DC Extended Universe Movies Ranked from Worst to Best
Last weekend saw the release of Justice League, which brings the total of films in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) to five. While that may seem like too few to rank, keep in mind that if Warner Bros. keeps on pace with production, that number will grow.
The DCEU has had a rough start, but keep in mind that the MCU didn’t have a smooth liftoff. Iron Man was fantastic, but then they had to figure out The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2. The DCEU has generated its fair share of controversy, but to its credit, it’s also trying to find its own path, keeping the formula of superhero crossovers, but with a tone that’s separate from Marvel. It hasn’t been easy, and I don’t think we’re quite done with the growing pains, but it’s fascinating to see how Warner Bros. is attempting to get their superhero movies flying.
We’ll continue to update this list as more DCEU movies are released, but for the time being, here’s how they rank from worst to best.
5) Suicide Squad
What an absolute mess. I was so excited for Suicide Squad because it looked weird and different with a great cast and David Ayer behind the camera, but it couldn’t have turned out to be more disappointing. The film couldn’t even come up with a solid reason for why a team of superheroes would be entrusted with a mission, and the main conflict is a result of Amanda Waller being a total dummy (Viola Davis shows she can do anything by making you believe in that character even though on the page Waller is a dope). Yes, the cast is packed with colorful characters, but it doesn’t really know what to do with them.
What’s even more frustrating is that the marketing is more colorful than the movie. For a cast that’s filled with psychopaths, Suicide Squad doesn’t know if it wants to be grim and gritty or loose and zany. It falls apart on pretty much every level of filmmaking, and while you can point to a few bright spots like Will Smith and Margot Robbie’s performances, those are mired in an awful story that does a disservice to their characters.
The kicker is that I don’t think Suicide Squad is entirely a lost cause. I think there’s room in the superhero landscape for a movie that follows a team of villains, but they have to be given a much better reason for fighting (perhaps a black ops mission where they’re required to kill) and strong character arcs. I wouldn’t mind seeing this group back together again if Warner Bros. trusts a filmmaker to follow through with his or her vision as opposed to letting a trailer company cut a version of the movie and splitting the difference.
4) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Extended Cut)
The Extended Cut (aka the “Ultimate Edition”) of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is slightly better than the theatrical cut only insofar as the movie makes slightly more sense. There’s still no explanation on what Lex would have done with Doomsday had he succeeded in killing Superman or why Bruce Wayne’s dreams can see into a possible future, but you at least get a clearer sense of what Zack Snyder was going for with his superhero smackdown.
Unfortunately, his approach essentially retreads the worst elements of his previous movies, Watchmen and Sucker Punch. Like with Sucker Punch, Snyder is both condemning and condoning his audience. He wants us to question the very nature of superheroes like Batman and Superman rather than give them our unquestioned reverence, which would be fine, except he also wants us to enjoy the mayhem those heroes unleash. When Batman beats down a warehouse full of henchmen, we’re not supposed to be aghast at his unilateral vigilantism. We’re supposed to cheer. We’re supposed to question Superman as a god-figure filled with self-doubt, but we’re also supposed to be happy when he punches Doomsday a bunch.
This kind of deconstruction is perfect for Watchmen, but it does a disservice to the characters featured in Batman v Superman. If you’re going to have Batman kill people, you need to then ask how is that true to what the character became? Yes, Batman killed in his earlier comics, but he left that behind, and it’s for the better because otherwise why would he let criminals like Joker live? Yes, Superman can feel distant from humanity, but then where does he get his desire to do good? This is Batman v Superman, not Rorschach v Dr. Manhattan, and Snyder’s desire to re-contextualize his title characters ends up doing both of them a disservice.
The failure to depict his superheroes as heroes is the main problem in Batman v Superman, but it’s far from the only one. The plot, even in the extended cut, still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Lex seems divorced from the rest of the movie, and everything is oppressively dark from the very beginning and almost seems to luxuriate in that darkness without ever questioning how that tone serves the overall picture.
3) Justice League
Yes, it’s slightly better than Batman v Superman, and yes, given its turbulent production, it could have been much worse. But when you look at all the potential, Justice League should have been so much better. Warner Bros. had just as much time from the start of their universe (Man of Steel) as Marvel did (Iron Man), but in four years, they couldn’t crack the formula and instead created a rush job where they tried to simply pile in a bunch of new characters and hoped that audiences would get on board, or at least interested enough that they’d go see the eventual solo movies.
