Every DCEU Movie, Ranked

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Every DCEU Movie, Ranked

Since its belated 2013 inception in the wake of Christopher Nolan’s mega-successful standalone Dark Knight trilogy, DC Comics’ attempt at a big-screen cinematic universe has been overshadowed by its zippier Marvel counterparts (as well as the past successes of their own Batman and Superman series). The DC Extended Universe—its accidentally-applied “DCEU” moniker a symbol of its reputation for haphazard brand triangulation—has had plenty of big hits, often on par with the MCU. But the clockwork consistency of the Marvel machine has made DC’s litany of false starts, retoolings and auteur experiments look like the flailing of desperate imitators. Yet it’s this same quality that makes the DCEU a compelling experiment, albeit one that occasionally falls on its face.

Here’s a weird, neat fact: Of the movies on this list, only one is a traditional part-two-style sequel. More of those are coming soon, but in the meantime, maybe it’s better to enjoy the way that DC superheroes aren’t bound by neatly ordered sub-franchises and well-regulated team-ups. Their outsized characters can maintain backstory (James Gunn’s version of Suicide Squad doesn’t retcon the one everyone hated!) while jumping through more eclectic iterations of their messy, inconsistent universe. Some of these movies are middling equivalents of lower-tier MCU; some of them are disastrous instances of auteurism and big-studio mandates colliding with an earth-shaking crash. But plenty of them are true to the eclecticism of funnybook art, and one or two might rank among the best superhero movies ever made.

Here are all the films of the DCEU, ranked:


12. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Director: Zack Snyder

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If it achieves anything, Zack Snyder’s messy, badly plotted and awkwardly paced film proves that prepping for a shared universe is no simple task, no matter how easy Marvel makes it look. This seems true even when one is starting with one as established and as powerfully etched into the popular consciousness as DC’s. It’s bad enough that Snyder and company dutifully preserve and transfer many of the excesses and offenses from Man of Steel to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice—the wildly out-of-character behavior by our heroes and a super-mobile Lois Lane to prod the plot along when needed, etc.—the film also is filled with plot holes large and small that will niggle at the mind of those viewers who like their fantasy films to make sense at least within the confines of the worlds they portray. Ultimately, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice serves as a reminder of why so many people dislike the Snyderian take on the DC universe—and as a reason to look forward to the solo Wonder Woman film.—Michael Burgin


11. Suicide Squad (2016)

Director: David Ayer

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The premise for Suicide Squad is as simple as it is indelible, a re-brand of The Dirty Dozen filled out with an undercard of DC’s most naturally colorful villains and anti-heroes. Director David Ayer slips into this framework with ease, introducing Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) as she flips through her dossiers, allowing Ayer to offer a slick montage of each candidate’s greatest hits before, minutes later, Waller is in front of the criminals laying out a deal of commuted sentences for off-the-books operations. Falling into same the pratfalls of Ayer’s previous effort, Fury, Suicide Squad is another case where story elements are continuously piled on in the hopes that a coherent narrative arc will emerge. Individual moments land with nearly every character, especially Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), but despite being a firmly character-based film, it lacks a through line. In action scenes, Ayer is exceedingly generous, allowing each character a turn in the limelight, but the film is constantly muddling its own sense of purpose, making plot decisions that feel improvisatory by its end. It’s actually kind of perfect that Suicide Squad would have the most problems with defining what a hero is and what its ersatz heroes are supposed to be. These characters have been told they’re bad their whole life. If only the film knew how to say anything else.—Mike Snydel


