DC super-hero movies ranked from worst to first


It’s interesting or perhaps confounding that the latest film featuring DC Comics characters, “The Flash,” opened 10 years to the day from when “The Man of Steel,” debuted in 2013 as the first film in what Warner Bros. dubbed the DC Extended Universe.

The latter film began the storytelling universe, and the former basically closed it. What happened in between was a roller coaster ride with some solid highs but some gut-churning lows.

This closure is hinted at in the post-credit scene of “The Flash” as well as how DC cinematic storytelling — known as the DCU — will take place going forward in a different time line than the DC films we’ve experienced over the last decade.

The films “Blue Beetle” and “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” opening in August and December respectively, will potentially be a part of the DCU, which is being spearheaded by co-studio heads James Gunn (director of Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” trilogy) and Peter Safran (producer of several DCEU films including “Shazam” and “Aquaman”) who have been in charge in the recently formed studio last October.

Gunn is busy in pre-production for the first official film of the DCU, “Superman: Legacy,” which is scheduled to open in July of 2025. “The Hollywood Reporter” recently reported that he held a round of screentests in full make-up and costumes for the roles of Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane last weekend.

Various news outlets have reported that “Renfield” star Nicholas Hoult, “Pearl” co-star David Corenswet, and “Greyhounds” actor Tom Brittney are up for Clark/Superman, while Rachel Brosnahan (Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), Phoebe Dyneovor (“Bridgerton”), and Emma MacKey (Sex Education) are up for Lois Lane.

Gunn has not confirmed which actors have tested for the role, but he did post the following quote on the Bluesky social media platform earlier this week: “Amazing, amazing weekend of auditions for ‘Superman: Legacy.’ I’m blown away by some of these actors, among the best I’ve ever seen or worked with.”

Christopher Reeve in Superman (1978) (DC)

Personally, I’m not sure who would make the better Superman. Corenswet has a similar look to Henry Cavill and Christopher Reeve, who played the role, but that might make Gunn want someone a bit different.

Hoult, to me, fits the role of Batman better. He favors Adam West, star the 1966 “Batman” TV show. Gunn and “The Flash” director Andy Muschietti will be casting a new Batman/Bruce Wayne for an as of yet unscheduled DCU Batman film titled “The Brave and the Bold.” Muschietti was announced as the director of the film last week. Hoult reportedly came in second to Robert Pattinson for director Matt Reeves’ “The Batman.”

Other than an online mug shot, I’m not familiar with Brittney. Being a somewhat unknown quantity might give him a leg up in Gunn’s mind?

For me, the clear choice for Lois is Brosnahan, but Gunn has an excellent eye for casting. Whichever actress he picks will be for a good reason.

So, with one chapter of DC cinematic storytelling shutting down and another in the works, it is as good of a time as any to rank DC films from worst to first.

Now, this is more of a “favorites” list than a “best of” list, and it’s based on my individual and personal taste. It’s also just a snapshot of the moments I’m writing this column. I’m pretty sure if I had compiled the list a month ago or if I did it a month from now, the order would be different, particularly past the first four or five spots.

So, up, up, and away!

New in Local Theaters – June 23, 2023

No Hard Feelings (R) 1hr. 43 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne)
Asteroid City (PG-13) 1 1 hr. 45 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle)

38. Steel (1997) — Man, I enjoy Shaquille O’Neal’s NBA commentary on “Inside the NBA” with Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Ernie Johnson, but Shaq’s not an actor, and this awful movie is proof positive.

37. Catwoman (2004) — The only reason why this movie is ranked ahead of “Steel” is that Halle Berry, who plays the titular character in the film, is more eye-appealing to me than Shaq.

36. Jonah Hex (2010) — Jonah Hex is perhaps the best Western character in comics, but something got lost in the production of this film. No movie with Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Michael Fassbender, and Megan Fox should be this boring.

35. Supergirl (1984) — Wow, did Helen Slater ever look the part of Supergirl, but even with actors like Faye Dunaway, Peter O’Toole, and Mia Farrow in supporting roles, the talent on hand couldn’t save this “Mystery Science Theater” reject.

34. Batman and Robin (1997) —The absolute silliness of this movie is stupendous. You can call it an homage to the “Batman” TV series, but what was cheeky and avant-garde in 1966 was cripplingly dull and stupid in 1997.

33. Wonder Woman 2 (2020) — Gal Godot is a great Wonder Woman trapped in an incredibly boring and cringey film, where the essence/soul of her deceased boyfriend Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) possesses the body of another dude to continue his relationship with Wonder Woman. Beyond that, it’s overlong and seems to never end.

