If you are only familiar with the live-action Batman movies then you are missing out on a wealth of great stories featuring the Caped Crusader. Since the early 1990s, Warner Bros. has produced a succession of animated features that either centre around Batman or feature the character in some capacity.
Some of these animated movies adapt Batman’s best-loved comic book stories. Others place the focus on new material, to introduce original characters and situations.
But if you are new to animated Batman movies, where do you start and more importantly, what do you need to know? In this post I will explain everything you need to know about animated Batman films in one handy guide.
What are Batman animated movies?
Batman animated movies are feature-length tales that either star or feature the Caped Crusader. The films are either original stories or are adaptations of existing stories (i.e. fan-favourite comic book adventures).
The animated features fall into a number of categories:
- Tie-ins to television shows – Films connected to an existing show
- Original movies – Adaptations or original stories, not connected to a television show
- Batman movies based on Lego characters – Movies based on Lego Batman characters
The titles include:
- Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
- Batman: Subzero (1998)
- Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)
- Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003)
- The Batman vs Dracula (2005)
- Justice League: The New Frontier (2008)
- Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)
- Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)
- Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)
- Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010)
- Under the Red Hood (2010)
- Batman: Year One (2011)
- Justice League: Doom (2012)
- The Dark Knight Returns – Part 1 (2012)
- The Dark Knight Returns – Part 2 (2013)
- Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)
- Lego Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite (2013)
- JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time (2014)
- Justice League: War (2014)
- Lego DC Comics: Batman Be-Leaguered (2014)
- Son of Batman (2014)
- Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014)
- The Lego Movie (2014)
- Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015)
- Batman vs. Robin (2015)
- Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015)
- Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts (2015)
- Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem (2015)
- Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League vs. Bizarro League (2015)
- Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League – Cosmic Clash (2016)
- Batman Unlimited: Mech vs. Mutants (2016)
- Batman: Bad Blood (2016)
- Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016)
- Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)
- Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016)
- Justice League Dark (2017)
- The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
- Batman and Harley Quinn (2017)
- Batman vs. Two-Face (2017)
- Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018)
- Batman Ninja (2018) – Japanese and American
- The Death of Superman (2018)
- Teen Titans GO! To the Movies (2018)
- Scooby-Doo! & Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2018)
- Reign of the Supermen (2019)
- The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)
- Justice League vs. the Fatal Five (2019)
- Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019)
- Batman Hush (2019)
As you can see, there are a large number of animated Batman films – and this list continues to grow. If you want to know more about these titles, including a guide to which films are connected, please click on the link to read my post ‘The best order to watch animated Batman films’.
How long have the animated Batman films been in production?
The first animated Batman movie was Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which was released in 1993. The movie starred Kevin Conroy as Batman, alongside Mark Hamill as the Joker and Dana Delany as Andrea Beaumont.
Mask of the Phantasm opened in US cinemas on Christmas Day and was later released on home video. Unfortunately, the film was not a success theatrically, but it was a huge hit on VHS which allowed Warner Bros. to see the potential in animated Batman features.
Batman: Subzero followed in 1998, but this time skipped the cinema entirely to become a direct-to-video release. Moving forward, the majority of Batman animated movies have been released direct-to-video – a pattern that has become very successful for the movies.
Between 1993 and 2006, the release of the movies was fairly sporadic, with new films popping up once every so often (1998, 2000, 2003, 2005 etc). From 2007 onward, the release schedule became more structured, with new films released on an annual basis.
Why? Because in 2007, Warner Bros. kick-started a new collection of animated movies under the banner heading, DC Universe Animated Original Movies. The series has resulted in a succession of films based on DC characters, with Batman being a key character in the line.
Films in this line have adapted iconic comic book tales, including The Killing Joke, The Court of Owls, Hush, Flashpoint and Year One, amongst others.
How often are animated Batman movies released?
As mentioned above, during the early days of animated Batman movies, the films were released sporadically, with no set pattern. Since 2007, Warner Bros.’ release schedule has been more targeted and includes annual releases – sometimes with more than one film per year, in large part due to the sheer amount of entries that appear in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies collection.
Not every DC Universe Animated Original Movie includes Batman, but the general rule of thumb is that the Caped Crusader appears in the majority of productions. Sometimes his inclusion is merely a cameo, but often he is the star of the film.
Are the Batman animated movies easy to follow?
The early productions – Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000), Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003) and The Batman vs Dracula (2005) – are connected to television shows. These movies were designed as standalone releases, so can be enjoyed as films in their own right, but can work better in the context of their respective shows.
The DC Universe Animated Original Movies were conceived as standalone films, which do not need any prior knowledge of the characters or the universe they inhabit. However, as the series has progressed, some of the films have followed on from each other to create their own continuity.
Some of The Lego Batman movies are connected – some are not.
Titles such as JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time (2014) can be watched purely as standalone titles.
As a general rule, all movies can be watched without worrying too much about continuity, unless made specifically clear. For example, in the case of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Part 1 (2012) and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Part 2 (2013), these films are best watched together.
Once again, my post on the best order to watch animated Batman films is your best friend here. This guide will help navigate you, should you get stuck.
What are the best Batman animated movies?
The good thing about Batman animated films is that most are well received. Warner Bros. understands its audience and aims to deliver motion pictures which respect the original source material or offer interesting new slants on the Batman mythology.
Some of the best received Batman animated movies include:
- Batman: Under the Red Hood – 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Part 1 – 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes
- Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox – 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes
- Mask of the Phantasm – 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes
- Batman Gotham Knight – 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes
Top recommendations include: Batman: Gotham Knight (2008), Justice League: Doom (2012), The Lego Batman Movie (2017), Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018), Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019), and Batman Hush (2019).
If you are unsure what animated Batman movies are correct for you, check out my post: ‘What Batman movie should I watch next?’, which should point you in the right direction.
Where can I watch Batman animated movies?
The majority of animated Batman films are available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital and can be purchased or rented from all major retailers (usually at a very reasonable price). A number of the films have been collected together on Blu-ray and DVD as boxsets.
Depending on your territory, some films are available on streaming services, including Amazon Prime Video and DC Universe. If you wish to work your way through all of the Batman animated movies, use the list above as a guide.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you wish to read more about the Batman animated movies, please take a look at my posts: ‘Every Batman animated film featuring Kevin Conroy’ and ‘Every Batman animated film featuring Jason O’Mara’, which should provide you with additional background information about some of the key actors involved in the films.