It's going to be a great month for fans of animated Batman movies.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is getting a long-awaited HD remaster and Blu-ray release, bringing the masterpiece to a new generation (and letting us original fans watch it on our big screens). On top of that, Bruce Timm's Batman and Harley Quinn debuts at San Diego Comic-Con, bringing the pair together as a team in what promises to be a fun adventure.
So what better time than now to look back at the history of Batman animation and attempt to rank every movie so far?
One caveat: We are not including the direct-to-DVD LEGO movies that are based on the video games -- yes, they have Batman in the title, but they were video game stories first. They're also super fun, so if you get through this list and need more, give 'em a shot.
Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003)
They can't all be solid gold. This movie was the last of the Batman: The Animated Series universe, and really, we could've done without it. This isn't the Batwoman of recent years that you've fallen in love with. It's a convoluted story with a double blind. The animation is a little off for the TAS universe, and the story just tries a bit too hard.
Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)
This anthology ostensibly takes place between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (remember The Animatrix? It's like that), but isn't necessarily in canon with Christopher Nolan's trilogy. Kevin Conroy voices Batman and the stories are written by amazing Bat-writers like Brian Azzarello, Greg Rucka and Alan Burnett. It's only this low on the list because it's not technically a feature-length film.
The Batman vs. Dracula (2005)
Based on the animated series The Batman, which fans thought never really got a fair shake, this has a slightly darker tone than usually featured on the show. It turns out Dracula was buried in Gotham Cemetery, because why not, and the Penguin accidentally revives him. The ensuing story includes a vampire Joker, human sacrifice and Alfred being a bit of a badass.
Batman Unlimited films (2015-2016)
The three Batman Unlimited films are a bit goofy and a bit more over-the-top but perfectly good fun for younger fans. Mechs vs. Monsters is probably the best of the three, as it's basically Pacific Rim with Gotham characters. Beautiful.
Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)
Sometimes, ambition turn out great. Sometimes, they reveal that some stories should just remain what they were originally. This is an unenviable case – the original The Killing Joke story by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland is much-beloved and is also too short to do a straight movie adaptation. The added backstory for Batgirl was … not well-received. Getting Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill's Batman and Joker together once more, though, is always worth at least the effort.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)
Admittedly, most of the points for this movie are in nostalgia. With Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Clancy Brown, CCH Pounder and more returning to the roles they made famous in the 'Timmverse' series of shows in the '90s, there's something pretty fun about just hearing their voices come out of the mouths of their old characters again. Unfortunately, the story dwarfs in comparison to that. There is, however, a giant robot Composite Superman and a pretty awesome fight between Superman/Batman and Captain Marvel (aka Shazam)/Hawkman in the mix.
Batman vs. Robin (2015)
The sequel to Son of Batman, this one doesn't quite reach the same heights as its predecessor. For some reason, rebellious Damian just doesn't work as well in film as it does in a serialized comic. However, we do get the Court of Owls (shortly before we got them on Gotham), and that's pretty cool.
Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014)
This is one shockingly violent movie. Assault on Arkham is set in the same universe as the Batman: Arkham games and is a sequel to Arkham Origins, where we saw the first hints of the Suicide Squad coming to be in that world. You get Kevin Conroy as Batman, Troy Baker as Joker, CCH Pounder as Amanda Waller and a story that sees the Suicide Squad taking on a litany of Batman villains as they tear through Gotham and Arkham. All the while, Batman is trying to find a bomb Joker hid, Harley and Deadshot have a bit of a thing, and there's violence. So much violence. It's fun.
Batman: Bad Blood (2016)
Despite our deepest hopes, Jay Oliva's film, in the modern DCAU, is not soundtracked by Taylor Swift. However, despite it being a "Batman" movie, it's actually more about the absence of Batman. If you're reading and enjoying the current Detective Comics run, you'll love this film, which features Batwoman leading a team of Nightwing, Robin (Damian) and Batwing. They fight Heretic and Mad Hatter and tease the introduction of Batgirl into this universe. It's a lot of fun, and Nightwing especially has an awesome moment with Batman.