Halle Berry in Catwoman (2004) (DC)

32. Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (2020) — As a longtime comic-book reader, I’m familiar with every key character in this movie, but it was just too schizophrenic to hold my attention for the duration.

31. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) — I dearly love Christopher Reeve’s performance as Superman, and the basic plot behind this movie is thought-provoking — Superman tackling the nuclear arms race. There are a few good scenes, but as co-star Jon Cryer once noted there was a germ of a good movie there, but the directorial and editorial choices were startlingly bad.

30. Justice League (2017) — Whether it’s the theatrical release retooled by Joss Whedon or the four-hour Zack Snyder cut, this movie is a mess conceptually and narratively. There is some fun to be had with various scenes — particularly when a crazy resurrected Superman battles his JL teammates — but that’s about it.

29. Suicide Squad (2016) — The first 10 minutes of this movie features some great Batman (Ben Affleck) action. Margot Robbie almost perfectly captures the attitude of Harley Quinn from the comics, but the action and story becomes bloated and boring after the first act. It’s like watching bad video-game cut scenes.

28. The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) — The production values on this movie are atrociously cheap. Swamp Thing and the monsters he fights all look like guys in rubber costumers, but the final fight in the swamp between Arcane and Swampy is schlocky fun.

27. Green Lantern (2011) — Green Lantern was my favorite comic-book character as a kid. That’s probably why I rate this movie higher than most. Some of the special effects and performances were a little hard to take, but there is some interesting stuff on display here and there. However, the film lacks heart. That’s not surprising considering director Martin Campbell confessed he didn’t “get” the lore and charm of the character after he completed the film.

26. Swamp Thing (1982) — This low-budget movie did a great job of capturing the feel of the original Swamp Thing comics by artist Bernie Wrightson and and writer Len Wein, and the performances by Adrienne Barbeau and Louis Jourdan class up the movie that was written and directed by horror master Wes Craven (“Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Scream,” and “The People Under the Stairs”) on shoe-string budget. I love the small role of Jude, played by Reggie Bates who befriends Barbeau’s character.

25. Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice (2016) — Zack Snyder’s ambition for this movie far exceeded his talent. He foolishly tried to cram what should have been two or three movies into one. The film has several peaks, but overall it’s a mess. Snyder’s view of Superman and Batman’s heroism also clashed diametrically with my thoughts on the characters.

24. Superman III (1983) — This movie is a mixed bag. The part that focuses on Clark Kent’s (Christopher Reeve) return to Smallville for a class reunion and how he strikes up a relationship with old friend Lana Lang (Anette O’Toole) worked for me, as did Superman’s evil turn. However, who in the world would ever cast Richard Pryor in a PG movie as a villainous computer genius?

23. Batman Forever (1995) — When this movie focuses on psychological attraction of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Val Kilmer) to his love interest Dr. Chase Meridian, the movie sizzles. However, it fizzles when dealing with Robin (Chris O’Donnell) and villains Riddler (Jim Carrey) and Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones). Carrey is too much, and Jones gives, perhaps, the only bad performance of his career.

Jason Momoa in Aquaman (2018) (DC)

22. Superman Returns (2006) — Bryan Singer made a movie about absent fathers and crammed Superman characters into it. He also paid too much homage to 1978’s “Superman: The Movie” by attempting to one up its scenes with modern special effects. The movie’s not terrible. You could argue it is well made, but every time Singer references the older film, it takes me out of his movie. It’s a matter of taste, but my main gripe is that Superman is not a stalker-ish jerk who falters with fatherly responsibility.

21. Aquaman (2018) — This is the highest grossing DC movie of all time. That is probably the reason its star Jason Mamoa appears to be one of the few characters that will transition into the new DCU under Gunn and Safran. The movie is a CGI spectacle that gets long in the tooth, but Mamoa has undeniable charisma, and the style of the movie is eye catching.

20. Black Adam (2022) — Maybe the Rock should have chosen to play an actual super-hero instead of an anti-hero/villain? Maybe he should have had Black Adam fight his longtime nemesis Shazam in this movie? Maybe he should have left the kid sidekick and his mom out of the movie? While this film is just of an average movie, it played poorly at the box office for a blockbuster. There is some fun super-powered action. Plus it gets extra credit in my book for introducing Justice Society members Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo, and Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) to the big screen. Hodge and Brosnan’s performance made the movie for me.

