Since Warner Bros and DC have decided to officially open up the multiverse, I figured now was as good a time as any to list my personal ranking.
This list is primarily based on how much I enjoy each film. Some I’ve seen more recently than others, but I’ve seen every one more than once, so I feel like I’ve got a pretty solid base to work with.
The qualifying criteria to make the list is that it needs to be live action, and a film. Believe me, I know very well that there are a number of awesome animated shows and movies, but this list would be insanely long and complicated if I’d included them.
I debated whether or not to include the Watchmen HBO miniseries, but it is technically a TV show, so I opted not to. The list does, however, include the Watchmen movie from 2009 that brought us (is to blame for?) the Snyderverse vision of the DCEU.
The Dark Knight – Some choices are obvious ones, even if we’d like to shake things up a little bit. But this is best live action versions of Batman, and the Joker, and is directed by Chris Nolan at the top of his game. I do knock it a bit for the somewhat rushed, and abbreviated, Two-Face origin and resolution. But that’s not quite enough to knock it out of the #1 spot.
Batman (1989) – This one came out when I was 10 years-old and, to this day, I can still quote it nearly verbatim. My mom took me to see the movie, and we waited in-line for hours while showing after showing sold out. Then, in a ballin’ mom moment, she decided to let me stay up for a midnight show. That left a huge impression on me, and so did this movie. It’s iconic in many ways, and so it finds itself at #2 with a bullet.
SHAZAM! – This one being ranked so high frankly shocked even me. But I’ve seen it a few times, so the rewatchability factor is strong, and I’ve even shown it to my 5 year-old son. I just really love its Gremlins/Goonies sort-of-horror vibe. The fact that it is clearly based in a world where our favorite superheroes exist, and the characters respond to those heroes exactly like you’d imagine people would, makes me feel pretty good about placing it this high.
Batman Begins – A true turning point in the superhero movie genre. Coming out in 2005, it took what worked in the Tim Burton films, as well as in more recent comic flicks like Blade and X-Men, and took things to the next level. A much needed course correction after Batman Forever and Batman & Robin sent the Bat franchise flying off the rails.
Wonder Woman – Just a super-solid film, top-to-bottom (barring a slightly miscalculated CGI smackdown in the climax). But everything about the movie worked: From its characterizations, to its humor, and its heart. The No Man’s Land reveal and scene, leading directly into the liberation of the small village is one of the most rousing 15 minutes you’ll ever see in a superhero film. I’m not sure you’ll ever see a more perfectly cast Wonder Woman than Gal Gadot.
Batman Returns – I like Christmas, and find carnivals slightly unnerving, so this was right up my alley. Definitely had more Tim Burton DNA than the 1989 movie, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Still a highly watchable film.
Aquaman – I never had much interest in the guy who can talk to fish, but this movie turned me around almost entirely by itself. By tapping into the Arthurian Legend side of Aquaman’s story, it was able to transform the underwater world into an eye-popping extravaganza. A charismatic lead performance by Jason Momoa also helped get me onboard for the ride.
Man Of Steel – This one took a bit of a pounding in the years after its release for the mass destruction of Metropolis, but I don’t think the casualty rate was intentional when it was being made. I did re-watch it recently and, while I still don’t care at all for Kevin Costner and Zack Snyder’s characterization of Jonathan Kent, there is still a lot I like. Henry Cavill is a fine Superman, Amy Adam is always reliable, and I somehow forgot that Russell Crowe was in this movie. But the superfights, for all their (presumably) unintended consequences, were the sort I’d wanted to see ever since I first saw our next entry.
Superman II – Lots of problem with this one, especially with an uneven tone that likely was spawned by passing through several different screenplays, and directors. But Christopher Reeve will always epitomize the big screen Superman in a way that no one else can. Terence Stamp is a lot of fun, and don’t think “Kneel before Zod” hasn’t been kicking around in my lexicon for 35 years. But there was another great line that sometimes doesn’t get its due for boiling down the greatness of the Man of Steel into one question “General, would you care to step outside?”
