The DC Extended Universe was originally created as a way for Warner Brothers and DC Comics to compete with Disney and Marvel with their very own cinematic universe. Over the course of almost ten years, the DCEU has gone through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. With a troubled production, constantly changing creative direction and celebrity controversies it's almost a miracle that this franchise is still alive and kicking. Whether or not you're a fan of the DCEU or Warner Bros Discovery at the moment, or are more interested in their behind the scenes drama, we decided to give our ranking of each film from the DCEU in our opinion from best to worst.
The Suicide Squad
The Suicide Squad was a big welcome back to the DCEU during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst I was left disappointed by Wonder Woman 1984, James Gunn restored my faith in the DCEU with his version of Task Force X. He manages to bring a more unique sense of humor compared to his Guardians of the Galaxy films as they are more adult than Marvel would allow. Plus, his treatment of all the characters really leads to the uncertainty of everyone’s fates. The action is top-tier, the performances are phenomenal and we get introduced to many new characters that have since become fan favorites (King Shark, Peacemaker and Polka Dot Man). This isn’t just a great superhero film, or DC film, but one of the best comic book films of the last 10 years in my humble opinion.
So far the only TV show to be apart of the DCEU, it is also one of the best. Bringing the C-list villain, Peacemaker, front and center and making him a beloved household name. John Cena’s surprising performance really brought the film’s heart and themes to life beautifully, with the addition of Freddie Stroma as the lovable psychopath, Vigilante, it was hard to hate anything about our team of heroes. Combine the performances with James Gunn’s poignant direction, his irreverent style of dark comedy, the top notch action set pieces, and an unskippable title sequence, Peacemaker will be a rewatchable foundation for what the DCEU could be.
Unlike the rest of the DCEU, Shazam! embraces being different from the pack. With a far lighter tone compared to the broodiness of its titular extended universe and an actual narrative with character development. Combine that with the pitch perfect castings of Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Mark Strong and Jack Dylan Grazer makes for a truly enjoyable film. Also, the action itself happens to be quite relatable wish fulfillment as we see Shazam! figure out his powers and get tossed around like a rag doll. This may be DC’s Black Sheep compared to the rest of the franchise, but it was the critical hit the universe sorely needed to keep faith in the future of the DCEU.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Even though Zack Snyder’s Justice League isn’t technically a part of the DCEU, we are counting it just to rub it in the face of Josstice League. With its concise and epic narrative it is far more entertaining than the 2017 version. The 4 hour runtime may turn some away, it is still worthy of your time. Stellar performances throughout, along with better character development and a more layered villain brings more investment into the stakes; in addition to each member of the Justice League getting a standout moment, a la The Flash turning back time! This is what a superhero movie should truly look like, not whatever Joss Whedon concocted in his witches brew.
Birds of Prey
Wonderfully colorful and chaotic like our titular wild card. Once again Margot Robbie proves she is Harley Quinn with a layered and charismatic performance, along with a delightful supporting cast with the likes of Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya and Ewan McGregor as Black Mask. Not to mention Black Mask as a magnetically hateable, insecure, misogynistic man child with severe daddy issues and one of DC’s top villains. The action is extremely fun and inventively choreographed, plus the story is well maintained and well edited. Birds of Prey became everything 2016’s Suicide Squad wanted/tried to be and then some. Hopefully we get more of this type of DCEU films in the future.
After the disaster that was both Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, Warner Brothers needed a powerhouse film that would further fuel the struggling DCEU. Enter a film directed by Patty Jenkins featuring Wonder Woman a.k.a. Diana Prince, who was previously in Snyder’s Batman v. Superman. Taking the route of more conventional superhero origin stories, Wonder Woman’s plot is rather linear. However, it makes up for it with beautiful set design in her home island of Themiscyra contrasted by the bleak setting of London during the First World War. Unlike previous superheroes before her, Diana truly wants to help those around her out of the goodness of her own heart. Despite a lackluster third act, Wonder Woman was the first film to show that the DCEU truly could be spectacular, if done with the right approach.
If anyone says that good casting won’t impact the quality of a film, show them this movie. Dwayne Johnson as the titular anti-hero Teth-Adam is the epitome of how far good casting can take a film. Not to mention Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate and Aldis Hodges as Hawkman are just as perfect. The action is without a doubt some of the most entertaining set pieces of the year, even if they get a little generic by the third act. Despite the fact that Black Adam doesn’t offer anything new in terms of pushing superhero storytelling and quite the lackluster final villain, it is still one hell of an entertaining ride.
