Batman: Under The Red Hood
Batman: Under the Red Hood is an adaptation of an existing DC comic storyline, but it succeeded in bringing the story of the Red Hood to a larger audience. Both comic and film achieved the remarkable goal of bringing Jason Todd back to life. Todd, the much-maligned Robin who was once voted by fans to die, was depicted in such a way to make people actually care about him. The central mystery of Under the Red Hood is exciting enough, but it’s the hard-hitting action and drama after the reveal that really makes the plot strong. This is a much more personal Batman story than anything yet seen on the big screen.
- Actors: Neil Patrick Harris, Jensen Ackles, Kelly Hu, Jason Isaacs, Bruce Greenwood
- Released: 2010
- Directed by: Brandon Vietti
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox is really more of a Flash movie than a Justice League movie, but it’s no less awesome for it. The Flashpoint event in the comics helped reset DC continuity, and the film version also helped kick off a new animated continuity. Flashpoint Paradox does what very few superhero films have successfully done, by making time travel work as a concept. Flash’s time-meddling results in a wildly different and deliciously dark DC universe, where Thomas Wayne is Batman and Aquaman is at war with Wonder Woman. The world of Flashpoint is just plain cool, and there’s an excellent plot to boot.
- Actors: Dana Delany, Nathan Fillion, Ron Perlman, Kevin McKidd, Michael B. Jordan
- Released: 2013
- Directed by: Jay Oliva
Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is one of the first feature-length animated comic book films. It actually received a theatrical release in 1993. Heavily influenced by the successful Batman: The Animated Series, the movie lived up to the hype. It’s regarded as one of the best Batman stories out there, and certainly as one of the greatest mysteries that Bruce Wayne ever solved. The plot features roles for several of Batman’s greatest enemies, but it’s the reveal of the true identity of the titular Phantasm that makes it a memorable story.
- Actors: Mark Hamill, Dana Delany, Marilu Henner, Abe Vigoda, Stacy Keach
- Released: 1993
- Directed by: Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski
Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker takes place in the far-flung future of Gotham City, where Bruce Wayne has long since retired, replaced by young Terry McGinnis. McGinnis uses a tech-heavy Batsuit to become Batman Beyond. This feature film adventure is easily the highlight of the entire Batman Beyond concept, crafting a dark tale that examines the legacies of both the Batman and the Joker. Throw in an important role for Tim Drake, the most unheralded Robin, and you’ve got the makings of a futuristic classic.
- Actors: Angie Harmon, Mark Hamill, Melissa Joan Hart, Rachael Leigh Cook, Teri Garr
- Released: 2000
- Directed by: Curt Geda
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Simply put, The Dark Knight Returns is one of the greatest graphic novels ever made. Thus, it’s no surprise that the animated version, which is essentially a shot-for-shot adaptation, is also amazing. The film was split into two parts, and is incredibly faithful to Frank Miller’s ever-relevant masterpiece. The only thing the film is missing when compared to the comics is Batman’s inner monologue, but the movie more than makes up for it with beautifully rendered action sequences. Batman and the Joker’s battle in the Tunnel of Love is a particularly memorable moment, and perhaps their greatest battle on film to date.
- Actors: Ariel Winter, Michael Emerson, Peter Weller, Michael McKean, Mark Valley
- Released: 2012
- Directed by: Jay Oliva
Justice League: Doom
Justice League: Doom is a loose adaptation of the classic Tower of Babel storyline from the comics. In both stories, the Justice League find themselves facing a more formidable and organized set of antagonists than any that have appeared in the Marvel or DC cinematic universes. The villains have gained an advantage over the JLA by stealing a secret set of schematics from Batman, in which he dreamed up the perfect methods to defeat his teammates. It’s both the perfect example of why Batman is such a badass and why he’s not a great friend.
- Actors: Nathan Fillion, Olivia d’Abo, Juliet Landau, Claudia Black, Michael Rosenbaum
- Released: 2012
- Directed by: Lauren Montgomery
The Incredibles is the greatest Fantastic Four movie ever made in everything but name. Whereas Fox Studios has produced several floppy attempts at getting a FF franchise off the ground, Disney’s Pixar already seems to have perfected the formula for a family superhero team with their 2004 classic. The Incredibles, who are essentially an off-brand version of the Fantastic Four, are energetic, likeable, and interact with each other in realistic and believable ways like a real family. Who knew that people would enjoy superhero movies that were actually fun to watch?
