We spend a lot of time talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is really no surprise considering how many movies and TV shows it’s been churning out since 2008, but we don’t spend as much time talking about its arch nemesis, the DC Extended Universe.
Okay, perhaps “arch nemesis” is a bit of an exaggeration, but the DCEU, in the beginning at least, tried to compete with the MCU’s success. Sadly, it fell flat on its face with Justice League (2017), but some might argue that it managed to pick itself up with Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021).
Others, however, would counter that the entire franchise is a little hit and miss, with perhaps more stinkers than successes, which could largely be due to a lack of direction, not unlike the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Either way, it’s fair to say that any sense of canonicity is well and truly gone.
Nevertheless, we’ve decided to rank all 11 DCEU movies — yes, including the 2017 version of Justice League (after all, they’re two very different films).
11. Justice League
Unlike the MCU, unfortunately, the DCEU isn’t exactly known for its fair share of great movies. Nevertheless, despite there being plenty in the way of competition when it comes to stinkers, placing Justice League at the very bottom was a no-brainer. Directed by Joss Whedon, the superhero ensemble was the DCEU’s answer to Marvel’s The Avengers (2012).
But the movie has only gotten worse over the years. Perhaps it’s because Zack Snyder’s superior Justice League, coupled with the Joss Whedon controversy, has made it seem worse. Or maybe you just can’t escape the fact that this horrible, cheap-looking mess features a Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) whose CG-upper lip looks like it was stung by a Kryptonite bee.
10. Suicide Squad
The second no-brainer is Suicide Squad (2016), directed by David Ayer, who, to this day, is still trying to convince us that there exists an amazing cut of the film that never made it to theaters. The difference between Suicide Squad and Justice League? Well, while it’s plain to see that this film went through several cuts, fans aren’t exactly begging the director to release the “Ayer Cut”.
What ought to have been a team-up of iconic villains from Batman’s Rogues Gallery turned out to be a CGI fest populated mostly with obscure characters. The only redeeming feature? Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), of course. As for Jared Leto, the fact that over 90 minutes of Joker footage was left on the cutting room floor is the only thing about this film that makes any sense.
9. Wonder Woman 1984
Patty Jenkins‘ highly-anticipated follow-up to Wonder Woman (2017), a huge box office success, had a lot to live up to. Gal Gadot’s first outing as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman was an action-packed thrill ride. And while not perfect like many would have had you believe at the time of its release, was a fitting entry into the DCEU, and easily remains one of the strongest.
Unfortunately, with its weird plot about wishes, and a secondary villain who looks like something out of Cats (2019), even Gadot wasn’t enough to save Wonder Woman 1984 (2020), which feels far more in tune with the ’70s TV show than its own predecessor. Perhaps this is why Jenkins’ Star Wars movie Rogue Squadron (TBA) has since been put on indefinite hold…
8. The Suicide Squad
When Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) director James Gunn was fired from Disney for posting offensive tweets some 10 years prior, Warner Bros. wasted no time in snapping him up, giving him the creative freedom to direct a sequel to the critically-panned Suicide Squad. Fortunately, the difference between both films extends way beyond the word “the”.
Much to the joy of many DC fans, The Suicide Squad (2021) is an R-rated follow-up to Ayer’s 2016 entry. But as this is eighth place, there is, of course, a downside. Sadly, despite all the violent action sequences, and a giant starfish monster, it’s pretty forgettable, even if Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Idris Elba (Bloodsport), and John Cena (The Peacemaker) are great to watch.
7. Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
Before The Suicide Squad, there was Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020), the pretentiously titled follow-up of sorts to 2016’s Suicide Squad. Cathy Yan’s efforts are perhaps what its predecessor should have been — a film focused entirely Harley Quinn, who, let’s face it, is the only real reason they keep making these movies.
Naturally, Margot Robbie is brilliant as the lead “bird of prey”, while Mary Elizabeth Winstead is thrilling to watch as Helena Bertinelli/Huntress. Ewan McGregor hams it up as Raymond Sionis/Black Mask, which is pretty fitting for a film that’s a lot more fourth-wall in nature than it is at all serious. With that said, Deadpool (2016) this is not, but it’s a whole lot of fun nonetheless.
