Studio Interference 101

Ranking all the DCEU Films

The Definitive List, Part 1

With the end of the DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe. (which we covered in great detail in part one, part two, and part three of our DCEU Post-Mortem), it’s now time to finally rank all the films from that collective series. There were highs, and lows, and incredibly lower-lows that made the lows look like highs by comparison (even when they were still shitty), but sometimes there was a gem actually worth watching and, maybe, one day we can look back on the DCEU with something close to fondness.

Or, at the very least one day we might stop ruthlessly mocking the “Martha” line in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice… although even then I wouldn’t count on that.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (DCEU 02)

Considering it was the second film in the whole of the DCEU it’s impressive just how far this film went off the rails in establishing its core concept: this was the film that would craft a cinematic universe for DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s.. Man of Steel didn’t have its “Nick Fury Moment”, it wasn’t set up as a way to introduce the whole universe in one simple scene; it was just a film about SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s., plain and simple. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was the one that had to do all the heavy lifting, and it shows. It could just say “hey, there are other heroes out there”, it had to belabor the point. It had to put in pointless cameos of The FlashStruck by lightning while working in his lab, Barry Allen became a speedster known as The Flash, launching an entire set of super-fast superheroes. and AquamanRaised by his fully-human father, Arthur Curry has a history even he didn't know about until he grew: that he was the half-human, half-Atlantean son of the once-Queen of Atlantis, and was destined one day to be it's rightful ruler, the Aquaman. and Cyborg. It had to force not just BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. but also Wonder WomanLong considered the third pillar of the DC Comics "Trinity", Wonder Woman was one of the first female superheroes ever created. Running for as long as Batman or Superman (and without breaks despite a comic downturn in the 60s that killed superhero comics for about a decade), Wondie has the honor to be one of the longest serving, and most prolific, superheroes ever. into a Man of Steel sequel. It had to bend and break and struggle to try and get all of this to work in a film, all because DC had cinematic universe ambitions and they couldn’t just wait and do it slowly and do it right the way Marvel had.

But what really makes this film a failure is that, despite all the people involved, all the ideas flowing, and the shoehorned in superheroes that you would, at least, hope would provide some interest in the film, the actual movie is just so boring. It’s a long slog of a film that positions Batman against Superman in the flimsiest of terms, with a coked out Lex Luthor somehow pulling the strings, all for two hours of build up, a mid-film climax that goes nowhere, “Martha!” and then some unrelated villain to the whole preceding story showing up to finish out the movie. It’s such a mind-boggling mess of a dreadful, tired film that it’s amazing we received 14 more movies after this. Instead of carrying on there (and despite there being some films that came later that I legitimately liked), DC should have packed it in here, waiting another couple of years, and tried again with a better film to launch their cinematic hopes.

Building their universe on Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is like building a multi-billion dollar home at the very edge of a crumbling cliff. Sure, you can do it, but everything that comes after is teetering right on the edge of disaster, and sooner or later it will all crash and explode.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods (DCEU 13)

All of the worst films in the DCEU are sequels (and that’s counting, of course, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice as a sequel, which it is). More shockingly, stupidly impressive is that all of the DCEU sequels (save one, and you could legitimately argue about whether The Suicide Squad is really even a sequel) are the worst films produced in this series. Even when the company had a solid hit, such as in the case of Shazam!, they then managed to bungle it completely when it came time to make a continuation.

In the case of Shazam! Fury of the Gods, it’s hard to even fathom what the thought process was with this movie. The first film was a fun wish fulfillment superhero story about a kid getting superpowers, but it also had heart. What the kid really wanted wasn’t superpowers but a family and, by the end of it, he had both. Hell he even had a villain set up perfectly to come in and be the big threat for this sequel… and then the second film (of now a two-film set that will never get a third) ignored everything (and all the setup) of the first film to go off and tell a story about no-name villains we’d never heard of before.

Gone was the heart. Gone was the fun. Gone were the villains set up from the previous movie. This was a tired sequel overloaded with bland CGI and no fresh ideas, and it tanked hard at the Box Office. There was no reason for this film to exist, except that the first one had made a ton of money, and when DC tried to milk it they discovered there was nothing here worth milking. What a complete waste of time.

Wonder Woman 1984 (DCEU 09)

I don't think there’s been a film in this franchise that was as highly anticipated as Wonder Woman 1984. It came from Patty Jenkins, who directed the first, pretty great film. It had an absolutely awesome trailer. It had the promise of a fun, enjoyable adventure featuring the best hero of the DCEU up to that point. But then the film came out and it was just… awful. Boring, stupid, and a total violation of the Wonder Woman character as she was set up in the previous films. This movie felt like a giant retcon, but worse, it felt like a waste of time.

