It’s all too easy to feel sorry for DC. Not getting started until Marvel was already kickstarting Phase 2, the DCEU has a measly 10 films to the MCU’s 24 – raking in less money, less critical praise and a lot less credit for its role in shaping the superhero renaissance. But with less power comes less responsibility, and DC’s not-so-secret weapon is the ability to do the things that Marvel are too scared to try. Scrappier, ballsier, weightier and a lot less bothered about selling theme park tickets, the DCEU is a random boot-sale box of cool comics to the MCU’s neatly alphabetised Disney anthology – sometimes you pull out a dud, sometimes a bona fide classic.
As James Gunn prepares to screw up the algorithm even more with swearing weasels, walking sharks and exploding heads in The Suicide Squad, it’s time to rank the first 10 DCEU films from worst to best…
10. Justice League
The best thing about the original cut of Justice League is that no one will ever watch it again now that the director’s cut has finally come out. There are flashes (or Flashes) of greatness in a few key scenes, but DC’s premature attempt to make a super-team movie is one of the most expensive-looking messes ever mis-sold as a blockbuster – full of random plot holes, missed beats and dodgy sexism courtesy of Joss Whedon, who was brought in to take over post-production duties after Zack Snyder stepped down.
If it was a Marvel film?: It would have been Avengers Assemble.
9. Suicide Squad
There’s a good reason #ReleaseTheAyerCut will never happen, and that’s because deep down everyone knows that a messy edit wasn’t the only thing wrong with David Ayer’s super-villain stinker. Ugly in more ways than one (racism, misogyny, Jared Leto’s awful emo Joker…), it just about scrapes second-bottom place by giving us the gift of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, and for making us feel sorry for Will Smith after he famously turned down the role of Superman for… this.
If it was a Marvel film?: Ultron, Agatha Harkness, Killmonger and Loki all teaming up, led by Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster…? It already sounds awesome.
8. Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice
Suffering in comparison to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, the second entry in the DCEU skipped the standalone movie Batfleck deserved to drop him straight into a murky face-off with Man Of Steel’s Superman. Director Zack Snyder gave the film heavy metal weight and a rumbling political bassline, but his idea to treat DC’s two greatest characters like a couple of chunky prize-fighting gods left eyes glazing in the long last showdown – weirdly settled at the pivotal moment by the endlessly-memed revelation that their mums were both called Martha.
If it was a Marvel film?: The two Marthas would have their own spin-off show by now.
7. Wonder Woman 1984
Chapter skip your way through Patty Jenkins’ recent sequel and you’ll find some of the best stuff in the DCEU – from a fantastic Indiana Jones-riffing truck chase and a great retro mall chase, to anytime Pedro Pascal or Kristen Wiig are on screen – but everything in between is a bit of a mess. Underwritten and overlong, the film suffers serious bloat. By the time the sloppy finale sees a body-swapped CGI cheetah scrapping over a magic wishing rock, it’s hard not to pine for the wit and warmth that tailed off over two hours earlier.
If it was a Marvel film?: It wouldn’t have flobbed out on PVOD on a wet Wednesday in January…
6. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
After a hard-fought fan campaign, Zack Snyder finally undid all the mistakes of the 2017 disaster with his long-awaited redux. Critics might argue that he squeezed in a few new mistakes of his own over a numbing 242-minute running time, but to nit-pick is to misunderstand the whole point of The Snyder Cut. Made by fans, for fans, the film delivered more of everything – filling and re-filling plot holes, over-serving every character, and restoring the film to Snyder’s epic vision of gods and monsters.
If it was a Marvel film?: It would be a 10-part series on Disney+.
5. Man Of Steel
The DCEU launched with the film billed as the new Dark Knight – with Christopher Nolan producing a serious, sombre-looking super-drama that offered something far weightier than the previous Superman films had ever attempted. In many ways, Nolan’s shadow (and Zack Snyder’s attempts to step out of it) became the making and breaking of the whole DCEU – giving the first film a weird flux of shallows and depth. The ending might have looked like a punch-up in a toybox, but Man Of Steel made Superman cool again.
If it was a Marvel film? It would be called Man Of Iron.
4. Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn)
Technically an ensemble film, Birds Of Prey is really all about Margot Robbie’s manic geek-goth Harley Quinn – a gift for tired franchises, ratings boards and cosplay subcultures everywhere. Looking and feeling more like she’s sprung from the pages of a comic book than anything else DC has ever put on screen, Robbie takes a glitter-filled shotgun to her own mopey origins in Suicide Squad and gives the studio the colourful chaos it always needed.
If it was a Marvel film? There’d be a lot less coke sniffing, face peeling and shitting kids.
What if someone updated the Tom Hanks classic, Big, and made it about a little boy who turns into a superhero instead of a product development manager? The joy of Shazam! comes from knowing just how much more you would have loved it as a kid – the ultimate wish-fulfilment movie for any pre-teen super-fan. Zachary Levi is underrated as overnight adult Billy Baston, and director David F. Sandberg wrings every bit of fun out of the premise without underplaying the super-stuff.
If it was a Marvel film? They’d probably be able to afford Tom Hanks.
People riding sharks! An octopus playing the drums! Jason Momoa biting the heads off flowers! There’s so much silliness in James Wan’s mad merman extravaganza that it’s impossible not to love – reeling from tomb-raiding adventure and fish-out-of-water jokes to IMAX-sized underwater cityscapes and epic deep-sea battles. Overflowing with visual invention and weird ambition, and feeling like at least three films rolled into one, Wan’s shamelessly fun spectacle is what popcorn is made for.
If it was a Marvel film? We’d get an Easter Egg for The Little Mermaid remake in the end credit sting.
1. Wonder Woman
After a few years spent trying far too hard to be everything that Marvel wasn’t, DC finally decided to make a straight-up, old-fashioned, rip-roaring comic-book movie. Zack Snyder introduced us to Gal Gadot’s warrior princess in Dawn Of Justice’s dirgey Doomsday bout, but Patty Jenkins threw out all the gloom for an uplifting origin story that sparkled with Saturday matinee charm. Batman and Superman might be DC’s biggest names, but while they were busy punching each other in the dark in slow motion, Wonder Woman became the real star of the DCEU.
If it was a Marvel film? They probably wouldn’t have bothered making Captain Marvel…