19. Shazam: Fury of the Gods (2023) — This movie made less than $200 million in theaters earlier this year. Still it is a fun movie even if there is some nonsensical characterization with the lead character. The movie lacks a lot of the charm of the original as the kids have aged. But I had fun watching it.

18. Superman and the Mole Men (1951) — George Reeves was the Superman of my early childhood. I woke up early every Sunday to watch reruns of “The Adventures of Superman” at 6 a.m. before going to church as a pre-schooler. The special effects are laughable by today’s standards, but the stories are strong, particularly in the first two seasons. This movie played in theaters in the summer of 1951 to introduce kids to the character before the series began showing on TV, following spring of 1952.

17. Batman (1966) — There may not be a more “of its time” movie on this list. The campy “Batman” TV series was such a hit during its first season that Adam West (Batman), Burt Ward (Robin) and key villains Joker (Caesar Romero), Penguin (Burgess Meredith), Riddler (Frank Gorshin), and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether) filmed this movie during their summer hiatus. The movie is goofy but fun, and it introduced the world to Bat-shark repellent.

16. Watchmen (2009) — This film is gorgeous to look at. Director Zack Snyder has a wonderful eye for composition, and he lovingly recreates panels from the classic Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel. With a few changes to climax of the film, Snyder even provides a bit of a better conclusion than the comic. However, the film is dry and emotionless, possibly from his dedication to replicate scenes from Moore and Gibbons’ masterpiece.

15. Constantine (2005) — It’s odd that the very American Keanu Reeves was chosen to play a character that is so innately British? If you can get over that hump — it admittedly is a big one — the film is a creepy super-natural mystery/thriller that’s an impressive directorial debut for Francis Lawrence. For whatever reason, I didn’t like the film when it came out, but on a rewatch during the Covid-19 pandemic, it struck me as being solid and very entertaining.

14. The Dark Knight Returns (2012) — Christopher Nolan is truly a directorial genius. He is undoubtably of the best at his craft currently working today. Nolan delivered two excellent Batman films that will stand the test of time, but this isn’t one of them. “The Dark Knight Returns” is just a good Batman movie because Nolan crammed too much into the film. From Bane to Talia al Ghul to Catwoman to Robin to a nuclear explosion, the film is so packed that it gets weighted down. There’s just too much. It’s all decent, but maybe Nolan should have made two or three movies out of those ideas instead of just one. It’s “The God Father Part III” of super-hero movies.

13. The Flash (2023) — I liked so much of what director Andy Muschietti served up in “The Flash.” He drew a nuanced and heart-felt double performance out of the problematic Ezra Miller. He delivered strong Batman from three different performers in Ben Affleck, Micheal Keaton, and very briefly from George Clooney. The opening sequence with Flash, Batman, and Wonder Woman is the best live-action Justice League we’ve ever seen. “The Flash” is a touching and fun movie movie with some nice comedic moments — the scene with Flash’s college roommates is great— but all the re-jiggering of the movie for various reasons leaves a huge hole in the story. Who killed Flash’s mom? Muschietti said that would come in the sequel, but as poorly as the film is doing at the box office, there won’t be a sequel.

12. Shazam (2019) — This super-hero twist on the Tom Hanks’ film “Big” isn’t like the character was originally conceived in the 1940s comics. Shazam/Captain Marvel/ The Captain was never written as a little kid’s mind inhabiting an adult’s body when he said the magic word and was transformed. That didn’t come until about 12 years ago when the character was re-conceived in the comics. However, the new formula made for a winning movie with Asher Angel doing fine work as Billy Batson and Zachary Levi playing the alter-ego. My favorite performance in the film, though, comes from Jack Dylan Grazer as the physically disabled Freddy Freeman, Billy’s charismatic younger foster brother. The best-buddy chemistry between Angel and Grazer really works.

11. Batman Returns (1992) — We knew Tim Burton was weird from his films “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” and “Beetlejuice,” but the director didn’t get really nuts with Batman (Micheal Keaton) until he paired him with the Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and the Penguin (Dany DeVito) in this weird, fairy-tale, nightmare version of the characters. As off-kilter as it may be, the movie works and is weirdly and wickedly fun.