10. Black Adam (2022)

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Black Adam isn’t going to change the DCEU’s sputtering trajectory. If anything, the latest entry highlights the DC franchise’s worst traits, then doubles down on the incomprehensibility. Dwayne Johnson’s first outing as the ancient super-powered antihero is a clanging dud that swaps out internal logic and compelling characters for poorly-executed spectacle and hopes you won’t notice the difference. After a battle with Kahndaq’s power-mad king, Black Adam is put to rest for five millennia, during which time Kahndaq is overtaken by a series of tyrannical invading forces. He’s re-awakened by Adrianna (Sarah Shahi), an archeologist who wants Black Adam to fight off the Intergang, Kahndaq’s current oppressors. Black Adam’s resurrection also catches the attention of the Justice Society of America, led by Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), who employs his newly-assembled team to get the volatile meta-human under control. It’s easy to watch Black Adam and feel you’ve missed an important entry somewhere that introduced all the characters, or at least gave us some context for them. You haven’t, the film just doesn’t have the patience to do that work. Not only for Black Adam and Hawkman, but the rest of the Justice Society of America: Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell). The result is two hours of mounting conflict between characters we have no reason to care about, with motivations so unclear that the movie has to grind to a halt every 20 minutes so the characters can explain what’s going on. Weirdly, the biggest cipher here is Black Adam himself, who we get lots of exposition about, but very little insight. Johnson’s a bit like a Terminator with a single directive: You just have to point him in the direction of the baddies and watch him go to town. Some of this changes in the third act, but it’s too little too late. To distract from the lack of dynamic characters or understandable plot, director Jaume Collet-Serra clogs the screen with action sequences that aren’t choreographed so much as made up of a bunch of single shots smashed together. There’s potential in Black Adam for an interesting thematic conversation about the jurisdiction and ethics of superheroes, but that gets sadly buried under the cascade of rubble from the buildings the JSA, Intergang soldiers and Black Adam destroy as they battle. It all adds up to another frantic grab by a studio desperate to wring success from a superhero universe they’ve never fully understood.—Abby Olcese


9. Justice League (2017)

Director: Zack Snyder

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The real difference between Justice League and Snyder’s previous DCEU entries is that the distinct Snyder-ness of it all has been neutered, chastised even. The movie is under two hours, for god’s sake, its many typical philosophical conversations generally snipped and tucked, mythology abridged into brisk expositional conversations or relegated to—in the case of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) identifying Aquaman (Jason Momoa)—literally seeing everything one needs to know on a wall mural. All in all, Justice League seems to want to just get on with it, which is probably as good a sign as any that anyone who complained Zack Snyder’s films are bloated, ponderous, humorless slogs of pretentious “adult” populist entertainment will find his latest blockbuster operates at a clip much more—dare we say it—delightful that anything he’s done before. Justice League may be a more functional film that its predecessors, but it also lacks the style and go-for-broke big ideas that made Batman v Superman such a fascinating shitshow. In the place of Snyder’s all-consuming hubris is something seemingly committee-created, too aware of past mistakes to try anything that could make the film something more than a thoroughly mediocre $300M investment.—Dom Sinacola


8. Shazam! (2019)

Director: David F. Sandberg

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The best thing one can say about Shazam! is that, following on the fins of the wonderfully extravagant and amazingly stupid Aquaman, the latest DC movie is one more sign to assure the proletariat that the imprint has permanently dislodged its head from the asshole of Zack Snyder’s Murderverse. While Wonder Woman mused that, hey, maybe a DC movie need not labor over traumatized backstories and hypermasculinized mommy issues, and Aquaman suggested that blockbuster movies can have things like “color” and “humor,” Shazam! synthesizes those mommy issues into a positive treatise on family, doubling down on the jokes and bright primary shininess. The plot, by-the-numbers, floats somewhere between a Spielberg coming-of-age adventure, a Big reboot and a late-’80s horror comedy—think The Monster Squad in that it’s intended for kids but is too old for its ostensible demographic. If only Shazam! were as much a herald as its DCEU forebears, for better or ill, a sign of something new and exciting to come. It’s not. It is, despite its surprisingly gruesome violence, little more than another superhero movie that will make more money than the GDP of a small island nation. Leaning real hard into the jokes about horny teenage boys and meta-skewerings of superhero films, Shazam! can’t help but comment on its genre ad nauseam, though, unlike Deadpool, it never risks arguing against its own existence. It’s, more often than not, a very funny movie, and a superhero film with a budget under $100M is a (sigh—sorry, Mom) refreshing development for the genre. Plus, a diverse cast is always welcome, even if headlined by Zachary Levi, who must realize how goddamn lucky he is to get the one remaining superhero role where it conceptually pays off to be a generically attractive white guy.—Dom Sinacola


