To paraphrase Sgt. Rick Flagg in 2021’s The Suicide Squad, DC is a joke. In the past decade, DC poorly planned out a cinematic universe to capitalize on Marvel’s success and proceeded to make a decade-long train wreck that it’s still trying to figure out how to make work. It gave creative control to someone who had an incredibly poor idea of where to take their cinematic universe. Projects were canceled repeatedly. Then there’s just a general sense of confusion as to what’s actually considered a part of their cinematic universe, or DCEU as it was called. When you have directors openly saying that their films aren’t a part of it, and those films turn out to be major blockbuster successes, that’s a huge problem.
But within the past few years, something odd began to happen. DC has slowly but surely begun to right its ship. Zack Snyder was removed from the franchise. The quality of the films began to improve. DC learned it can’t be Marvel, so it tried to have its own unique sense of style. If you were to ask me five years ago if I was looking forward to any DCEU movie, I would have said no and listed a handful of MCU movies I was excited for. Now, the script has flipped and I’m much more excited about DC’s future prospects than Marvel’s.
As I tend to do when there are big franchises I like to cover, it’s about time I ranked each entry in the DCEU and determine which are the very best films and which ones are cinematic dregs. Obviously, everything is subjective, so if you see a movie that you love rank low on this list, it isn’t personal. It’s just that I think that movie is sewage waste and the world would be better off if it didn’t exist. But hey, more power to you!
As of this writing, there are 11 movies that are considered a part of the DCEU with half a dozen additional movies expected to come out throughout 2022 and 2023. This list will be updated yearly as each new release comes out, but there are some movies that will not appear here at this time. Unless something changes in the future, Joker and The Batman are their own separate entities not tied to the DCEU, so they will not be included. Also, as much as I love Peacemaker, it won’t be featured given that it is a TV series and not a movie (even though it is canonical). So with those ground rules out of the way, let’s begin with the worst DCEU movie, then make our way through the uncomfortably large amount of trash.
Ahh, this piece of trash. I saw this movie on release day back in 2016 for free and I still wanted a refund. Despite being only the second movie in the DCEU, Batman v. Superman murdered any and all interest I had in the franchise quite efficiently and succinctly. I almost don’t really know where to start with it, but I could mention how it poorly handles its main cast of characters, mischaracterizes Batman, is shot horribly, has a color palette that makes gunmetal grey look appealing, forcibly contrives a conflict to generate “OMG HYPE,” is rock stupid, and did I mention that Zack Snyder doesn’t understand the DC Universe besides his own super niche and outdated vision of it ripped straight from the 90s?
One of those elements may be enough to sink a movie, but all together, you have not only the worst DCEU movie by a mile but one of the worst movies of the 2010s. A movie so bad it made Warner Bros. go into damage control mode for its own cinematic universe two films in, slashed its prospects for Justice League –making that movie into its own undiluted mess-, and had WB abandon ship on anything and everything Zack Snyder related. All of that came from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Look, the other movie will be later on the list, so let’s just take some time to point out that Joss Whedon is a terrible person. We good? Okay.
Unlike Batman v. Superman, Justice League feels like a coherent film. It’s emaciated and missing a lot of key components, but it’s a film that you could watch and walk out of the theater saying that you watched a complete movie. It does absolutely nothing remarkable and needs way more breathing room for its key scenes to work, but it functions. It meets the base requirement for a film to work, although nothing else about it is noteworthy. There was a time when I argued that this was probably going to be better than the director’s cut of the film, but I formally retract that statement.
Justice League is forgettable superhero fodder that would have been a decent hit in the mid-2000s when superhero movies just kind of existed without any fanfare and when Joss Whedon’s sense of humor was actually enjoyable. We don’t live in those times anymore. We live in a time where Justice League is completely irrelevant.
Ah, the Oscar-winning Suicide Squad! I know there are a lot of people who hate this movie, and for good reason, but I take a different approach to it. When it’s bad, it’s bad. Jared Leto’s Joker is terrible and the entire third act is an unintelligible mess. When Suicide Squad is good, though, it’s actually pretty fun. The first third of the movie is enjoyable and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was universally praised to the point where she appeared in several projects after this. Will Smith’s turn as Deadshot is also pretty enjoyable, as is Killer Croc’s wonderful prosthetics.