The Dark Knight Rises – I think this one suffered greatly from the loss of Heath Ledger, as having the Joker play a sort of Hannibal Lector monster-in-a-glass-cage role would have been a real treat. Some of the twists seem obvious and unneeded, and the natural upping of the sequel’s scale got a little unwieldy. But Tom Hardy is legitimately frightening as Bane, Anne Hathaway is a decent Catwoman, and Christian Bale nails it one last time as Bruce Wayne/Batman.
Superman: The Movie – Yes, this is the one that started it all, but it doesn’t really hold up all that well to a modern eye. The pacing is a bit too methodical once you’ve seen literally dozens of these films razzle and dazzle you from start-to-finish in the proceeding years. Lex Luthor & company are too jokey for my taste, Lois Lane’s “Can you read my mind” inner monologue/poem is hokey as hell, and Superman spinning the world backwards will never not get an eye-roll from me. Still, I’ve got to respect what it was able to do by kicking door open for all the comic book adaptations that would later come.
Superman Returns – I could (and likely will) write a whole separate blog about how this was the single biggest missed opportunity in the history of comic book films. But, for now, I’ll just focus on why it appears in this spot on my list. There are things I like: The costume looks great, Brandon Routh is a good Man of Steel, and Kevin Spacey delivers as Lex Luthor (and that’s all I’ll say about Spacey at this time), and its overall vibe feels about right. But its devotion to the first two Superman films from another era is a problem. I mean, one of the main plotlines stems from Superman II’s bizarre, and morally-disturbing-in-hindsight Super Amnesia Kiss. Also, the fact they chose not to have Superman face off with a physical threat in 2006 – when they had the technology to make it work- was a really questionable choice.
Wonder Woman 1984 – I feel like history will be kinder to WW84 than the immediate backlash was. Kristen Wiig is fine as the friend-turned-super-enemy, and Pedro Pascal is clearly having a ball. But they probably should have chosen one villain or the other, rather than trying to cram them both into a single film. Still, unlike the movies lower on the list, I wouldn’t really call WW84 a bad film. Though, it certainly could have been better.
Justice League – This felt like a 2 or 3 episode arc of the animated Justice League cartoon. And I say that as both a compliment, and a complaint. It was as quick, and to-the-point as the animated series, which would have worked just fine it if wasn’t also was chopped-up, reshot, undercooked, and overbaked. But I’d be lying if I said that Superman showing up just in the nick of time (weird CGI’d upper lip and all) and throwing a full-on beatdown on the heretofore unbeatable big bad Steppenwolf, doesn’t still make me smile.
Birds Of Prey – I was glad that Margot Robbie had a chance to do a little more justice to Harley Quinn than she was given in Suicide Squad. But the other protagonists of Black Canary and Huntress simply didn’t make any impression on me. Maybe, if they’d had them in cooler, more comics-accurate costumes, it would have been a bit more striking. Who knows? Maybe their lack of screen time together would have been a deal-breaker regardless. But Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina are fascinatingly unsettling, and that keeps this movie ranked about the bottom tier.
Joker – A very mediocre movie buoyed by a great lead performance by Joaquin Phoenix. I don’t have a lot more to say about this movie as-a-whole since, like I said, I felt everything other than the lead role was pretty “meh”. I will say that, when Phoenix finally dons the make-up, and blasts the punchline into Robert DeNiro’s face, I had to nod in-approval. Too bad they waited until the last 15 minutes of the movie to actually get to the “Joker” part.
Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice – I wanted to love this movie from the time I saw the first teaser trailer, all the way up until the final frame. But it failed on virtually every level. If they had re-written the Bruce Wayne part to be Lex Luthor, and completely dropped the Riddler-esque version of Luthor Jesse Eisenberg deposited on-screen, this movie may well have been near the top of my list. But grim-and-gritty doesn’t work for Superman, and we really didn’t need to get to Doomsday so quickly. The fact that Snyder felt the need to kill Superman three different times in this movie probably tells you all you need to know about how he feels about the character. Batman simply drops too many bodies to ignore, though the warehouse fight may have been the best Batman fight captured on film. Wonder Woman was a nice surprise, but not nearly enough to save BvS from itself.
