It is amazing to think of a time when there weren’t ANY movies based on Superheroes or Comics. Granted, serials for the characters started fairly early, and they have stayed near the cineplex ever since. Today, let’s turn our attention to all of the movies made about the DC universe. This list is focused on live-action films with a theatrical release that are based on DC comics characters. Sorry, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, but you would have been in the top ten.
Honorable Mention: Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Losers, Road to Perdition, A History of Violence, Red, and Red 2 aren’t on the list because they don’t fit with DC comic continuity (despite new developments).
24. Catwoman – Little can be said about this insanely acted, poorly written and completely misguided film about a person called Catwoman that has nothing to do with the real Catwoman. Everything about is either laughably bad or painfully bad.
23. Jonah Hex – Another attempt to bring back Westerns and legitimize Megan Fox’s acting ability that failed, this messy movie has little to do with the bad-ass morally ambiguous character its named after. I’ll bet you either forgot or didn’t know this film existed, which is a testament to its insane set pieces and bad effects.
22. Batman and Robin – The most reviled Batman film of them all, it took all the gothic atmosphere and mental introspection of any previous version, and switched in absurdity and bad puns. With miscast Arnold Schwartznegger and badly directed Uma Thermon acting ridiculous, at least this movie can be enjoyed for how bad it is.
21. Steel – When audiences didn’t get behind Shaq as a Genie, they tried making him a superhero. Besmirching the name of John Henry Irons, they tried to play up the character’s popularity after the Death of Superman to make some money. This goofy, poorly thought-out movie couldn’t get the casting right, let alone Steel’s awesome costume.
20. Supergirl – A failed spinoff to the Superman Franchise, the movie failed its lead Helen Slater by giving her stupid things to say and do in a plot that has no interest or stakes to it. Maybe if the creators knew absolutely ANYTHING about the source material, we could have gotten a good film out of it.
19. Green Lantern – Picking the wrong guy to play Hal Jordan was bad enough, but trying to cram the mythology of the Green Lantern Corps so inelegently into one film made it rushed, shallow, and somehow uninteresting. The only good choice was Mark Strong as Sinestro, but that was completely wasted here.
18. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace – Stripping Superman of the budget needed to make him fly and perform super-deeds (as well as undercutting the WRITING budget) will yield this embarrassing film with HUGE plot holes and a clumsy script. It’s only saving grace is that Christopher Reeves is still bringing his all to the movie, and looking better than ever in the suit.
17. Batman Forever – Discarding the darkness and gothic feel of Tim Burton behind, this movie indulges in neon, blacklight paint, and nipples on the batsuit. With a one-note Two-Face, a witless Riddler, the art direction, ass-shots, and possibly the ugliest Batmobile ever, not even Seal can save this movie.
16. Superman III – With this movie, you have an out of his element Richard Pryor playing off of Superman. Trying to add silliness and lower stakes started the franchise on its death spiral, and it was all thanks to the Salikynd’s not understanding that comics WEREN’T stupid. The Film has a few highlights, specifically a scenes with Pryor, Christopher Reeve, and a battle for Superman’s soul in a junkyard.
15. Suicide Squad – After a misleading trailer and underperformance of a related movie, Suicide Squad was transformed from a dark film without pity into a flashy and uneven mess. While some performances stand out, a weak villain, misused/underused Joker (potentially miscast), and lack of truly exciting action sequences made this film the unexpected, and in some cases unwanted, hit of 2016.
14. The Dark Knight Rises – Finishing a trilogy is hard, and this film proves that by creating huge logical gaps for the previous films, as well as a plot that is so convoluted and unlikely, Bane’s mask seems like the most plausible part. Well filmed, well acted, and with some exciting action sequences, it is not a terrible movie, but it does fail to live up to its predecessors.
13. Swamp Thing – The first horror film in the DC canon, while the effects for this film are dated and even weak by the standards of 1982 (the same year as The Thing), it effectively tells the tragic story of Alec Holland, and is transformation into the guardian of the swamps. Darting between magic and science, the movie is effective more as a superhero movie than a monster movie (which is what Wes Craven was going for).
12. Superman Returns – This movie had the misfortune of not being made ten years earlier. Trying to continue the continuity of a film from the 70s, it struggles under the weight of its love for the previous films, and fails to tell a modern and exciting superman story. The film looks great and has a great lead in Brandon Routh and great villain in Kevin Spacey, so it has a lot going for it. Also, Superman would never spy on Lois like that. Creepy.
11. Constantine – Getting into the dark side of the DC universe, delves into the mythology of faith in a visually interesting way that also questions morality. Keanu Reeves is good as John Constantine, and the surrounding cast works well, despite being around shaky CGI and a weird story.
10. The Return of Swamp Thing – Better than the original film, for a number of reasons, but primarily, this one looks better. We also have Swamp Thing fully embracing his nature and we have him fighting lots of weird monsters. Its a creature feature that only the late 80s can deliver.
9. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Ultimate Cut) – As much controversy and derision the theatrical release got, the ultimate cut tells a a detailed and dark story about the world these superheroes live in. We are introduced to one of the best screen portrayals of Batman ever, and we also get the introduction of Wonder Woman. Sit through it and see.
8. Batman Begins -Going into the most detail yet about how Batman does it, Batman Begins took a fictional character and brought them into the real world. Taking it all very seriously, this film brought Batman back from the depths of Joel Schumacher’s heart.
7. Batman Returns – Possibly the most gothic version of Batman ever, This film is beautifully designed, full of wild characters, and really shows how tragic life in gotham can be. The visuals of this film feel like a comic come to life. Accept the black comedy of Danny Devito and enjoy!
6. Superman II (The Richard Donner Cut) – The sequel to Superman that picks up right where it lets off, This one shows what happens when people who don’t have Superman’s morals, but his powers, will do. Stripped of the awkward slapstick and plot contrivances of Ricard Lester, this movie asks nicely that you kneel before Zod. Please do.
5. Man of Steel – The first modern Superman film to be made, this movie shows how powerful this being is, and how important it is that he feels like an earthling. With epic fights, a strong Lead, the best Lois we’ve ever had, and an intimidating set of Kryptonians, this film shows the making of a Legend.
4. Batman (1966) – The truest to his contemporary comics, Adam West infused a serious silliness that can’t be matched. Filled with the zany plots and action of the comics it sprung from, this movie is a murderers row of iconic performances and fully cemented Batman as a permanent fixture in pop culture. This movie is pure fun.
3. Batman (1989) – The Batman that so many grew up on, this is the film that made Batman into an action movie star. Michael Keaton brought a pathos and instability to the Dark Knight that made him approachable, funny, and in some ways eerie. Combined with gorgeous production design and a sinister Jack Nicholson to combat, this Batman felt both larger than life as well as too close to home.
2. The Dark Knight – A crime drama with a superhero, this movie gave us a unique vision of the Joker, and a grandiose tale of a city that needs to be saved. With an ensemble cast that does their jobs impeccably, this is the modern standard for how to tell a gripping superhero story on screen.
1. Superman: The Movie – The film that turned Superman from a funnybook character into THE essential character of the American Pantheon, Christopher Reeve became a person that we all wanted to know, be, and feel comforted by. The story is broad and sweeping like a grand western or drama, and still makes you care about the man behind the glasses. Full of charm, operatic themes and a score for the ages, it is the greatest superhero movie.