Animated Achievements1 of 12
Translating comic books to animation makes perfect sense - it's been going on since the beginnings of both mediums. Animation can be uniquely suited to capture the look and action of comic books, with budget and scope never being an issue for fully realizing the often elaborate story elements.
And though live-action superhero films currently dominate the box office, Sony's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is currently dominating the conversation among fans and critics.
With that in mind, we're looking back at the best animated superhero films of all time. Did your favorite make the list? Read on to find out!
Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker2 of 12
Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's DC universe did more than just exist in the "present day," it also went about 40 years into the future, where Bruce Wayne had retired and a new kid, Terry McGinnis had taken up the mantle under Wayne's tutelage. The TV series Batman Beyond was a fan-favorite, but the high point was the feature length film that showed how the Joker returned despite dying at the hands of well, we won't tell you here.
This movie had Tim Drake, Nightwing, Harley Quinn, and Barbara Gordon. It had crazy plot twists, amazing action, and scenes set in the past and future. it had Mark Hamill and Arleen Sorkin as just the start of a voice cast that reads as a who's who. And of course, the plot to the movie itself is just incredible. It's a testament not just to how cool Batman is, but how enduring his greatest foe is, as well.
Planet Hulk3 of 12
While Marvel and Universal can't seem to get along enough to do another live-action Hulk movie, Marvel did the next best thing: adapted the storyline on the lips of everyone wanting a another feature film with Planet Hulk. (which the Thor movie franchise listened to and did in their own way with Thor: Ragnarok.)
Greg Pak and Carlo Pagulayan's story thrives in animation thanks to the work of Madhouse. As one of Japan's most thriving anime houses, Madhouse brought an energy rarely seen in American-centric storytelling to Planet Hulk - and Hulk benefited from that, both in the visual style as well as the pacing.
With frequent Marvel voice actor Rick D. Wasserman in the title role, Madhouse and Marvel Animation managed to cohesively introduce a plethora of new characters while still making it a Hulk-centric story.
The LEGO Batman Movie4 of 12
This isn't like any Batman you've seen before - and that's okay.
Spinning out of the ultra-successful The LEGO Movie, Will Arnett's self-aggrandizing LEGO Batman is wittier than any Dark Knight you've ever read/seen before, but amazingly all the jokes land - as do those of his supporting cast.
This is Batman in full 'Jerk' mode, which allows the cast and crew to deconstruct the looming mythos of Batman, going full meta without getting stuck on itself. Coming just months after 20th Century Fox's Deadpool, The LEGO Batman Movie is a PG answer to that using Batman - but in cartoon, LEGO brick form.
All-Star Superman5 of 12
There have been great animated movies based on original screenplays, but if you do base it off specific source material, it never hurts to have something as great as Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman to build on, as Dwayne McDuffie did when he expertly took the original 12 issue series and pulled it into a cohesive feature-length screenplay.
The surprise voice casting of James Denton in the title role might have been a little bit jarring for long-time DC animated fans, but the former Desperate Housewives star really excelled beyond just what's on his IMDb resume here.
For fans who weren't too pleased with Man of Steel or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as a modern definitive Superman movie, this 2011 gem has exactly what you need.
Batman: Under The Red Hood6 of 12
In one of the quickest turnarounds from comic books to animation, 2010's Batman: Under the Red Hood took its cues from the 2005-2006 Judd Winick-written "Under the Hood" story which detailed former Robin Jason Todd's return to life as a dangerous antihero, following his newsworthy demise at the hands of the Joker in "A Death in the Family."
That's some heavy (and complicated) material to handle in a single animated feature, and it helped that Winick himself wrote the screenplay (a pattern that continued in 2012's Superman vs. The Elite, written by Joe Kelly).
The work of renowned casting/vocal director Andrea Romano yielded some unconventional yet effective choices for Under the Red Hood, including Bruce Greenwood as Batman, Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing, Supernatural's Jensen Ackles as Jason Todd, and John "Bender" DiMaggio as the Joker.
Justice League: The New Frontier7 of 12
The film adaptation of Darwyn Cooke's six-issue epic bringing the DC heroes back into the Golden Age is something special. Not only was this the second in Warner's DC Universe Animated Original Movies, but it bucked all expectations by keeping the 1950s setting, and managing to successfully animate Cooke's artwork in a way that made it seem to jump off the page.