But Suicide Squad is uneven. I know there is a large contingency of fans who are pleading for David Ayer’s original cut of the movie to be released in the same way that Warner Bros. gave Zack Snyder the time and money to release his version of Justice League. While I’m sure that would improve the final product somewhat, I doubt it would improve the grimdark aesthetics, remove Leto’s Joker, and endear me further to the cast. It probably won’t make the climax another damn sky beam, but there’s not enough of a desire to see what the real version of Suicide Squad is.
I don’t know whether to call this movie famous or infamous. It’s the culmination of fans publically campaigning for years to allow Snyder to release the version of Justice League he wanted to make before Whedon took over the project. On that note, I’m glad that Snyder was able to formally close that chapter of his life with the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. But then you have to question if all of that effort was really worth it if this was the final product.
Don’t get me wrong, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is much better than the theatrical cut. Cyborg feels like an actual character, Steppenwolf has a lot more depth as a villain, and key moments from the original release feel far more fleshed out. This is clearly the movie that Snyder wanted to make. It’s also four hours long, full of so much blatant symbolism and self-importance, and continues the story of a cinematic universe that Warner Bros doesn’t want to touch anymore in any capacity.
I won’t say that this isn’t a good movie. It’s fine, but it feels too little too late. All of the big and impactful moments that were clearly meant to set up future plot threads (hi, Knightmare sequences!) feel pointless now that we know they’ll never come to be. That makes Zack Snyder’s Justice League feel like a relic. It’s an interesting one, but one that feels more compelling to learn about its creation than to actually enjoy as its own unique entity.
God, what a disappointment. After the resounding success of Wonder Woman, most audiences, myself included, were pumped to see Diana continue her adventures in the 1980s. The cast was solid, Patty Jenkins returned as director, and everything was going to be even better than the last film… except it wasn’t.
It’s not easy to identify why Wonder Woman 1984 was a disappointment. Could it be that Diana’s character arc wasn’t as fulfilling as it was in the first movie? That’s certainly possible. Could it be Pedro Pascal’s emotionally interesting yet uneven performance as Maxwell Lord? That’s an option too. Or maybe it was because the movie was drawn out at two and a half hours but not a lot happened during its length? All of these are viable options but I can’t clearly say which one is what dampened my enthusiasm for the film.
Yet, there are a lot of elements I do like. I love the depiction of the 1980s, Gal Gadot is still great as Wonder Woman, and the themes behind the movie feel fresh and haven’t really been explored before in a mainstream Hollywood movie. It’s not a disaster or a bad film, not at all, but this is definitely the last point in this ranking where I would cautiously recommend you watch it. You probably won’t like it that much, but you won’t know until you try, right?
6) Man of Steel
Man of Steel gets a lot of undue hate. When it was released back in 2013, it got an overall positive reception, though its association with the Snyderverse has certainly dragged it down a bit in the popular consciousness. As far as origin stories go, it’s an effective one for Superman. There are some great little moments throughout the film, like where he’s in custody by the military and yet continues to wear handcuffs, and when it’s time for Superman to save the day, you really do root for him and want to cheer him on. When it’s good, it captures a sense of heroism that no other DCEU movie ever came close to replicating.
But damn does the film try to sabotage itself. In theory, I like how Superman has to grapple with killing Zodd and I think it’s a good territory to take the character. Its execution, however, is incredibly contrived and makes absolutely no logical sense. You get the feeling that Snyder knew what major beats he wanted to hit with the film, yet didn’t know how to get to them. Those moments are excellent, but it’s everything in between that lets Man of Steel down. That isn’t enough to call the movie bad by any stretch of the word, but I understand completely why other diehard Superman fans can’t stand it.
I grappled with where to put Shazam! and Aquaman on this list because I find the two of these films the most conventional of the DCEU. They’re simple, enjoyable movies that know exactly what they’re trying to be and are able to hit it out of the park in doing so. They’re not cinematic masterpieces, but they’re fun little popcorn flicks that will entertain you and have you leave the theater with a smile on your face.
I feel a bit more critical of Shazam! however, since the core of the movie takes a while to really get going. I’m not talking about Billy Batson getting superpowers and becoming Shazam, though the effects of that are cute enough and lead to some good laughs. I’m mostly referring to Billy’s adoptive family and how they’re pushed to the side for most of the movie in favor of the super-heroics. I get why, but it just makes the climax of the movie feel just a slight bit undeserved, even though the climax itself is a wonderful sequence where the Shazam family is really able to come to its own.
