Every Movie in the DC Extended Universe, Ranked
Now with 'The Suicide Squad.'
The DC Extended Universe was born in a state of crisis. When Marvel kicked off its world-conquering, ever-expanding "Cinematic Universe" with Iron Man in May of 2008, Warner Brothers was mere months away from releasing The Dark Knight, one of the most critically and financially successful superhero movies ever made. In comparison, Marvel Studios, striking out on its own after years of licensing its characters to other studios like Fox and Sony, was the (relatively) scrappy upstart. But by the time director Christopher Nolan brought his high-minded Bat-trilogy to a close with 2012's The Dark Knight Rises, the ground had shifted. Standalone features were out; interconnected narrative playgrounds were in.
In an effort to catch up with the times, Warner Brothers and DC Films made some wild aesthetic choices and placed some peculiar narrative bets that didn't quite pan out. (Shout out to the Knightmare "flash-forward" in Batman v Superman.) Having weathered a storm of bad press and some behind-the-scenes shakeups, the company has shifted toward a new strategy that's more focused on playing to the strengths of individual characters, like the light-hearted adventure Shazam!, rather than prioritizing complicated, Avengers-like team-ups. (Minus the fan-demanded Snyder cut of Justice League and the James Gunn-helmed Suicide Squad sequel.) And now, with WarnerMedia and HBO teaming up on its streaming service HBO Max, pretty much all of these titles are available to watch anytime.
So, how do these movies stack up against each other? Suit up in your militarized Bat-Suit and read on.
(A note: This list only contains the films in the DC Extended Universe, and therefore doesn't include older Warner Brothers movies based on DC properties like any of the previous Batman films, the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, Superman Returns, or Green Lantern, though you'll find most of them on HBO Max, too.)
11. Suicide Squad (2016)
What makes Suicide Squad the worst entry in the DC Extended Universe? While it's tempting to place the blame for the movie's creative failure on one party's shoulders—Jared Leto's Hot Topic-core take on the (barely in the movie) Joker, Will Smith's sleepy turn as sad-dad leader Deadshot, or director David Ayer's visually drab action sequences all fail to inspire much excitement—this is a case where nearly every aspect of the film fails to congeal. A scrappy, Dirty Dozen style superhero movie where villains team up to take on an even more evil, meaner class of villain shouldn't feel so belabored; the premise demands either a light touch or a total commitment to nihilism. The version of the story we got, which was reportedly reshot and tinkered with heavily leading up to its release, never settles on a tone or pinpoints a compelling theme. Like the forced camaraderie between the squad itself, nothing clicks.—Dan Jackson
10. Justice League (2017)
It's difficult to remember the plot of the DCEU's big team-up, which tells you a lot. While Suicide Squad is loathsome and Batman v Superman is insane, Justice League is just thoroughly uninteresting. After its utterly dour predecessors, the studio wanted to prove to audiences that it could have more fun, but instead ended up with dramatically inert slog with a few quips thrown in for good measure. Of course, the production of the film was messy, with Joss Whedon taking over for Zack Snyder midway through, following a personal tragedy in the latter's family. But it seems unlikely that Justice League was ever going to be a creative success. The villain, Steppenwolf, is a CGI nothingburger. Meanwhile, the introduction of new characters like Cyborg, Aquaman, and The Flash do nothing to prove why we should care about these heroes as a team. The one blessing it gave us? The GIF of Jason Momoa bellowing, "My man."—Esther Zuckerman
9. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Unquestionably, Zack Snyder has a sensibility. While many modern blockbusters feel as though they were assembled by a committee, forged in boardrooms and marketing suites by pencil-pushing executives, Snyder's hyper-macho films vibrate with an Old Testament-like sense of grandeur and punitive anger. The degree of irony or sincerity involved in a given scene of Batman v Superman, the battle royale that's often considered either the height or the nadir of his DC run, can be difficult to parse. In specific moments, like when Bruce Wayne watches the violent chaos of Man of Steel unfold on the ground, that bizarre ambiguity and mess of real-world signifiers can be intoxicating. In less successful moments, like in most of Batman v Superman's confounding final stretch of punching and emoting, the effect is exhausting. Whether or not you enjoyed the "Martha" reveal or recoiled at the image of Batman mowing down henchmen with machine guns, you have to admire the movie's commitment to its own unhinged pomposity.—DJ
8. Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
Was the Wonder Woman sequel a victim of its shocking, pandemic-mandated release strategy—the beginning of Warner Bros.'s industry-rattling plan to release its movies on HBO Max at the same time they hit theaters for the foreseeable future—or simply an unsatisfying franchise entry laden with the sort of excess that loses sight of what made the first film so great? While it certainly hurt to miss Patty Jenkin's spectacle on the big screen surrounded by an excited audience, at-home viewing laid WW84's flaws plainly bare. Diana, now jaded and isolated having suffered 70-odd years of modernity, working at her Smithsonian job, misses Gal Gadot's wide-eyed initial portrayal of the hero's own wonder and noble naiveté, putting a revived Chris Pine's Steve Trevor in the neophyte role surrounded by a spiky remembrance of the '80s. Kristen Wiig's delightful effort as the envious Barbara Minerva/villainous Cheetah became bogged down in furry CGI, and Pedro Pascal's unhinged, too-smooth-faced Maxwell Lord never put a fine point on what his wish-hungry mania was after. Even breaking out sick gold armor for the big climactic fight didn't bring justice to Diana's old spark.—EZ
7. Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)
