Movies & TV / Columns

Top Ten DC Comics Movies

March 12, 2021 | Posted by Rob Stewart
Superman the Movie Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Hey, it’s Snyder Month!

Regardless of how you or I feel about the upcoming Snyder Cut, it’s well on its way, and it will be hitting HBO Max on 3/18/21. And there has been a segment of fans who have been rabidly awaiting this moment in pop culture history. Between those fans and the morbid curiosity of others who want to see what the big deal is, Justice League will undoubtedly be one of the defining entertainment media moments of 2021. Maybe of the 2020’s.

But will it be… good?

It will be impossible to ever determine. There are certain folks who will praise it no matter how objectively bad it is, and there are others who will poke holes in it no matter how high the quality is. People have long since made up their minds on this.

As I’ve noted before, I’m almost certain it’s going to be good, but I also believe the whole “There’s only 5 minutes of new footage shot!” is a laughable lie. I think WB and Snyder and his people have had four years of hindsight and MANY months and another hundred million dollars to make a re-do and pass the blame for the failure off onto someone else.

(And admittedly shitty human being someone else, but still)

Let’s take a look at DC Comics’ storied history of movies, though. To this point, pre-Snyder Cut, what are the ten best movies they have released? How many of Snyder’s previous efforts made the list… and where did they place?

Keep in mind, I’m looking solely at movies that had a theatrical release! DC has plenty of great animated flicks, but unless they had a cinema run, I didn’t count them.

10. Batman (1966)

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I was actually surprised this had a theatrical release. I would have assumed this was just a TV movie, but… nope. You could get your fill of BAP ZIFF POW back on the big screen in the 1960’s!

The Batman television show always knew exactly what it was, and there’s little wrong with that. It may have caused decades-long harm to the believability of comics as a serious medium, but it was also pure silliness and joy. You can’t fault it for being what it was.

The performances are delightfully over the top, too, as it put together a star-studded cast of the show’s best villains (even with a Catwoman stand-in). You can argue this movie isn’t GOOD, but you can’t say it isn’t FUN.

9. V For Vendetta

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Shall I ruin a lot of my credibility? I shall.

I liked the movie V For Vendetta more than the comic.

This will decidedly NOT be the case for another flick higher on this list, but I found V the book to be a bit dense. I probably owe it to myself to re-read it soon, but on my first reading of it, I was underwhelmed.

The movie, meanwhile, had a pair of powerhouse performances from Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman, and they did an impeccable job keeping me interested and bought in as everything went on. Weaving, in particular… he has a tremendous voice, and I was all-in on his portrayal of V.

8. The Lego Batman Movie

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So on the list of definitive versions of beloved characters… this wouldn’t even place. It takes everything about Batman as a character and lovingly mocks it.

And yet, at the same time, it got something inarguably right about The Bat: he is made better with his allies and supporting characters. He seems like a loner, but he is most interesting when Robin, Batgirl, Alfred, and others are working with him.

Sure this movie was a joke and a humorous spin, but it was smartly written and had a lot of heart. It’s not a take-down of Batman as much as it is a love letter to him, warts and all.

7. Superman

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To this day, Richard Donner’s 1978 classic stands as one of the most powerful iterations of the Last Son of Krypton.

To the point where it’s become very dividing!

There are two camps when it comes to cinematic portrayals of The Man Of Steel: there are those who say “1978 was perfection, and you don’t mess with perfection”, and there are those that say “it’s time to let that movie rest and move the character in new directions”.

Wherever you fall in that divide, Christopher Reeve makes up for SO MUCH in this movie. The story is a bit silly. The action is lacking. And he flies around The Earth to reverse time, sure.

But then you see Reeve and his passion, and it’s just… the man WAS Superman. Everything else is excusable because of him.

6. Batman (1989)

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I never realized until I was an adult that 80’s-90’s Batman couldn’t turn his head side-to-side. Nowadays, I can’t NOT see it any time I watch these movies. It seems like such a blatant flaw, but visually? Fuck, this costume rocks. I would exchange being able to see left or right to look this badass. Thirty-plus years later, this still might be the best costume in a comic flick.

This and Donner’s Superman franchise really set the groundwork for every comic book adaptation that has come along since. They proved that these characters could work on the silver screen and that the audience is here for them.