Batman Forever – Sort of caught between the goth world of Batman Returns and the pinball machine aesthetic of Batman & Robin, this one had a few redeeming qualities. Val Kilmer is pretty decent as both Bruce Wayne and Batman, for example. The movie is amusing enough to sit through without being aggressively terrible. But Tommy Lee Jones plays Two-Face completely wrong. He really shouldn’t have tried to out Jim Carrey Jim Carrey (who is, somehow, more nuanced in his role as The Riddler than Jones is). I normally like Chris O’Donnell, but they really should have gone for a younger Dick Grayson/Robin.
Watchmen – The movie looks great, so I can understand why WB liked Snyder enough to usher in their next wave of movies. But, thematically, he’s much too comfortable with Objectivism and mankind’s moral failings to be the right man for bring DC’s most prominently hope-inspiring characters to life. But, those leanings worked well for Watchmen. I almost had this one higher on my list due to a handful of scenes and moments that were really cool. But, ultimately, they never should have tried to adapt this with anything less than 10 hours or so to work with.
Green Lantern – Full disclosure: I totally forgot to add this to my initially published list. But, really, can you blame me? I don’t have a whole lot to say about it. Ryan Reynolds had the completely wrong vibe for Hal Jordan, though he found a superhero sweet spot just a few years later with Deadpool. Presenting Parallax as a giant fart cloud, and Hector Hammond as a walking scrotum probably weren’t great creative choices. But the Lantern costume effects were not terrible. All-in-all, a very forgettable entry in the comic book movie canon.
Superman III – Weirdly, this was the closest they’ve ever come to unleashing a live action Brainiac. If they ever get around to making a proper Man Of Steel sequel, he needs to be at the top of their villain list. The movie is just not good, and there’s not a whole lot to say about it. The one cool Evil Superman vs Clark Kent junkyard fight that may-or-may-not have been a delusion brought on by a Kryptonite-induced psychotic break is really the only thing keeping this ranked above the bottom-feeders below.
Batman: The Movie (1966) – I mean, they clearly made exactly what they wanted to make here. It just so happens that it doesn’t work for me at all. This silly movie, and the silly show that followed, are the reason why no one tried to make a remotely serious superhero movie until 1978. But, again, they did all that on-purpose. Which is the only thing that separates Batman: The movie from the remaining films on the list.
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace – My dad took my to see this on when I was 8 years-old, and I’m pretty sure the Nuclear Man scratching Superman’s neck with his radioactive fingernail thus somehow transforming the Man of Steel into a cardigan-wearing elderly man made me cry. But, anyone older than 8 years-old, can see just how cheaply this was made. And just how minimal the effort was to throw the character’s name on a poster, and try to cash in. It’s pretty much unwatchable.
Batman & Robin – The movie that killed Batman movies for almost a decade. I suppose this gaudy piece of eyeball puke was the rock bottom that superhero movies needed in order to reset. So, in that respect, I suppose we owe it a weird debt of gratitude. Just not enough of a debt to ever sit through it again.
Suicide Squad – Just a complete mess, pure and simple. Like Justice League, this one was all chopped up, and then Frankensteined back together two or three times, and it shows. The difference is that Justice League at least had iconic characters that I wanted to see on-screen. Suicide Squad did not, to say the least. Characters are introduced multiple times, and extremely lazy song needle drops pervade the entire first act. The story itself makes zero sense starting right from Viola Davis’ (as Amanda Waller) question “What if Superman had decided to grab the President of the United States right out of the Oval Office? Who would’ve stopped him?” The answer is the same as my answer regarding who I want to watch a movie about: “Absolutely not any of these guys.”