Thanks to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, interlinking superhero franchises are all the rage right now. Their closest competitor is Warner Bros’ DC Extended Universe, but in reality it’s not that close. There have been more lows than highs for Superman and company on the big screen in recent times, and it’s undeniable that the DCEU is a lot messier than it should be 11 films in.
The upcoming Flash movie – which will reportedly be adapting elements from the popular Flashpoint comic book arc that reset the universe – may help remedy that. But with The Suicide Squad having recently landed in theaters, now is as good a time as any to look back on the bad, the good, and the great of DC’s live action offerings over the past eight years.
11. Suicide Squad
The jury is still out on whether or not we’ll get to see David Ayer’s purported cut of Suicide Squad (though it seems unlikely). But the movie that was released in 2016 was a terrible, badly edited mess. The reason for the squad assembling in the first place is nonsensical, the villains-become-family arc is unearned, and the performances by Jared Leto as The Joker and Cara Delevigne as The Enchantress are among the worst in the genre.
The lone saving grace is in the casting of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, two characters who show up in the sequel. But not even they, along with the charisma machine that is Will Smith, can save this one.
10. Justice League (2017)
The biggest problem with 2017’s Justice League is that it’s the product of two different visions colliding. When Zack Snyder left the project due to personal tragedy, WB brought in Joss Whedon to finish the project. The results weren’t pretty, from humor that felt forced and at times inappropriate to visuals that looked flat-out ugly.
The audience were left unsatisfied, and it’s become clearer and clearer in recent times that the actors who worked on the movie weren’t happy either, with Cyborg actor Ray Fisher accusing Whedon of “gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable” conduct. Gal Gadot shared her own story about the experience, too. The first live action team-up of DC’s most iconic heroes deserved much better.
8. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is what you get when the writers and director don’t understand what makes their titular characters special. Doubling down on the broody Superman established in Man of Steel is bad enough. But turning Batman into a killing machine is a choice so incompatible with the character that it breaks the world of the film (why would Commissioner Gordon still light the Bat-signal if Gotham’s famous vigilante was dropping bodies? He should be hunting him down).
One of the few bright spots in all the doom and gloom is the introduction of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who makes a fun splash in the final battle against Doomsday.
8. Wonder Woman 1984
The first 20 minutes of Wonder Woman 1984 – in which we see a young Diana compete in a Themyscirian Olympics, and then watch as Gal Gadot’s lasso-wielding heroine take down a group of robbers in 1984 – are incredible. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is a bit middling. With the hunt for a MacGuffin, two villains, and the return of Steve Trevor (under icky circumstances that are never really examined), there are ultimately too many spinning plates for this sequel to satisfyingly service.
Still, there is plenty to like here. Chris Pine and Gadot remain a charming double act, and Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig both acquit themselves well as Maxwell Lord and Barbara Minerva/Cheetah respectively. And as heavy-handed and cheesy as it is, the earnestness of the movie is hard to dislike.
7. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Zack Snyder’s Justice League benefits from a unified vision that the 2017 cut didn’t have. For one thing, character decisions make more sense and the chemistry between the team is more pronounced. For another, the beefed up Cyborg storyline is complex and emotional.
But some of the problems when it comes to Snyder’s vision for these characters still remain, and there’s at least 20 minutes of unnecessary footage that could and should have been excised from this four-hour cut. No one needs to hear an extended Icelandic ballad in a Justice League movie.
6. Man of Steel
There is so much about Man of Steel that works. Superman’s first flight sequence is an all-timer, and his suit looks great. Hans Zimmer’s score is markedly different from John Williams’ standard setting work in the 1970s, but no less stunning. We can even get on board with the 20 minute prologue in which Russell Crowe’s Jor-El rides a lizard with dragonfly wings. But this counts for little if you don’t get the core tenets of Kal-El right.
And even before the Man of Steel snaps Zod’s neck in the final battle, there are signs that the filmmakers behind this interpretation of Superman weren’t nailing the simple things (for one thing, if your name isn’t Lois Lane, you’re probably not getting saved in this movie). It’s a shame, because with the right script Henry Cavill could have really done something special with this character. But he, and we, are still waiting for it.
How to stop people thinking that Aquaman is a joke? Step 1: Cast Jason Momoa. The once and former Khal Drogo brings his unique energy to the role, and it works a treat. Whether he’s taking down villains on a submarine or bouncing off of Amber Heard’s Mera, he’s always fun to watch. Step 2 is hiring James Wan.
When Aquaman leans into its fantasy elements, the visuals are often spectacular. The film loses points for not utilizing Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Black Manta enough, and a few more for some really strange soundtrack choices that feel like they belong in another movie. But overall, we’re definitely laughing with the King of the Seas rather than at him. Bring on Aquaman 2.
In its best moments, Shazam! has an excellent balance of humor and heart. The central conflict of blood family vs. foster family is given the right amount of weight, and the film gets a lot of mileage out of the idea that a teenager can transform into a muscle-clad superhero with just one word.
David F. Sandberg’s movie can also lay claim to having the best joke in the entirety of the DCEU to date, in which Mark Strong’s villain try to monologue to a hero who can’t hear him. At times it feels a bit too lighthearted, with jokes that undercut genuine emotion at the wrong times. But with fun performances, a great message, and an exciting setup for the sequel, this film set the stage for characters I can’t wait to see more of.
3. Wonder Woman
After the back-to-back-to-back disappointments of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad, the DCEU desperately needed a win, and thanks to director Patty Jenkins they got it with Wonder Woman.
The No Man’s Land sequence – in which Diana strides confidently across the battlefield deflecting bullets while Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score soars – is still the best 2 minutes of the DCEU to date. Add that to a beautifully visualised first act that focuses on the warrior women of Themyscira and the instantly winning chemistry between Gadot and Pine’s Steve Trevor, and only some third act problems hold it back from a higher placing on this list.
2. Birds of Prey: The Fabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn
There are no such third act issues with Birds of Prey – in fact, it might be the best thing about a movie, a riotous action sequence in which a hair clip is exchanged mid-battle proving to be one of many highlights. There’s lots to like before that inevitable throw-down too, much of it do to Margot Robbie’s pitch-perfect performance of Harley Quinn.
Freed from Jared Leto and The Joker, she truly makes the character her own with this movie, from Quinn’s mannerisms to her attitude. Throw in a fantastic Daniel Pemberton score and a supporting cast who do a lot with a little (Mary Elizabeth Winstead is especially fun here as The Huntress), and you have one of the DCEU’s best films.
1. The Suicide Squad
The Suicide Squad debacle of 2016 didn’t exactly have people hankering for more movies focused on Task Force X. That all changed when James Gunn got hired to write and direct a sequel.
Having made two movies about the MCU’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn had form when it came to making us fall in love with a group of rogues, and he proves it again here. There’s just the right balance of humor, character, and action, with multiple third act payoffs and a body count that remembers what the title of the movie is. Put simply… he understood the assignment.