7. Justice League, Snyder Cut (2021)

Director: Zack Snyder

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The denouement nearly undoes the entire enterprise, a sequel-tease wank about how shit’s getting really real next time, and a seeming confirmation that Zack Snyder’s taste in superheroes run more towards edgelord gaming than purported deconstruction. But before that shameless franchise-baiting for a defunct outfit, you kind of have to hand it to Zack Snyder and the four-hour version of his Justice League movie that never really planned on making until the internet insisted that it already existed. In plot, it’s not wildly different from the bowdlerized, quip-laden theatrical cut; it just has more ins and outs (a Snyder screenplay trademark). But in tenor, Snyder’s version has a kind of emo-brat grandeur, even a generosity afforded to less marquee characters like Cyborg and the Flash. So many superhero pictures strain to feel like epic, global showdowns, and only manage CG smoke and mirrors; that problem is exacerbated by the mythic, godlike characters of the DC universe, often rendered more emotionally remote. That’s what the Whedonized version of this movie tried to fix, with mixed and limited results. But it turns out Snyder himself had a solution via his particular brand of superheroic muchness, which feels more sincere and less self-impressed than it did in the lugubrious Batman v. Superman—if also, yes, still pretty exhausting.—Jesse Hassenger


6. Man of Steel (2013)

Director: Zack Snyder

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Man of Steel begins well enough. Director Zack Snyder brings his signature richness of design to Krypton, treating its final days like the end of a rollickin’ space opera upon which the viewers have stumbled. As Jor-El, Space Ranger, Russell Crowe is less spindly scientist (or bloated Brando head) than the character has ever been, and the final days of Krypton allow Michael Shannon to get a welcomed early start on chewing up the scenery as General Zod. But once young Kal-El reaches Earth, action grinds to a halt, as Snyder breaks apart the classic “growing up supah!” montage, inserting it instead throughout the next lifetime—I mean, hour or so—of the film, which switches back and forth from childhood to present day and the now grown Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). There are a couple of nice superpowered ninja saves—a bus full of children here, an oil rig crew there—but mainly, the scenes consist of Clark looking angsty, Ma Kent (Diane Lane) giving comfort and Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) giving increasingly dubious “advice” that culminates in a nice father-son assisted suicide. Once Zod and crew reach Earth, the action picks up, but so do the film’s issues—there’s the heavy-handed Jesus-ing, the wholesale public endangerment and just overall exposition-heavy, plot-sloppy script. For some heavy-handed allegory might make Man of Steel worthwhile, and that’s great. If others have become so inured to bombast, sloppy plotting and the substitution of cliché for character in sci-fi blockbusters that they enjoy Snyder’s game attempt at the Superman tale, all the better. However, for those looking for a Superman tale well-told—there’s nothing to see here.—M.B.


5. Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Director: Patty Jenkins

Set 66 years after the previous film, Wonder Woman 1984 has many of the same strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor. Fortunately, the exact mix and proportion of those strengths and weaknesses has shifted for the better. Casting and character development remain a core pillar of the franchise. At two hours, 31 minutes, Wonder Woman 1984 will inevitably draw some criticism for being slow in stretches, but it’s in these moments that Jenkins, Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham allow Gadot’s Diana and the other characters in the film to breathe and develop. It’s the kind of patience that may frustrate viewers looking for wall-to-wall action—or even just wall-to-wall Wonder Woman—even as it deepens the portrait of what it might be like to be a near-immortal force for justice whose true love perished decades ago. (The film also takes so much time transforming Kriten Wiig’s Barbra Minerva into a villain that the film feels like it’s setting up a Cheetah franchise.) As for the action, despite devolving a bit into CGI messiness at the end, it’s still pretty exhilarating thanks in part to an unexpected star—the lasso of Hestia. Much as Thor: Ragnarok let trusty Mjolnir have center stage before its crushing demise in the hands of Hela, pretty much every action scene in Wonder Woman 1984 puts Diana’s magic lasso to work. It’s another good choice—lariat use lends itself to far more creative action choreography than those “block a bullet, make a bang” bracelets of submission. Just as Wonder Woman’s dark, stormy scuffle with a mostly transformed Ares (hold on to that Victorian ’stache Greek god of war!) was much less impressive than the No Man’s Land battle scenes, Diana’s dark, stormy meow-mix-up with the finally fully transformed Cheetah lacks the impact or fun of the earlier convoy and White House scenes. Fortunately, Wonder Woman 1984 isn’t so much about flexing some Infinity War muscle. Like Captain America: The First Avenger and Iron Man 3, this movie is focused as much on the emotional journey and intangibles that lie beneath the heroism. To that extent, it feels more like the introspective first half of Superman Returns even as, thankfully, its second half isn’t near the mess the retread of “Lex Luthor, real estate magnate” proved in the former.—Michael Burgin


4. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Director: Cathy Yan

For a brief, glorious moment, it looked like maybe Harley Quinn could be the Iron Man of the DCEU: The beloved movie-star interpretation of a classic character who could flit between solo movies and team-ups, accommodating material both sardonic and serious. That seems less likely now, but we’ll always have Birds of Prey, Cathy Yan’s DC funhouse focusing on Margot Robbie’s Harley, the Joker’s free-spirited ex, coming into her own. The violent caper plot of Birds of Prey is basically reheated Guy Ritchie – a fine change of pace from the superhero status quo, but hardly revolutionary – enlivened by a pack of spirited performances and a handful of terrific, visually sparkling action sequences. Robbie makes Harley a winning and relatable comic heroine while maintaining her outsized cartoonishness; add in Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Black Canary (Jurnee Smolett), and suddenly the broadest vision of Gotham City crime since Batman & Robin feels, at its best, downright fanciful. By setting a climactic brawl inside an actual amusement park, Yan seems ready to admit what so many superhero auteurs cannot: This is a crazily costumed ride where human dimensions happen just off to the side of a freak show. That amusement park sequence, along with a glitter-bomb police station fight and a car-versus-roller-skates chase, adds up to some of the best pure action ever choreographed in the DC saga. It’s the rare spinoff—technically kind of a sidelong sequel to Suicide Squad—that makes the universe feel genuinely more expansive, and worth playing around in.—Jesse Hassenger


