With the recent release of Wonder Woman, a lot of critics finally seem to be assuaged that DC is on the right track again. Justice League is also looking promising and will set the stage for the already announced solo films starring Batman, Aquaman, and the Flash. It certainly wasn’t an easy road to get to this point, though, with comic book movies going through a distinct rough patch before finally becoming the box office juggernauts of today. Now it’s gotten to the point that even picking the best DC movie could be a challenge with how many good ones there are, but we’re going to attempt it and give our ranking of the best so far.
By the best, that means you can count on films like Batman & Robin and Green Lantern not making the cut. We’ll also stick to the superhero genre since stuff like A History of Violence, while enjoyable, isn’t exactly DC’s bread and butter. That still leaves plenty to choose from, though, so check out CBR’s ranking as we sort through the best of the best. Don’t forget to share your order with us after you’ve seen ours!
15. SUICIDE SQUAD
Kicking things off, we have to go with the movie that made supervillains into the good guys. Suicide Squad was obviously pretty arguable in terms of quality, depending on who you ask, but you can’t argue that it did a good job drawing in an audience. It definitely has its flaws, like an uneven tone, an aesthetic that looks like it was bought at Hot Topic, and an attempt to speak of the characters like a family despite it never really being earned. But it’s certainly not flawed to the degree of something like Batman & Robin.
Even with the criticisms, Suicide Squad is still worthy of a mention because it did have its bright spots. Harley Quinn and Deadshot were the core of the film and were both fun characters. Getting to see each character’s origin fleshed out was enjoyable, especially thanks to cameos from Batman and the Flash. And the movie undeniably had a unique style that made it impossible to ignore.
14. BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
This movie is so polarizing that fans who hated it will find it controversial we included it at all, while fans who loved it will find it controversial that it’s not ranked higher. We’re not looking to start any wars here, though. We say Batman v Superman has a happy medium midway on the spectrum of the two extremes. Did it take itself a bit too seriously? Sure, at times. But was it any less awesome to see the first live-action fight between Batman and Superman, or the debut of Wonder Woman? Not at all.
Dawn of Justice probably tried to lay out too much groundwork for future movies too fast, but it was still an entertaining spectacle. And for everyone who doubted Ben Affleck as Batman, he might have proven to be the best at balancing both the superhero persona and Bruce Wayne to date. If you can accept that these versions of the classic heroes aren’t quite what you’re used to, there’s a good time to be had here.
For fans who enjoy seeing faithful adaptions, Constantine was no doubt a disappointment. It doesn’t try very hard to retain the plot and characters of the source material, instead using those ideas more as a springboard to do its own thing. Usually when studios take the name recognition of a story and slap it onto a totally different kind of adaption, it doesn’t end well. But Constantine actually is a decent movie as long as you’re willing to accept it’s not going to be what you read.
Keanu Reeves saw his career in full bloom at the time thanks to the Matrix films, and earned the titular role of Constantine. The war between Heaven and Hell isn’t new territory for movies, but Constantine still delivers a fresh take on it. We’d certainly like to see a proper adaption of the source material at some point as well, but in the meantime Constantine offers some cool ideas with the DC property.
12. MAN OF STEEL
People have strong feelings when Man of Steel is brought up. Many are quick to dismiss it simply due to Superman’s fight with Zod resulting in a lot of destruction, and ultimately had Superman killing Zod. While killing an opponent isn’t true to the ethos of the Superman of the comics, that doesn’t take away from the strong contributions of the rest of the movie. Henry Cavill is a strong choice for the role, and fits the look and demeanor of the character quite well.
The death of Zod might have been controversial with fans, but the battles themselves in Man of Steel were also the first time Superman felt as powerful as everyone says he is. Watching him be able to punch someone off into the distance really showed his strength, and made each fight feel huge and literally impactful. It staked out a unique tone for the DCEU and made this a Superman to take notice of.
