All 42 DC Comics Movies Ranked Worst to Best

7:00 AM 3/25/2016

by John DeFore, Leslie Felperin, and Jordan Mintzer

THR critics rank all DC Comics-inspired films from worst (anyone remember Shaquille O'Neal in 'Steel'?) to best.

Dark Knight, The Lego Movie and Man of Steel split - H 2016
Warner Bros./Photofest (3)

Aquaman has swum into theaters and is the latest film in Warner Bros. growing roster of DC films.

After making the big screen safe for superheroes with a couple of excellent adventures a generation or two ago, DC has proven — with one Christopher Nolan-sized exception — to be fairly hit-or-miss at getting the magic up on screen. The company has a few honest-to-Zod icons on its hands, but their super powers do not include an immunity to iffy filmmaking choices. Let us assess the relative merits of movies inspired by their comics and graphic novels.

This list, which was created in 2016 to coincide with the launch of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, will continue to be updated with new movies as they come out. It was most recently updated in time for the release of Zack Snyder's Justice League in 2021.

  1. 47
    47

    Steel

    Remember that brief moment when Hollywood thought they could make Shaquille O'Neal a movie star? We don't either. But at least they didn't waste a high-profile character from the DC universe on him. Something of a third-rate Iron Man, this flick's heavily armored weapons designer-turned-crime-fighter inspired a dismal response at the box office; for the next seven years, no DC character dared to show himself on a movie screen.

  2. 46
    47

    Jonah Hex

    Few high-caliber thesps who've signed on as leads in comic-book films fell as far as Josh Brolin, whose breakthrough Milk and W. performances were still fresh memories when this unrepentantly stupid Western swaggered into cinemas. Playing a former Civil War soldier with an implausible deformity and the ability to speak to the dead, he was lucky (as were movie lovers) that one of those spirits he spoke to wasn't the ghost of his freshly killed career.

  3. 45
    47

    Catwoman

    Strike one: Halle Berry was donning shredded pleather in the wake of Michelle Pfeiffer, who made Catwoman her own in Batman Returns and should really have had a spinoff to herself. Strike two: This character, brought to life by some ancient-Egypt mumbo jumbo, bore nearly no resemblance to the mortal-just-like-Batman figure in the comics. Strike three: Despite putting his lead in one skimpy S&M-lite outfit after another, director Pitof couldn't make the film sexy.

  4. 44
    47

    The Return of Swamp Thing

    Misguided camp was the rule in this who-asked-for-it sequel, which pretty much gave up on the notion of '50s sci-fi-inflected gothic horror. Heather Locklear, replacing the first outing's Adrienne Barbeau as damsel in distress, earned a Razzie for her efforts.

  5. 43
    47

    Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

    Somewhere out there in the Multiverse, there exists an Earth on which the Happy Days-inspired phrase "jump the shark" doesn't exist. When people want to criticize an entertainment franchise for making itself ridiculous, they say, "that episode really quested for peace, didn't it?"

  6. 42
    47

    Superman III

    Richard Lester, whose irreverent '60s comedies included A Hard Day's Night, was brought in on Superman II when producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind wanted to boot director Richard Donner. Here he got an installment of his own, committing that cardinal sin of superhero movies not called Deadpool: He went for laughs. The jarring presence of an underutilized Richard Pryor in a leading role suggests a series running out of fuel and in desperate need of new ideas.

  7. 41
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    Batman & Robin

    For some, the words "bat-nipples" say it all. Joel Schumacher's second outing (starring George Clooney and Chris O'Donnell) killed the franchise, with production design like a Broadway musical and a winky approach just steps away from the jokey vibe of the '60s TV show. If the movie itself weren't bad enough, let's nitpick the title: why was the second movie featuring Robin given this name, when (given the introduction of Alicia Silverstone's lady crimefighter) it logically should have been Batman & Robin Meet Batgirl? Or Batman & Robin Will Be Embarrassed for a Long Time?

  8. 40
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    Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

    The nadir of DC's Zack Snyder years, Dawn took lots of cues from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns but missed that landmark comic series' (possibly unwitting) self-parody. You can hardly blame Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill for the empty bombast surrounding them — an over-the-top machismo that, if presented in Sensorama, would reek of a certain toxic body spray.

