Justice League: Could A DC Animated Universe Work On The Big Screen?

I’m probably one of the last guys you’ll ever see actually reading any comic under the Marvel umbrella. To be…

Joshua Burkey



I’m probably one of the last guys you’ll ever see actually reading any comic under the Marvel umbrella. To be completely honest it’s just personal preference. I was introduced to DC Characters first with Batman: the Animated Series and Lois and Clark on the television; while being introduced to Richard Donner’s take on Superman and Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s helm at the world of Gotham City later on. I cherished those films and television shows.

Even when I got into comics my first graphic novel to complete was the much celebrated Watchmen. That’s not to say I hated Marvel. On the contrary, I grew up spending my Saturday mornings watching the animated series of Spider-Man, X- Men, and the Incredible Hulk. Even my mom can tell you I did an impression of the Incredible Hulk as a child. When X-Men first came out in 2000, Hugh Jackman was my role model. Overall though, to me personally, I’m just more of DC fan.

However, from the stand point of someone who is a passionate movie buff, I will admit Marvel is smarter with their films. Starting in 2008, we saw Robert Downey Jr. suit up for Iron Man and we were introduced to the post credit scene build up. This has now become Marvel’s custom in doing their films.  Up to this point in cinema, not many people had done post credit scenes. Let alone post credit scenes that actually build to something bigger. As to my knowledge, the only movie I had even seen do that was Pirates of the Caribbean. No comic book movie up to this point had seen anything like this.

Granted, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin both featured Superman references but was never built up to a World’s Finest movie. It was just a nod to all the fanboys and fangirls. Iron Man was a starting point to do this and to have The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America all to follow. All these films used smart tidbits to build to a bigger story that later becomes The Avengers.



While DC has had some pretty awesome films in the last few years, audiences haven’t felt the same way. I’m talking of course about properties outside of The Dark Knight Trilogy universe. Let’s start from 2009. March of that year, after years and multiple directors, we see Watchmen finally brought to the screen. According to Rotten Tomatoes, only 64% of critics liked it and only 68% of audiences liked it. Since then, it has brought a curse to other rated R comic book films. It’s this reason it has taken us so long to see a Deadpool movie. Studios are scared to put their money into these types of movies because with PG-13, you have a wider range of people than can attend. When it comes to R-Ratings, it’s harder to appeal to those kinds of people. Moving on to 2010, where we see Jonah Hex being brought to life.

Only 12% of critics liked this picture and only 23% of audiences liked it. The film didn’t even clock in at an hour and a half it was still seven minutes shy even with the credits. Coming to 2011, we see the first Justice Leaguer outside of Batman and Superman to get a solo film. Enter Oa for the Martin Campbell take on Green Lantern. 26% of critics liked it, while a 47% of audiences actually liked it. I’m not a studio head but even I have to say those numbers suck.

Yet, both Green Lantern and Jonah Hex have gotten the animated treatment over the course of their entertainment debuts. Jonah Hex was featured as a short for Batman: Under the Red Hood DVD release, the same year his live-action film was released in theaters. Green Lantern has had two solo animated films in the DC Universe: Once in 2009’s Green Lantern: First Flight and again in 2011’s Green Lantern: Emerald Knights. Critics who reviewed First Flight actually liked the animated version over the live-action version.

The animated film scored double its Ryan Reynolds- starred film, and then some coming with a solid 50%. At the same time these films have also scored an average rating of 71% for audiences. While Marvel may have the live-action circuit down to a tee, DC could still surprise us with the upcoming Man of Steel. Still DC is king of the animated comic book movie scene. So, it begs the question could the DC Animated Universe work on the big screen?

Batman-Mask of the Phantasm

A first attempt to do this came in 1993 with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. The film was originally scheduled to be a direct-to-video release. However, Warner Brothers took a gamble and put the film on the schedule for a big screen release in Christmas 1993. Due to lack of marketing and short notice for a big screen release, the film bombed in theaters. Since coming to video though, the film has garnered itself a cult following. The film was praised by critics and carries an 81% level of praise via Rotten Tomatoes. That’s only one example though. What if we started to actually analyze the DC Animated Universe that comes to us in 2007’s Superman: Doomsday. This universe did start with a rocky start. Doomsday between both critics and fans only carries 62% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

For the most part, that was one of the weakest films released within the universe. Its’ follow up film, Justice League: The New Frontier, was not reviewed by critics but still managed to score an average audience score of 70%. The next two entries into the universe both critical successes: Batman: Gotham Knight scoring an 83% and repeating it again with Wonder Woman and its 86% score. Even between audiences these films hold an average score of 70% positive. Even goes as far in this universe to hold two perfect scores from critics. Did I mention perfect? 2010’s Batman: Under the Red Hood and last year’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part One both hold perfect 100% scores on Rotten Tomatoes from critics. So, we have the critics on board to like and some could even say love these films. What about their success financially speaking?

According to IMDB, it takes about $3.5 million dollars to produce each film. I was unable to obtain information about how much the each title grosses but the ratings from fans have to say something. The average score for viewers on Rotten Tomatoes for the DCU films are 74%. Now, while that is no Avengers, still counts for something. It needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It does depend on which character you are throwing onto the screen. In the DCU: The Justice League and Superman have done 3 films, Batman has 5 solo films, and Wonder Woman has only had one. Green Lantern and a Superman-Batman Team-Up have been seen twice.  Superman in his solo films holds a 66% rating between critics and fans alike. Batman in his solo films holds an 88% rating between both groups. Together, they hold up a 66% rating. How about altogether with the Justice League? Well, between the three films already done, they hold an average rating of 76%.

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So, the audience is there but would the studio be willing to take another gamble on something like this? It’s obvious that both critics and fans alike are partial to the Batman animated films. Even the Justice League has a pull in its animated market. The thing that you have to love about this universe is that they pull straight from the source material. They pull beloved story arcs and bring them to life. What if we saw The Blackest Night come to the screen in animation? What if we saw The Killing Joke? Or Death of a Family? I think the audience would be there for these films. What do you think? Do you think the DC Animated Universe could work well on the big screen?