In the beginning, there were DC Comics heroes, and it was good. Then there were the Super Friends and similar shows, and the public was exposed to some of their favorite heroes in animation for the first time. In The '90s we were introduced to them all over again with the DC Animated Universe. Now we have the next era of animated excitement for Batman, Superman, and company, going Direct-to-Video — though the consistently high production values make them akin to Original Video Animation in the anime field instead of what "direct-to-video" usually implies in the West.
Many of the DC Universe Animated Original Moviesnote have the advantage of having independent continuities, allowing the creative team of each to experiment with new voice actors, art styles, and so forth. This approach has been criticized, particularly if a certain portrayal of a character is popular with viewers, only for it never to be seen again. Considering most of the films are based upon standalone graphic novels and miniseries like DC: The New Frontier and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns - which themselves often existed in independent continuities - this is perhaps unavoidable. However, starting with Justice League: War, a significant number of films have shared continuity, adapting material from DC's New 52 universe.note This continuity, which we'll call the DC Animated Movie Universe, also combines New 52 with DC Rebirth and Post-Crisis elements in order to become its own thing.
Another notable aspect of the films is many of them are Darker and Edgier than the television cartoons. PG-13 ratings for violence are common and sensuality is ramped up as well. Several films have come close to being rated R before edits, but only four films have gotten the R rating so far.
DC has also produced DC Showcase, a companion series of shorts featuring often lesser-known characters such as The Spectre, Green Arrow, and Jonah Hex, as well as some better-known characters like Catwoman. The shorts are usually included as bonus items on the DVD and Blu-ray releases.
Several of these animated works more or less reflect the individual artists of their comic book sources, like Darwyn Cooke for The New Frontier and Frank Miller for The Dark Knight Returns, and an Anthology Film, Batman: Gotham Knight, was even made by multiple anime studios for DC. Many other works show strong influence from Bruce Timm, the main artist behind the DCAU who maintains a supervisor/producer role and returns to art duties for a few of them. In particular, the New 52-based films and the DC Showcase shorts have a consistent blend of Timm Style and Animesque mainly from artist Phil Bourassa, who also did the DC TV series Young Justice.
The DC Universe Animated Original Movies are:
- Superman: Doomsday (2007): Superman has a fatal encounter with a mysterious monster known as Doomsday. An adaptation of The Death and Return of Superman.
- Justice League: The New Frontier (2008): Amid the political backdrop of the Red Scare, Korean War veteran Hal Jordan becomes the superhero Green Lantern and cooperates with several other heroes to take down a colossal monster. An adaptation of DC: The New Frontier.
- Batman: Gotham Knight (2008): Batman takes on several supervillains in a series of vignettes based on the Nolan film universe.
- Wonder Woman (2009): Wonder Woman must venture into man's world with Air Force pilot Steve Trevor in tow to prevent Ares from taking over the world.
- Green Lantern: First Flight (2009): An alternative telling of Hal Jordan's origin as Green Lantern, depicting his induction into the Corps as he and his mentor Sinestro are embroiled in a conspiracy to take down Oa using the Yellow Element.
- Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009): Lex Luthor becomes President of the United States and puts a bounty on Superman's head after framing him for the murder of Secret Service agent Metallo. An adaptation of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.
- Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010): Upon the discovery of a Mirror Universe where Lex Luthor leads a band of freedom fighters and the world cowers in fear of the superpowered Crime Syndicate, the Justice League of America must venture across the dimensional barrier to save both worlds from the Crime Syndicate's machinations.
- Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010): A mysterious figure claiming the Joker's original nom de guerre from before his chemical bath emerges in Gotham and attempts to take down the city's underworld from the inside out, taunting Batman all the while. An adaptation of Batman: Under the Hood.
- Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010): Superman's teenage cousin from Krypton arrives and is taught the ways of Earth by Superman. Darkseid, seeing an opportunity, attempts to acquire her as a pawn. The sequel to Public Enemies and an adaptation of Superman/Batman: Supergirl.
- All-Star Superman (2011): When overexposure to the sun spells Superman's imminent death, he takes time to set his affairs in order while Luthor continues to scheme. An adaptation of All-Star Superman. The first in the line to not get a PG-13, instead getting a PG.
- Green Lantern: Emerald Knights (2011): A new recruit to the Green Lantern Corps is told the stories of various notable Lanterns across time and space as a series of vignettes. Much like All-Star Superman, it is rated PG.
- Batman: Year One (2011): Bruce Wayne returns from his training abroad to solve the problem of crime in Gotham while Jim Gordon contends with deep corruption in the police department. An adaptation of Batman: Year One.
- Justice League: Doom (2012): Contingency plans developed by Batman, designed to disable every member of the Justice League, are stolen and given fatal twists by a cabal of supervillains. An adaptation of Justice League of America: Tower of Babel.
- Superman vs. the Elite (2012): Superman is forced to question his methods when a team of superheroes who are willing to kill makes their debut to worldwide approval. An adaptation of Superman: What's So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012, 2013): An elderly Batman must come out of retirement when an enormous street gang threatens to tear Gotham apart. A two-part adaptation of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
- Superman Unbound (2013): An alien cyborg known as Brainiac appears and attempts to shrink and steal the entire city of Metropolis in a repeat of what occurred to Kandor on Krypton. An adaptation of Superman: Brainiac.
- Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013): One morning, the Flash wakes up to find himself in an alternative timeline where he is powerless, Batman freely uses lethal force, Superman is nowhere to be found, and Wonder Woman and Aquaman threaten the world with an all-out war between their nations. An adaptation of Flashpoint.
- Justice League: War (2014): Batman and Green Lantern discover an impending invasion of Earth by Apokolips and put together a team of superheroes to stop it. An adaptation of Justice League: Origin and the beginning of a new shared continuity.
- Son of Batman (2014): Ra's al Ghul's daughter, Talia, appears to Batman to reveal that she and Batman have had a child named Damian, and leaves him in his care. An adaptation of Batman & Son and the second movie in the New 52 AU.
- Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014): A film based on the Batman: Arkham universe. Several incarcerated supervillains are recruited into a unit named Task Force X by Amanda Waller and ordered to retrieve information stolen by the Riddler, only for things to go downhill when the Joker escapes the asylum and gets his hands on a dirty bomb.
- Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015): The Justice League must contend with an invasion led by Ocean Master, and get help from Aquaman and Mera. An adaptation of Throne of Atlantis and sequel to Justice League: War, making it the third movie in the New 52 AU.
- Batman vs. Robin: (2015) Sequel to Son of Batman. While investigating a crime, Robin runs into a mysterious figure, Talon, who takes him down a rabbithole leading to a secret society known as the Court of Owls. An adaptation of Night of the Owls. The fourth movie in the New 52 AU.
- Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015): An original Elseworlds-style story by Bruce Timm. In this take, we have General Zod's son as Superman, a vampiric Kirk Langstrom as Batman, and Bekka of the New Gods as Wonder Woman.
- Batman: Bad Blood (2016): Sequel to Batman vs. Robin, featuring Kate Kanes Batwoman and Luke Fox's Batwing in their first animated appearances. Nightwing must become Batman and discover what happened to Bruce Wayne while dealing with a growing and dysfunctional Bat-Family. The fifth movie in the New 52 AU.
- Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016): A movie featuring both the Justice League and the Teen Titans and a sequel to Batman: Bad Blood. After Robin compromises a Justice League mission, he's sent off to improve his people skills a team of young heroes mentored by Starfire. When teammate Raven's demonic father Trigon possesses the League, it's up to the Teen Titans to save them. The sixth movie in the New 52 AU.
- Batman: The Killing Joke (2016): An adaptation of the acclaimed comic book by Alan Moore. The first installment to be rated R.
- Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016): A 50th anniversary homage to the 1960s series starring Adam West, with some of its cast reprising their roles, West included.
- Justice League Dark (2017): An adaptation of the comic of the same name, It is the seventh movie of the New 52 AU. Like The Killing Joke, it's rated R.
- Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017): An adaptation of the comic of the same name. After languishing in Development Hell, it has been reworked into the New 52 AU continuity, making it the eighth movie of the line.
- Batman and Harley Quinn (2017): An original film starring Batman and Harley Quinn, who are forced to work together to stop a plot by Poison Ivy and the Floronic Man. Notably, this is the first film in the line to bring back Bruce Timm's DCAU character designs.
- Batman vs. Two-Face (2017): A sequel to Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, it's Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Batman versus Two-Face (voiced by William Shatner), who never appeared in the Adam West show. This film is the final appearance of Adam West as Batman.
- Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018): An adaptation of the comic of the same name, an Elseworlds story where a Victorian-era Batman deals with Jack the Ripper. Fittingly, it's the third movie to be rated R.
- Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (2018): An original story set in the Justice League: War continuity featuring the Suicide Squad. The fourth movie to be rated R, and the ninth movie of the New 52 AU.
- Batman Ninja (2018): An original story about a time displaced Batman and co in feudal japan. First movie to be animated in CGI and made specifically for the Japanese audience.
- The Death of Superman (2018): A new, more faithful adaptation of The Death of Superman told in two parts. Like the Judas Contract adaptation, it takes the original story and works it into the New 52 AU as its tenth movie.
- Reign of the Supermen (2019): Followup to the former and adapts the story arc of the same name. Like its predecessor, it works the original story-line into the New 52 animated unvierse.
The web series are:
- Constantine: City of Demons: An animated web series spinoff of Justice League Dark focusing on John Constantine. It can be seen for free on CW Seed. Later extended and re-edited into a single movie (with an R Rating) similar to the web series Vixen and Freedom Fighters: The Ray both of which are set in the CW's Arrowverse.
The DC Showcase shorts are:
- DC Showcase: The Spectre (included with Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths): Police detective Jim Corrigan investigates a mysterious murder in the '70s, intervening as the Spectre when the legal system fails.
- DC Showcase: Jonah Hex (included with Batman: Under the Red Hood): Wild West bounty hunter Jonah Hex investigates a potential bounty and contends with a murderous madame instead.
- DC Showcase: Green Arrow (included with Superman/Batman: Apocalypse): Green Arrow defends Perdita, the child queen of Vlatava, from his rival Merlyn and hopeful usurper Count Vertigo.
- Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam (released as its own DVD along with extended versions of the above): Plucky orphan Billy Batson becomes Captain Marvel, champion of the wizard Shazam, just in time to team up with Superman to stop the previous champion turned evil, Black Adam.
- DC Showcase: Catwoman (included with Batman: Year One): Catwoman cruises around Gotham and takes down a diamond smuggling ring, but not before taking a detour to impersonate a stripper.