  9. 39
    47

    Batman Forever

    Not so much a guarantee of eternal life as the beginning of the end, Forever seemed to tacitly apologize for earlier outings that took Batman seriously — amping up the candy colors, replacing our dark hero with a blonde (Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne?!), and introducing Robin, the sidekick the comics have tried to kill off a hundred times.

  10. 38
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    The Losers

    It might make sense that a comic book modeled on big screen, mercenaries-blow-stuff-up action would be good fodder for an adaptation. But like a photo Xeroxed too many times, The Losers lost something in the multiple translations; it's a hollow action flick made by people who knew they were slumming and kind of wanted you to know it, too. High point: It let Chris Evans shake a bit of Fantastic Four disgrace off and exhibit the charisma that would make him such a fine Captain America.

  11. 37
    47

    Green Lantern

    Superhero fatigue had more than set in when Ryan Reynolds first donned Spandex, inspiring audiences and critics to overreact to this would-be franchise starter. No, it wasn't the worst DC film of the decade — two worse ones came out the previous year! — but at a moment when Christopher Nolan was turning comics into philosophical operas, perhaps viewers didn't want a character known for using his magic ring's beam to conjure big green locomotives, house-sized hammers and the like.

    Read THR's film review here.

  12. 36
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    Justice League

    Ezra Miller's Flash is one of very few bright spots in this achingly dull team picture, which set out to be the culmination of Zack Snyder's wrongheaded DC agenda and only got more muddled when family tragedy forced him to withdraw during post-production. Hard as it is to believe, there are fans online (probably many of the same dudes who've been so touchy about recent Star Wars films) who are begging for more, insisting on the release of a Snyder director's cut of the film.

  13. 35
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    Zack Snyder's Justice League

    Sure, it makes more sense and is better to look at than the "can we fix this mess?" version Joss Whedon and WB hastily delivered in 2017. But four hours is far too long for even a great superhero picture, and even at its best, this embodiment of the JL could never approach greatness. Rather than giving in to a pissy faction of fans and handing Snyder tens of millions to finish what he started, DC should have wiped the slate clean and invested in new visions.

  14. 34
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    Constantine

    This CG-addled supernatural adventure gave Keanu Reeves someplace comforting to go after the Matrix sequels, and features, in Peter Stormare's performance, one of cinema's ickiest incarnations of Satan. But you got the feeling that the movie was embarrassed about the source material's literate fan base, trying to shed its biting British wit and appealing noirish elements and pretend it was a built-from-scratch blockbuster.

  15. 33
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    Suicide Squad

    DC's attempt to go naughty with PG-13 nihilism had the misfortune of arriving months after Fox and Marvel's filthy-fun Deadpool upended things. But the picture would have been a misfire no matter when it was released. Moviegoers who aren't on a superhero-only diet could see the potential of pairing writer/director David Ayer with this material; let's blame corporate meddling for the cluttered, incoherent result. The charisma of Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn was the only thing most viewers agreed on — here's hoping the in-the-works Birds of Prey lets her come into her own, just as Deadpool did when he stepped out of Wolverine's shadow.

  16. 32
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    Supergirl

    If you want to cheer yourself up with some hardcore early 80s cinema de fromage, check out this cheesetastic classic. Alongside the delightfully vacuous Helen Slater as the titular heroine, Faye Dunaway, decked out in outrageous wigs and sharpened shoulder pads, struts her stuff as the villainess, aided and abetted by the great English comedian Peter Cook, Brenda Vaccaro, and Peter O’Toole as a space oddity. Like so many camp classics, it’s actually a bit of a slog to watch sober.

  17. 31
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    Robin's Big Date

    Not since Burt Ward has an actor had a take on Batman's who-needs-him sidekick as appropriate as Justin Long's in this goofy parody, a James Duffy-directed short in which Sam Rockwell's sleazy Bats thwarts his young ward's efforts to woo women at a wine bar. "So, sweetie, you want a date with the Boy Wonder? Or as The Penguin said — quite cleverly, I might add — the Boy Blunder?"

  18. 30
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    Birds of Prey

    Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn was casting that deserved this second chance. But could she not have had a proper solo adventure (or a twisted Joker/Harley rampage) before we tie this anarchic babe up in another team movie? Cathy Yan's leap from indie debut Dead Pigs to DC found her totally comfortable directing extravagant, colorfully designed action sequences. But Christina Hodson's script lacked the wit Harley deserved, and failed to make her teammates characters we'd want to follow into post-Quinn crimefighting.