The 75pminute limit to Warner's DC movies reared its ugly head here, cutting some of the subplots out and leaving many fans wishing it could have been split in two. The story is a familiar one — the heroes of DC Comics come together to defeat an alien threat — but the process of getting there is unique.
New Frontier is also notable for one of the best Wonder Woman scenes ever put to screen, with Lucy Lawless voicing the original Warrior princess.
Big Hero 68 of 12
Big Hero 6 is a animated powerhouse that used it's relative obscurity in comic books to its advantage in segueing to the big screen.
Like a Cinderella story in real life, Walt Disney Animation plucked the Big Hero 6 concept from Marvel's back issue bin after they acquired the publisher, and taking the comic books as a first draft, elaborating, expanding and adding a heaping helping of charm to make this 20 year-old concept feel as fresh as an apple plucked right from the tree.
With technical prowess out the wazoo in terms of animation (especially in regards to the microbots), Walt Disney Animation Studios turned this from a Marvel after-thought into a story you were (and still are) surprised Marvel hasn't taken advantage of back in the source comic books.
While for Disney fans it still falls into the immense shadow of Frozen, Big Hero 6 is the little engine that could - even if comic book fans aren't that quick to accept it as one of their own.
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox9 of 12
Some might say our list is a bit Justice League heavy - but that probably just means you haven't seen this film.
Based on 2011's Flashpoint comic book crossover, this animated movie is arguably better than it's source material - thanks to the need to be standalone. The 81-minute time limit forced screenwriter James Krieg and director Jay Oliva to streamline the story to focus on Flash's core story, and even going so far as beefing that up even with the expanded part of Professor Zoom.
And you can't talk about this movie without talking about that death scene, which is even more graphic than Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert's original comic book. For some it's still a bone of contention (especially considering it was rated PG-13), but for others including us seeing it as the punctuation the original comic book sorely missed.
Warner Bros. relies on its talented bench of DC voice actors, while bringing in some a-list additions like Kevin McKidd as Thomas Wayne and C. Thomas Howell as Eobard Thawne. If you liked David Tennant's creepy Kilgrave in Jessica Jones, wait until you get a load of Zoom.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm10 of 12
Sandwiched between live-action films Batman Returns and Batman Forever, 1993's Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was an extension of the celebrated Batman: The Animated Series, and offered a take on the Dark Knight very different from Tim Burton's or Joel Schumacher's.
Mask of the Phantasm was a 76-minute testament to the stylish storytelling power of B:TAS, encapsulating much of what was so great about that show in a slightly different form. Though there was Batman and the Joker, it introduced a wholly new element to the mythos in the form of Andrew Beaumont/The Phantasm, who later appeared in animated series tie-in comics and Justice League Unlimited.
The fact that Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was the first film on the list to be released theatrically doesn't give it prestige by itself, but it is certainly notable, and a testament to the quality and appeal of this take on Batman, even if its box office impact was small.
Mask of the Phantasm helped inspire just about all of the films on this list, and especially subsequent Batman animated features like SubZero.
25 years later, while animation innovations have outpaced Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, it can't take away the potency and craftsmanship of the original.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse11 of 12
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse may be the newest entry on this list, but it’s proof positive of the kind of storytelling power superhero animation can have when it’s given the same level of attention and care that live-action films receive.
Though it stays staunchly in its all-ages demographic, Into the Spider-Verse takes care to never talk down to its audience – and to embrace its comic book roots with gusto, crafting a visual language unlike anything seen in other superhero films.
While Sony’s groundbreaking animation department (which created brand new software to properly render the vision of the film) deserve all the credit in the world, the other elements that create the story – the writing, direction, and voice cast – all come together to create a truly unique superhero movie experience, let alone animated feature.
Perhaps best of all is the message of Into the Spider-Verse, a 21st century take on the idea of great power and great responsibility – the idea that the “real” Spider-Man is anyone who does what is in their power to help, to make people safer and more whole. Spider-Man is anyone who puts on the mask and takes a swing – and that’s a message that ties Spider-Verse up in a captivating bow.
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