The idea of an Aquaman-focused movie once seemed quite silly, but when we were introduced to Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry/Aquaman in 2017’s Justice League, it was plain to see that a solo movie could work, largely because the once-obscure comic book character had been given something of a serious overhaul. But is James Wan’s Aquaman (2018) any good?
Well, from this DCEU movie upwards, we only have good things to say (mostly). Aquaman didn’t make a huge splash for fans and critics, but it’s still pretty solid. Its underwater action sequences are thrilling, and the special effects are surprisingly impressive, while Temuera Morrison and Nicole Kidman are very entertaining as Arthur’s parents, Thomas Curry and Atlanna.
If there’s one DCEU movie on this list that stands out above the rest, it’s Shazam! (2019), from director David F Sandberg. Perhaps it’s because it’s essentially a remake of the Tom Hanks movie, Big (1988), with a superhero twist, or maybe it’s because it doesn’t feature any other character from the other DCEU movies (with the exception of a very silly Superman cameo).
Shazam! is pretty high on our list, but that doesn’t mean we think it’s a perfect movie, and it also doesn’t have much in the way of competition. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that Zachary Levi is great fun to watch as the older version of Billy Batson (Asher Angel plays the young version). Unfortunately, the third act quickly descends into generic superhero territory.
4. Wonder Woman
If Diana Prince/Wonder Woman hadn’t made her theatrical debut in the DCEU’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), it’s likely fans would have assumed that the solo movie set to follow the year after was intended as a reboot of the ’70s TV show. But Wonder Woman is as far removed from its origins as Man of Steel (2013) is from the Christopher Reeve movies.
This, of course, is a good thing. Gal Gadot breathes new life into the iconic character, instead delivering a battle-trained warrior with a heart of gold, as opposed to the Lynda Carter version of the superhero, who transforms into costume at a spin. Wonder Woman is as action-packed as they come, and despite a CGI-soaked third act, is easily one of the more solid DCEU movies.
3. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Following the disaster that was 2017’s Justice League, fans started an online petition to “release the Snyder Cut”. And somehow, it actually ended up happening. In the years that followed the director’s departure from the original project due to a family tragedy, Warner Bros. allowed Snyder to complete his vision of Justice League. And in 2021, that vision became a reality.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League isn’t just a vast improvement over the original version — it’s a solid movie in its own right. And there are plenty of bonuses too — Henry Cavill’s upper lip is real, Bruce Wayne/Batman isn’t self-deprecating, Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is properly fleshed out, and Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) doesn’t look like a PlayStation 2 character.
2. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
While Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice broke box office records in theaters, many fans defended the movie against critics. However, the critics may have had a point — while hugely underrated, the movie is often bogged down by the setting up of future DCEU movies, which frequently interrupts the pending and inevitably thrilling clash between the two titular heroes.
Which is why we recommend the “Ultimate Edition” over the theatrical version. The extra 30 minutes allow the movie to breathe and to flesh out certain elements, such as Clark Kent’s interest in Batman. Sadly, Jesse Eisenberg’s weird take on Lex Luthor remains, but the rest is cinematic gold. And watching Superman go toe to toe with the caped crusader feels even more epic.
1. Man of Steel
Speaking of underrated, Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot, Man of Steel, is a criminally overlooked superhero epic. The first of many DCEU movies certainly didn’t feel like the opener to a wider cinematic franchise, and in hindsight, we kind of wish it was very much its own movie, but the great thing about Man of Steel is that it can still be enjoyed on its own merits.
With the exception of the odd Batman Easter egg, there are no references to other superheroes in this universe. Cavill shines both in and out of the cape, and Michael Shannon’s General Zod is a fitting villain for Superman — they essentially have the same goals, but those goals cannot work harmoniously. Hans Zimmer’s brilliance also puts John Williams’ iconic ’80s theme to shame.
While Matt Reeves’ The Batman (2022) isn’t connected to the above films, instead serving as a reboot whose continuity does not form part of a wider universe, the DCEU shows no signs of stopping. Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck will both be reprising their versions of Bruce Wayne/Batman alongside Ezra Miller in The Flash (2023).
But first, Keaton will be donning the cape and cowl in Batgirl (2022), with Leslie Grace stepping into the role of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. Other upcoming DCEU movies include Black Adam (2022), Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2022), Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023), and Blue Beetle (2023).
How would you rank all the DCEU movies?