Few characters have stood the test of time like Batman, morphing through countless interpretations since his debut in 1939. While the character has reached mass appeal in live-action adaptations, it’s in the animated realm that The Dark Knight truly flourishes, benefiting from the freedom to adapt and explore the rich tapestry of comic source material. And make no mistake—just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it’s all for kids. Many of these films dive into mature themes and moral complexities, making them equally, if not more, engaging for adult audiences.
Whether you’re a longtime Bat fan or a newcomer, our handpicked list of the Top 10 Batman Animated Movies serves as your roadmap to the depths of the Batcave and the heights of the Gotham City skyscrapers.
1. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Picture this: Gotham’s crime lords are falling one by one, but Batman isn’t behind it. Instead, a mysterious spectral figure known as the Phantasm stalks the night. Notably featuring the legendary Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as the voices of Batman and the Joker, respectively, Mask of the Phantasm made history as one of the first animated Batman films to hit the big screen. Set in the same timeline as Batman: The Animated Series, this film dives headlong into Bruce Wayne’s romantic life and emotional core.
One of my favorite sequences is a flashback where Alfred gasps upon seeing Bruce don the Bat cowl for the first time—a scene that captures the gravity of his transformation into the Caped Crusader. As an animated movie, this is no mere Saturday morning crime-fighting saga; it’s a textured psychological drama that examines the multifaceted complexities of Batman, achieving a narrative sophistication that even recent adaptations find hard to beat.
2. Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
Gotham’s underworld is in chaos, and this time, it’s not Batman stirring the pot. A violent and tactical vigilante known as the Red Hood has taken the reins, forcing Batman into a spiraling confrontation with his own past. Adapted from Judd Winick’s Batman: Under the Hood comic series, this 2010 film delves into the darkest chapter of Batman’s life: the death and shocking resurrection of Jason Todd, the second Robin. Fueled by anger toward Bruce for not avenging his death by killing the Joker, Jason Todd, as the Red Hood, pushes Batman to question the very ethics of his one unbreakable rule against killing.
Black Mask enters the fray as another contender for Gotham’s criminal throne, adding one more variable for the vigilantes to deal with. Far from a sanitized tale, the movie’s violence pulls no punches, adding grit that makes this animation for adults. Through action and ethical dilemma, Under the Red Hood not only thrills but also puts Batman’s long-standing principles through the wringer.
3. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)
Gotham 2040 sees a new Batman, Terry McGinnis, mentored by an elderly Bruce Wayne. The sudden return of the Joker creates an atmosphere thick with nostalgia and dread. Based on the Batman Beyond animated series, this film unites timelines to interrogate the enduring evil of the Joker and the inescapability of the past.
One of the movie’s most haunting sequences reveals the Joker’s sadistic torture of Tim Drake, the second Robin, morphing him into a twisted version of the Joker himself. This unsettling subplot showcases the depths of the Joker’s malevolence and adds tragic layers to Bruce and Tim, who we’ve seen grow older since their days in Batman: The Animated Series. Now seasoned by time, each character grapples with their past in a new light, providing the film with emotional weight seldom seen in superhero narratives. Return of the Joker goes beyond action; it’s a poignant dive into the complexities of legacy and the lengths villains will go to craft their version of it.
4. Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)
Set between Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, this anthology offers six interlocking stories that push the boundaries of Batman’s mythology through various art styles and storytelling techniques. We also get the opportunity to see some of Batman’s formidable adversaries who never appeared in Nolan’s film trilogy, including the likes of Deadshot and Killer Croc.
Each segment of Batman: Gotham Knight is brought to life by different acclaimed animation studios in Japan, giving every story a distinct visual identity that reflects the multifaceted nature of Batman. From the fluid, almost ethereal movements in ‘Have I Got a Story for You,’ animated by Studio 4°C, to the gritty, hyper-detailed landscapes of ‘In Darkness Dwells’ by Production I.G, the anthology showcases a range of artistic expressions, showing that the character can transcend cultural and stylistic boundaries.
5. The Dark Knight Returns (2012/2013)
The Dark Knight Returns Parts 1 and 2 is a fairly faithful adaptation of Frank Miller’s groundbreaking comic into animated form. Directed with a keen eye for Miller’s gritty aesthetic by Jay Oliva, these films reunite us with a Bruce Wayne who has aged out of his Batman persona, only to find Gotham’s descent into chaos too dire to ignore. Voiced with gravitas by Peter Weller, an older, wearier Batman returns in a narrative that is as much a commentary on the nature of heroism as it is a thrilling superhero saga.
Between the intense showdown between Batman and the leader of the Mutants gang, the Joker’s chilling return to his anarchic ways, and the climactic battle between Batman and Superman, there are many thought-provoking explorations of differing ideologies. The stakes are personal, the action is exciting, and the narrative is complex and politically rich.
6. Batman: Year One (2011)
Another adaptation of Frank Miller’s work is Batman: Year One, based on the seminal 1987 comic of the same name. This animated movie delves into the dual origins of Bruce Wayne as Batman (voiced by Ben McKenzie, who played James Gordan in the Gotham TV series) and Jim Gordon (voiced by Bryan Cranston) arrival and evolution in Gotham City’s police department as he tries to keep his moral compass straight in a city rife with corruption. This is a tale of the beginnings of their complex relationship that would become a cornerstone of the Batman mythos.
