Have the DC live-action movies let you down one too many times? Nonsensical plot decisions, slow pacing, and questionable casting are just a few of their problems…
You wouldn’t be the first among audiences who are disappointed in DC’s big screen releases. Which is a shame, because the DC Universe has so much greatness to offer.
Don’t give up on your favorite superheroes yet! There’s another option to explore: DC Universe animated originals.
These direct-to-video releases bring what you love about DC comics straight to your screen. There are dozens of DC animated films you can stream online, and many are on HBO Max.
Here are the best animated DC originals you can stream right now on HBO Max. They’ll do what the DC live-action movies couldn’t.
Don’t have HBO Max? For a limited time, you can get 50% OFF if you sign up for 6 months. HBO doesn’t run sales very often, so now’s a great chance to catch up on HBO content!
Batman: Year One is an adaptation of the 1987 Frank Miller comic, and serves as an origin story for Batman and Gordon’s crime-fighting partnership.
Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordan have just arrived in Gotham and they’re not happy with what they see.
Bruce Wayne has been abroad for twelve years honing his fighting skills. Jim Gordon has just transferred to the Gotham City Police department from Chicago with his pregnant wife, Barbara.
They’re both determined to do something about the crime and corruption plaguing the city!
Jim Gordon begins the perilous job of cleaning up the police force while Bruce Wayne has a go at vigilantism to clean up the streets of Gotham. It’s a rocky start for both of them, but they eventually gain their footing and make progress.
It introduces a few minor characters such as Alfred, Carmine Falcone, Harvey Dent, and Selina Kyle—and eventually mentions The Joker at the very end.
This is a great version of a Batman origin story. It hits all of the right beats and provides a convincing explanation as to why Gordon has always been so loyal to Batman.
Batman: Bad Blood is a sequel to 2015’s Batman vs. Robin. The movie begins with Batman gone missing and presumed dead after an explosion during a fight with a masked man known as “The Heretic.”
Nightwing takes up Batman’s role in an attempt to hide his possible death from Gotham, and eventually teams up with Batwoman and Batman’s son Damian (Robin). Not believing that Batman is dead, they begin investigating The Heretic.
Batman doesn’t have a lot of screen time in this one. A Batman movie without much Batman doesn’t seem like it’d be a good movie—but they made it work here. The Robin-Batwoman-Nightwing trio turns out to be a winning recipe.
Bad Blood is a fast-paced, action-packed movie with snappy dialogue and fantastically choreographed fight scenes from beginning to end.
When I realized that Batman was not going to be featured much, I did feel a little cheated… But by the end, I was won over by the solid plot, great animation, and dynamic characters.
Superman: Red Son explores a fascinating scenario: What if Superman had landed in the USSR instead of the US?
In this movie adaptation of the 2003 Elseworlds comic by Mark Millar, Superman’s ship lands in the Ukraine instead of Kansas. He’s raised in Soviet Russia and revealed to the world in 1955 as a mega-weapon under the influence of Joseph Stalin.
Eventually, Superman takes up the mantle as the Leader of the Soviet Union and uses his powers to advance the Soviet cause around the world.
Red Son is a really cool alternate history take on a character that has had many bland iterations in the past. I would love to see DC do more animated movies where superheroes influence history!
If you aren’t familiar with the events of at least a few of the previous movies in the DC Animated Universe, then you’re going to have no idea what’s going on in Apokolips War.
This movie drops you right in the middle of ongoing storylines and character relationships, and makes no effort to explain what’s happening if you don’t already know.
But for those familiar with the franchise, Apokolips War is a fast-paced and satisfying conclusion to the animated Justice League saga. This movie is packed with action and earns its R rating.
So much happens here: Superman loses his powers, Wonder Woman is turned into an evil cyborg, and Batman becomes a menacing Darth Vader-like figure mentally enslaved by the genocidal cosmic warlord Darkseid.
DC should take notes from animated movies like Apokolips War. Their live-action offerings could really benefit from these kinds of bold storylines and character decisions that make movies like Apokolips War such gripping experiences.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is a two-part movie adaptation of Frank Miller’s 1986 comic book of the same name.
It’s set in a bleak future where 55-year-old Bruce Wayne has retired as Batman following the death of Jason Todd (Robin) at the hands of The Joker.
The animation in these movies nails the look and style of the comic. There was no attempt to update and compromise the 80s-futuristic aesthetic of Frank Miller’s work. The story is faithful to the original, with only a few relatively minor changes.
This two-parter is like watching the source material move around on screen. Liked the comic books? Then you’ll love these!