More than any other film the DCEU has put out, it's impossible to talk about Zack Snyder's Justice League without context. First, you have to debate whether it's even part of the DCEU. The four-hour, six-chapter epic released on HBO Max after years of campaigning from fans to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut is maybe the purest articulation of what the original vision was for this franchise, which has lost much interconnectivity as it moved away from the doom and gloom of the director's ideas, and yet, it's also less an integral part of the lore and more an artifact of what could have been. But this is all skirting the point: Is it any good? Yes, in its own strange way. Zack Snyder's Justice League is long and self-serious with multiple Nick Cave needle drops. It's ultimate conflict is still simple and rather silly—as is Ben Affleck's entire take on Batman—but the film also sucks you in with its earnestness. No, we wouldn't recommend watching it all in one sitting, but it sure is better than what came before.—EZ
6. Man of Steel (2013)
The trailer for Man of Steel is a better movie than Man of Steel actually is. Zack Snyder didn't exactly deliver on his promise of a gritty-yet-hopeful superhero origin story, opting for lethargic pace and a confusing plot. There is a genuinely affecting elegiac space opera hidden in the flashbacks on planet Krypton, and a few soundtrack themes from Hans Zimmer are actually wonderful. But, overall, it heralded an era of overly grimdark superhero movies that sucked all the fun out of the characters they were supposed to be championing. A weirdly dull interpretation of Clark Kent from Henry Cavill and a truly baffling performance by Michael Shannon as the most unhinged General Zod ever are emblematic of the film's baffling contradictions.—Emma Stefansky
5. The Suicide Squad (2021)
James Gunn took the leap from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to take over the sequel to the disastrous 2016 Suicide Squad. He added a "the" and his own spin on the material, losing much of David Ayer's broodiness along the way for a bloody romp that's both gorier and more thoughtful than a lot of its genre cohorts. Alternately, a piece of "nothing matters" nihilism, a goofy comedy, and a commentary on American interference in foreign lands, The Suicide Squad doesn't always live up to its biggest ideas, but along the way, it offers a rollicking good time and a good dose of queasiness. Margot Robbie turns in another excellent performance as Harley Quinn, but the movie's unexpected heart is newcomer Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2, who can control rats, including her cute little buddy named Sebastian.—EZ
4. Aquaman (2018)
From Entourage punchline to billion-dollar-grossing blockbuster, Aquaman's journey from comic book pages to the big screen remains completely bewildering, a mark of just how rapidly the superhero industrial complex has transformed modern moviegoing. This should've been a disaster: Tasked with envisioning a vast underwater civilization and establishing a convoluted fantasy mythology, director James Wan, known for his work on horror thrill-rides like Insidious and the soapy action extravaganza Furious 7, and star Jason Momoa, a towering Game of Thrones cast member with a jocular charm, had their work cut out for them. (The character's first impression in Batman v Superman and Justice League didn't exactly set the world on fire.) And yet Aquaman, which delivers an origin story without getting bogged down in the details, is a refreshing blast of salty sea water. Leaning into all the ridiculous, goofy visual excess that money can buy, Wan makes you believe in a universe where an octopus can play the drums and Amber Heard eats a flower right off the stem. What's more beautiful than that?—DJ
3. Birds of Prey (2020)
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), the Harley Quinn-centric girl gang team-up movie full of glitter and exploding sandbags, is the first movie in the DC Comics universe that seems to remember its characters' poppy, colorful origins. Oh, right, this movie seems to say, this is a comic book! It's a neon-lit zap in the pants, exactly the kind of thing we needed in the dead of February. Margot Robbie plays her motormouthed, poorly tattooed Quinn with even more manic panache than in the awful Suicide Squad; the new additions to the universe, including Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, and Ella Jay Basco, provide endless fun; and the villainous duo of Ewan McGregor and bleach-blond Chris Messina are appropriately, unexpectedly terrifying. Plus, it also does everything it can to erase Suicide Squad from memory, which is something that we all wish we could do. If only more people went to see it.—ES
2. Shazam! (2019)
It's about time Warner Bros. and DC started having a little fun. Where Wonder Woman was a nearly transcendent film about the beauty of female power, Shazam! leans into the silly stuff, and injects some joy into this cinematic universe. It would be hard to suck the fun out of a movie about a little boy who gets the powers of Superman by just saying one nonsense word, and is subsequently tasked with fighting against the forces of evil while still trying to navigate life as a fully-grown musclebound dude half the time. Who among us wouldn't use our lightning fingers to charge a bunch of strangers' phones? Who among us wouldn't cause a little chaos while trying to test out our brand-new superpowers? Zachary Levi spends the entire movie acting like a kid in his daddy's business clothes, and the final act has a major, thrilling twist that drives home the movie's central message about finding family in those who love you.—ES
1. Wonder Woman (2017)
There is no better moment in this entire franchise than the No Man's Land sequence in Wonder Woman. In fact, there are few moments in all of comic book movies that stack up to that sequence when it comes to portraying pure, exhilarating heroism. When Wonder Woman opened, the chances of a DCEU movie being good seemed slim. But the combined talents of director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot helped reverse the losing streak, and made Wonder Woman not just the best movie in this extended universe but one of the best entries into the genre as a whole. The film was labeled "important" thanks to the nature of the story it told, but Jenkins made this Diana Prince adventure live up to that moniker, imbuing it with a mythological and historical grandeur. Gadot's turn as the hero makes her a movie star, equal parts ferociousness and charm, and her chemistry with Chris Pine as Steve Trevor is sparkling. Sure, the third act battle doesn't quite live up to the rest of the action, but it doesn't detract from the highs Wonder Woman manages to hit.—EZ