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If you’re like me, chances are you’ve already forgotten 2017’s disastrous Justice League movie. And sure, you’ve given DC some kind of credit for bouncing back stronger than ever with a solid performance from Aquaman, but maybe it just wasn’t enough.
Plus, Wonder Woman 2 is still months away, Ben Affleck has already hung up his cape as Batman--thank God, by the way—the Flashpoint Paradox film has been scrapped, and I think we all can agree that no one gave a damn about a Cyborg movie once the credits for JL rolled.
But wait, before you pull the plug on DC’s cinematic universe, you’ve probably forgot to check out the best movies DC’s actually been dishing out way before JL hit theaters in the first place.
Check out my list of 10 really f**king awesome DC animated original films you need to get off your ass, or rather, sit on your ass and watch ASAP:
#10 Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero
So, years before Justice League, DC had actually put out another ridiculously bad movie that got more negative reviews than customer service at the DMV. Here’s a hint: “Let’s kick some ice!”
That’s it! It was 1997’s Batman and Robin, and following the flick’s slew of bad acting, dreadful puns, and nipple-gate fiasco, DC managed to quietly bounce back with the release of Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero, an animated film with nearly the exact same plot as its predecessor, but better written, conceptualized, directed, and ‘acted’ than Joe Schumacher’s hunk of mess.
Despite being animated, this was the movie experience. And if there’s anything the heads at DC and Warner Brothers should have done right after Justice League, it should’ve included popping out a superb animated version of the exact same movie.
Watch the trailer for Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero here.
#9 Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Geez, the one that started it all. I was about ye’ high, rocked out to Snoop Dogg, and envied my cousin for all the Tommy Hilfiger he wore. It was 1993, and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was the first DC animated movie I was exposed to as a kid, and it undoubtedly solidified my growing interest in the comic company’s masterful art of characterization, storytelling, and hand drawn animation. And well, I’ve been hooked ever since.
The most memorable aspect of this story was Batman’s nemesis, the masked vigilante knocking off mob bosses. He was creepy, mysterious, violent, and under the mask was actually ... a woman! What a plot twist!
Watch the trailer for Batman: Mask of the Phantasm here.
#8 Batman: Assault on Arkham
Assault on Arkham was pure non-stop fun. The story gave spotlight to the Suicide Squad’s unfamiliar cooky ensemble of characters like Harley Quinn, Deadshot, and Captain Boomerang, as they interact with classic Batman villains Amanda Waller, Penguin, and the Joker. They’re funny, they’re violent, they’re badass, and they’re a heck of a lot more entertaining than their real-life counterparts in that god-awful Suicide Squad flick. Yeah, and that includes Will Smith!
Watch the trailer for Batman: Assault on Arkham here.
#7 Justice League: The New Frontier
Someone at DC had a great idea: Let’s place the Justice League in America’s 1950’s post WWII/Korean War/Cold War era, but instead of trying to save humanity from blowing each other into oblivion, let’s include an origin story where the JL forms and helps unite mankind against a common enemy of Earth invading parasites. Bingo!
It made perfect sense. After all, it’s no secret that the JL characters’ heroism, bravery, morality, teamwork, and strength draw strong parallels to quintessential core American values, and what better time in US history to match the JL up against a foe than during a heightened, real-life period that called for US patriotism, leadership, and might.
Seriously, this joint is just oozing with American propaganda, and you’ll have the chance to see our heroes, and US military power, at their best.
Watch the trailer for Justice League: The New Frontier here.
#6 Justice League: Doom
Doom was one of those rare JL plots that focused on a critical internal conflict amongst Earth’s mightiest heroes, and it was a story far better written and executed than most of your average good guy versus bad guy scenarios.
What would happen if our heroes turned evil, or some wicked entity took over their minds and used their powers to reign hell on Earth? Who could stop them? How could they be stopped?
Well, turns out that someone had figured it out, and it causes one hell of a mess that leaves the JL the most vulnerable they had ever been. I won’t reveal who was behind the chaos, but I’d say he’s the smartest man in the room.
Watch the trailer for Justice League: Doom here.
#5 Justice League: War
So, you’ve seen Justice League: The Animated Series and Justice League: Unlimited, and loved the heck out of both. You’ve watched every episode, grew fond of the characters, followed each story arc carefully, and were just as pissed as I was when you learned the show was ending. So, where else could you get your fix?
That’s where Justice League: War comes into play. It’s a 1:15 hour long Justice League episode on steroids. It’s got origin stories, a menacing villain, tons of action and destruction, plenty of jokes, and rounds up all of our favorite members from the league in one of the most epic third act showdowns ever presented from the cartoon production. You just can’t beat that.
Watch the trailer for Justice League: War here.
#4 Green Lantern: First Flight
I wasn’t expecting much from Green Lantern: First Flight. Know why? Cause Green Lantern’s story has been done time and time again to the point where it’s got downright annoying.
I get it—the world gets it. Hal Jordan is a fearless pilot with dreams of going into space. A martian drops out of the sky. His lantern ring finds Hal Jordan. Hal Jordan becomes Green Lantern and ... yada yada yada. B-o-r-i-n-g!
But this tale wound up being so much more. It’s a fun, intergalactic adventure that follows Jordan as he uses his human instincts to save the Green Lantern Corp from impending annihilation. FYI, turns out humans are the only race that can save the entire universe, too.
There’s suspense, comedy, plot twist, great action-packed sequences, and it’s got some impressive hand drawn animation. This, my friends, is how a Green Lantern movie should be done. You listening Ryan Reynolds?
Watch the trailer for Green Lantern: First Flight here.
