, this movie has its fair share of dark and disturbing.
The opening scene shows Diana’s mother, Hippolyta, leading an army of Amazons against Aries, the God of War himself, decapitating mo-foes left and right. Years later, Princess Diana longs for adventure away from the protection of Themiscyra. As fate would have it, an Air Force pilot, Steve Trevor, is shot down in a dogfight, crash landing on the mysterious ‘paradise island’ before promptly being attacked by the Amazons. Diana becomes the emissary to bring Trevor back to the United States.
Meanwhile, Aries is released by Persephone and immediately gets back to his old shenanigans, i.e. – raising an army of demons from hell, leveling entire cities, and toppling the governments of the world with nuclear war. And there’s only one person who can stop him… WONDER WOMAN!
2. BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM
Way back in 1992, following the success of Tim Burton’s “Batman” movies, Bruce Timm created one of the best super hero shows ever created: BATMAN – The Animated Series! The groundbreaking factor about this Emmy award winning show was that it was actually made for adults (while still being appropriate for a younger audience too). It was a serious (albeit stylized) take on the adventures of Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective. Starring the legendary voice talents of Kevin Conroy as Batman (hands down the best voice) and Mark Hamill as arguably one of the best versions of the Joker.
‘The Mask of the Phantasm’ was this show’s magnum opus and it was actually released in theaters back in ’93. Unfortunately it was a limited release that didn’t garner much media attention at the time, but has since become an undisputed cult classic. This Bat-movie is so good that almost all the live action Bat-flicks pale in comparison.
The series first established a unique style based on a fusion of comic books and Japanese anime with influence from 40’s mobster movies and Art-Deco architecture, but this movie takes all of that to a whole new dimension. Part of what makes this movie great is it’s hand-drawn animation. The visuals are gorgeous.
Story-wise, the movie is a classic Film Noir with a modern Super Hero twist. The film weaves in a new dimension to Bruce’s motivations for being Batman, with insight into a tragic love story that haunts his past. Like all good detective stories, this one begins with a mystery.
A new masked vigilante appears in Gotham, out for blood. The ‘Phantasm’ is an angel of death relentlessly hunting the mafia. As the body count rises, Batman is blamed for the Phantasm’s killing spree and is turned into Public Enemy Number One.
Bruce barely survives an ambush by the Gotham SWAT Team when he’s rescued by a woman from his past, Andrea. Andrea was his one true love and the first woman to ever uncover his identity, what’s more: they were almost married. The night after he proposed to her she disappeared, leaving behind a note with the ring (leading him to become Batman in his grief). Turns out she’d left town all those years ago, because her father was being targeted by a mob boss.
“Do you still follow your dad’s orders?” Bruce demands.
Andrea responds coldly, “The way I see it, the only one in this room controlled by his parents, is you.” Ouch.
Just as Bruce is patching things up with Andrea, he discovers the next crook on the hit list: The Joker – leading to a revelation that changes everything!
The last battle between Batman and the Joker in this movie feels like the ultimate face off between these two immortal adversaries: Joker says, “You’re crazy! I’m your only chance to get out of here! Let me go, or we’ll both die!”
Batman responds, “Whatever it takes!”
Seriously, no spoilers here, but it’s got a great freakin’ twist! It absolutely blew my mind. The movie also got one of the best soundtracks to any super hero movie ever made, thanks to Shirley Walker.
All in all, a timeless masterpiece.
1. ALL STAR SUPERMAN
Doomed Planet. Desperate Scientists. Last Hope. Superman.
Oh man, I don’t even know where to begin, but bear with me as I attempt to put my feelings into words… This movie is absolutely incredible, and that’s mostly thanks to being a near perfect adaptation of one of the best Super Hero graphic novels ever written, but it’s also a very personal and emotional story.
“All Star Superman” stars the stellar voice talents of: James Denton as Superman, Anthony LaPaglia as Lex Luthor, and Christina Hendricks as Lois Lane, with a sweeping score by Christopher Drake.
Grant Morrison, acclaimed comic writer, genius, and author of “Supergods” (a non-fiction, semi-auto-biographical look at the history of comics), took everything that fans love about Superman and crammed it into one epic story. Initially released as a 12 issue tale, “All Star Superman” is a completely self contained story about what would happen if Superman was dying of cancer and had only days left to make a difference before succumbing to the inevitable. The comic’s art by Frank Quitely is unmatched, but the animated movie does a good job at translating his style to animation.