This may also be the fact that I’m still sore about how Geoff John’s reinterpreted the character in the 2010s and made him edgier, but Shazam! just doesn’t feel as universally cohesive. There are clearly lulls and weak points, but the end result is still fun and worth a watch.
Aquaman is a pure, dumb, spectacle action blockbuster if I’ve ever seen one. Amber Heard aside, you can’t help but smile at just how over-the-top ridiculous Aquaman is. It’s Jason Mamoa commanding fish in a huge war over the fate of Atlantis with giant sea monsters and a laser pirate. It’s stupid and I love it.
Sometimes you don’t need a brooding or angst-filled protagonist to tell an effective superhero story. You just need someone with a lot of muscles and charisma who is able to kick tons of butt alongside a cast of great supporting characters. I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch Aquaman on repeat viewings, but I would certainly recommend it to someone looking for just a classic superhero that doesn’t try to be anything more than that.
3) Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (or Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey I guess…)
When Birds of Prey was first announced, I jeered and made fun of its ridiculous name and derided it for trying to hook viewers with its waaaaaaaacky title. Then I watched it. And then I watched it again. Then I got the physical release of it. Now I can’t get over just how forceful and fun Birds of Prey is.
Like I said back in the Suicide Squad piece, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is the best thing about the film and arguably the best thing about the DCEU. The film is a hard R and isn’t afraid to just let loose with it in a way you wouldn’t expect from a mainstream superhero movie. Yeah, there’s always Deadpool if you want an R-rated superhero, but there’s more nuance, fun, and personality here than in either Deadpool movie. You can tell the cast is having a blast just being weird and crazy, especially Ewan McGregor as the mentally unstable Black Mask. What other superhero movie revolves around a Bacon Egg and Cheese and is centered on how everyone is trying to make a girl poop out a diamond? None as far as I’m concerned.
Birds of Prey never overstays its welcome. It’s the shortest DCEU movie but it effectively uses every second it’s given to tell a highly entertaining and fast-paced action thriller. If we had more superhero movies like Birds of Prey, then I wouldn’t be so down in the dumps on the genre.
2) Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman is an iconic movie. While the rest of the DCEU was mired in cynicism and bleakness, here comes Wonder Woman, the first female-directed and female starring superhero movie of the modern age, delivering an empowering story about heroism and standing up for what’s right. It delivered great action setpieces like Diana’s walk through No Man’s Land and became the highest-grossing DCEU movie in North America. Audiences loved it and its message of hope. There’s actually very little to criticize about the movie.
Okay, there is one glaring flaw with Wonder Woman, and that’s the fact that it has a generic climax. Everyone will praise the first two-thirds of the movie to hell and back, but the last third is a bit more… questionable. In fact, most, if not all, of the DCEU movies of this era had no idea how to properly conclude their movies. Despite that, there was a reason people like me were excited for Wonder Woman 1984 despite its lukewarm reception. The first movie was so good that Jenkins and Gadot earned our trust. Even when the rest of the DCEU was garbage, Wondy was always reliable.
1) The Suicide Squad
Not to be confused with Suicide Squad, The Suicide Squad answers the question of what happens when critically acclaimed James Gunn decides to make a DC movie after being ejected from Marvel due to stupid internet drama. It’s a very specific question to ask, but the answer is a brilliant film and undeniably the best DCEU movie. Sure, Wonder Woman may be the conventional and mainstream answer, but I’m a man who likes weird and unconventional answers, and that perfectly describes The Suicide Squad; weird and unconventional.
From the carnage-laden intro, we’re thrust into this new Suicide Squad’s operation as we learn more about this incarnation of the team. Bloodsport and Peacemaker have a brutal yet hilarious dynamic, King Shark is just a delight to be around, The Polka Dot Man is the darkest team member yet always gets a laugh out of me, Ratcatcher II is the heart and soul with a really touching conclusion to her arc, and Harley Quinn is still fantastic but you shouldn’t be surprised at that fact. The film isn’t afraid to lean heavily into the insanity of comic books, resulting in a movie that I find impossible to accurately describe.
The Suicide Squad was so good that it now sits comfortably as one of my favorite superhero movies of all time. It’s crass, it’s bloody, and it’s a little demented, but it expertly tells a story about a group of the worst people in the world trying to save the world from even worse monsters. There’s drama, comedy, and John Cena in tighty whities. What more could you ask for?