Updated to include Zack Snyder’s Justice League
The DCEU has gone through a lot of ups and downs in the past several years. Despite mixed reactions for its films across the board, it’s hard to find a series as prolific as the DCEU (other than Marvel, of course). Nine movies in seven years is quite the badge of honor for any movie series, but its box office results are just as spotty as its quality.
The identity of the DCEU has been decimated by Warner Bros.’ inability to establish a proper balance between director and studio creative control. Still, several films in the series have managed to make their mark on the competitive superhero landscape. This list will break down each film, note the pros and cons of each, and rank them from best to worst. As always, please share your own rankings down below or on Twitter or Facebook.
10. Suicide Squad
Perhaps one of the most atrocious examples of studio interference and poor direction is 2016’s Suicide Squad. Typically, it can be argued that most films are better off in the hands of either the director or the studio. One or the other having full control typically produces a watchable movie at worst. Too much push and pull from ignorant studios and sloppy creatives are what drives a movie like Suicide Squad to crash and burn.
Director David Ayer seemed like he was off to a strong start when images from the film started to come out. He got many things right, like Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and the new gangster rebranding for the classic supervillain team. There was a whole lot he got wrong as well, like almost everything else. Studio interference in the aftermath of Batman v Superman played a big part as well, but if the film were left in safer hands, it would not have been a problem in the first place.
That being said, if the film had been left in Ayer’s hands, it would have been watchable at the very least. He has great ideas but poor execution (see any other film he’s ever made). The movie would have been better overall with a different director who understands the complexities of executing a good idea instead of just coming up with it and calling it a day.
9. Justice League
Building off of the argument regarding studio vs. director control of a movie, 2017’s Justice League (oh sorry, Justice League) is an example of how a film in full control of the studio turns out watchable at worst. There is no doubt that Justice League is a decent, turn off your brain movie, but the now legendary studio interference made it so that you REALLY have to turn your brain off to enjoy.
For those unfamiliar with the drama surrounding the film, allegations made by Cyborg actor Ray Fisher (and backed up by others) detailed abusive behavior on set from substituted director Joss Whedon and DC executive Geoff Johns and others. Allegedly, Johns and others were responsible for ousting original director Zack Snyder off of his own film. The entire movie reeks of studio genericness that makes it an unremarkable addition to the DCEU. A significant fan movement has given Snyder the chance to release his original vision for the film on HBO Max in 2021. Whatever the Snydercut has in store, surely it will have a stronger creative voice.
8. Man of Steel
General audiences seem to forget that 2013’s Man of Steel is the one that started it all. The tone of the DCEU was set with this film for better or for worse. Zack Snyder’s brand new interpretation of Superman was met with mixed reaction because of its bold twists on the character. However, the film itself is classic Zack Snyder, a lackluster story with incredible visuals and action.
Most of those who have seen this film know it as the superhero film with some of the most destructive action they have ever seen. There’s no denying that this film has a stress-inducing level of destruction, making it stand out among other action flicks. The plot leaves something to be desired, but Man of Steel is a bold film that was a stepping stone for an even more daring successor film.
Audiences rejoiced when Jason Mamoa’s version of Aquaman was revealed pre-Justice League because it seemed like DC was on the cusp of successfully rebranding one of their lamest superheroes for a darker, modern audience. One of the biggest shocks of 2018’s Aquaman is that Mamoa’s version of the character was still treated like the lame, cartoonish character from the comics, just with a different look.
This does not mean that Aquaman is bad by any means. If director James Wan were going for a cheesy, cartoonish superhero film, he made a pretty good one. The only major issue with this film, personally, is its ignored potential for a rebranding of the character and moving him away from the cheesy allegations that the fandom has had on the character for decades.
In a series built by forgettable movies, it should be a badge of honor to be the most forgettable. Although Shazam! had little to no effect on the social landscape, it’s a pretty good movie. DC successfully replicated the successful formula for the MCU’s Spider-Man series, which gave the film the same tone and quality, but without the name recognition of Spider-Man.