It’s hard to explain this movie with one specific plot, because it’s really much more like a series of episodic issues with one unified story arc, and it’s all woven together with symbolism and metaphors. Morrison approached writing the character as a Sun God and shaped the story around the changing of the seasons.
As with any good Superman story, it’s about more than just Clark Kent, it’s about the people in his life: Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Martha Kent, and yes even Lex Luthor. This movie is filled to the brim with emotional interactions between Superman and / or Clark with the people in his life.
Clark decides to reveal his identity to Lois, invites her to the Fortress of Solitude and even shows her what it’s like to be him for a day. She doesn’t initially believe him, because it’s seemingly out of character, but she doesn’t realize he’s dying. They’re so perfect for one another, but it’s heartbreaking knowing that they won’t live happily ever after.
Then, as Clark Kent, Superman makes a visit to Lex on death row. This scene is brilliant for a couple reasons: it shows insight into Lex’s character and how he views the world, it shows Lex respecting Kent while talking about how much he hates Superman, you can tell that even after everything, Clark cares about his arch enemy, he sees potential in Luthor and just wishes he could bring out the good in him.
As time begins to run out for Clark, Lex’s final plot takes shape and Superman’s final battle begins. As Lex is sitting in the electric chair, he gains Superman’s powers, busts out and starts going on a rampage in Metropolis. At the Daily Planet, Clark Kent throws off his glasses and rips off his shirt revealing his identity to the world and leaps into action one last time to save the world.
Spoiler Alert: Superman does actually die at the end and goes out in a blaze of glory, saving the world one last time, in one of the most poignant sequences ever put on screen. Unlike ‘Superman: Doomsday’ where he dies and um… gets better?, this one is fairly clear about the finality of his sacrifice.
The battle between a dying Superman and a super-powered Lex Luthor is fantastic and not just because of the choreography and the toppling buildings, but the dialogue and the meaning behind it is absolutely genius. Supes shoots Lex with a gravity gun, effectively knocking him out of the sky, still Lex manages to get the upper hand and is about to finish off his long time nemesis in the streets of Metropolis in front of the entire world, this is the exchange that happens:
“Welcome to the new world! Lay down your weapons and you won’t be hurt…” Lex declares to the world after defeating the Man of Steel once and for all, then he trails off, distracted by something…
He responds with one of the best monologues of our time, “…I can see the entire electronic spectrum… and those must be atoms. Little clouds of possibility! Einstein couldn’t connect the gravitational force to the other three, but if he could’ve seen this… It’s so obvious… the fundamental forces are yolked by consciousness! Everything’s connected. Every One… and this is how he sees things all the time. Every day… It’s a cruel joke! The mechanistic clockwork of reality hinging on a precious impossible defiance of entropy – on life! And the clockwork doesn’t care. – It’s like it’s all just us, in here, together… we’re all we’ve got…”
After this mind-warping revelation, Superman reveals that he tricked Lex into burning through the serum, and steals his backup, vaporizing it in front of him as he pleads, “I saw everything, I saw… how to save the world! I could’ve made everyone see! If it wasn’t for you, I could have saved the world!”
“If it had mattered to you Luthor, you could’ve saved the world years ago…”
That right there is one of the most profound scenes in comics history. Moral of the story: if everyone viewed the world through Superman’s eyes, the world would be a much better place. Because at the end of the day, we’re all connected by the star dust from which we were forged.
Do you agree with the list? Sound off with your favorites in the comments below!
If you dig these movies, than be sure to check out the graphic novels!
- ALL STAR SUPERMAN by Grant Morrison
- FLASHPOINT by Geoff Johns
- THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller
- THE NEW FRONTIER by Darwyn Cooke
- SUPERMAN / BATMAN by Jeph Loeb
- JLA: TOWER OF BABEL by Mark Waid
- SUPERMAN: BRAINIAC by Geoff Johns
————Honorable (animated movie) mentions: Superman vs the Elite, Superman / Shazam, Crisis on Two Earths, Under the Red Hood, Gotham Knight, Batman: Sub-Zero, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Son of Batman, and Assault on Arkham.
Erik Slader is a blogger, barista, web tech, digital artist, gamer, comic book aficionado, history buff, part-time nerd, and full-time husband. Creator of “Epik Fails of History” (@EpikFails.com) and writer for SuperheroBeach.com, MovementMagazine.com and ComicZombie.net – check out his digital design portfolio at ErikSlader.com