In 2018, Warner Bros. launched DC Universe, a kind of one-stop shop for all DC Comics fans. Part comic book archive, part video streaming service, part community forum, the biggest draw for most fans just might be its deep archive of movies and TV series. Here is a place where you can not only get access to all your favorite classic DC Comics animation, but also superhero movies, short films, and original programming ranging from nonfiction talk shows to brand-new adventures starring fan-favorite DC characters.
DC Universe’s holdings are indeed vast, which may make it a bit of an intimidating place for a newcomer who’s not sure what to watch first. The streaming options certainly aren’t as massive as, say, Netflix, but there are enough to paralyze you a little bit if you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for. That’s why we’re here to help. Here’s a list of shows and films you should check out on DC Universe, from R-rated fare to classic cartoons and everything in between.
Superhero media has advanced to a point of such prominence in pop culture now that creators can afford to take chances. We’ve seen it with Marvel greenlighting films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Warner Bros. deciding to make an R-rated Joker origin story. We’ve seen it on the small screen, too, thanks to Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy and The CW’s bevy of DC Comics shows which now include Batwoman, Black Lightning, and more.
Even amid that landscape, though, Doom Patrol feels like a particularly gutsy call for a fledgling streaming service like DC Universe to make, and it pays off in wonderful ways. Based on the comic book superteam of the same name (best known for Grant Morrison’s cult classic run on their title in the 1980s), the series follows a group of broken people united by both superpowers and past trauma. When a dangerous supervillain threatens the man who saved all of their lives, they have to jump into action to save him, even if they’re not exactly sure how that all works.
Featuring a stellar cast that includes Brendan Fraser, Matt Bomer, and Alan Tudyk, Doom Patrol is deliciously weird, self-referential, and fun. Even if you’ve never read a comic starring these characters, you’ll find a world worth getting sucked into.
Batman: The Animated Series
The success of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film changed the landscape of superhero media in many ways, but one of the most positive turned out to be the development of an animated Batman TV series. Batman: The Animated Series arrived in 1992, the same year Burton’s Batman Returns hit theaters, and for many fans it remains the purest non-comics distillation of The Dark Knight’s aesthetic.
Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Mitch Brian’s series was an attempt to merge the dark, brooding Batman of Burton’s films with the wider landscape of the Caped Crusader’s comic book world, and somehow it all came together to create a superhero masterpiece. Everything from the legendary art deco, neo-noir visuals to the score to the voice talents — led by Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker — adds to the aura, creating a work that ranks not just among the greatest superhero cartoons ever produced, but the greatest cartoons ever produced.
If you somehow still haven’t seen this legendary work, DC Universe has every remastered episode for your viewing pleasure, along with the follow-up series The New Batman Adventures. And if you have already seen the whole series, you can always just go watch “Almost Got ‘Im” again.
Superman: The Movie
Superman has been adapted to pretty much every medium outside of comics at this point. It started with a radio show, then expanded to include a TV series, movies, video games, and even novels. For a certain group of fans, though, the brightest version of the Man of Steel came in 1978 with Richard Donner’s Superman.
Arguably the first modern superhero film, Superman arrived at a time when blockbusters were just beginning to take shape as a subset of the movie marketplace, long before tentpole megafranchises and cinematic universes would reshape media forever. Warner Bros. needed to make a pure, uncomplicated version of Superman that would please both kids and adults who’d grown up with the character, and the result is a film that still carries with it a refreshing sense of earnestness more than four decades after its release. Christopher Reeve is fantastic in the title role, eclipsed only by Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane. Throw in Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor and the legendary John Williams score, and you’ve got a superhero essential.
Sometimes, the best stories come out of ideas that don’t necessarily sound great at first. There’s a power to giving audiences what they need instead of what they want. “A future-set sequel to Batman” sounds like something that would rub people the wrong way, and indeed it did sound a little odd back when Batman Beyond was first announced. When the series debuted in 1999, those doubts were put to rest, because that weird idea led to one of the best superhero animated series of all time.
Batman Beyond picks up in Gotham City in 2039, and follows a teenager named Terry McGinnis. When circumstance leads him to Wayne Manor one night, Terry pokes around and realizes that the now-elderly Bruce Wayne (still voiced by Kevin Conroy) had once been the now-retired Batman. With a little help from Bruce, Terry takes up the Dark Knight mantle, and sets out to defend a very different Gotham from a new set of criminal threats.
Created by the same minds that brought us Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond is sharply realized, beautifully animated, and full of great ideas about the next phase of the Batman legend.
Justice League Unlimited
The success of Batman: The Animated Series in the early ’90s opened the door for a new wave of DC Comics-inspired storytelling at Warner Bros. Animation, and much of it is available for you to stream on DC Universe. What started with Batman then moved on to Superman: The Animated Series, then Batman Beyond, then the relatively new superhero creation Static Shock. From there, a team-up series was inevitable, and the wonderful Justice League arrived in 2001.
You should absolutely watch Justice League if you haven’t made time for it yet, but here we’re particularly highlighting Justice League Unlimited. This follow-up acts as a direct continuation of its predecessor, but with a broadened scope and a rotating cast of characters. As such, it’s a bit of a newcomer-friendly crash course in the DC Universe in terms of getting to know various heroes and villains and how they work.
