The DC Extended Universe’s road has been rocky so far, but following its ups and downs has been anything but dull. Moreover, its canvas is undoubtedly wider than the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s – we’re pretty sure all the tonal and visual variances aren’t intentional though. All this makes it a very interesting series of movies to rank from worst to best (strong opinions ahead).
From Zack Snyder’s more serious take on Superman and rushed journey to assemble the Justice League – kidnapped by Warner Bros. and then rescued for a major rework by the auteur filmmaker – to the lighter tone of James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, there’s plenty to love (or hate) about DC Films’ recent efforts. Furthermore, with Warner Media and Discovery now forming Warner Bros. Discovery, even more changes are coming our way.
Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad filmmaker James Gunn has taken over the creative side of all audiovisual DC projects moving forward, creating DC Studios and establishing a new plan for the company’s IPs across movies, TV, and even video games. The first “chapter” of this new age for DC media is called ‘Gods and Monsters’ and is set to begin in 2025 with a fresh new version of Superman written by Gunn himself. While some characters from the current DC Extended Universe will survive this reboot, others must change in order to work within the new narrative roadmap. Ongoing “elseworlds” stories such as The Batman’s sequels and Joker: Folie à Deux will remain untouched (and aren't in this list).
If you’re more of a Marvel fan or want similar reads about the MCU, be sure to check out our Marvel Studios movies ranked list and MCU in chronological order guide. As for video games, we also have our favourite Marvel and DC picks.
13. Suicide Squad
- Release date: August 5, 2016
- Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney
Suicide Squad still holds the crown of the DCEU movie with the coolest trailers by far, but sadly, that energy didn’t translate to the full movie. We got a final cut that was chopped up and reassembled to hell and back. A director’s cut added some more meat, but even that iteration of the movie feels disjointed and terribly paced. On top of all that, David Ayer’s script feels too scattered and unfocused, running with a basic premise that makes no sense for a first Suicide Squad mission and character motivations that are shaky at best.
Following all the Snyder Cut drama (and later success), Ayer has been pushing for the last two years for an “Ayer Cut” which he claims exists somewhere, but it seems like Warner Bros. simply isn’t interested in resurrecting more corpses.
12. Justice League
- Release date: November 17, 2017
- Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa
As the result of one of Hollywood’s most non-sensical dramas regarding a big-budget production ever, Justice League – DC Films’ answer to The Avengers – plopped into theatres in fall 2017 to terrible reviews and lukewarm reactions from diehard fans.
Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad weren’t enough to build up a cohesive and interesting universe in a short amount of time, and discrepancies between Warner and Zack Snyder – who left the project after a family tragedy – led to a heavy rework (more like destruction) of the movie under Joss Whedon’s guidance. More tiresome drama ensued, and the final result feels like a Frankenstein of half-baked ideas, jarring tonal shifts, and cookie-cutter characters.
11. Shazam! Fury of the Gods
- Release date: March 17, 2023
- Cast: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, Rachel Zegler, Jack Dylan Grazer
The second Shazam! movie still has its heart in the right place, but a criminally generic plot dilutes most of its strengths. It also suffers from the recent trend of undercooked VFX in big franchise superhero flicks despite its bigger ambitions, so the final result feels too dated overall.
While the kids and teenagers’ energy make this one watchable, the more traditional stuff falls flat and can’t be carried all the way through by Zachary Levi trying to hit comedic notes that are too disconnected from Asher Angel’s more restrained (and surprisingly brief) performance.
10. Black Adam
- Release date: October 21, 2022
- Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Quintessa Swindell, Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Shahi
The hierarchy of power in the DC universe did change, but definitely not in the way Dwayne Johnson was expecting. Black Adam started development back in the far past of 2007, and its outdated energy made it all the way to 2022. Jaume Collet-Serra’s solid visual flair can’t salvage this “we need a bad guy but not really” flick from crumbling under its own ambitions.
There are some interesting ideas buried under the rubble, and the Justice Society as presented here was pretty awesome (especially Pierce Brosnan as Doctor Fate), but Black Adam isn’t a compelling enough protagonist – often coming across as a self-parody of the actor – and very little from the script ends up sticking.
9. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
- Release date: March 25, 2016
- Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS), the second chapter of the DCEU already exhibited worrying signs, but has slowly gained a cult following, partly thanks to a more palatable Ultimate Cut. Its biggest flaws are an overabundance of ideas that never totally gel together – it’s a Batman movie, a Man of Steel sequel, and an ambitious Justice League set-up that features Wonder Woman’s introduction and flashforwards to a grim future.
BvS is long and dense, and filled with characters that feel miserable, yet its exploration of modern mythologies and how these heroes and vigilantes affect the world they inhabit was refreshingly soulful and brave for such a massive project. Even if it ultimately missed the mark, it took big swings and strived for something different.
8. Man of Steel
- Release date: June 14, 2013
- Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne
Man of Steel might be a solid unintentional Dragon Ball Z adaptation, but it’s a mid Superman flick. It’s a looker and an easy rewatch, plus Hans Zimmer’s original score is absolutely fantastic, but there aren’t nearly enough Kal-El heroics – nor genuine sense of wonder – in this reboot of the Superman mythos.
