Now that Shazam!, Warner Bros.’ newest installment in their DC Extended Universe, has enjoyed its opening weekend in theaters, it’s a better time than any to see how it shapes up against the other films in the franchise. Shazam! has been often reported as a step in the right direction for the often maligned DCEU, with its lighter tone resulting in respectable box office numbers and critical acclaim. Before we get into this ranking, all seven films in the franchise from Man of Steel onward are fair game, but only as they were in their original theatrical release, which means no Ultimate Edition and Extended Cut nonsense. Enjoy!
7. Suicide Squad (2016)
2016’s Suicide Squad is the movie-equivalent of Frankenstein’s Monster. It possesses the ingredients required to make a film, but those ingredients are hacked and distorted, making it a complete mess. In 2015 when Suicide Squad was being developed, the DCEU was a much different place than what it is today. Zack Snyder was well and truly in charge of his harder-edged cinematic universe, and the studio seemed to be on board. David Ayer was brought on to direct and everything appeared to be on the right track. Flash-forward to March 2016, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released to middling reviews and box office returns, leaving Warner Bros. scrambling to mold their next film into something salvageable before it was too late. The studio ordered a mountain of reshoots costing up to $22 million, and a trailer editing company was brought in to re-edit Ayer’s film without his input. The talented cast led by Margot Robbie and Will Smith were squandered by choppy editing, thin writing and an egregious overuse of a pop soundtrack.
6. Justice League (2017)
Not much separates Zack Snyder’s Justice League and the previous entry on this list; they’re both victims of an unclear vision and studio interference. The biggest difference, however, is that Justice League had the benefit of following a successful, well-received film (more on that one later!). Like Ayer before him, Snyder was eventually pushed out by Warner Bros., with The Avengers director Joss Whedon given the task of doing over two months of additional photography, and somehow editing the film to under two hours. Newcomers Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher add some freshness and enthusiasm, but there was only so much they could do. Justice League was the final nail in the coffin for Ben Affleck’s career as Batman, but it also gave us one of the most confounding yet hilarious displays of studio bickering in recent memory: “Mustache-Gate”.
5. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Oh, BvS… how did it go so wrong? In what was designed as DC’s response to Marvel Studios’ uber-successful cinematic universe, Zack Snyder went guns out by throwing the two most iconic superheroes on screen together for the very first time. But in his excitement in trying to establish a cinematic universe to rival that of Marvel, Snyder forgot one crucial step: actually establishing a cinematic universe. The MCU was built with a solid foundation, so when their flagship characters finally met up in The Avengers, the film wasn’t bogged down by having to establish them. BvS is the second film in the DCEU, and had the burden of introducing two gigantic characters and their motivations; Batman and Lex Luthor. As a result, Henry Cavill’s Superman is sidelined in the franchise he helped build back in 2013. Adapting the classic Dark Knight Returns and Death of Superman storylines in a franchise so young is also a puzzling choice. This movie is proof that audiences today expect more from their tent-pole blockbusters, and have plenty of other options elsewhere.
4. Aquaman (2018)
Who would’ve thought that the fish guy would have the highest grossing DC movie of all time? Aquaman is considered a joke character by a lot of people, but cast Jason Momoa and people will stop laughing and take notice. Stepping out of Justice League pretty much unscathed, Arthur Curry has a whole world of his own to explore. Director James Wan took the potential of Atlantis and ran with it, which resulted in a vast, breathing ecosystem unlike anything we had seen so far in the franchise. The visual effects – that somehow didn’t even receive a nomination at the Academy Awards – never feel overwhelming, which is surprising considering how much of them the film is packed with. The supporting cast is gigantic, resulting in no one getting enough screen time to stand out besides Patrick Wilson’s Ocean Master. The film also suffers from groan-worthy dialogue and could have benefited from more scenes being left on the cutting room floor. Despite these faults, Aquaman is a fun action/adventure romp in the vein of Indiana Jones but features an octopus that can play the drums.
3. Shazam! (2019)
As stated earlier, Shazam! signifies the real first step into the new era of the DCEU. Unshackled by having to cater to already existing storylines and characters in the universe, it only had to focus on one thing: fun. Embracing the tag, “Big meets superheroes”, Shazam! places us in the unique perspective of a kid imbued with magical powers. Zachary Levy and Jack Dylan Grazer are the standout performers, with their chemistry together being the film’s greatest strength. The villain played by Mark Strong is not particularly memorable, and the third act does drag on, but overall Shazam! is one of the most charming and unique superhero movies released in recent memory.
2. Man of Steel (2013)
The one that started it all. Superman was due for a fresh take after the misfire that was Superman Returns, so it makes sense that Man of Steel was the one to kick off a new cinematic universe. In retrospect, the film is quite refreshing to watch considering what came directly after. Like the higher ranked films of this list, focusing primarily on one character is the way to go. Henry Cavill plays Clark Kent/Superman competently but really could have used a lighter script to help his charming side that we’ve seen in his other work shine. A beautiful orchestral score, strong performances from the supporting cast and a solid foundation for an iconic character are Man of Steel‘s biggest strengths. On the other hand, Clark Kent’s relationship with Lois Lane unearned, and the third act is bloated with excessive action. With all that being said, Man of Steel was unfairly rated on its release. Give it a watch if it’s been a while.
1. Wonder Woman (2017)
Diana Prince’s long overdue solo film hit all the right notes and was exactly what the struggling DCEU needed at the time. Expanding on her turn in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gal Gadot delivers a strong, funny, measured performance as she navigates her way through Themiscyra and World War 1. The supporting cast, led by Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, also do a great job grounding the action. One huge detail that separates Wonder Woman from its contemporaries is that it possesses a “Big Scene”, the one that everyone talks about after the credits roll. Avengers: Infinity War has “The Snap”, X-Men: United has Wolverine tearing apart those soldiers in Xavier’s mansion; Wonder Woman has “No Man’s Land.” The iconic scene finally reveals Diana in her Wonder Woman costume in all its glory, as she tears through enemy soldiers like paper accompanied by her electrifying main theme. Despite being let down by a generic final confrontation with the antagonist, Wonder Woman rises above with its emotive filmmaking, evident all across the board. It’s a far cry from many other superhero films released in the last 15 years. A true classic.