  19. 29
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    Swamp Thing

    The late Wes Craven, who was about to transform horror with A Nightmare on Elm Street, tested his commercial abilities in this outing, a scientist-turned-monster yarn owing much to 1950s creature features. In a rare case of adaptations spurring innovation in the comics they're based on, the publicity surrounding the film prompted DC to relaunch the series — which was soon transformed by writer Alan Moore into one of the most celebrated series of its day.

  20. 28
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    RED 2

    Producers pushed their luck with this sequel to the surprisingly successful film about secret agents who have to come out of retirement and kick some ass. Director Dean Parisot hopes the "let's toss another few stars into the mix," Expendables-like approach will cover up the script's lack of imagination; it doesn't, though the cast ensures we remain amused.

    Read THR's film review here.

  21. 27
    47

    Superman and the Mole Men

    Essentially a long-form pilot for the '50s TV show presented as a theatrical feature, Mole Men introduced George Reeves as the Man of Steel. However dated and square the production looks now, Reeves' beefy, uncomplicated hero, and his occasionally wry Clark Kent, retain a corny charm.

  22. 26
    47

    Batman: Dead End

    Two years before Christopher Nolan reimagined the masked detective, a Hollywood FX artist named Sandy Collora made this earnest and influential fan film, full of drizzle and billowing steam. The eight-minute short veers into geek fantasy midway through, pitting Bats against villains from the Alien and Predator franchises, but its stripped-down costuming and straight-faced performances reflect fans' fervent wish for Hollywood to treat the hero as respectfully as they do.

  23. 25
    47

    Aquaman

    More than a year after the lessons of Wonder Woman, the bros setting DC's course were still confusing macho posturing for heroics and obsessing over whose trident was hardest. But this world-building FX showcase at least boasted plenty of visual novelty. And let's be blunt: A mostly lame movie about this hero just isn't going to break hearts the way a stupid Batman or Superman flick does.

  24. 24
    47

    RED

    A charismatic and always-game cast is central to the appeal of this adaptation of Warren Ellis's spy-vs.-spy actioner, whose plotting doesn't always live up to the performances. Rom-com chemistry between Mary-Louise Parker and Bruce Willis, playing a "retired, extremely dangerous" secret agent, is something rarely encountered in funnybook adaptations — as is the sight of Dame Helen Mirren wielding automatic weapons.

  25. 23
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    Superman Returns

    Although relatively well received when it came out in 2006 by many critics, fans of director Bryan Singer’s X-Men series and some viewers nostalgic for the most wholesome of superheroes, this inert relaunch failed to re-ignite the franchise. Indeed, it was less a return than a brief visit, and the whole exercise did little for the reputations of Kevin Spacey (as a hammy Lex Luthor), Kate Bosworth (as a stiff Lois Lane) and poor, doomed Brandon Routh as the eponymous man in spandex. Routh's career still hasn’t recovered.

  26. 22
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    Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

    Slight but more fun than most of this century's live-action DC fare, this feature spinoff of the kid-cute TV series directly addressed Robin's (correct) belief that his elders get all the love. Though it certainly doesn't make one yearn for a "real" movie devoted to the Boy Wonder's adventures (the plot watches as Robin tries to go Hollywood), it could teach Snyder's Justice League a lot about why we enjoy superpowered teamwork.

  27. 21
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    Wonder Woman 1984

    Yeah: We all loved Chris Pine's Steve Trevor, whose chemistry with Gal Gadot's Diana was crucial to the first film's success. But an Amazon of all people should understand sacrifice, and magically bringing Steve back from the dead for a whole movie was one of many things that felt a little off about this second outing. There was lots of fun to be had, yes, and setting it in 1984 affords a "this was just a lark, y'all" excuse for any missteps. But does she really have to fly? Should we just give all the powers to all the heroes?

  28. 20
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    Batman: The Movie

    A delightful cultural artifact that really exists in its own world, this big-screen predecessor of the ABC TV show is less adaptation than Roy Lichtenstein-like appropriation. Sure, the licensing is in place, but this ain't Batman any more than that pompous buffoon in The Lego Movie is. Adam West's bat-tongue-in-cheek self-importance holds together an entertainingly campy production that quickly spun off into a cliffhanger-centric series.