To be honest, the movie is largely fine and feels really streamlined and “clean” when compared to many modern superhero extravaganzas, but its more dramatic and emotional efforts fall flat (“Don’t save me, invincible son”). And that’s a big problem when you’re mainly trying to humanize Superman and make audiences care about those who surround him.
7. Wonder Woman
- Release date: June 2, 2017
- Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya
In this writer’s humble opinion, we’re now entering the “actually good and really watchable” part of this list, so the DCEU overall isn’t actually that bad. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman packs a punch and works quite well as a timeless adventure that also happens to be a WWI movie.
Besides paving the way for more female-led adaptations, it’s certainly not the most ground-breaking comic book flick around. Its resolution isn’t as compelling as the rest of the story, but Diana quickly became a fan favorite, and her debut ultimately expanded the DCEU’s horizons without breaking a sweat.
6. Wonder Woman 1984
- Release date: December 25, 2020
- Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen
The sequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman didn’t resonate with as many fans nor critics as the first installment, so this pick for the sixth spot in our list may come as a surprise. We’re committed to defending it as a much-needed return to the colorful optimism of Richard Donner’s Superman and the tongue-in-cheek comedy of Batman Returns.
It’s an off-beat and sincere sequel which spends more time exploring its characters (to varying degrees of success) and discussing the world that surrounds them than delivering the standard plot-driven fun we’ve come to expect from many of these productions.
5. Birds of Prey
- Release date: February 7, 2020
- Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett, Rosie Perez, Ella Jay Basco, Ewan McGregor
Cathy Yan brought a different type of energetic style to the DCEU with the mid-sized Birds of Prey right before the Covid pandemic started. Its wings were cut short, and the marketing push behind it wasn’t the best, but this rollicking urban romp found plenty of love from fans and critics alike.
It also confirmed the DCEU’s biggest casting win so far has been Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn – she shined bright even in the otherwise dull Suicide Squad, plus the entire cast delivered fun performances that weren’t constrained by tedious franchise planning.
- Release date: April 5, 2019
- Cast: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, Adam Brody, Djimon Hounsou
Shazam! also followed the Richard Donner rulebook of superhero filmmaking while packing a fair amount of horror DNA courtesy of director David F. Sandberg. It’s endearing and super heartfelt, but scary at times too. A winning combination if you ask us.
You know how it’s going to play out, and its villain might not be the most memorable, but this zero-to-hero story had more than one trick up its sleeve and offered a genuine take on the “young boy gets superpowers” formula.
3. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
- Release date: March 18, 2021
- Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa
The most hardcore of Zack Snyder and DC Films fans moved heaven and earth since 2017’s mess of a Justice League movie dropped, campaigning both online and IRL for a massive director’s cut of the crossover that wasn’t even close to finished. Although most industry insiders reported its release – in any state – was unlikely, the launch of HBO Max created the perfect opportunity for Warner Media to grant the fans’ wishes, and the so-called “Snyder Cut” got the greenlight in an unprecedented move by a major Hollywood studio.
The $70 million (some say it was even more) spent on restoring and finishing up Zack Snyder’s original gargantuan vision – which clocks in at 242 minutes (that’s just over four hours) – paid off, with most critics and believers in the filmmaker’s untampered vision agreeing that the profoundly reworked movie delivered an epic conclusion to the DCEU’s first phase of sorts, despite biting more than it could properly chew. Those who dislike Snyder’s signature style won’t magically enjoy this one, but it’s definitely his most compelling and focused work since Watchmen.
2. The Suicide Squad
- Release date: August 5, 2021
- Cast: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman
James Gunn was the second Marvel director to be invited into the DCEU following his (temporal) departure of the third Guardians of the Galaxy movie. His semi-rebooted take on the Suicide Squad IP paid off with critics and fans despite a surprisingly poor box office performance, partly explained by the simultaneous release on HBO Max.
The Suicide Squad is an eccentric and violent movie that isn’t afraid of getting its hands dirty. It’s filled with sympathetic characters defined by past traumas that didn’t make the best life choices or simply were forced into a life of being bad. Drawing inspiration from classic war films and John Ostrander’s 1980s Suicide Squad comics, James Gunn crafted a rather unique tale of camaraderie and redemption that knows when to act goofy and when to deliver unfiltered gut punches. Plus, the selection of songs kicks ass!
- Release date: December 21, 2018
- Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
James Wan’s Aquaman is big and colorful and unabashedly comic-booky in the best possible ways. The inherently goofy elements of the character and his world are played straight, and there isn’t much of an “adaptation” happening, which is precisely why it rocks so much. An octopus playing drums? Yeah, sure.
Its unfiltered sincerity and optimism may not be for everyone, but it appears that audiences worldwide responded well to Aquaman’s call, as it grossed $1.148 billion worldwide, making it the biggest DC movie ever. Literally no one could have predicted that, but looking back at it, the movie largely feels like Avatar but underwater, so… it kinda makes sense?