11. BATMAN RETURNS
Though Batman Returns was not as revolutionary as its predecessor, it did still offer a good time for fans of Tim Burton’s take on Batman. As much as Michael Keaton is praised for his version of Batman, Danny DeVito also came across quite well in his creepy and revolting portrayal of the Penguin. And even today Michelle Pfeiffer’s version of Catwoman can be argued as being the best interpretation of the character we have seen in a movie.
Batman Returns does have somewhat of a dissonance to it, though. As is typical of Burton’s films, it’s dark and at times unsettling, but it also has some silly bits of humor that can be jarring. Watching a bunch of actual penguins give the Penguin a burial at sea is pretty hard not to laugh at, and not because it’s a great joke. Still, the solid acting performances ground the movie in a place a step up above several of the Batman movies that would follow.
10. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
The conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy could not quite measure up to the quality of the two previous installments, but still drew everything to a close in a way that set the bar for all Batman films to come. Tom Hardy’s Bane brought a new flavor of villainy to this entry, and the additions of “Robin” and Catwoman finally gave Batman some other heroes to interact with. There were enough new elements to keep the formula fresh and entertaining for this finale.
The only drawbacks were the reveal of Bane actually just being a thug for Talia al Ghul, making the villain’s plot here kind of a rehash of the first film. The third act in general left audiences with some head scratchers, like how Batman escaped in time before the bomb went off. But quibbles like those don’t stop this from still being one of the best Batman movies we’ve had.
Despite how long ago this movie came out, it’s still true to the Superman character in a way that would satisfy critics of Henry Cavill’s version. There’s no attempt in Superman to make the titular character morally gray or a possible threat to humanity down the road. This is Superman as most fans picture him, preserving what’s right and innocent in the world.
It was an inevitability that a character as popular as Superman would get reinterpreted in movies numerous times, but Christopher Reeve’s performance still holds up as him being arguably the best actor to don the cape. Adding a new, unique spin on a character is great, but it’s important to be able to nail the original through an adaption first. Perhaps if Cavill can capture a bit more of Reeve in future performances, modern fans will find less to be cynical about.
8. V FOR VENDETTA
Though V’s days as a hero were pretty one and done, he’s still left a strong impression on fans. You’re always likely to see a Guy Fawkes mask or hear a V for Vendetta quote around November fifth. The story harkens back to the early days of several different heroes whose adventures included taking down real life tyrants like Adolf Hitler. V’s struggle against a totalitarian government is relatable because it’s a threat the world has never quite shaken.
While the cinematic adaption of the story did have to make some cuts from the comics, nothing hugely significant was lost in the transition. Meanwhile, Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, and Stephen Fry all provide strong performances in the film. It’s a tale of a morally ambiguous anti-hero that holds up as well on the screen as it does on the page.
7. LEGO BATMAN
Though the more recent interpretations of Batman make him out to be a very dark and dour character, many people still enjoy when the hero doesn’t have to be quite so serious all the time. Plenty of people still remember the adventures of the recently deceased Adam West as Batman and can’t help but wish there was a bit more humor to be found in the Dark Knight’s most recent outings. For those fans, Lego Batman was the perfect antidote.
This Lego version of the Dark Knight first delighted fans in The Lego Movie, and proved popular enough to get his own spinoff. Lego Batman pokes fun at the moody, solitary Batman fans have come to know, while also telling a story true to the character. It was good to see this side of the hero again after it’s become so hard to even see him crack a smile in his live-action appearances.
For one of the earlier major attempts at a superhero movie, the 1989 version of Batman still holds up surprisingly well. And just as Batman v Superman faced controversy in its casting of Ben Affleck as Batman, Batman the movie initially had fans seriously doubting Michael Keaton for the role. Of course, that has obviously changed since, and many still consider Keaton a candidate for the best actor to wear the cowl.
Jack Nicholson’s Joker was also iconic, and also a contender for the best actor to do this role. Nicholson’s Joker was deranged, but his crime spree didn’t deprive the film of humor either. Unlike some future films featuring the Dark Knight, Batman showed the hero being willing to toss in a joke every now and then. Though the quality of future Batman movies became questionable for a while afterwards, this one is still a solid entry in the franchise.
