When it comes to cinematic universes, it goes without saying that Marvel Studios’s MCU is the one to beat. But that stiff competition hasn’t stopped Warner Bros. from trying to grab their own piece of the box office pie with an interconnected series of movies based on the heroes from DC Comics—known by fans as the DC Extended Universe (DCEU)—midway through the 2010s.
As with most things in life, though, the DCEU suffered from some serious growing pains (and perhaps a little rushing) early on. But after a few trips back to the drawing board, the studio has turned things around in recent years with releases like 2017's Wonder Woman and, more recently, Zack Snyder’s Justice League and James Gunn's The Suicide Squad in 2021. With that in mind, let’s take this opportunity to look back at every DCEU film so far and see which ones reign supreme—and which ones didn’t quite hit the mark.
1. Wonder Woman (2017)
Focusing on the origins of Diana Prince, Wonder Woman tells the story of how one incredible woman entered the world at a time of darkness, and single-handedly managed to inspire everyone around her with hope. Through her mission to destroy Ares, she ended up conquering evil, jealousy, hatred, and war—leaving behind only love.
From Gal Gadot’s wonderful performance to the film’s compelling story and awe-inspiring direction by Patty Jenkins—and let’s not forget that goosebump-inducing No Man’s Land scene—Wonder Woman marked a major turning point for the DCEU, proving that it was capable of delivering a truly great film.
2. Shazam! (2019)
It’s ironic that one of the lesser-known DC Comics superheroes was responsible for one of the DCEU’s most critically acclaimed outings. Shazam! stars Asher Angel as the young Billy Batson who has spent years running away from various foster homes in an endless bid to find his mother. That quest leads him to a mysterious wizard, who gives Billy the ability to transform into a statuesque superhero (played by Zachary Levi) when he calls out the magic word—Shazam!
This is undoubtedly the DCEU’s most unapologetically fun offering. It’s a superhero movie that never takes itself too seriously as it embraces the fun of its own genre. But it’s also about family and, thanks to the wonderful cast’s performances (and the holiday setting), it’s a heart-warming tale that you can enjoy again and again.
3. Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
Wonder Woman 1984 is a larger-than-life adventure that gathers more and more momentum as it heads toward the finish line. It’s brighter than the original, with the colors bursting off the screen and drawing you into the events with ease. And it backs up its ambitions with compelling character development.
Gadot shines again in the lead role, proving why she’s the DCEU’s greatest asset and a worthy successor to the legendary Lynda Carter. This time, however, her performance is matched by Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal, both of whom have characters so richly layered that the stage was already set for some brilliant performances.
Wonder Woman 1984 had the unenviable task of having to follow its critically acclaimed predecessor, and while it didn't quite surpass the first one, it managed to come closer than most sequels.
4. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
There had been so much dialogue about Zack Snyder’s Justice League since the theatrical cut came out and disappointed pretty much everyone in 2017. And while many feared the worst, what we got wasn’t just an improvement on the original—it turned out to be a must-see, larger-than-life showcase worthy of its eponymous superhero team. With some stunning visuals, engaging character journeys, and a far greater emotional hook, Zack Snyder's Justice League exceeded many people's expectations, notching a respectable 71 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.
5. The Suicide Squad (2021)
James Gunn took over The Suicide Squad in 2021 in a move that fans hoped would bring DC’s antiheroes the acclaim their 2016 trip to the big screen did not. While its predecessor was restrained by a bland plot, questionable villain, and strange creative choices, this quasi-reboot sought to take the shackles off in the most manic of ways. It accomplished that right out of the gate with its ultra-violent approach, going the extra mile to ensure that fans truly believed that not every member of Waller’s Task Force X would make it out of the film alive.
There are a lot of reasons behind the success of The Suicide Squad, but they all come from the mind of Gunn. Violent, crude, and in-your-face from start to finish, this movie doesn’t make the most of every character (for obvious reasons), but it does make the most of its best, delivering on nearly everything it promises.
6. Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
A fabulously enjoyable picture, Birds of Prey is a vivid experience in every way imaginable—though we’d expect nothing less from a film headlined by Harley Quinn. The movie brings new life to an admittedly light story, while also managing to introduce some of DC’s most iconic heroines into its shared universe of big-screen heroes.
Margot Robbie steals the show once more, but she was given solid competition from Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Ewan McGregor, all of whom delivered in their roles as Black Canary, Renee Montoya, Huntress, and Black Mask, respectively. It’s not perfect—the cutting back and forth was a big source of complaints—but strong characterization, a decent plot, and some of the best action scenes in recent memory add up to one of the DCEU’s most enjoyable entries yet.
7. Aquaman (2018)
Even with the star power of Jason Momoa fronting it, nobody expected Aquaman to experience the Earth-shattering success it did, especially following the flop of 2017's Justice League. But that couldn't stop Arthur Curry’s maiden voyage from being an all-out blockbuster that earned more than $1 billion at the global box office.
This is a big-budget adventure that is both aesthetically pleasing and emotionally engaging. It's not the best DC story ever told on the screen, but the material is elevated by the film’s star-studded cast, led by a reinvigorated Momoa.
8. Man Of Steel (2013)
Man of Steel's attempts to delve into Clark Kent's origins (both on Krypton and in Smallville) sets it apart from the previous takes on the character, and it's something that was brought to life beautifully by Henry Cavill’s engaging performance. And even though Amy Adams’s Lois Lane rarely felt like Lois Lane (through no fault of her own), the pair’s connection made for a strong emotional core.
Overall, it's an admirable attempt to make a less-realistic character feel more grounded in a post-Dark Knight world, and it went a long way toward reinvigorating the character. That said, a little more hope and triumph would have been welcome.
9. Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)
A cinematic spectacle that was decades in the making, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice brought the two biggest heroes of DC Comics (and, really, the world) together on the big screen for the very first time. With pressure like that heading into its release, the 2016 superhero smackdown was destined to either shatter expectations or fail spectacularly—there was no in-between. Only, somehow, there was: It didn’t explode onto screens with the compelling narrative that we hoped for, but it didn’t fizzle out in epic fashion, either.
Visually, Batman v Superman is everything that it should be: Stunning, loud, and operatic. Unfortunately, it wasn’t able to replicate a narrative anywhere near as engaging. Aside from the fact that the Caped Crusader didn’t act like himself, the world’s two most iconic heroes (one of which is the World’s Greatest Detective) allowed themselves to be manipulated by a version of Lex Luthor too far removed from his comic book origins. And the whole thing resulted in a long-winded and grim spectacle that overlooked its own admittedly strong substance in its attempts to force the showdown promised in the title.
10. Suicide Squad (2016)
Suicide Squad is the perfect example of how you can have all the right ingredients and still get it horribly wrong. Sure, the ragtag group of misfits was as unorthodox as we could have hoped for, but everything else was a complete misfire. This should have been a hard-hitting piece about wacky soldiers with a surprising amount of character development, not an over-the-top visual spectacle with a flat-out weird Joker and an unbelievably kooky supernatural villain in Enchantress.
There are flashes of brilliance here, and it’s a fairly decent (if overly complicated) campy superhero adventure for casual fans. Unfortunately, it’s still pretty hard to get over that when all the ingredients for a great film were right there.
11. Justice League (2017)
While the likes of Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad elicited strong reactions from audiences (though for different reasons), Justice League‘s biggest issue is that it landed somewhere in the middle of the road. It wasn’t overwhelmingly good, nor was it incredibly awful. It just, well, existed, languishing somewhere between the good and the bad with nothing to say.
That may have been down to the fact that the DCEU still hadn’t quite figured out what it wanted to be back in 2017. Thus, what started off as a grim and brooding world had evolved into a tonally ambiguous environment with a serious identity crisis. It just didn’t work, and that, alongside the incredibly on-the-nose script, reduced the DCEU’s primary objective to rubble in two hours.