#3: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
This is pretty universally considered the greatest animated superhero film of all time. When it comes to its place in my personal estimation, I’m actually willing to heap on a few additional superlatives. It is one of my favorite superhero films of all time (obviously), my favorite superhero film made before 2000, possibly my favorite incarnation of Batman of all time, and last but not least quite probably my favorite animated film of any genre. (Remember, kids! No matter what Uncle IMDb tells you, “animated” is a medium, not a genre!)
One of the major reasons Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is as good as it is is that it starts with a pretty solid foundation: Batman: The Animated Series. With due respect to those who consider Christopher Nolan’s the best interpretation of Batman, The Animated Series completely blows him out of the water and then keeps firing just because it can. During a period of time when Batman had become a commercial empire and Warner Bros. was spitting out mostly-mediocre films by Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher, The Animated Series was bringing an unabashedly mature take on the character onto the smaller screen.
Well, mostly on the smaller screen. The series also made it to the big screen in the form of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. It’s really pretty amazing how many things this film got right. It’s the only feature-length Batman film that had a reasonably good mystery plot, which is interesting when you consider the character is known as the World’s Greatest Detective. And it managed to have both a depiction of Batman’s origin story and an emotionally intense romantic subplot that both leaned heavily on flashbacks without either feeling like it had been “crammed in” to the film.
What was truly impressive about the film was how it managed to have such cinematic scope while still making sure everything was tied together. The film featured two major antagonists, the Joker and the titular Phantasm. The identity of the Phantasm was the center of the film’s mystery plot and connected to absolutely every single aspect of the film.
Everything leads to an setpiece three-way battle between Batman, the Joker, and the Phantasm. Every single element that his shined throughout the film–the script, the acting, the animation, the incredible score by Shirley Walker–reaches soaring heights in this epic finale.
I cannot stress enough how vital it is that you see this film if you have not already done so. If you consider yourself even a casual fan of Batman or superheroes in general, this is an absolute must-see, and it might help you understand why so many of us are frustrated by the direction Warner Bros. is electing to take the DC franchises they’ve been entrusted with.