Batman 1989 holds up, too. It’s Burton from before he went TOO Tim Burton about everything (in that it looks amazingly stylish, but isn’t a goofy self-parody), and Nicholson and Keaton are dynamite.

5. Watchmen

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Here it is, the FIRST Zack Snyder movie of the list, all the way up at #5. The first of… how many, though? We shall see!

As opposed to V For Vendetta, the Watchmen movie has NOTHING on its funnybook forefather, but that says a LOT more about the original work than the adapted one. Watchmen is arguably the greatest graphic novel in history.

And honestly? I think this movie was as good of a transfer as we could ever get.

Snyder gets A-game performances out of his cast in everything he does; I would never deny that. I think people genuinely love working for him because he seems like such a good guy. And Watchmen is another case of that. Who stands out here? Hell, who DOESN’T? Jeffrey Dean Morgan is unflinching and heartbreaking as The Comedian. Jackie Earl Haley is haunting as Rorshach. Malin Ackerman is sympathetic as Silk Spectre and really captures Lori’s arrested development. Patrick Wilson anchors everything as Nite-Owl. And Billy Crudup is great as Dr. Manhattan, with a long-lost humanity trapped but struggling through his godlike exterior.

The movie isn’t as deep or nuanced as the comic. It never could be. But it looks tremendous and everyone seems to be trying so damn hard!

4. Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm

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I need to watch this again. It’s been too long.

There’s an argument to be made that this is the best Batman movie. It is, after all, done by the creative team behind the unimpeachable Animated Series.

It introduces new characters, but also respects established ones. And it is to Batman’s character what Donner’s offing is to Superman.

Great stuff.

3. Shazam!

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I unapologetically loved this movie. Probably a little more than most, but I know many others agree that it is absolutely the brightest spot of DC’s movies from the 2010’s. There was… quite a lull between the movie that will be #1 on this list and Shazam.

Shazam wasn’t flawless–a flying punch-up with Dr. Sivana felt forced and unnecessary, and the movie has some extreme and surprising shifts in tone at times–but I would watch Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer interact forever. The chemistry between the two of them leapt off of the screen. A weaker pairing could have doomed this affair, but luckily we got the two of them.

Wonder Woman 2017 was well-made but forgettable. Aquaman was fun, but kind of atrociously made. With Shazam, DC and WB finally put the pieces back together for a whole movie.

And then they gave us Birds of Prey.

Can’t win ’em all.

2. Batman Begins

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I think the start to Christopher Nolan’s Bat Trilogy gets a bit unfairly overshadowed by its bigger brother (more on it in a second) because, quality-wise, I have them neck-and-neck. What hits Begins is that it lacks as many top shelf performances as its successor.

But hell, this is still a blast. Who hasn’t just walked around growling “SWEAR TO ME” at things?

Just me?


Moving on then…

1. Dark Knight

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Yeah. I mean… yeah. I’m not going to be a contrarian. This is as good as advertised.

Even if you don’t care for the story–even if you think it’s all a bit contrived and trying harder than it should be–which performance do you knock? This takes everything I said about the cast of Watchmen and turns it up to 500. The subtlety and heart in each and every portrayal on the screen is palpable. Ledger’s turn as The Joker is properly legendary, but I never felt Aaron Eckhart got enough credit for how he changes Harvey Dent almost from scene to scene to show a much slower and more inevitable turn into Two-Face that you might expect.

Sometimes the obvious answer is the right one.

And that’s my list! You might take a look at this and say “Here’s a guy who probably hasn’t been too eager for the Snyder Cut of the Justice League”. And you’d be right. Watchmen aside, Snyder’s DC work has not been my jam. I’m MUCH more highly anticipating his Army of the Dead flick coming out later this year; I loved his Dawn of the Dead remake in 2004. Maybe one of the zombie’s dads can tell him to let a bus full of kids drown, and I’ll be more okay with that.

But it’s all subjective, so share your top ten DC movie adaptations with me! What do you have that I don’t? Which of my picks are easiest for you to cut?

Let me know in the comments!

And if you need more to check out, take a nice soak in our INCREDIBLY deep dive into Image Comics, or take part in some weird hypothetical battles!

Until next time… take care!