3. The Suicide Squad (2021)

Director: James Gunn

How is James Gunn one of the only people that actually seems to know how to make a comic book movie feel like it was built out of a comic book? Sure, the excellent Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did it, but it took making one of the most impressive animated movies in years. Writer/director Gunn, who’s hopped over to DC after making a pair of Guardians of the Galaxy movies for Marvel, achieves some of the same delirious multimedia fidelity in live-action with The Suicide Squad, his bombastic, silly and self-aware revisionist take on the super-group of screw-ups coerced into jobs too tough, dangerous and/or undesirable for the conventional wetworkers of our humble government. Gunn’s action has such a clear and confident tone that it can pepper in filmmaking winks—like quick Bourne-like zooms when Task Force X director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) plays God with the lives of costumed crooks from the safety of her command center—to add a little more visual flavor to its already over-the-top, R-rated, downright enjoyable adaptation. Part of the joke is the sheer quantity of goofball Legion of Doom rejects shoved into the mix. Sure, you’ve got the familiarly chaotic clown-about-town Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, who’s by now thoroughly made the role her own), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and straight-laced military man Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) alongside the new A-listers (John Cena’s Captain America pastiche, Peacemaker; Idris Elba’s gruff sharpshooter Bloodsport). But there’s a Golden Corral buffet of questionable riffraff introduced as well, including but not limited to: King Shark (Sylvester Stallone, channeling a dumber and hungrier Groot), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Blackguard (Pete Davidson) and a human-sized weasel (Sean Gunn). They’re all distinct and most of them are distinctly, joyfully hateable. And over the course of The Suicide Squad’s solid tropical island action movie—one that’s politics are almost as sharply cynical as its true-to-source treatment of its protagonistic supervillains—Gunn isn’t afraid to dole out the kind of consequences that have mostly been relegated to the fun-poking, franchise-flouting realms of TV superhero meta-critiques like The Boys and Invincible. These aren’t unfamiliar to Suicide Squad readers, but they’re increasingly shocking, strange and bracing (not to mention fun!) to find in AAA studio movies. As the team moves from FUBAR beach operations on Corto Maltese to sabotaging its local lab’s super-science, actual tension develops—a rarity among The Suicide Squad’s contemporaries. Whatever power its additional The gave it couldn’t completely divorce it from some expected genre limitations, but it’s helped continue and solidify the way Warner Bros. is responding to Marvel’s utter dominance of the form: Not by getting more serious, but by seriously investing in the idiosyncrasies of its comics.—Jacob Oller


2. Aquaman (2018)

Director: James Wan

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Wan and his team have taken what Justice League incapably worked around—talking/interacting/fighting/living underwater—and transformed that obstacle into a marvelous strength, using the omnidirectional freedom of subterranean saltwater violence to make up for the “everyone is flying” bullshit of Zack Snyder’s wet dreams while never abandoning the unique physics (limitations) of all that wetness. A late film battle scene between Orm’s hordes and the aforementioned talking crustaceans is astounding: a feat of design and imagination for which James Wan should understand that this is most likely why he’s on this Earth. Aquaman, then, is the natural result of what Justice League hath wrought, Justice League itself a natural result of what Snyder hath wrought before it. Where Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were humorless, Justice League was “funny”; Aquaman is “funnier.” Where Snyder’s DCEU was a sepia wasteland of shadows, Aquaman is a neon wonderland, Aquaman’s Atlantean armor a shining bastion of bright gold and green. If Justice league was a self-aware course correction, then Aquaman is course correction as business model, a denial of much of what Snyder established, leaning hard into Momoa’s charm and Wan’s old-school fantasy proclivities. It would be ridiculous to assume that Wan wouldn’t introduce Aquaman through one-too-many cock-rocking electric guitar riffs, accompanied by Momoa mean-mugging the camera (which seems to be the DCEU’s sole through line); it would be ridiculous to expect a movie like this to denounce the corporate monoliths that both gave it $200M-plus to work with and gives our hero a reason to call them “jerks.” But if there’s anything we can expect out of our blockbuster movies anymore, it’s unmitigated ridiculousness. In 2018, that’s all we can really count on. May Martha bless us, everyone.—Dom Sinacola


1. Wonder Woman (2017)

Director: Patty Jenkins

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Considering that the character of Wonder Woman was the only one in Batman v Superman who didn’t want to yank your eyeballs out of your head with a spork, it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that Wonder Woman is lightyears better than anything else the newfangled DC cinematic universe has produced. It’s not quieter necessarily, but it is more measured, more comfortable in its own skin, less fanboy desperate to keep waving keys in front of your face—exploding keys—to make sure it has the full attention of all your assaulted senses. It feels almost old-fashioned in its themes of the goodness of humanity—and the debate alien outsiders have about whether or not humans are worthy of redemption—and the selflessness of one for a greater good. It still has too many skyscraper-sized god-monsters blowing up whole acres in hackneyed super slo-mo, and it doesn’t have much you haven’t seen before, but that it simply tells one story in linear order with logical progression…man, when it comes to these movies, it almost feels like a miracle.—Will Leitch