Of course, once you’ve seen the film and go back to the trailer you see that all the good bits from the movie are basically there. It’s a wonderfully crafted trailer that promises a grand, 1980s throwback adventure. The tragedy is that there isn’t enough meat around all the good bits to hang a real movie. It’s a lot of plot contrivances, idiotic decisions, and character assassinations. Whoever made that trailer (scored by a pretty solid arrangement of “Blue Monday”) was a genius because they took an only okay film and made it seem watchable. It was a bait and switch, but the best one I think I’ve ever seen.

But because of where it sits in the series, and how it plays with and ignores continuity, there really isn’t any reason to watch Wonder Woman 1984. Maybe it could have worked, maybe there’s a film somewhere in here that could have been the continuation fans (and Wonder Woman) deserved, but this absolutely wasn’t it.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (DCEU 16)

And while we’re on the topic of wasted potential, look no further than Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. At least in this case it’s pretty clear what happened with this film: DC tooled it and retooled it and retooled it again, never sure what they wanted to do or how this movie was supposed to function within the grand franchise hopes (even as those grand franchised basically died off with this movie). In the end what we had was a mangle mess that lost all the charm of the previous film for something far less interesting (even before you take into consideration the fact that this weak entry is also the last entry in the DCEU).

I think somewhere in the development there was probably a good movie here. Arthur and Mera teamed up on another adventure, going off in chase of Black Manta who kidnaps their kid and holds him hostage while he tries to destroy their whole family. But then Amber Heard got into a messy divorce and DC considered her damaged goods, so her part was reduced. And then they wanted to work in Michael Keaton’s Batman, so space was made in the film for his part. Then they changed it to Ben Affleck’s Batman, and the scenes were changed around again. And then they decided no Batman would be in the film and all of that material had to be scrapped, rewritten and refilmed. Over and over again, the move was executive meddled until any semblance of an interesting movie was lost.

The remnants have promise because Jason Mamoa is a very charismatic guy and he does his best. End of the day, though, DC screwed up this movie so bad that there was no saving it. It’s not the worst thing DC made in their universe, but that’s only because they fucked up other films so much worse.

The Flash (DCEU 14)

Speaking of, let’s talk about another film retooled over and over until it became a giant mess. The Flash was stuck in development hell for five years before it finally got greenlit and approved… only for Ezra Miller to then become a psychopathic asshole who lost all cred with audiences. By that point DC should have just scrapped the film, cut their losses, and moved on (maybe releasing something else instead, like Batgirl). Instead, then forged ahead, retooling this film over and over even as it was filmed and edited, all to try and make something watchable.

The result is… passable. I think that’s the best term for it. It’s not in any way a good movie but there are plenty of scenes, selectively, through the film that are good. The intro is amusing even if it doesn’t play true to all the DCEU characters. The parts with Barry dealing with his younger self are pretty amusing, at least at times. And while the Batman and SupergirlIntroduced in 1959 as a female counterpart for Superman, the Last Daughter of Krypton would go onto have a long career in the DC Universe, thriving, dying, coming back, all the eventually become an even more powerful superhero than even her famous cousin. material in this film feels tacked on, an obvious play to try and build a multiverse before Marvel also does that better (which, spoiler, they haven’t), I do like having Michael Keaton back and I think Sasha Callie is great in her performance as the Girl of Steel.

It’s just that as a Flash film it doesn’t succeed. It has so much time for him to run around dealing with other people and their problems that it rarely actually focuses on the main character. It so desperately wants to function as a reboot of the DCEU without actually committing to the bit. And then, in the end, nothing of consequence is really accomplished. Barry, as we learn, is his own worst enemy and if he would have just sat still instead of running around, screwing things up, the movie wouldn’t have been needed at all (which, also, is a lesson he doesn’t learn). So much money, time, and potential wasted on a film that barely rises to be much of anything at all.

Suicide Squad (DCEU 03)

I’m not going to try and defend Suicide Squad as a good movie. It is, in fact, the first sign of DC over-editing and over-engineering their superhero films in the wake of the critical drubbing that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice received. It had a cut approved by David Ayer, but DC Studios didn’t like that cut (or it didn’t test well with audiences, or whatever justification they gave). So they had a second unit come in and reshoot footage and edit a new film, and after a trailer company made a candy-coated, Hot Topic-inspired trailer full of on-the-nose needle drops and all the silly moments from the movie, DC hired them to edit the film a third time. The result was a mess, there is no doubt.