Before Zack Snyder got his hands on the official DCEU, he got to get some experience with some of DC’s other historic characters. Watchmen was a surprise hit among a lot of fans due to characters your casual movie goer wouldn’t know, actors who weren’t exactly A-listers, and an R rating that would deter any kids from catching this one. But Watchmen has a huge place in the history of comics, and its story is no less engaging when brought to the big screen.
Snyder could have lightened up on the film’s gore, and it would have been nice to have kept the comic’s ambiguity in regards to whether Ozymandias or Rorschach was in the right, but it was still a solid adaption of the story. It’s hard to imagine how the HBO TV series could improve on the depiction, but we’re certainly interested to watch and see. In the meantime, it still gave us one of the stronger movies featuring DC characters.
4. SUPERMAN II
Though it sounds weird to think of in today’s world filled with sequels, by Superman II, the Man of Steel was already thinking about hanging up his cape for good. It was an interesting hook, especially given how one of the biggest complaints lobbed against Superman is that he is overpowered. So it was a pretty neat twist to see the hero not trying to better hone his powers, but rather give them up and live a normal life.
It’s especially impressive the movie turned out as good as it did, given the tumultuous issues that went on behind the scenes. Despite initially being set to reprise his role as director for Superman II, Richard Donner was booted off the project midway through for unknown reasons. A version of the movie closer to Donner’s vision eventually saw the light of day in 2006 and got good reception that further cemented this as a solid film even for modern audiences.
3. WONDER WOMAN
Despite Wonder Woman being one of the best known heroes in comics, fans and critics were really dubious about how her movie would turn out. The DCEU’s previous offerings had been very polarizing, and the universe desperately needed a hit that could be called unanimously great. People were skeptical, but Patty Jenkins directed a movie that soared above all the cynicism and gave us the best DCEU movie to date.
Gal Gadot proved perfect for the starring role, and the tone of Wonder Woman was refreshingly devoid of the non-stop serious nature of Dawn of Justice. Wonder Woman had time for Diana to be innocent and laugh in addition to beating down the villains. It showed the human side that the DCEU needed, and restored the faith of fans that the universe was in good hands.
2. BATMAN BEGINS
This is the movie that not only set DC on the path to becoming a huge name for movies, but also drastically changed how comic book movies were viewed. Previously it had been the expectation that if a movie involved superheroes, it would come with a dose of cheesiness. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, the first X-Men movie, and even the first Batman movie all had their silly moments despite being crowd pleasers. Batman Begins changed that perception by bringing a more mature approach to its story.
With a darker take on Batman, and time well spent on establishing the origin of the character, Batman Begins attracted a lot of positive attention. After seeing what Christopher Nolan was able to do on his first go, fans couldn’t wait to what he’d do with the rest of the trilogy. And even today Batman Begins stands up as the best superhero origin movie we’ve had.
1. THE DARK KNIGHT
Some fans call Batman Begins the best movie DC has offered so far, but it was The Dark Knight that really got movie goers everywhere talking. The sequel was even darker than its predecessor, and had the added benefit of featuring villains the general public were well-acquainted with. People who don’t follow Batman that heavily might not know about Ra’s al Ghul, but everyone knows the Joker and Two-Face. And this version of the Joker far exceeded everyone’s expectations to the point of stealing the show.
When Heath Ledger was announced as the Joker, fans were dubious due to the actor’s most recent hit at the time being Brokeback Mountain. It was hard to picture an actor going from a romance movie to playing one of the most maniacal characters we’ve seen. Yet Heath defied everyone’s doubts and ensured his posthumous role was not only a hit, but elevated The Dark Knight to many people’s favorite comic book movie period.
Justice League will be in theaters starting November 17, 2017. Do you think it will be as good as the ones we mentioned?
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