Detective Comics has been in the storytelling game for quite a while. Although they’d surely have a lot of experience, handing the reigns of their product to an auteur or someone with their own ideas of the DC Universe, things can get a little tangled. We’ve looked over the years and had a go at ranking 34 of DC’s movies from worst to best.
From their early days of the 1960s right up to their latest release, here’s how we think the DC movies compare with each other.
34. Catwoman (2004)
If you like Catwoman at all, do yourself a favor and don’t watch this movie. It really isn’t fun seeing the feline character turned into a human-cat hybrid superhero. The plot of 2004’s Catwoman revolves around an evil cosmetics company developing a deadly skin cream and there seems to be no substance but Halle Berry’s body. It tries to be empowering but comes off as exploitative thanks to her stripper-style catsuit.
33. The Spirit (2008)
Watching this, you’d think it was a 90s attempt at giving us classic superheroes. But no, it actually came out alongside the Nolan Batman movies in 2008. The Spirit looks, smells and stains like a Sin City knockoff. The story is complex, but while there’s merit to it being cerebral, this experience is so convoluted, it makes Odysseus’ route home relatively straightforward.
32. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Okay so… Superman declares for the world to surrender its nuclear arsenal for him to throw into the sun. A payload which combined with a lock of his hair creates a solar powered Nuclear Man. It’s ridiculous and Superman rebuilding the Great Wall of China back together is the limit. No wonder we didn’t see another Superman movie for 20 years. Possibly one of the worst of the famous movie saga…
31. Batman and Robin (1997)
Oh Warner Bros. Why. Why. Why? Batman is a catwalk model, the product placement is in your face and the love triangle doesn’t sell. Arnie’s blizzard of ice puns as Mr Freeze drag this movie into 60s territory, but you know what? Frosty the Homicidal Snowman telling people to “chill” is kind of a saving grace.
30. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Starting from Man of Steel and jumping several years ahead. Batman is jaded, now killing people and bent on exposing Superman is a threat having survived Metropolis. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor sets a convoluted plan that includes kidnapping Lois Lane and Martha Kent. We’re not sure on Zack Snyder’s train of thought with this one.
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29. The Return of Swamp Thing (1989)
While the original had its silly charm, with this one you can see the dollar signs in the eyes of whoever came up with it. It takes everyone back, pretends like it’s a new story when it’s more of a repeat, and tries far too hard to be funny. There’s knowing you have stupid, but this one comes off like “yes, that’s the joke.”
28. Green Lantern (2011)
Something must have gone wrong after the success and brilliance of The Dark Knight. How did DC manage to make one of its most out-there cosmic heroes so dreary?! The Guardians of the Universe are drab, Parallax the master of fear is bland and it seems no one knows how to use Ryan Reynolds Thank goodness for Deadpool. Marvel didn’t do the actor so dirty.
27. Justice League (2017)
Warner Bros. could be applauded for making bold decisions with its movies. If only they were the right ones. Justice League introduces three major team members without any prior setup, it fails suggesting “you can’t save the world alone” by having Superman solve everything, and the key villain is so forgettable, we’ve forgotten what he sounds like.
26. Batman Forever (1995)
Batman Forever is confusing to say the least. And for that reason, this DC comic movie has been ranked quite low in our list. Two-Face comes out of nowhere, a Dick Grayson acts more like Jason Todd, and how can Batman take so long to recognise that Edward Nygma has a vendetta against him? No surprise, this is when Warner Bros’ started getting a little too hands-on with their DC property.
25. Steel (1997)
This one kind of feels like a knock-off Iron Man, ten years before the Marvel movie. What this did in one film could have been done in an entire series as Steel spent half the movie fighting petty criminals. The villain’s role is so tangential, he could have accomplished his plan without notice.
24. Superman III (1983)
We think the writers might have been running out of steam on this one compared to the better Superman movies. Supes is exposed to artificial Kryptonite which makes him all mean and an accomplice to evil businessmen. It isn’t helped by some very over-the-top comedy. Superman II is certainly one of the series’ mediocre points.
