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Watch ‘Justice League,’ Then Watch These Movies

We’ve assembled a super selection of movies to help you better appreciate the new DC team-up.
By  · Published on November 18th, 2017

Batman Returns (1992)

Similar to the musical cues referencing the old Superman movies, Danny Elfman’s Justice League score also features nods to his own score for the Tim Burton Batman movies, including this sequel that underwhelmed and underperformed 25 years ago but has since become favored over the 1989 original. It’s even in the top 10 of our list of the best superhero movies of all time.

At one point in Justice League, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) makes a comment about how “one misses the days when one’s biggest concerns were exploding, wind-up penguins.” This isn’t necessarily a reference to the events of Batman Returns, but this movie features the last live-action appearance of Batman villain The Penguin (played by Danny DeVito) on the big screen. And because the Batman of the current DC movie franchise is older and has had encounters with his iconic nemeses long ago, we can pretend the earlier Batman movie plots are among those experiences.


Armageddon (1998)

Almost 20 years ago, Ben Affleck played the member of another team of THE BEST that Earth could assemble to save the world. Michael Bay’s Armageddon is a disaster movie with an ensemble that harkens back to stuff like Seven Samurai and The Guns of Navarone in its variety of skilled characters. Affleck is an expert oil drill operator but contrasting against his Batman, he’s the young hothead of the team.

Armageddon, despite having had a Criterion Collection release, is not a great movie but it is a pretty darn entertaining piece of Bayhem at its peak. Also, compared to Justice League, you can care about the characters and story. The stakes, that a giant asteroid is on course to destroy Earth, are much higher, particularly because the team tasked with saving the day aren’t a collection of seemingly unstoppable super-powered beings. Maybe Harry’s drill team couldn’t defeat Steppenwolf, and maybe Superman could take out an asteroid in a second, so these movies shouldn’t be pitted against each other. But in the contexts of each, only Armageddon offers concerning drama and tension that make for a more worthwhile viewing experience.


Justice League: War (2014)

Honestly, I’m not well-versed in the direct-to-video animated DC superhero movies, but the FSR team is. Again, see our list of the best superhero movies. I’m told that of those involving the teamed-up Justice League, the best to recommend is 2013’s Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, but we should probably save that as a recommendation for when the live-action Flashpoint movie arrives in a few years. Or watch it now, too, whatever.

But this later, unrelated installment of the current run of the animated film series is more fitting to the scenario of the live-action Justice League movie. And it’s definitely better just for having Darkseid as its main villain instead of Steppenwolf. You’ve still got the invasion of Parademons and the quest for the Mother Boxes. You’ve also got Shazam (voiced by Sean Astin) and Green Lantern (Justin Kirk) plus Superman (Alan Tudyk) the whole time. No Aquaman, however. He joins for the sequel, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis.


The Babushkas of Chernobyl (2015)

Like most locations in the DC universe, Chernobyl has another name in Justice League. It’s most likely meant to be Chernobyl, anyway, since it’s a place where there was a nuclear power plant disaster decades ago in the Soviet Union. And just like the real Chernobyl, this place appears to still have locals who are ignoring the fact that the radioactive Dead Zone area is supposed to be uninhabitable.

This crowd-funded documentary looks at the story of a community of women, mostly older “babushkas,” who returned to the toxic area following the evacuation. This is their home, after all. Also, they’re probably more likely to die of old age than radiation poisoning. That’s the government’s stance, anyway. Filmmakers Holly Morris and Anne Bogart obviously had to risk their own health to capture this community and showcase the fascinating and moving subjects. Apparently they had to take turns going into the Exclusion Zone to film.

Most Justice League fans might not think much about the setting of the climax, though there was a lot of speculation being made about Chernobyl months ago based on some noticed shots of the abandoned Ukrainian town of Pripyat. Its involvement is the most interesting part of the movie for me, though. Especially for there being locals. Plus it allows for this obligatory doc pick plus my recommendation of honorable mentions like Maryann DeLeo’s Oscar-winning 2003 short Chernobyl Heart and her 2008 short White Horse, both of which deal with locals of the area, and the feature The Russian Woodpecker, which is partly shot there.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.