7. The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)
Think Batman is all angst and brooding? Think again. The LEGO Batman Movie uses humor to dissect Batman’s loner archetype while delivering a heartfelt message about family, relationships, and accepting help from others.
Overall, it’s a clever satire of superhero conventions while simultaneously paying homage to the rich history of Batman in all its incarnations. With its rapid-fire jokes, visually stunning LEGO-built Gotham, and an all-star voice cast, including Will Arnett as Batman and Zach Galifianakis as the Joker, this movie is a top pick for fans and families alike.
8. Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014)
Batman takes a backseat to let the Suicide Squad shine as they infiltrate Arkham Asylum to retrieve crucial information from the Riddler. Loosely based on the Batman: Arkham video games, the film smartly uses Batman’s ever-looming presence to keep the Squad members scared of every shadow.
As the story unfolds, the intense, almost claustrophobic game of cat-and-mouse between Batman and the Squad sheds light on the darker facets of Batman’s war on crime. His single-minded pursuit of order, seen through the eyes of those he hunts, paints a complex picture of heroism mixed with a dark sense of humor and unflinching violence, marking it as a distinctly mature and edgy take on the Batman mythos.
9. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox dives deep into one of the pivotal moments in DC Comics lore, where a single, desperate act by The Flash alters reality itself. Alliances are shattered, and the Justice League as we know it is engulfed in turmoil. While The Flash serves as our entry point into this chaotic universe, it’s the film’s depiction of Batman that leaves a lasting impact.
In this twisted timeline, Batman uses guns and carries a flask of whiskey. Under the cowl is Thomas Wayne, who assumes the mantle of Batman after an unthinkable tragedy: the death of his son, Bruce, in that infamous alleyway. This twist of fate introduces audiences to a Batman driven not by the quest for justice but by the raw, unyielding pain of loss and the burning need for revenge.
This animated movie is one of the best Elseworld DC stories. It explores how a single change in events can cast our familiar heroes in a new light, showcasing the violence that could ensue when the world’s greatest protectors are at odds.
10. The Batman/Superman Movie: World’s Finest (1997)
This was one of my favorite movies to watch as a kid, so much so that I might have worn out the VHS tape (I know, ancient technology). This gem, originally a trio of episodes from “Superman: The Animated Series,” was cleverly stitched together to form a feature-length film that’s become a blast from the past where action, suspense, and the iconic partnership of Kevin Conroy’s Batman and Tim Daly’s Superman still captivates fans today.
Batman and Superman join forces to tackle the double threat of Lex Luthor (voiced by Clancy Brown), who has hired the Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill) to kill Superman with a massive Kryptonite weapon. Amid all the exciting fights, the film delivers an unexpectedly juicy love triangle involving Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, and Lois Lane (voiced by Dana Delany), which downright steals the show, offering a personal glimpse into the lives of our heroes when they’re not saving the world.
Best Batman Animated Movies: FAQs
Q: Can I watch these Batman animated movies without prior knowledge of the comics?
A: Absolutely! These animated movies are crafted to be enjoyed by longtime fans and newcomers alike. They often provide enough background for each character and story, making them accessible and enjoyable even if you haven’t delved into the comics.
Q: Which Batman animated movies are suitable for children?
A: The LEGO Batman Movie is a fantastic choice for kids, offering a fun and humorous take on the Batman universe that’s perfect for family viewing. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and The Batman/Superman Movie: World’s Finest also present stories that are engaging for younger audiences.
Q: How do the animated movies tie into the larger DC Universe?
A: The connection between the animated movies and the larger DC Universe varies. Many of the films, like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, are standalone stories that don’t require viewers to understand a larger continuity. Others, such as Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, are extensions of animated series like Batman: The Animated Series. Over the years, DC Animation has also developed its own interconnected universe with films that share continuity. Still, each movie typically stands on its own, making them accessible to a wide range of viewers.
Q: What’s the best order to watch these Batman animated movies?
A: While there’s no strict order necessary to enjoy these movies, watching them in relation to their connection with certain animated series or thematic content can enhance the experience. For origin stories, Batman: Year One is a great starting point. If you’re interested in movies tied to Batman: The Animated Series, watch Batman: Mask of the Phantasm before moving on to Batman Beyond titles. Batman: Under the Red Hood and The Dark Knight Returns parts 1 and 2 are excellent for exploring Batman’s later years. Ultimately, the viewing order is flexible.
Q: Where can I watch these Batman animated movies?
A: These movies are available across various streaming platforms, though availability can vary by location. For convenience and to ensure you can watch your favorite Batman movies anytime, you can use the links to purchase or rent these films on Amazon that are provided in the article.
Q: Will there be more Batman animated movies in the future?
A: Given Batman’s enduring popularity and the rich storytelling potential within the DC Universe, it’s highly likely we’ll see more animated Batman movies in the future. DC and Warner Bros. have a strong track record of exploring new stories and adaptations within the animated domain, ensuring the Dark Knight’s legacy continues to thrive on screen. We will be sure to update this article with new top picks as they are released.