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman (2017) (DC)

10. Wonder Woman (2017) — Gal Godot proved to be perfect casting as Diana/Wonder Woman. She’s enchanting and inspiring as the warrior princess. Her recent appearances in “The Flash” and “Shazam: Fury of the Gods” only confirms that. She and Chris Pine had great chemistry in this movie that introduced the character to the big screen and was set during World War I. Wonder Woman’s march through no-man’s land is truly a classic scene in this fish-out-of-water tale. The first two acts of the film are so well made that maybe the film should have concluded with her liberating a French city from German occupation? However, the third act devolves into a CGI mishmash that leaves a hint of a bad taste in your mouth. Thankfully that doesn’t detract from how strong the character-driven first two acts were.

9. Joker (2019) — Director Todd Phillips’ “Joker” offers an origin for the Clown Prince of Crime in a world without Batman or at least without him yet. The neo-noir film, which pays homage to director Martin Scorsese and particularly his films “The King of Comedy” and “Taxi Driver,” is a brutally sad and gut-wrenching tale of how a disabled man cracks and devolves into a calculating homicidal maniac. Joaquin Phoenix is jarringly brilliant in the role and won an Oscar for Best Actor for the part. The movie is not necessarily one I want to revisit, but it was impactful.

8. Man of Steel (2013) — I don’t particularly agree with or like director Zack Snyder’s approach to DC’s super heroes or characters. His versions of Ma and Pa Kent in this movie are totally off-base to me. Their upbringing of Clark (Henry Cavill) creates a reticent man, whose instinct is to back away instead of confronting evil, which has never been a part of Superman lore in any iteration until Snyder’s take. That said, if you can go with the premise Snyder offers, “Man of Steel” stands up as a strong movie, with some of the best super-powered fights and heroics committed to film. I don’t care for the tone of Snyder’s DC films. It’s too bleak in my opinion. However, for what it is, “Man of Steel” is a good movie.

7. The Suicide Squad (2021) — Director James Gunn is a confident director with a sense of tone and humor that hits my funny bone just right. This movie has some hilarious moments, but what makes me excited about him being in charge of DC’s movies along with Safran is that he never fails to inject his projects with a great deal of heart and character. This film is rife with action and humor, but it hits home because of the character-building Gunn accomplishes within the course of this film. That work makes you care about a bunch of wicked villains being forced into the role of heroes in this movie.

6. Batman (1989) — At the time director Tim Burton’s “Batman” was released, it was a revelation. It was super-heroes done seriously! It was justification for all closeted comic-book fans like me. It made wearing a Batman T-shirt cool for teens and grown folks, which it absolutely was not prior to this movie’s release. You could literally get your butt whooped back then for wearing a super-hero shirt prior to that movie changing opinions. “Batman” isn’t perfect, but in various instances, it does an incredible job of bringing to life the comics that I and many others so dearly enjoyed. Micheal Keaton’s out-there take on Bruce Wayne worked, and Jack Nicholson brought the evil and madness of the Joker to life. Is the movie dated today? Sure, but it is a lot of fun and never boring.

5. Batman Begins (2005) — Director Christopher Nolan’s first foray into super-heroes tells the Batman’s origin from young Bruce Wayne being terrorized by bats after falling into an underground cave to that fateful night when his parents were murdered in a Gotham City alley to his world travels to train to be a crime-fighter and a champion for the oppressed. Nolan, who wrote the screenplay from a story by David S. Goyer, weaves decades of storylines, spanning the entire 60-plus year publishing history of Batman in 2005, into a cohesive story that works incredibly smoothly. Christian Bale is arguably the best of the various Batmen with excellent support from Michael Cain as Alfred, Liam Neesan as Ducard/Ras al Ghul, Gary Oldman as Detective Jim Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Lucious Fox. The film has solid action and a great twist.

4. The Batman (2022) — Director Matt Reeves perhaps offers us the most comics-accurate Batman ever, based on how the character has been portrayed since writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams rejuvenated the character in the early 1970s. Robert Pattinson gives a tense, driven performance as Bruce Wayne/The Batman during the early portion of his career. Paul Dano’s Riddler is a dangerous serial-killer, based on the real-life Zodiac Killer, who offers nearly unsolvable clues that ultimately brings Gotham City to its knees, and the best out of The Batman. The collaboration between Jeffry Wright’s Jim Gordon and Pattinson’s The Batman is so on point, and Collin Farrell’s take on the Penguin, under pounds of makeup, makes the movie sing every time he is on the screen. Zoe Kravitz’ Catwoman is my favorite live-action portrayal of the character. She and Pattinson make you feel it when the two are split up. This is a great Batman movie, but there is one better.