  29. 19
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    Man of Steel

    Warner Bros. and director Zack Snyder’s approach with the second attempt in five years to get Superman back up in the air after the misfire of Superman Returns was to go darker in every sense — even the colors of Henry Cavill’s blue-and-red supersuit looked dingier, muddier and more like distressed plastic. Although the result isn’t entirely satisfying, it’s an improvement on its predecessor and there’s a schadenfreude kick to be had out of watching indie-movie-darling Michael Shannon debasing himself for this nonsense as the baddie, General Zod.

    Read THR's film review here.

  30. 18
    47

    The Road to Perdition

    Adapting a graphic novel by mystery writer Max Allan Collins, director Sam Mendes delivered a shadow-laden paean to Irish mobsters that reeked of class. Post-American Beauty, the filmmaker was somewhat weighed down by his desire to deliver an epic crime-film masterpiece, but the array of talent surrounding him — from Tom Hanks and Paul Newman to cinematographer Conrad L. Hall — ensures there's much to enjoy.

  31. 17
    47

    Watchmen

    Not many comic book adaptations have to live up to source material even some non-fanboys regard as a masterpiece. So cut Zack Snyder's version of the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons original some slack for its overly heavy atmosphere of Importance. What's less forgivable is its rather leaden adherence to the graphic novel's complicated narrative, taking a very long-feeling three hours to introduce the many members of a mid-century team of superheroes who, decades after their retirement, are drawn into a murder mystery.

  32. 16
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    The Lego Batman Movie

    Though not nearly as fresh as the comic stunner that spawned it, the Bat-centric Lego spinoff had stretches of sugary parody that made it this generation's version of the '60s TV Batman. Teaching Will Arnett's darrrrrk knight the virtues of relying on a family, it quietly made Robin (a perfectly cast Michael Cera) a more enjoyable character than he is in 90 percent of his comic-book appearances at Batman's side.

  33. 15
    47

    Shazam!

    A delightful reminder that, for most of their lifespan, comic books were kids' stuff, David F. Sandberg's Shazam! played as Big meets Golden Age Superman: Thanks to an ancient wizard in search of a pure-hearted champion, young Billy Batson transforms into not just a hunky grown-up, but a practically invincible one. Though ostensibly part of the misbegotten DC Extended Universe, its buoyancy was a tacit rebuke to that ponderously macho enterprise.

  34. 14
    47

    Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

    Is it strange that cartoons often took Batman more seriously than live-action productions did? This feature spinoff of Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski's Batman: The Animated Series was embraced by die-hards; some have gone so far as to call it the most definitive version of the hero beyond the comics' pages. And casting him as the voice of the Joker for the first time, this series gave Mark Hamill something to do in the long decades between Luke Skywalker gigs.

  35. 13
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    V for Vendetta

    Directed by James McTeigue but clearly the product of the screenwriting/producing Wachowski siblings (taking a break between Matrix-sequel bombast and the superficial flash of Speed Racer), the Natalie Portman starrer persuasively envisions a near-future surveillance state and gets us to identify with the masked vigilante (Hugo Weaving) who wants to blow it all up. Revolution-hungry but willing to let viewers wonder if its militant heroes are misguided, it is the best film to emerge from the work of legendary comics scribe Alan Moore — even if he insisted on having his name removed from the credits.

  36. 12
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    Joker

    Todd Phillips' Scorsese-soaked descent into violent mental illness is as distant from the rest of DC films as the Nolan Batman was from the '60s TV show. It could've been mere pastiche without the arresting Joaquin Phoenix performance at its heart. The polarized response it elicited has so much to do with both real-world political context and the baggage of its DC pedigree that one wishes it could've been released in another strand of the multiverse — one where comic-book movies were a rarity, not tentpoles supporting a whole industry, and moviegoers saw each as a standalone work of art.

  37. 11
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    The Lego Movie

    Although not, strictly speaking, a comic-to-movie adaptation as such, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s delightful franchise kick-off both playfully spoofs the tropes of superhero stories and also takes advantage of brand synergy between Lego, Warner Bros. and DC. Their gentle mockery of Christian Bale-era Batman and his moody, tortured-soul posturing is particularly priceless, especially when it finds expression in song. (“Darkness! No parents!!” sings Will Arnett’s incarnation to droning techno.)

    Read THR's film review here.

