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Every DC Comics Movie, Including The Suicide Squad, Ranked From Worst to Best

On the occasion of the release of James Gunn’s Suicide Squad, we ranked the titles in the DC Extended Universe from worst to best.

Every DC Extended Universe Comics Movie, Ranked From Worst to Best
Photo: Warner Bros.

David Ayer’s Suicide Squad was such a disaster that it’s hard not to see that “the” in the title of its follow-up as a tell that writer-director James Gunn is looking to completely wipe the 2016 film from our collective memory. If so, he may just succeed at that task. Besides, the premise of The Suicide Squad, of disposable supervillains being enlisted for black-ops missions, makes the film less of a sequel than a new iteration of a core idea. The film is another exciting triumph for the once beleaguered DC Extended Universe. And because Gunn has now made movies for both of the Big Two comics companies, one can finally properly evaluate the argument that Warner Bros. gives its filmmakers greater leeway than Disney. Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies are two of the most distinctive and entertaining MCU entries to date, but The Suicide Squad, with its gory action and cutting satire, truly feels like a statement of his vision in all of its untrammeled, compelling garishness. On the occasion of the release of the film, we ranked the titles in the DCEU from worst to best. Jake Cole

Editor’s Note: This entry was originally published on February 6, 2020.

Suicide Squad

11. Suicide Squad (2016)

Jared Leto’s hollow character work matches the empty style of David Ayer’s visual rendition of the Joker, all silly tattoos and teeth grills. Ayer’s direction aspires to the kind of frenetic pop-trash redolent of Oliver Stone’s most outré work, and coincidentally, the film’s best moments depict the romance between Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and the Joker similarly to the relationship at the heart of Natural Born Killers. In one of Suicide Squad’s few mesmerizing moments, the pair leap into a vat of the same acid that disfigured the Joker and share a passionate kiss as their clothes melt off, sending streams of red and blue dye into the dirty yellow liquid. Elsewhere, however, the film adopts the functional shot patterns and desaturated palettes common to contemporary superhero cinema. The hyperactivity that propelled films like End of Watch and Fury is ideally suited to this material, but Suicide Squad never gets to be a manic, freewheeling alternative to the genre’s propensity toward dour severity and increasingly uniform aesthetics. Like the recruited criminals themselves, the film longs to be bad, yet its forced by outside pressures to follow narrow, preset rules. Cole

Zach Snyder’s Justice League

10. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

This re-edited and partially re-conceived and re-shot version of Justice League repeatedly, almost compulsively, enacts different ways of slowing its momentum—evident in the ossification of its heroes into staid figures, the creeping inertia of its aimless plot, and the entropic dispersal of digital objects into particles. Almost every major action taken by both superheroes and supervillains in this “Snyder Cut” is captured in slow motion or decelerates to a near-stop. The characters and settings, wholly or partially composed of digital animation or compositing, look terrible when they’re in motion. Despite Snyder and cinematographer Fabian Wagner washing virtually every color out to a sickly gray, the seams between the physical and the digital are made apparent when the movement in the frame illustrates a lighting mismatch or the uncannily smooth surface of a digital object. When they move, the images are awkward, even ugly, so it’s no wonder they tend toward stillness. Pat Brown


9. Aquaman (2018)

Warner Bros.’s attempt to shift its DC brand away from the dour masochism that marked such films as Man of Steel embraces high fantasy, but for director James Wan and screenwriters David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, this turns out to mostly mean having characters proclaim their silly comic book names as assertively as possible. At its best, Aquaman’s underwater action, with its traveling shots that zoom through crowds of fantastical marine species and past moss-encrusted ruins, are vibrant, aesthetically engrossing spectacle. At its weakest, though, it offers a parade of ocean-floor vistas that evoke the substanceless world-building of George Lucas’s second Star Wars trilogy, a supersaturated digital landscape of smooth surfaces and expensive-looking designs. The weightlessness of fights rendered with CG is compounded by that of fights between people suspended in water, and the sexlessness of superhero movies is only emphasized by the perfunctory romance between two leads who seem to have been cast largely because they look good dripping wet. Brown