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008) (DC)

3. Superman II (1981) — There are two versions of this movie available — the theatrical release from 1981 and the 2006 Richard Donner Cut. The Donner Cut stems from the portion of the film Donner shot before he was fired from the production and replaced with Richard Lester in 1979. In 2006, editors Stuart Baird and Michael Thau took the Donner footage and edited into Lester’s version of the movie and excised the similar scenes that Lester re-shot. The two versions are essentially the same general story with Superman (Christopher Reeve) facing off against three alien political criminals, who escaped Krypton’s destruction because they had been sentenced by Superman’s father, Jor-El to the Phantom Zone, a pocket dimension. The devil is in the details. There are specific differences in the two versions of the movies that are too lengthy to get into, but fans have differing opinions on which is better. My opinion bounces back and forth. Currently, I prefer the theatrical cut, possibly because of nostalgia. I watched it twice, back-to-back, on opening night with two childhood buddies back in 1981. No doubt, nostalgia plays a factor in how high this movie ranks for me.

2. Superman: The Movie (1978) — It’s truly hard for me to rank this movie No. 2 on my list. “Superman: The Movie” and Christopher Reeve’s performance as the Man of Steel so perfectly embodies the character I so dearly loved reading about as a kid. Reeve looks like a Curt Swan drawing of Superman stepped off the comics page and started acting. Swan is the artist who drew Superman more than any other from the late 1940s through 1986, when he semi-retired and mostly left the character to other artists. Swan is cited by experts to have drawn more comic-book pages than any other artist, even topping the prolific Jack Kirby, who along with Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were the early architects of Marvel Comics. Donner did a fantastic job with this movie along with cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth. Donner gave Krypton, Smallville, and Metropolis three distinct looks, and Unsworth did a marvelous job of putting on the screen. The camera work and lighting do a ton of heavy lifting for this film as does the fantastic score by legendary conductor John Williams, Steven Spielberg’s favorite composer. It’s hard to say what is Williams’ best score, but “Superman: The Movie” remains my favorite. Margot Kidder does perhaps her best work on screen as Lois Lane. Glenn Ford leaves an indelible mark as Pa Kent. His talk with Clark about being on Earth “for a reason” is a beautiful scene. Marlon Brando’s gravitas was worth every penny of his unheard of at the time million-dollar salary as Superman’s father Jor-El. Jackie Cooper was great chewing up scenery, cigars, and his reporter’s rear ends as Daily Planet editor Perry White. As much as I appreciate Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty as actors, their campy performances as Lex Luthor and Otis are funny, but they don’t fit the rest of the movie’s tone. Now, certainly some of the criticism for that has to fall to Donner as director and possibly screenwriters David and Leslie Newman and Robert Benton who reworked “The God Father” author Mario Puzo’s reportedly ultra-campy original screenplay. If not for the off-key nature of Luthor and Otis, this would likely be No. 1 on my list. While I like Batman a lot, in my heart, I’m a Superman guy.

1. The Dark Knight (2008) — This movie is a masterpiece or as close as any comic-book movie has gotten. Director Christopher Nolan picks up where he left off with “Batman Begins” and crafts a thrilling, exhilarating super-hero crime drama that hits on all cylinders. Just as Batman (Christian Bale), Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), and district attorney Harvey Dent/Two Face (Aaron Eckhart) opt to form a bond to end to organized crime in Gotham City, an even worse blight on the city emerges as the Joker (Heath Ledger) begins wiping out crime bosses left and right to consolidate power under him. As great as Jack Nicholson was as the Joker the 1989 “Batman,” Ledger topped him and won a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his efforts. The Joker’s madness and rage against Gotham and his citizenry isn’t about accruing wealth. Joker proves that by lighting a 20-foot high stack of stolen cash on fire. He’s furious with society, and he wants to watch it burn. Ledger’s Joker is a menace perhaps created by the Batman’s war on crime, but he’s a threat that only Batman can possibly handle. Batman is a force attempting to do good, but the movie questions if he does more harm if his vigilante crusade against crime begets evil like the Joker? In the end, Batman triumphs over Joker barely, but in the process he loses his his beloved Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and his friend Dent, whom the Joker corrupted. To cover up Dent’s malignancy and to create a hero the city can rally around, Batman takes the fall for Two-Face’s crimes to allow Dent to be a martyr to the public. The movie works on every level with a gripping and heart-rending conclusion. Nolan tips his hat to great movies of the past such as “Angels With Dirty Faces,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “The Man Who Laughs” and likely several others. To me the film is a close to perfect as any super-hero film has come, and that’s why it is No. 1.