What makes Batman or animated superhero shows more difficult to digest compared to their comic book counterparts is how most don’t follow a singular canon timeline. Batman animated movies, for example, typically contain independent or separate series of films based on the comic books’ story arcs and the different periods in Batman’s life.
That means there is no one canon for Batman animated movies, unlike in the comic books where their legitimacy in the mainline story is distinct compared to spin-off stories.
Still, that doesn’t mean you can watch just any Batman film and understand where it fits in the Dark Knight’s stint as Gotham’s most dedicated crime fighter. Bruce Wayne, for example, has been donning the cape and the cowl for 2-3 decades, depending on which continuity we’re following; a lot of confusing events have transpired during that time.
While these continuities (each featuring several movies) in the Batman animated movies are separate and sometimes unrelated, Batman (Bruce Wayne) usually has a progression and development pattern during his tenure as Dark Knight.
Batman usually begins with the origin story from his mid-twenties (usually), and then the first several years working alone, leading up to the Bat Family being born with Robin’s adoption, and finally spotlighting Batman’s pre-retirement (typically in his 50s and 60s).
If you want to logically follow Batman’s journey (even though they’re from different continuities), then we present a guide for Batman animated movies in order. We’ll be dividing them based on the milestones and stages of Batman’s life.
Do note that these are rough estimations of the order for separate timelines and continuities. We’ve also omitted irrelevant spin-offs from other drastically different universes, such as that time when Batman became a ninja in feudal Japan, steampunk Batman, LEGO Batman, and that time Batman teamed up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So much for isekai Batman.
Justice League stories were also excluded, along with team-ups with Superman against Superman villains (which are essentially Superman movies).
Let’s get started.
Newbie Batman Stories
This is Batman during his first year or first few years as the Dark Knight. As such, Gotham still has yet to warm up to his presence, and some police officers still haven’t accepted him as an ally.
A couple of Batman animated movies explore this inexperienced side of Batman, such as the anthology Batman: Gotham Knight, which serves to bridge the gap between Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) and its The Dark Knight sequel (2008).
Moreover, there’s Batman: Year One, which is a movie adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name detailing Batman’s first year as Gotham’s protector. It’s one of the most popular templates for a young and inexperienced Batman.
Again, they’re from different continuities, but here’s the rough and logical watch order:
- Batman: Year One (2011)
- Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)
Expanded Rogues Gallery
The DCAU (DC animated universe) explored more intermediate Batman stories when he’s no longer dealing with petty thugs and crime syndicates. The stakes have risen, and Batman is now fighting killer clowns, musclehead terrorists, an immortal man, and evil scientists.
Granted, he’s still mostly alone in this kind of endeavor. Seeing him in this state with so many iconic enemies teaming up to kill or defeat him partially explained his need for allies like Robin and Batgirl. Even Catwoman occasionally flipped sides to help lighten the load.
If you want to get more familiar with the best Batman villains, these movies from the DCAU continuity and other continuities should suffice:
- Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
- Batman: The Long Halloween Series (2021)
- Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014)
- Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero (1998)
- Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003)
- Batman: Hush (2019)
The Bat Family Issues
Further into multiple continuities and timelines, Batman has become more used to his sidekick and helping hands. He eventually grew his vigilante collective into the Bat Family with mainstays like multiple Robins and Batgirl (Barbara Gordon).
And just like any family, they’re not immune to issues and dysfunction (and some debilitating deaths).
One of the reasons why there had to be multiple Robins was that Dick Grayson grew out of his role and wanted to make his own identity as Nightwing.
For Batman, however, he often wished to become the man that Dick grew into– that’s how much he admired the first Robin. A younger man became a role model for the traumatic Bruce Wayne. Even fans considered Dick the best Robin.
Multiple Robin candidates soon followed after, and some of them were more flawed than Dick Grayson or Robin I.
There was Jason Todd, a.k.a. Robin II, but he also “outgrew” the role and became the Red Hood who was willing to bend the rules that Batman so vehemently established, such as killing.
Tim Drake, a.k.a. Robin III, replaced Jason Todd after the latter’s canonical death at the Joker’s hands. Tim, despite not having Dick’s virtues and Jason’s fighting skills, was the best at being a detective– at times, he even surpasses Batman in investigations.
Stephanie Brown, a.k.a. Robin IV, wasn’t featured in Batman animated movies, sadly.
Then there’s the notorious Damian Wayne, a.k.a. Robin V. He’s the only biological son of Bruce Wayne and was conceived because Talia al Ghul raped Bruce Wayne. Bruce was understandably unaccepting and a bad father to Damian because, apart from being literally ill-conceived, Damian was also partially raised by the twisted and morally-bankrupt al Ghul family (including Ra’s al Ghul) before Bruce took him in.
Finally, Batgirl is mostly constant as Barbara Gordon but her relationship with Bruce Wayne is even more turbulent and dramatic. One of the Batman animated movies even explicitly stated a sexual and romantic liaison between the two. It’s inappropriately creepy, given their age gap.
To witness all this Bat Family drama, most of the following movies highlight their dysfunctional dynamics:
- Batman: Death in the Family (2020)
- Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
- Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)
- Batman and Harley Quinn (2017)
- Son of Batman (2014)
- Batman vs. Robin (2015)
- Batman: Bad Blood (2016)
As expected, they’re from different continuities, but a couple of those films, such as The Killing Joke and Death in the Family, have their source materials absorbed into the main Batman comic book canon.
Old Man Bruce
All that nightly crime-fighting and having to deal with the naughtiness of his adopted and biological children ought to have taken their toll on Batman. He was bound to grow old and eventually retire.
But before doing so, Batman would go out with a bang to prove that hes still got it. Such a spectacular send-off took place during Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, which is a faithful movie adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name.
In this Batman story, an old and greying Batman finds a cyberpunk version of Gotham in turmoil and decides to don the cape once more. Turns out Batman’s aging body was as much of an enemy as the young thugs and criminals of the new Gotham. The story then culminates in an epic final standoff between the old Bat and Superman– a legendary tale that became the primary inspiration for the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie.
Last but not least is Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, which is the movie for the Batman Beyond cartoon series. This time around, Batman has since been succeeded by a younger protege named Terry McGinnis. But old foes proved too persistent to die, and the Joker somehow makes a surprise return in this futuristic cyberpunk take on Gotham.
Both of these stories take place in different timelines and neither is canon to the comic books, but here’s the watch order:
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2013)
- Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)
That’s a long list of Batman stories– most of which are highly rated. It should keep any Bat-fan busy, and we hope our Batman animated movies watch order helped in your training to become his potential successor, if only in the comment section.