While Justice League gave us a core team roster (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Hawkgirl), Unlimited expands the league in a massive way, keeping the core cast of “founding members” while clearing the way for adventures starring everyone from Black Canary to Mr. Miracle to Jonah Hex. It’s jam-packed with comic book lore, and many of the episodes are standalone adventures.
The Fleischer Superman Shorts
The DC animated universe that began with Batman: The Animated Series often features a certain timeless quality to its designs. There’s a mingling of old and new sensibilities and technologies that make Gotham City and Metropolis look simultaneously vintage and from the future. If you love that aesthetic, and you’re looking for further touchstones with a similar vibe, it’s worth going all the way to 1941 and the Fleischer Studios Superman shorts.
The 17 short films produced by Fleischer and its successor, Famous Studios, were produced when Superman was still a relatively new creation, which means they present a very simplified version of the Man of Steel’s character without any overcomplicated DC Comics lore to drag the stories down. Each one is a beautifully animated, self-contained gem of early superhero storytelling, and it’s easy to see just how influential they were to later superhero filmmakers, including the minds behind Batman: The Animated Series. All of the shorts are available on DC Universe, but if you’ve only got time for one, try “The Mechanical Monsters.”
If you’re looking for some classic Saturday morning cartoon vibes in your life, pour yourself a bowl of cereal and get ready to watch Super Friends. DC Universe has all nine seasons of the classic cartoon, and whether you watched it when it first aired in the ’70s and ’80s or grew addicted to reruns on Cartoon Network in the ’90s, you’ll be able to rediscover your nostalgic love.
Super Friends is, of course, the long-running, constantly evolving Hanna-Barbera series starring the titular DC Comics heroes that were better known on the page as the Justice League of America. The show ran under different titles and formats for over a decade, and one of the most fascinating things about it in retrospect is how you can chart the different storytelling trends it was trying to latch onto. The earliest episodes feature super-powerless sidekicks and the heroes battling a number of mad scientists with crazy schemes. Then things shifted to involve the Wonder Twins, introduced the Legion of Doom, and even fold in then-relatively new creations like Firestorm. This sense of constant change means that the show tries just about everything its format would allow even once, and that makes it very fun to watch.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
If you weren’t around to see it happen in the early 1990s, it’s a little tough to explain just how satisfying and widespread the popularity of Batman: The Animated Series was. It was the go-to after school program for superhero-loving kids everywhere, and longtime bat-fans and newcomers alike loved its style. It was so popular, in fact, that a year after it debuted, Batman: TAS got its own feature film.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is a somewhat loose adaptation of the comic book story “Batman: Year Two,” and digs into Batman’s past and present as a crimefighter as he deals with both a lost love and a terrifying new supervillain in Gotham City. Even by Batman: The Animated Series standards, Mask of the Phantasm is dark stuff. It’s also beautifully rendered with the same phenomenal voice cast that drove the success of the series. If you’ve never seen it, it’s worth taking the time.
DC Nation Shorts
In 2012, back when Cartoon Network was still airing a very robust block of DC Comics-inspired programming, they introduced a series of short films designed to air in between the large blocks of animated series. The DC Nation Shorts aired until 2014, encompassing a wide range of animation styles and DC Comics subjects, and now you can go check them all out on DC Universe.
What can you expect? Well, it’s a very diverse array of stories centered on everyone from Batman to Animal Man to Booster Gold. Among the most exciting offerings were Batman: Strange Days from Batman: The Animated Series co-creator Bruce Timm, an Aardman Animation-style series called DC’s World’s Funnest, a group of MAD Magazine-inspired shorts, and even the New Teen Titans shorts that were popular enough to inspire their own animated series, Teen Titans Go! It’s a lot to take in, but if you ever feel like breaking the pattern while binge-watching the latest live-action superhero show, you can pop over to the DC Nation Shorts and have a brief little cartoon adventure.
Though he’s had a certain degree of mainstream success thanks in large part to the era in which Alan Moore was writing his adventures in the 1980s, DC’s Swamp Thing is first and foremost a horror character. That was the approach creators Gary Dauberman and Mark Verheiden took when they got the chance to bring the character to live-action life once again via a DC Universe streaming series, and the result is a very different kind of superhero show, in a very good way.
The show begins with Swamp Thing’s origins and Dr. Abby Arcane’s return to her Louisiana hometown to investigate a strange illness in the swamp, and just gets more ambitious as it goes on. It’s scary, it’s funny, and the visual effects are satisfyingly gnarly when they need to be. Sadly, all we’re getting of Swamp Thing is a single, ten-episode season, but that just means it’s less of a time commitment, and those ten episodes are definitely well worth a look.
It might seem hard to believe now, at a time when a comic book sequel and an unrelated TV sequel are running simultaneously, but for a long stretch in the 1990s and early 2000s it seemed like we’d never get a Watchmen movie. The original comic book by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons has long been considered one of the most important superhero stories ever created, so naturally Hollywood wanted to adapt it. Still, director after director couldn’t seem to make it happen, to the point that the great Terry Gilliam once dubbed the comic “unfilmable.”