After Joss Whedon’s Justice League nearly killed off the DCEU, fans believed all hope was lost. However, The King of The Seven Seas sailed in from the high tide and delivered one of the most badass and awesome films from the franchise. Unlike many of the DCEU’s past ventures, Aquaman breathed a breath of fresh air into the visual department, bringing the underwater city of Atlantis to life full or color and a futuristic aesthetic to further covey the idea of an advanced underwater society. Filled with rich visuals, beautifully-shot action sequences and bolstered by Jason Momoa’s charisma, James Wan’s Aquaman may have been one of the reasons that kept the DCEU afloat.
Man of Steel
One of the most controversial comic book films, Man of Steel is what kick started the DCEU for better or for worse. Unlike previous films regarding Superman, Man of Steel is a gritty retelling of the classic Superman origin story. Although many fans of the Big Blue Boy Scout were angry at Snyder for turning the usually optimistic hero into a copy of Batman dressed as Superman, personally, I had no problem with a Superman film being made in a gritty and untrusting world. What made the film a bit boring for me was, ironically, too many fight scenes. While past Superman movies had very little action sequences, this one had way too many. Out of all the DCEU films present, Man of Steel has to be the one film where I struggle to decide whether I like it or not. I absolutely loved Zack Snyder’s world building, attention to detail and artistic style. All these point to how talented Snyder is as a filmmaker, yet that style comes to the detriment of storytelling. Man of Steel, while not awful, is not my favorite DCEU film either.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
The most anticipated film at the time, Batman v Superman somehow could not live up to the hype. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great moments and great performances that save the film from being horrendous, Batmans and Superman’s fight and the Dark Apokolips sequence for example. But I would be lying if I ignored the issues of its pacing, villains, and writing. Everytime I watch this film, the MARTHA scene makes less and less sense. While seeing The Dark Knight Returns and Death of Superman storylines being adapted to the big screen is marvelous on paper, in execution it is rushed and unearned.
Wonder Woman 1984
This sequel is the definition of doing too much in too little time. This was one of the first movies to be pushed back indefinitely due to COVID, so it received a hybrid release of both in theaters and HBO Max. There were still high expectations but not as high as they once were. The plot is all over the place, juggling many subplots within its 2 and a half hour run time with a pacing that will give you whiplash. There are still some great moments throughout WW84, even if they don’t necessarily make a lot of sense with its in-universe logic, such as Diana flying or the desert convoy chase. Even if you dislike this movie thoroughly, you would be wrong to say Pedro Pascal as Maxwell Lord didn’t steal the show, hearts, and tears as one of DC’s more complex and sympathetic villains.
Let me just lay this out there: this film was a complete mess. It was oddly placed and felt more like DC’s answer to the MCU’s Guardians of the Galaxy. However, it did get a few things right that certain DCEU films (looking at you, Josstice League) failed at. Task Force X does feel like a genuine team, with characters who all have their own goals and agenda with no interest working in a team end up learning how to work together and appreciate one another throughout the film. However, that’s where the praise ends. Suicide Squad is a nonsensical mess with too many storylines that it’s trying to tell and wrap up in addition to setting up more sequels and spin-offs. To me, the best way to describe Suicide Squad is a two hour long trailer.
2017’s Justice League (Josstice League)
Do I need to say more on why this is here? Perhaps the most disjointed, messy and overall insulting entry in the DCEU, 2017’s Justice League is the only film in the entire franchise that actually made me leave the theater in a sour mood. After Zack and his wife Deborah Snyder left production in light of their daughter, Autumn’s death, the film went to Joss Whedon who reshot many scenes. The end product was a mere shadow of its former self, complete with shoddy dialogue, God-awful CGI and a completely broken and misleading message. Fans of both Zack Snyder and the DCEU were outraged at both Whedon and Warner Brothers. Although I’m not a hardcore Snyder fan, there has never been a movie that has made me THIS angry when I left the theater. Not only do I hate this movie, but I hate every shot, line and pixel of this film. Yes, I said pixel because the film looked like it was being rendered before our very eyes. Snyder himself claimed to have never seen the theatrical cut, and for good reason. 2017’s Justice League is perhaps my least favorite comic book film from ANY franchise.
Co-Written By: Michael Li