But even as bad as it is, it’s a very watchable mess. It’s dumb, it’s stupid, like so many horrible superhero films it’s loaded with blurry, shitty CGI… but I do still kind of like it. It’s like that mangy, ugly puppy that you don’t like but can’t resist playing with. It has a number of memorable performances, especially from Will Smith and Margot Robbie, and there are a few scenes in the film that are legitimately fun. I don’t know what Ayer had in mind for the film originally but I’m sure it wasn’t this mess. Whether it was good or not is open for debate, and it’s hard to say how much of his vision was left in this soulless film. But still, as awful and stupid and messy as the final result was, it’s really not the worst thing DC has made in this universe. Not even close.

You just have to wish it could have been better. There had to be a better version of this film somewhere, right? I suppose unless (or until) we finally get an Ayer Cut of the movie, we’ll never really know.

Justice League (DCEU 05)

Oh god, and speaking of over-engineered messes, nothing exemplifies that more than Justice League. After the critical drubbing of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the relationship between DC and Zack Snyder (who was once held up as the mastermind of their cinematic universe) was fraying. The studio was starting to have real hesitation about the direction of his films, but Znyder didn’t want to compromise his (stupid, douche bro) artistic vision. If DC could have gotten rid of him they probably would have. But then he took himself out of the equation.

We don’t want to play that as a good thing, and not just because the reason Snyder left the project was because his daughter killed herself. That was rough and, naturally, it was right for Snyder to take time to go be with his family and grieve. But then in stepped Joss Wheddon, who helped The Avengers unify and launch Marvel’s cinematic ambitions. It was clear DC figured the writer / director could do the same for them. “That this half-finished film and turn it into another The Avengers, please and thank you.”

Wheddon, though, was apparently a monster on set (as reported by many of the actors) and had no concern for whatever film Snyder was making. He rewrote, refilmed, and changed so much, while still using a hefty chunk of the original vision, that the film struggles to be… anything. It’s a Frankenstein’s Monster held together by rough stitches, tonally whipping back and forth with abandon, all to get to an underwhelming ending that hardly feels like the effort. The result isn’t unwatchable, it just feels incredibly mediocre. Not the film DC wanted, not the film Snyder wanted, and certainly not the grand unifying vision for the Justice LeagueThe premiere team at DC Comics, their version of the Avengers (which actually came before the Avengers and, really, has existed in some fomr since the early 1940s), the Justice League is the team-up to end all team-ups, featuring some of the most popular, and longest running, characters in all of comics history (and also Booster Gold). going forward.

I mean, it was, just not in the way DC hoped. And it would be some time until DC actually managed to make up for this horrible, stupid mistake.

Black Adam (DCEU 12)

There is a clear dividing line between the good DCEU films and the bad ones. Black Adam, the long-gestating Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson superhero film, sits on one side. It’s a tragically mediocre film that is pulled in far too many directions (mostly at the behest of the Rock), trying to achieve too much without actually doing anything right. The sad thing is that there could have been a really good movie somewhere in this mess, but the only way to achieve that would have been to not have the Rock in the film at all.

By the terms of his contract, the Rock was able to exert far more control over this film than he should have been allowed. He took what was one of ShazamOnce known as "Captain Marvel", this superhero (created by Fawcett Comics before they were bought by DC) has seen many changes to his story over the years. One thing has remained the same: his awesome, god-like powers.’s greatest villains and turned him into an anti-hero. He had a clause (as he has in all his contracts) that his character, Black Adam, couldn’t lose any fight. And he demanded that Shazam not be in the film at all (even though, you know, that’s his greatest adversary). So instead of a film where a villain (with power to rival Superman) goes toe-to-toe with many of Earth’s mightiest heroes (the Justice Society), we get washed out, sanitized film about an anti-hero learning to be friends with preteen while figuring out how to work with other heroes. It’s about as far from a good superhero (or supervillain) film as you could expect. I’d even call it the worst antihero film on this list except, well, Suicide Squad exists.

Still, you can see what this movie should have been had it had any other strong, creative voice leading it. But we got the movie the Rock wanted and it was a mediocre mess. About as good as a bad DCEU film could be while, yes, still being bad. So, so bad.

And then we get into the actual, good films… but we’ll cover that part two (as this list has already gotten incredibly long)...