Arguably the most frustrating thing about Justice League is that the movie belongs to no one, and for such an important team-up, its only effects will likely impact Warner Bros. The superhero genre is strong and other studios are finding ways to push the envelope and go interesting places, but Justice League is a film striving for basic coherence rather than anything that would make it stand apart. I understand that Warner Bros. didn’t want to be left behind, but this is a gamble that didn’t really pay off even though, as you can often say DC movies, “Maybe they’ll get it right the next time.”
Justice League isn’t a total failure. Flash and Wonder Woman are good, there are glimpses of a Superman who isn’t an aloof, uncaring god-figure, and occasionally you’ll get a character beat or moment that works. But those moments are few and far between, and what remains is a slog where we have a lousy villain with basic motivations and a team with no identity. For a movie that should have been epic and possibly groundbreaking given the pedigree of the characters, Justice League just kind of exists.
2) Man of Steel
Like with Batman v Superman, I can see kind of what Zack Snyder was going for with Man of Steel. He didn’t want to do what Richard Donner and Bryan Singer had done with the character, and it felt like he needed to go in a more “realistic” direction while still delivering big-screen bombast that would allow him to really throw down against a worthy opponent. So technically, Man of Steel succeeds at what it attempts to do insofar as it tries to be more realistic with Clark’s abilities—likening them to a special needs child who must adapt—while also providing an epic fight against General Zod.
The problem is what surrounds these items. When it comes to Superman’s upbringing, it’s difficult to know how he gets his moral compass. Part of why the Superman story has worked for so long and connected with so many people isn’t just that he’s a guy with lots and lots of powers. It’s that he’s part of the heartland, and those “heartland values”, are imbued in him growing up to help people. But in Man of Steel, that runs up against Pa Kent’s belief that the world isn’t ready for Superman, and that it’s far better for Clark to hide his powers. While that’s an understandable desire for a parent, it doesn’t get us to why Superman helps people. The answer “Because he’s Superman,” doesn’t work if you’re trying to re-contextualize the character into a more “realistic” story.
The big fight against Zod also runs into a problem because while it’s neat to see Superman trading blows with someone who’s equally as powerful, there’s a lot of collateral damage. Even if you buy the excuse, “It’s his first day!”, that’s awfully careless for a guy who tells us that as a child he was taught to control his powers. So if Superman knows that he can wreck stuff if he’s really unleashed, shouldn’t he try to get Zod away from the city? To try and make an excuse for Superman’s actions is to ignore the obvious truth of the scene: it’s exciting to watch stuff blow up and get destroyed, but the movie didn’t think about the repercussions of these actions, so Superman looks careless.
It’s not a movie completely without merit, and I wish Snyder (or someone) had a little more time to develop Superman’s character and his place in the world before tossing him into the middle of Batman v Superman where he’s immediately tested, but we still don’t have a strong grasp on who he is as a hero.
1) Wonder Woman
The problem with DCEU movies to this point is that they keep trying to reinvent the wheel before they even know how to drive. On its surface, Wonder Woman is a fairly standard origin story, but just because it plays by familiar beats, that doesn’t mean those beats are boring or overly familiar. Director Patty Jenkins understood that just because we might know the tropes of the origin story, that doesn’t mean we know this character or what makes her unique.
Wonder Woman takes full advantage of showing not only what makes its protagonist a hero, but then proceeds to test that heroism. Wonder Woman starts out the film thinking about mankind in the abstract, and it’s only through her relationship to Steve Trevor and seeing the horrors of war that she gets a better idea of who she’s supposed to be fighting for. The film pushes her innocence to the limit by forcing her to realize that while Ares may bear some responsibility for war, mankind’s weaknesses is also a part of it, and she must decide to save us anyway.
That’s an incredibly uplifting message that’s also surprisingly mature. The movie doesn’t shy away from the horror of war nor does it exploit it for cheap thrills. It’s a delicate balancing act, but Jenkins manages the task beautifully, allowing her hero to not only shine, but also grow and evolve as an individual. The template may be familiar, but the story never takes a shortcut on Diana’s development and her heroism. What’s more, it does all of this while remaining true to her best depictions from her comics. The result is a movie that will likely be a touchstone of the superhero movie genre for generations to come.