Justice League

8. Justice League (2017)

Beyond the substitution of one intellectual property for another, practically nothing about Justice League distinguishes itself from what the Marvel Cinematic Universe was doing almost a decade ago. The film’s style, though, is very much Zack Snyder’s own. The filmmaker continues to fixate on fitting his characters into a political framework, with material gloomily rooted in economic malaise. Images of the Kent family farm being foreclosed in Superman’s (Henry Cavill) absence speak to a kind of banal, mortal villainy more subtly at work on people than the cataclysmic horror visited upon them by super-powered beings. But Snyder again leans on his propensity for desaturated images, so much so that even scenes full of sunlight appear faded. Such dreariness is consistent with his past DC films, but it’s still difficult to square how much Justice League wants us to look up to its superheroes with the way the film underlines how little they enliven the world they protect. Cole

Wonder Woman 1984

7. Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Going for an overall lighter and even comedic tone than the first film, Wonder Woman 1984 doesn’t quite succeed in reliably delivering laughs—despite Kristen Wiig’s strenuous efforts to do so, as well as the inclusion of things like the echt-‘80s wardrobe montage in which a certain once-dead boyfriend discovers the joys of period-specific items like fanny packs and Members Only jackets. However, while Patty Jenkins doesn’t attempt to match the fast-paced ensemble humor of the better Marvel films, like Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok, she steers clear of the usual DC Universe glowering and excess with action segments that rely more on nimble maneuvering and speed than great clashing showdowns. Scenes like the one in which Gal Gadot’s Diana lassoes lightning bolts to fling herself through the sky exudes the unadulterated joy rarely seen in a superhero flick since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man way back in 2002. Those high spirits would be more able to lift Wonder Woman 1984 if the story were less entangled. Clocking in at least 40 minutes longer than it needs to be, the film manages to encumber itself with side excursions without making the plot really any more complicated than blocking Max’s (Pedro Pascal) drive for world domination. Chris Barsanti

Birds of Prey

6. Birds of Prey (2020)

The self-consciously ornate subtitle for Cathy Yan’s Birds of PreyAnd the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn—lays out the reason for this film’s existence far better than the first 45 minutes or so of jumbled exposition that follow. In theory, the self-consciously goofy story of a traumatized but ultimately triumphant “badass broad” who breaks free from being pole-dancing eye candy for her scenery-chewing villain boyfriend to carve out a name and a life for herself would be a welcome addition to a canon of films still in thrall to hyper-buff and hyper-serious dudes. Also in theory, surrounding her with a squad of equally fierce and sarcastic female ass-kickers has the potential for the launch of a great franchise: Think Guardians of the Galaxy by way of Barb Wire. But since the film can never figure out how seriously to take its heroine, or gin up a halfway engaging caper for her to lead us through, what could have been an emancipation ends up feeling more like a trap for her. Barsanti

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

5. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an overstuffed sketchbook of ideas for a potentially striking superhero saga. One can feel director Zack Snyder aiming for an obsessive masterpiece while attempting to please investors with the heaping of expository that’s required of global blockbusters. The film wants to be a treatise on How We Live, dabbling in incredible religious iconography and glancing infrastructural signifiers, yet it can’t commit to any specific view for fear of alienating consumers. Batman v Superman comprises self-contained moments and gestures, some of which are impressive in their own right, but which fail to cumulatively breathe. It offers an apologia for the massive collateral damage that marked Man of Steel’s climax while reveling in more damage, resulting in more of the thematic hemming and hawing that belabored Christopher Nolan’s comparatively elegant Batman films. Every few minutes a character utters a bon mot that’s meant to impress on us the film’s depth and relevance to a culture racked by terrorism and a dangerous distrust and resentment of the populace toward governmental authority. After nearly two hours of this busy-ness, one wonders why we still haven’t gotten to see Batman fight Superman. Chuck Bowen