23. Swamp Thing (1982)
Very much a 50s B movie, there’s a corny charm to this Wes Craven project. It’s not his usual work, and it kind of shows in the relative flatness of the action. He tried, it did okay, not very impressive though. What keeps Swamp Thing afloat is definitely its absurdity. Given the premise, maybe this wasn’t so surprising?
22. Man of Steel (2013)
After Superman Returns, DC decided to reboot the superhero’s movies and hired Zack Snyder to do the job. We’re not sure why, as a lot of fans find his portrayal of Superman to be too ‘Jesus-like’ and a little too grim to be the defender of truth justice and the American way. At least Zack knows how to cause spectacular property damage.
21. Suicide Squad (2016)
Continuing on from the whole Superman-Doomsday incident. Batman and the Joker make some scene-stealing appearances for the DC crime team-turned heroes, but they are more a distraction connected to Harley Quinn, who more genuinely steals the show. And boiling down the Enchantress to being cliché evil? Really?
20. Birds of Prey (2020)
Kudos to Margot Robbie – the Oscar-nominated actress plays Harley Quinn effortlessly well. But the movie itself is nothing short of a chick flick with messy storytelling. As a standalone film from the rest of DC’s blockbusters though, Birds of Prey deserves some slack. Despite it being all over the place, it was still a fun ride overall.
19. Batman Begins (2005)
As movies go, this one is pretty solid, but somewhat forgettable. We’re shown Bruce Wayne’s origins, a surprising introduction to Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows, while making a deadly combination of Scarecrow’s fear gas and some missing WayneTech. Batman’s progression to the top was nothing easy, that’s for sure.
18. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The Dark Knight Rises is a bit of “where to now?” for Batman. While it does suffer a few direction issues, it’s hard to say that Tom Hardy isn’t impressive as Bane. Silly as it was to rob the stock market like it were a bank and the extreme end of Batman’s grave-voice, there’s a comic book charm to the ridiculousness.
17. Constantine (2005)
When you think of a man who knows the occult inside out, has seen the war between Heaven and Hell, you can imagine someone pretty jaded battling to sustain their optimism. Keanu Reeves doesn’t quite have the venom of the comic character. But as supernatural thrillers go, Constantine is an underrated watch.
16. V for Vendetta (2005)
This vicarious film tells the riveting tale of a Guy-Fawkes themed anarchist in a future fascist Britain. While it does give a face to a notorious hacker group (literally), this tale of vice and vengeance is gripping end to end. We have to say, we definitely prefer Hugo Weaving doing stuff like this. Things exploding to the 1812 Overture was also a nice touch.
15. Batman Returns (1992)
Batman Returns is perhaps the high-water mark of the first Batman cinematic saga and escalation done right. More Gotham, more dynamics. Bruce has to stop the quickingly maniacal Penguin causing havoc. It’s one of Val Kilmer’s great performances. Not to mention it introduces Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. Meow!
14. Batman: The Movie (1966)
If you’re familiar with the camp 1960s Adam West Batman, this one is quite a riot. It’s not the Batman of the Bronze and Silver Age, but what keeps it from joining Catwoman at the bottom is how it is quintessentially Silver Age Batman. Silly, but in a way that is respectful. You’re laughing with it, not at it.
13. Aquaman (2018)
After the disappointment that was Justice League, fans finally get to see more from one of its leading characters, Aquaman in his 2018 standalone movie. Extravagant visuals, a fantastical plot, and the brilliant Jason Momoa certainly keeps fans watching.
12. Wonder Woman (2017)
Diana was teased in Batman v Superman, but her standalone movie certainly paid off. And in World War I of all times. She tours the Western Front, meets people affected by the Great War, homes destroyed and learns about the true human nature. A deconstruction of your classic heroic tale as Diana was sure Ares’ death would end human suffering, but a convincing one.
11. Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)
This one has got to be Hamill at his best. A very faithful adaptation of the Joker’s supposed origin story as we can almost live the madness being presented. It’s not perfect though, the Batgirl opening comes off as a wedged-in romance plot that spends half an hour explaining why Barbera was at home when the J-man came with a candygram.
10. Shazam (2019)
After years of watching DC trying to take on dark and gritty tales, the 2019 popular movie, Shazam! came as a breath of fresh air. For once, fans are treated to a DC movie more lighthearted, funny, and heartwarming. Who needs death and destruction when you can have humor and heart?
9. Superman (1978)
The classic, iconic Superman movie. This movie has so many iconic things about it from Reeve’s seamless transition from Clark Kent to Superman, Krypton itself, and introducing the crystalline Fortress of Solitude. Plus who can forget that opening score?
8. Superman II (1980)
If the first film was about Superman then Superman II was about Clark Kent, showing the world how the ordinary hero is just as capable as the superhero. We’re tying this one with the original in our ranking of DC movies, but the second film wins out only by inches for its more satisfying ending. Reversing time was weird.
7. Superman Returns (2006)
Superman came back pretty spectacularly from the embarrassment of Superman IV. Lex Luthor returns with a vengeance and loot he stole from the Fortress of Solitude. It was up to a returning Superman to save the day in a world of his very weakness. Seriously, Lex is brilliantly villainous here.
6. Batman vs Robin (2015)
Batman vs Robin is a little obscure, but well worth the watch. The Court of Owls are something of an under-appreciated group in Batman mythology, but this movie gives them the full spotlight as well as demonstrating the emotional struggles of Damien Wayne. Creepy, surreal, intense but intensely cerebral. Classic Batman.
5. Watchmen (2009)
Based on the graphic novel series by Alan Moore. Watchmen is an epic deconstruction of the superhero genre, exploring the consequences of power, responsibility, and what it does to the head. Most of all, the implications of being an all-powerful being expected to protect ants. It’s quite long, but by the end you’ll feel like you completed a very long, well-worth it journey.
4. Batman (1989)
You can practically hear the theme tune just thinking about this classic. Batman made a return to the dark tones long after the campy Batman TV series of the 60s. Ranked as one of the best DC movies of all time, this film also gives us one of the greatest Jokers with Jack Nicholson’s wacky performance. Ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?
3. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
While his live-action movies had a lot of trouble in the 90s, the animated Batman films fared a lot better. Mask of the Phantasm represents the high-action but cerebral detective drama that certifies one of Batman’s aliases as the World’s Greatest Detective – something the 90s live action movies started to leave behind under Joel Schumacher. We won’t let this one go unnoticed. Mask of the Phantasm really is one of the best of DC movies out there.
2. Joker (2019)
It doesn’t get darker, grittier, and more enticing than this. 2019’s Joker movie isn’t your average top DC blockbuster with superhero battles and eye-catching visuals. Instead, this take on the killer clown’s origin story is realistic enough to leave an imprint on your mind for days to come. We finally get a sense of what the Joker is all about, and let’s not forget to mention Joaquin Phoenix’s gripping performance!
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
The standout moment from the Nolan trilogy and of course, the best DC movie ranked in our list. Heath Ledger gives a stunning performance as the legendary Joker on a mission to return Gotham to havoc and play with Batman, after the Bat’s efforts bring order to Gotham. Ledger brings an A-game so intense, that he is famous for dying after he was done. It’s difficult to forget this one, as it even stars the best Batman actor since the character was introduced – none other than Christian Bale, of course! Haven’t seen it? What are you waiting for? It’s the best Batman film out there!
Looking back, it turns out DC’s adventures into cinema are not as bad as everyone says they are. But they definitely took a nosedive as the 1990s came about. Even when the DCEU was plummeting in popularity, there were still a few gems that didn’t make them a complete joke.
Are there any other DC movies on this list that you think deserve a different ranking? What superhero flick would you say is the best DC movie? Let us know in the comments!