Watching & Ranking All DC Animated Universe Movies

How much of your time I need: 4 minutes

Nerdy topic? Questionably interesting? Aren’t there better things you could do with your time? Is this your commitment to never getting laid again? Does this opening paragraph contain a juicy hook? Yes to all but one of those things, strap in anyway!

One of the things I’ve also been binging are the DC Animated Universe Movies. I’m going to give a brief rundown here and then discuss the structure of how rankings will work and reviews will appear over the next few weeks, followed by a final compilation of films from worst to best.

The DC Extended Universe receives considerable scrutiny for its absolutely trash live action series. Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice is probably the second worst movie I’ve ever seen in theaters after Quantum of Solace (so I’ve been spared a lot of suffering), but a litany of sequels and spin offs haven’t helped the series. Suicide Squad is also terrible, so bad that even the pretty awful (compared to the rest) Suicide Squad: Assault on Arkham animated film is quite possibly better.

It’s important to remember that like Wonder Woman, some of these movies are not just good, but great. In their own, small ways, they might even be groundbreaking. There are some special moments among what amounts to a lot of straight good-and-bad films, a motif DC hasn’t gotten away from until very recently with its New 52 reboot in 2011.

An important note: I have never read any of the comics. I’ve pored over plotlines on Wikipedia and elsewhere but at the end of the day I’m really just interested in entertainment and quality. Faithfulness to source material, something a lot of people value, will not necessarily factor in to rankings.

DC Animated Universe Scoring Guide

What will factor into my totally subjective rankings, and how much they’re worth:

  • Faithful approach to main characters, a novel approach to characters if the situation warrants (Flashpoint Paradox, anyone?), or otherwise creating something truly breathtaking.
    • Despite just telling you faithfulness isn’t important, this is like the foundation for any good film. It is the bread of the movie sandwich. Without great bread, you won’t have a great sandwich. Since most of these films include at least one of the big three and a few others, or all of them in a Justice League scenario, it’s important to keep the character setting intact.
    • Creativity is rewarded. Characters change, people change, even in the same universe. I’m not looking for cookie cutter heroes, just real ones displaying both their timeless attributes and the human element.
    • A perfect score here is ten points.
  • Watchability and rewatchability
    • You might never watch some of these again. You might watch others all the time. You might even think some of them are fucking masterpieces. Here we judge just how good these movies really are, in my opinion. If you can’t get through them and enjoy it again and again, were you really entertained? 
    • A perfect score here is worth ten points.
  • Quality of conflict
    • Life is not all about upping the ante, even for superheroes. Sometimes the universe is at stake, sometimes just one life is. But in the right dramatic context, those can be just as important.
    • This covers a whole host of the little things that make up a great plot. Tension, dialogue, circumstances, outcome. Superheroes are fallible, and they are stoppable. At least temporarily.
    • A perfect score here comes out to ten points.
  • “Explicit” content including violence, language, sexualization, drug use, and more. Superheroes killing people? It depends, but we can add some leeway here.
    • I’m a big fan of most of this kind of stuff, and the more there is the better, unrealistic body expectations or commentary between Flash and Green Lantern about their manhood generally notwithstanding.
    • You won’t see a lot of this until we’re beyond the New 52 reboot.
    • A perfect score here is worth five points.
  • Animation and aesthetic. I’ve included both of these together even though they’re a little bit different.
    • But Matt, how come this isn’t worth more? Aren’t you a true critic of the arts? No, I’m not. This gets rolled into watchability and rewatchability a bit, but it also should stand on its own because some of these movies are better animated than others.
    • A perfect score here is worth five points.
  • Unique or otherwise underutilized characters.
    • Some main characters, like Wonder Woman, are often criminally underused. Some, like Superman, could literally and figuratively block out the sun with their bloated screen times relative to how interesting a character they usually are. A great movie recipe features a mix between the Justice League or its constituents parts and everybody else, be they sidekicks, villains, or even the general public. But there is no perfect mixture, only Pareto points that maximize assets effectively. 
    • A perfect score here is worth five points.
  • Unique fighting, settings, environments, circumstances.
    • Finally, and this is a bit of a catch-all section too, not to mention driven by the comics. How interesting are what we’re all here for? Do battles mesmerize or fall flat? Do villains escalate the ante appropriately? Is there any bloat we need to make note of?
    • A perfect score here is worth five points.

There are a few other things I try to keep a look out for that I find very interesting, especially in a comic book setting. Some of them may not be your cup of tea but I think they’re usually worth mentioning. Passing the Bechdel test, a strong musical score, empowering characters that normally don’t receive too much attention, and creating “human” moments all give me that cozy feeling, but may not be worth any points.

DC Animated Universe Point Scale

Metric of EvaluationPoint Value
Approach to characterization10
Watchability and rewatchability10
Quality of conflict10
Explicit content5
Animation and aesthetic5
Unique or underused characters5
Unique fighting, circumstances, setting5
Total Points Available50

I want to stress here again that this is by absolutely no means an objective guide. People like different things. I am biased about many things. We will uncover them together.

DC Animated Universe Movies

There are “three different eras” of the DC Animated Universe. The first stretches from 1992 to 2006. Helmed by Bruce Timm, I’m just gonna be upfront with you guys and tell you this is probably the apex of DC in animation. Batman: The Animated Series (!!!!), The New Batman Adventures, Justice League and Justice League: UnlimitedBatman BeyondStatic Shock, and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm are unimpeachably some of the greatest programming DC ever produced.

The next two generations have only just started to stack up, and you’ll hear me talk about some of them from time to time. Right now, we’re on the third generation, the DCAMU (DC Animated Movie Universe). They sure don’t make it easy for us to keep up, do they?

When Do We Start?

Right now! Look here for chronological entries and check back here for links to each article.

Superman: Doomsday26Go
Justice League: The New Frontier
Batman: Gotham Knight
Wonder Woman
Green Lantern: First Flight
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
Batman: Under the Red Hood
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse
All-Star Superman
Green Lantern: Emerald Knights
Batman: Year One
Justice League: Doom
Superman vs. The Elite
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Superman: Unbound
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
Justice League: War
Son of Batman
Batman: Assault on Arkham
Justice League: Throne of Atlantis
Batman vs. Robin
Justice League: Gods and Monsters
Batman: Bad Blood
Justice League vs. Teen Titans
Batman: The Killing Joke
Justice League Dark
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract
Batman and Harley Quinn
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight
Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay
The Death of Superman
Total Points Available50
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