- Actors: Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, Craig T. Nelson, Wallace Shawn
- Released: 2004
- Directed by: Brad Bird
Batman: Assault On Arkham
Batman: Assault on Arkham offers a glimpse at what a good R-rated DC movie could look like. In fact, Assault on Arkham is less a Batman movie and more of a Suicide Squad film with a Batman cameo. Assault on Arkham features Squad favorites like Deadshot, Harley Quinn, and Captain Boomerang, but doesn’t shy away from having them actually commit awful and violent acts, unlike the live action version. The plot features a small and tight location, which makes a lot more sense for a black ops team than the live-action film’s citywide romp.
- Actors: Matthew Gray Gubler, Neal McDonough, Kevin Conroy, Hynden Walch
- Released: 2014
- Directed by: Jay Oliva, Ethan Spaulding
Batman Vs. Robin
Batman vs. Robin doesn’t exactly deliver on its title’s promise, but it does deliver an excellent, action-packed film. Batman vs. Robin features the Damian Wayne version of Robin, making this a sequel to Batman and Son (an excellent animated film in its own right). Batman vs. Robin is the animated debut of the Court of Owls, a highly impactful group of Batman antagonists that tries to recruit his son to their team of assassins. In the end, it’s more of a Batman and Robin team-up than a true battle between them, but it’s probably better that way.
Big Hero 6
Big Hero 6 is the first animated film since Disney purchased Marvel. Nonetheless, Disney hit it out of the park with their first try, as Big Hero 6 was a critical success and a fan favorite. The film took a very obscure team from the comics and crafted a sweet, heartfelt, and downright funny tale from their limited published history. Surprisingly, Baymax became the breakout character of the year.
- Actors: Jamie Chung, Maya Rudolph, Génesis Rodríguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk
- Released: 2014
- Directed by: Chris Williams, Don Hall
Planet Hulk is an adaptation of one of the most popular Hulk stories ever, in which Hulk finds himself marooned on an alien planet and forced into gladiatorial combat. It’s basically Gladiator starring the Hulk, and that might be the greatest pitch ever made for a movie. Despite featuring more than its fair share of action, Planet Hulk also succeeds at humanizing the jade giant in a way that’s rarely achieved. In addition, Planet Hulk features a great battle between Hulk and the Silver Surfer that isn’t possible in the Marvel Cinematic Universe due to rights issues.
Hulk Vs was a two-part feature that gave the world the kind of Hulk action that has only been sparingly seen in theaters. The Hulk usually only gets to unleash for a few minutes in each of his live-action movie appearances, but Hulk Vs saw him going all out against Thor and Wolverine for over an hour each. The features are light on plot and heavy on action, but that’s perfect for a story centering around a giant, green, raging monster. In addition to the central roles played by Thor and Wolverine, Hulk Vs also features cameos from the likes of Loki, Sabretooth, and even Deadpool.
- Actors: Graham McTavish, Nolan North, Fred Tatasciore, Kari Wahlgren, Steven Blum
- Released: 2009
- Directed by: Sam Liu, Frank Paur
Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme
2016’s Doctor Strange was a hit for Marvel Studios. The film did an admirable job of portraying Stephen Strange’s origin story, but the animated version that preceded it by almost a decade was arguably better. Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme tells the same basic story as the live-action version, with Strange seeking out the Ancient One, learning the mystic arts, and battling Baron Mordo and Dormammu. However, the animated medium allows for a more inventive and true-to-the-comics depiction of all that magical mumbo jumbo.
- Actors: Kevin Michael Richardson, Tara Strong, Phil LaMarr, Fred Tatasciore, Josh Keaton
- Released: 2007
- Directed by: Frank Paur, Dick Sebast, Patrick Archibald, Jay Oliva
Ultimate Avengers 1 And 2
Ultimate Avengers 1 and 2 are like The Avengers, but more extreme. They’re two animated films based on Marvel’s Ultimate line of comics, which took their most famous characters and concepts and updated them for a modern audience. In fact, the Marvel Cinematic Universe borrows heavily from the Ultimate brand, which means that there are several moments in these two animated movies that would eventually show up in the live-action version. Still, Ultimate Avengers had way more leeway when it came to depicting violence, leading to a much more brutal battle with the Chitauri and even some heroic sacrifices.