The cast is top-notch, and its all-ages tone makes it a stark contrast to the rest of the DCEU, but in a good way if you haven’t checked out Shazam! yet because you did not know it existed, feel free to check it out for a fun family movie night.
5. Birds of Prey
Birds of Prey may be the only film that was actually helped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. Its disastrous box office run was cut short by the worldwide shutdown, which ended up protecting its reputation a bit. The film itself is somewhat controversial because of the creative choices made, but it’s a great action showcase and some great performances if you accept the movie for what it is.
The creative choices are very odd. Stripping Barbra Gordon away from her own comic book team and reimagining famous characters so that they are unrecognizable from their origin are all odd choices that die-hard fans have a right to have an aversion towards. Still, the film has many incredible qualities (action, acting, comedy, etc.) that help place it higher on this list.
4. Wonder Woman 1984
It wouldn’t be a DCEU ranking without a bit of controversy. The newest addition to the DCEU seems to have ignited a large swath of hate for parts of the internet. Still, Wonder Woman 1984 may have its apparent problems, but so do most DCEU movies. The good qualities of 1984 are so good that it allows the film to soar higher than most others in the series.
Director Patty Jenkins could not recreate the magic of her first film, but she did have a firm grasp on the theme of 1984 and how it relates to Wonder Woman’s comic book history. The cheesy, cartoony, peacemaker tone for the character did not work for general audiences, but hardcore fans gravitate towards this tone for the character. The general population prefers the warrior goddess tone, and Jenkin’s would be wise to return to this for the third film. Still, this film’s creative choices are valid and place it higher on this list than most.
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3. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Uh oh, here it is; one of the most controversial films of all time. Only The Last Jedi seems to have a more controversial situation surrounding it. Still, Batman v. Superman is one of those films that you either hate or love. If you really hate the movie, I understand. It has some sloppy plot elements and creative choices, but I love it because it tried something very different with the genre.
This film has made me think more than any other DCEU film. There are elements that I love and elements that I hate. Still, I would not change a thing about the movie because it feels like an authentic Zack Snyder extravaganza. After all of his incredible accomplishments, he deserves that level of respect. I went through a range of emotions watching this film for the first time, and I respect when a movie makes me remember the first time I watched it.
2. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a major redaction and extension of 2017’s Justice League film that was highjacked by Joss Whedon and Geoff Johns after Snyder was forced out after a family tragedy. The original cut was an attempt to undo the progress made by Snyder with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to replicate the lighter tone that’s worked so well for Marvel Studios, but ultimately it made the original cut a lifeless hack job of what could have been. In the end, Snyder’s loyal army of fans mixed with Warner Media’s desperate need for HBO Max content led to Snyder getting the chance to fully edit and release his definitive creative vision of the film, and what a difference a true filmmaker makes.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League (AKA The Snyder Cut) is a massive expansion and improvement not only on 2017’s theatrical cut (AKA Josstice League) but also on the universe that Snyder so cleverly yet controversially laid in Batman v Superman. It also beautifully sets up a journey deeper into the Snyder-Verse, and with any luck, HBO Max will embrace this story for future projects.
Overall, I would categorize this version of Justice League as the best film Zack Snyder has ever made. Still, remember who Snyder is and his general filmmaking style. If you love his style, you will love this movie. If you hate his style, you may struggle to get through or enjoy it. Still, you should still give this one a shot because if there is any hope to get you on board the Snyder train, it’s Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
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1. Wonder Woman
Most will agree that 2017’s Wonder Woman is the best in the DCEU because it’s a truly special film for the genre as a whole. It was one of the first high profile blockbusters to be extremely successful with a female superhero lead and a female director. Not only that, but the film is also just incredible. The story, themes, performances, and action (for the most part) all work together to create a nearly perfect movie.
The No Man’s Land scene alone is enough to launch this film to the top of this list. Patty Jenkins knocked it out of the park by creating a blockbuster film for everyone that just happened to have a female lead. She recognized the importance of not relying on gimmicks for a blockbuster to work and created a well-rounded film that welcomes everyone.
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