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010)
The sequel to Public Enemies, this is barely a Batman movie – or even a Superman movie – despite the title. This really is a Supergirl origin story, and it's based on Michael Turner's art, which automatically bumps it up a few slots. Again, Batman's role in this film is considerably subdued, or else it'd be much higher on the list. The fight between Superman and Darkseid is incredible, and Kara training with Wonder Woman and the Amazons on Themyscira is glorious.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012-2013)
This is not an easy story to adapt in any way, but luckily they had Jay Oliva to direct. It's a two-parter, as WB Animation knew they had to give the story room to breathe. It's brilliant, with some great voicework all around, though perhaps none more chilling than Michael Emerson's aged Joker. A film that actually lives up to the original comic, especially Part 1 (Part 2 fizzles ever so slightly).
Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998)
Another movie spun from Batman: The Animated Series, it's tough to follow the first Mr. Freeze story from the show, which is one of the best episodes of the entire series. Like that episode, it's easy to sympathize with Mr. Freeze … until he decides to kidnap Barbara Gordon and steal her organs. It has a lot of emotion and really shows the potential of animation for this kind of deep storytelling.
Son of Batman (2014)
The introduction of Damian Wayne into the modern DC Animated Universe, this adapted a Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert story, so it was certainly set up for success. We get the League of Assassins, Slade Wilson, Damian, Talia and Man-Bat ninjas. MAN-BAT. NINJAS. The story also features a great take on Nightwing, voiced by Sean Maher, and of course, we get to see the new Robin costume, which looks pretty dang great in animation.
Batman: Year One (2011)
Another solid adaptation (but not the best – that's coming further down the list), this is one of the better attempts at telling a real, sophisticated, adult story in a Batman animated film. There are moments that look like they've genuinely leapt off the page as Mazzucchelli's art comes to life. It's a little short, but that's because they elected not to add any extraneous scenes to the story (like they wound up doing with The Killing Joke).
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016)
It's something no one expected: the 1960s Batman series cast reunited in 2016. Yes, Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar returned as Batman, Robin and Catwoman for a super-fun movie that recaptures the feeling only that original show could provide. Joker, Penguin and Riddler also show up, in their Batman’66 style, and the crew goes to space in a Bat-Rocket. A BAT-ROCKET. Before Adam West passed earlier this year, he recorded his audio for the sequel, Batman vs. Two-Face, which will feature William Shatner as the double-sided villain. We can't wait.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)
The glory of this movie, from the team that brought us Batman Beyond, is that you truly don't need any context from the show to "get it." This film stands alone (though if you do have the context it's an even better experience) and tells a heart-wrenching story of fathers and sons, of legacy, of personality, of decisions and consequences. It's a stunner of a movie, and on any given day could jump into any of the top 3 spots, too.
The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)
The most recent entry on the list is only the second theatrical animated Batman film, and it's also the most purely fun one. This movie is a zany adventure and runs the gauntlet of basically every major Bat-villain, but it also gets into a genuine journey for an understanding of self on the part of Batman. There are also some amazing nods to the whole history of Batman to stroke the ol' nostalgia bone. If this is the future of theatrical Batman animation, we're okay.
Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
Here's a case of an adaptation quite possibly exceeding the original material. Batman: Under the Red Hood had the comic's writer, Judd Winick, director Brandon Vietti (Young Justice) and producer Bruce Timm (Batman: TAS) behind it. Yeah, that's a pretty good start. The story of fathers and sons (yes, it's a common theme in Batman movies) is simply brilliant, with some of the best-choreographed fight and action sequences that have ever been seen in any superhero movie. The performances by Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles and Neil Patrick Harris as Batman, Jason Todd/Red Hood and Dick Grayson/Nightwing are outstanding, and the ending is a genuinely gut-wrenching moment.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Finally coming to Blu-ray this month, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is absolutely the best of the bunch. This is a masterclass in emotional storytelling, with real emotional stakes. Honestly, this movie is arguably the best Batman movie of all time, not just animated. It got a last-minute theatrical release, and though it didn't exactly soar in theaters, it was soon held in high esteem by fans and portrays the relationship between Alfred and Bruce better than just about any other Batman story ever. It's a must-watch, and luckily you'll be able to in a new hi-definition release very soon.