Wonder Woman

4. Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman is a remarkably buoyant and even laidback film, allowing a long conversation between Diana (Gal Gadot) and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) to play out uninterrupted, simply basking in the atmosphere of thick sexual tension between them. Gently edited and funny, it’s the kind of scene that would be hacked to pieces and laden with ominous portent in a film like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. At its core, the film is about watching a badass female kick some ass. And on this score, the film delivers, offering up lithe, supple fight sequences featuring Diana gliding through the air, punctuated by painterly smears of light and fire. And it creates at least one indelible image: Diana calmly but determinedly striding across a no man’s land as German artillery fire whizzes around her. However, as in so many superhero films, the final battle is an overcomplicated jumble of CGI explosions and ubiquitous blue lightning, waged against a seemingly arbitrary villain—in this case an armor-suited giant who looks like he stepped off the cover of a Molly Hatchet album. The central character and lightly kinky undertones may distinguish Wonder Woman from its predecessors in the superhero universe, but the film still falls victim to familiar pitfalls: a glut of underdeveloped side characters and unintimidating villains, an overcomplicated mythology, and a reduction of its characters’ interior lives to bland pronouncements about Truth, Duty, and Love. Keith Watson


3. Shazam! (2019)

The movies don’t lack for superhero stories that deal with the angst and isolation of young people who’re radically different from those around them. But few of them are quite like David F. Sandberg’s Shazam!, which foregrounds the rush of bafflement and elation that grips a down-and-out child who’s suddenly given the power of a god, potentially allowing him to bypass all of the pitfalls and anxieties of adolescence. Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a prickly 14-year-old foster kid who’s transformed by a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) into the adult Shazam (Zachary Levi) and tasked with defending the world against the Seven Deadly Sins. To the film’s credit, it smartly treats this premise as inherently absurd, embodied right away in Billy’s inability to stop cracking up when he’s first presented with this quest. Shazam! sees DC combining the golden-age optimism espoused by Wonder Woman and the jubilant, self-aware silliness of Aquaman into a satisfying whole, even if the narrow scope of Billy and Sivana’s conflict does lead to stretches of downtime where thematic and narrative points are rehashed to the detriment of the film’s otherwise brisk pace. In stark contrast to the politically nihilistic and aesthetically grim Batman vs. Superman, Shazam! offers a charming, even moving throwback to the aspirational sense of belonging that marks so many comics. Cole

The Suicide Squad

2. The Suicide Squad (2021)

Largely eschewing the MCU’s overreliance on pop-cultural references, which defines even his own Guardians of the Galaxy movies, James Gunn opts for caustic exchanges that filter contemporary blockbuster banter through an ethos closer to the racier tone of 1980s buddy films. Throughout The Suicide Squad, it feels as if there’s a real and consistent tension amid all of the back and forth, and, admirably, the filmmaker walks a tightrope of self-awareness without slipping into the enervating meta-humor that marked Deadpool and its sequel. More delightfully, Gunn uses the film’s R rating as an excuse to get back to his Troma roots, rendering the half-grim, half-absurdist nature of the Suicide Squad as a property with delightfully bloody abandon. Much of the film’s action, though embellished with computer effects for the more elaborately powered characters, exudes a refreshing physicality, right down to the use of actual blood squibs instead of the animated blood that has become de rigueur in superhero films for practical purposes. The camerawork for these scenes is coherent, if not remarkably fluid, and the extensive stuntwork grounds even the inevitable final-act turn toward the CGI spectacular that all superhero movies become in the last 25 minutes. Cole

Man of Steel

1. Man of Steel (2013)

Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is a surprisingly thoughtful work in its examination of political and personal responsibility, and ultimately a call to arms against warfare of both the physical and ideological sort. Its militaristic without being fascistic, patriotic without being nationalistic—a bizarre amalgamation of hard science fiction and overt religious allegory. It’s also very much a historically present-tense film, giving us a Superman for a post-9/11 world—not unlike Superman Returns, albeit more explicitly. Opening with the destruction of Krypton as a result of an overused, fracking-like method of resource-extraction, the film is quick to contrast that planet’s demise—spewing geysers of fire before chillingly collapsing into a miniature star—with the political and environmental tumult of our own world: burning oil rigs, melting fields of ice, corporations run amuck. Much more has been made of the film’s third-act mass destruction, in which Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon, delectably batshit) wage war of Godzilla-sized proportions in a still-populated city. Your mileage will vary based largely on your investment in/adherence to the Superman canon, but to these eyes, the titular hero’s lone instance of lapsed judgment—namely, taking the escalating fight straight to the heart of Smallville, where innocent bystanders abound—is easily forgivable, if for, admittedly, inextricably personal reasons: Only someone looking for a blind-rage ass-kicking would be foolish enough to threaten Superman’s mother. Rob Humanick

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