The Dark Knight. The Caped Crusader. The World’s Greatest Detective. Gotham’s Guardian. No matter what designation or moniker he’s referred to, only one Batman exists. Perhaps the most popular figure in DC’s history, Batman has been featured in numerous comics, TV shows, movies, and video games over the years, many of which do a judicious job focusing on his attempts to overcome crime in Gotham City.
Along with the numerous live-action movies based on the character, plenty of similarly exceptional animated films follow Batman as he attempts to keep the crime-ridden streets of Gotham safe for the average person. In some cases, these animated movies more than measure up to the heights set by previous interpretations of the character in live-action films – sometimes even surpassing them.
From early spin-offs of fan-favorite animated series to adaptations of timeless comic book storylines, here are the greatest Batman animated movies of all time, ranked from best to worst.
1 – Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Perhaps the most important non-live-action film in DC’s filmography, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was responsible for launching the DC Animated Universe, ushering in several decades of straight-to-video releases based on the company’s many characters. Like many films released over the years, though, Mask of the Phantasm easily remains the best. A loving continuation of Batman: The Animated Series, its PG rating allowed for a notably darker portrayal of Kevin Conroy’s animated Dark Knight, complete with a macabre murder mystery involving femme fatales, aged gangsters, and Mark Hamill’s delightfully sadistic Joker.
2 – The Lego Batman Movie
Yes, The Lego Batman Movie isn’t actually connected to the DC Animated Universe. However, it’d be a bald-faced mistake not to include it on this list, given how supremely entertaining it is from start to finish. Retaining the same creativity and humor that made the first Lego Movie so memorably great in the first place, The Lego Batman Movie offers an uncharacteristically hilarious interpretation of its lead character, brilliantly voiced by Will Arnett. Not only that, but it’s also the only Batman movie out there to feature the Joker (Zach Galifianakis), Batgirl (Rosario Dawson), Sauron (Jemaine Clement), Lord Voldemort (Eddie Izzard), and the T-Rex from Jurassic Park. That’s got to count for something, right?
3 – Batman: Under the Red Hood
The Red Hood isn’t nearly as recognizable a villain as the Joker, Two-Face, or Bane. Still, when he’s featured in a prominent role opposite the Dark Knight, he often makes for an extraordinarily compelling antagonist, something best seen in 2010’s Batman: Under the Red Hood. Casting the Jason Todd incarnation of Robin as the titular character, Under the Red Hood benefits from the fascinating dynamic that exists between Batman and his former Robin, expertly weaving in figures like Ra's al Ghul (Jason Isaacs), Black Mask (Wade Williams), and a very Heath Ledger-esque Joker (John DiMaggio).
4 – Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
The Dark Knight Returns has the distinction of being among the finest Batman stories ever written. With how dense Frank Miller’s story is, the resulting film is split into succinct parts, each of which is incredible in its own right. Focusing on Batman’s return after a lengthy retirement, the film’s interpretation of a dystopian Gotham is both grim and unsettling, helping make its setting drastically different from anything that came before it. With Miller’s characteristic hard-boiled text providing its backbone, it’s a suitably noirish take on Gotham City and its inhabitants.
5 – Batman: The Long Halloween
The genius of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s celebrated Batman: The Long Halloween is how expertly it incorporates time and DC’s vast assortment of Batman-related characters. Fortunately, these qualities are retained in its 2021 animated adaptation. Packed to the brim with Batman’s most dangerous adversaries in primarily supporting roles (like Joker, Penguin, Scarecrow, and Poison Ivy), The Long Halloween also excels as a structurally sound noir mystery. Who exactly is the mysterious Holiday killer? Such a simple question allows the filmmakers to examine the darker aspects of each suspect involved, be it Selina Kyle, Harvey Dent, or Carmine Falcone.
6 – Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
On paper, the idea of a crossover between Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles simply doesn’t sound like it would work. Far from feeling like a mismatched combination, the best thing about 2019’s Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the hilarious juxtaposition between the fun-loving heroes in a half shell and Gotham City’s brooding protector. Battling the joint partnership of Shredder (Andrew Kishino) and Ra's al Ghul (Cas Anvar), Batman, Robin, Batgirl, and the Turtles make for a surprisingly effective group pairing, paving the way for plenty of comedy and action.
7 – Batman: Hush
In many ways, Batman: Hush is directly comparable to Batman: The Long Halloween. Not only was each story written by Jeph Loeb, but they also share several overarching similarities in themes and characterization, each focusing on a central mystery the World’s Greatest Detective is trying to unravel. The crucial difference between the two is the fact that Hush helps introduce a startlingly new (and wholly terrifying) new character to the Batman canon in the form of Hush. This antagonist will make your skin crawl for a slew of reasons. Boasting yet another satisfying mystery with elements of a whodunit added for dramatic effect, it’s one of the best DC animated movies of the past few years.