  38. 10
    47

    Superman II

    This somewhat adulterated but enjoyable sequel sees Earth threatened by three Phantom Zone villains led (in an immortally haughty performance) by Terence Stamp's General Zod. Memorable for an Oval Office scene in which he humiliates the President and demands that Superman "kneel before Zod!" it took risky moves in advancing Clark Kent's crush on Lois Lane. However gratifying this plotline may be, its resolution requires screenwriters to introduce another one of those idiotic "undiscovered powers" — the ability to wipe memories from others' minds, in this case — that have weakened the mythology of Superman for ages.

  39. 9
    47

    Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

    Released nearly three decades after the Superman director was replaced with Richard Lester, this reconstituted take on the sequel is more coherent than the one originally released, more serious-minded, and restores some Marlon Brando footage previously believed to be lost. While the differences may not be enormous, it's as close as we can get to justice for the filmmaker who first made us believe a man could fly.

  40. 8
    47

    Batman

    A cultural phenomenon that took over the world at the close of the '80s, Tim Burton's film offered a vision of the Caped Crusader (played by Michael Keaton) much grimmer than casual fans had ever seen on screen but which fanboys — who'd had watched as Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli transformed him in print — could take seriously. Danny Elfman's score, a gothic fantasia perfect for swooping from rooftops and perching behind gargoyles, helped keep the extravagant action from veering into camp.

  41. 7
    47

    The Dark Knight Rises

    After getting so serious in The Dark Knight, Nolan and his team got a bit ludicrous in this ambitiously uneven conclusion to a trilogy that would reshape the comic book genre for years to come. There are some great things here (Tom Hardy’s Bane, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman) and some not so great things (Bane’s indistinct garble, Marion Cotillard’s death scene). By far the weakest of the three, The Dark Knight Rises (with Christian Bale as Batman) still rises above most superhero screen fodder.

    Read THR's film review here.

  42. 6
    47

    A History of Violence

    John Wagner and Vince Locke's 1997 graphic novel was loosely adapted by David Cronenberg for this neo-noir descendent of Out of the Past. As a small-town restaurant owner trying to hide his gangster past, Viggo Mortensen offers a more naturalistic take on the haunted protagonists who have peopled so many of the director's films. More philosophical than genre-driven, it's a picture few would guess originated in the comics.

  43. 5
    47

    Batman Returns

    Truer to Tim Burton's dark vision than its predecessor, this second Michael Keaton installment stepped back from Pop Art and Jack Nicholson's hammy Joker, introducing an oily Penguin (Danny DeVito) and a Catwoman, Michelle Pfeiffer, who made us forget that no fewer than three actresses made the role their own when playing against Adam West's Bats.

  44. 4
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    Batman Begins

    Christopher Nolan was not yet a household name when Warner Bros. hired him to reboot a franchise that had hit rock bottom in 1997 with Batman & Robin. What he delivered was a gritty, globetrotting origin story, defying expectations while channeling the haunting world of a classic film noir. As the billionaire orphan turned caped crusader, Christian Bale brought his own brand of tormented chic, while Michael Caine, as Alfred, brought the class.

  45. 3
    47

    Wonder Woman

    Like Chris Evans' Captain America before her, Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman steamrolled cynics, reminding us how winning unalloyed idealism can be. Patty Jenkins' film was the purest big-screen embodiment of comics' Golden Age spirit since Christopher Reeve first put a big red S on his chest and — despite a couple of well-intentioned predecessors — was the first superhero movie ever to give girls a role model worth their parents' money.

  46. 2
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    Superman

    A pitch-perfect combination of postwar American idealism with late-'70s urban snark, Richard Donner's adaptation (with a story by Godfather author Mario Puzo) credibly brought DC's star-spangled flagship character into the real world. No actor since has been able to live up to Christopher Reeve's take on the man from Krypton, which beautifully balanced Supes's invincibility and moral rectitude with the self-inflicted awkwardness of Clark Kent.

  47. 1
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    The Dark Knight

    When it first hit screens in July 2008, The Dark Knight immediately raised the bar on a genre known mostly for its unfettered use of CGI and its inescapable cheese factor. With this breakthrough follow-up to his own Batman reboot, Christopher Nolan invented a new kind of superhero movie — a dark, realistic crime thriller steeped in the worlds of Michael Mann and Fritz Lang, with a plot grounded in post-9/11 hysteria. As sequels go, it rarely gets better. And as villains go, the late Heath Ledger’s Joker is one for the ages.