#3 Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
I’ll admit that I wasn’t a big fan of Batman Beyond when it first came out, but it did grow on me. It was a fresh, entertaining, and an eventual highly praised expansion of the Batman universe.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker didn’t disappoint, either. It brought out the classic Joker from The New Batman Adventures into its futuristic timeline, connected past dramatic events that included Batman and Robin, and brought in a support team that included Nightwing and Batgirl.
The keyword: Expansion. Bringing in new characters, settings, and storylines, but connecting them to grounded material. Hey, Marvel got it right with The Avengers universe, so why can’t DC just copy the same setup from the Batman Beyond flick? Message!
Watch the trailer for Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker here.
#2 Batman: Under the Red Hood
Oh boy, the final, super intense 15 minutes of Batman: Under the Red Hood alone deserves an Emmy—or, whatever award they give for home movies. It’s writing, directing, voice acting, and action earns praise in my book for the most badass moment in cartoon animation history. No kidding, the only other animated scene that compares is Mufasa’s death in The Lion King.
With Under the Red Hood, you leave questioning Batman’s crime fighting motives. Sure, we know he doesn’t use guns or kill, but, should he? Should Batman once and for all take the life of his most notorious villain in order to spare the lives of hundreds of potential victims in the future? Hmm ... that’s a tough one!
What’s more, this film’s got one of the most wacky, entertaining, and bone-chilling versions of Joker I’ve ever seen, that strangely enough wasn’t voiced by Mark Hamil (Luke Skywalker in Star Wars), who’s primarily breathed life into one of the world’s most recognizable comic book villains since the early days of Batman: The Animated Series.
Batman: Under the Red Hood is exactly the type of movie you’d hope a DC film could be: More dark, more violent, action-heavy, riddled with plot curveballs, and full of memorable characters and scenarios that not only challenge our hero physically, but also force them to confront their own values and beliefs.
I just hope that those sitting around, smoking cigars in the offices at DC Comics and developing the next batch of theatrical releases take heed.
Watch the trailer for Batman: Under the Red Hood here.
#1 The Flashpoint Paradox
And finally, the crem de la crem of it all. Flashpoint Paradox isn’t just my favorite DC animated film, it’s one of the best freaking things DC has probably ever put out. Here’s why:
It’s western styled hand drawn cartoon meets Japanese anime. Visually, it’s one of the best looking animated releases DC has ever done.
PG-13? Nope, I don’t care what it says. There’s excessive violence and gruesome deaths—most surprisingly at the hands of nightmarish versions of Wonder Woman and Aquaman—and that makes it one of, if not thee, number one hardcore DC animated movie to date. Now that’s what I love to see.
And then there’s this alternate, wacko universe Flash enters, that’s very much akin to that “Bizarro Jerry” episode on Seinfeld. Everything’s essentially the same, but at the same time, completely different, and in a ways, opposite.
In this realm the Justice League doesn’t exist, it’s Bruce Wayne that dies in the alley and his father, Thomas Wayne, that becomes Batman, Superman is caged by the US government, and Wonder Woman and Aquaman are hell bent on destroying each other and taking the whole world down with them. *Again, tell me why the Flashpoint movie has been scrapped damnit!*
The plot came with changes to popular characters, too. Throughout the ages, for instance, Flash has often played the role of charismatic, 2nd tier, comic relief member of the Justice League. He’s got one of the coolest superpowers, sure, but could he be taken seriously? Probably not.
In this movie? Nuh-uh. In Flashpoint Paradox he’s smart, confident, focused, and a brave leader. Hey, you don’t need jokes all the time.
And then there’s Batman, err, the alternate version. Unlike the Batman we’re accustomed to, this version is brash, a genuine smartass, even more physically intimidating, and actually uses guns to get the job done. He’s the Batman we hope Batman would turn into sometimes.
The other two stars of the hour are Wonder Woman and Aquaman. In this reality they aren’t cherished heroes; they’re unrelenting, bloodthirsty, larger-than-life mass murderers that don’t care about nada. That’s some characterization you don’t see much throughout the DC animated saga!
And so, “with [these] powers combined,” you’ve got the makings of thee best DC animated universe movie to ever be released. And yeah, go ahead and quote me in that.
Watch the trailer for Flashpoint Paradox here.
so ...what's Next?
So on to the ultimate question: How in the hell can DC Comics Films and Warner Brothers Pictures move forward successfully in show business?
It’s no secret that Marvel has already obliterated DC when it comes to theatrical releases, but there’s still got a solid chance of bouncing back with a renewed effort.
Behind the scenes, for example, they’ve ousted visionary and all around should-of-never-hired-him director Zack Snyder. The co-president of production at Warner Brothers that oversaw DC’s cinematic slate stepped down, and movies once set to release over the coming years have been cancelled left and right.
Time for a revamp? Already? Nope. How about expanding their universe onscreen and focusing on other B characters in the DC world? Maybe, but again, companies like Marvel and Star Wars, both owned by Disney, have already beat them to the punch.
But let’s forget all that. The sole solution as to how Warner Brothers and DC Comics could save their cinematic, superhero driven future?
Easy. Call up all the writers, directors, producers, and top executives over at DC’s animated universe department—especially James Tucker—throw em’ in a room, toss in a legal amount of California homegrown, lock the door, and don’t let anyone see the light of day until they cherry up a solid solution of how to kick ... the ... bejesus ... out of ... Marvel’s ... ass.
Mark my words--they could get the job done. As for you, reader? Head to a DVD store, buy all the movies mentioned above, whip out a bag of savory butter popcorn, kick back, and prepare to be a DC fan again.