8 – Batman: Year One
Only slightly less celebrated than The Dark Knight Returns is Frank Miller’s 1987 follow-up, Batman: Year One, which was later made into a 2011 animated movie of the same name. Diving into Batman’s earliest adventures as a crimefighter and his initial encounters with disillusioned street cop Jim Gordon, it’s a wonderfully grounded film that presents Gotham as a three-dimensional city filled with unchecked crime and criminals unafraid of repercussions.
9 – Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
For many people, Mark Hamill’s iteration of the Joker is the definitive greatest, beating out other close contenders like Jack Nicholson, Joaquin Phoenix, and Heath Ledger. Getting his start on Batman: The Animated Series, Hamill’s portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime was both comedic and frequently horrifying, qualities that set him apart from other Joker actors before or since. With how loved his take on the character was, it shouldn’t be surprising that Hamill would return to voice the Joker in dozens of movies and video games since, including 2000’s animated film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. At the time, Return of the Joker’s unedited cut was notable for being the first PG-13 Batman animated film, offering a far darker addition to the animated universe of Batman Beyond than anything released.
10 – Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero
Following in the footsteps of 1993’s Batman: Mask of the Phantasm came 1998’s Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero. Released three years after the formal conclusion of Batman: The Animated Series, the film picks up where the show left off, filling the narrative gap between Batman and The New Batman Adventures. Like the critically praised Batman episode, “Heart of Ice,” the movie turns its attention towards the tragically misunderstood Mr. Freeze, creating a profound sense of warmth and understanding around the otherwise frosty anti-villain.
11 – Batman vs. Robin
If Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero is an in-depth examination of Mr. Freeze, 2015’s Batman vs. Robin is an equally stellar deconstruction of the Damian Wayne-era Robin (voiced by Sean Maher). Introducing aspects of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Court of Owls” storyline, the movie serves as a thoughtful introduction to Damian’s character for anyone unfamiliar with who he is, as well as a rich breakdown of his personality for people more familiar with Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul’s son.
12 – Batman: Soul of the Dragon
If Quentin Tarantino ever directed a Batman film, there’s a good chance it’d look like this. Set in the swinging 1970s, Batman: Soul of the Dragon is an homage to DC’s kitschy Bronze Age and several niche genres that were in vogue at the time (Bruce Lee-style kung fu films and blaxploitation movies in particular). With memorable appearances from little-known DC heroes like Richard Dragon, Lady Shiva, and Bronze Tiger, it’s a fun and lightweight film that is a welcome break from the usual darker stories inherently tied to the Caped Crusader.
13 – Batman: Assault on Arkham
Set within the overall continuity of the popular Batman: Arkham video game series, Assault on Arkham takes place sometime after Arkham Origins and roughly two years before Arkham Asylum. Like every entry in the Arkham series, it features a healthy assortment of Batman villains, staying true to the characters and universe of the Arkham series. Fitting neatly into the Arkham timeline, it also adds a degree of characterization to its main characters, better exploring undervalued minor villains like Deadshot while also introducing other DC foes outside of Batman’s rogues gallery, like Killer Frost and Captain Boomerang.
14 – Batman: Death in the Family
Robin’s death remains one of the most shocking moments in Batman’s comic book history, all of which is dramatically detailed in the pages of 1986’s “Death in the Family” storyline. Later adapted into a 2020 animated film, Batman: Death in the Family managed to retain the original comic’s interactive component, allowing viewers to pick and choose the narrative progression of its central story. This loose structure makes Batman: Death in the Family one of the more interesting entries in the Batman filmography, giving viewers the chance to control their very own Batman story.
15 – Batman: Gotham Knight
A lesser-known supporting piece in Christopher Nolan’s universally praised Dark Knight trilogy, Batman: Gotham Knight is set between 2005’s Batman Begins and 2008’s The Dark Knight, following Batman as he continues his one-man war against crime in Gotham. Akin to The Animatrix, it’s an anthology piece that adds some interesting stories to Nolan’s hyper-realistic take on the world of Batman – including tales featuring Scarecrow, Deadshot, and even Killer Croc. It may not match the same grounded realism Nolan attains in his films. Still, Gotham Knight does an admirable job continuing Batman’s crusade against crime and corruption in Gotham, dealing with some of the city’s most disreputable figures along the way.