There is no doubt that when it comes to competition Marvel is leading the race in live action comic book films. However, despite some ups and downs there is no doubt that DC has their fair share of solid movies. In this list we will explore those movies, from the films that made us believe a man could fly to the ones that made us question our own sanity. This is our list of the top ten best live action DC Comics films.
10. Man of Steel (2013)
Many of you might say that this film doesn’t belong on this list, but give me just a minute to try and convince you otherwise. I won’t argue that the late Christopher Reeves will always be the ideal Superman. And because of that it will always be difficult to imagine anyone else to put on the red and blue tights. When we think of Superman, we imagine the bright colors and a man holding the American flag with an eagle on his arm. We imagine the American hero. While we should not forget that about Superman, Man of Steel brought perspective and realism to the character.
Zack Snyder asked us “What if Superman was real? How would the world react to someone like Superman and General Zod?” and that’s the question that makes Man of Steel so different from any other interpretation of Superman we have ever seen in a film. Henry Cavill as Superman gave a performance that represented a hero who has to make harsh decisions for the greater good and felt the repercussions being a hero.
9. Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)
With the common trend of R-rated comic book films after the success of Joker, Logan, and Deadpool, the trend continued with the zany and thrill ride that was Birds of Prey. When they first announced the film in May of 2016, the thought that came to my mind was “Why?” There were so many other DC properties that I felt we deserved to see before a Birds of Prey movie. What about Flash or Cyborg or even Green Lantern? With those films said to be in pre-production by Warner Bros, I didn’t understand why we were getting this film.
My doubts continued to grow as they announced some of the casting picks and line up of characters that were set to be in the film, especially after they announced there would be no appearance of Batgirl. The February 2020 came and the film hit theaters, and man was I wrong! Birds of Prey turned out to be such an exciting film that brought back the best part of Suicide Squad with Harley Quinn and proved to us that DC had a few tricks up their sleeves. And by the looks of it, they are just getting started.
8. Aquaman (2018)
Aquaman was a massive turn for the DC Extended Universe. After the poor reception to Justice League, one of the few things that stood out was Jason Mamoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman, and we just couldn’t wait to see more! As a character, Aquaman struggled for a while to gain his footing in the comic book world, often taken as a joke. It wasn’t until DC launched the New 52 and reintroduced the character as someone who is not to be trifled with. Utilizing his unique abilities to speak with sea life and his incredible power to control the ocean, the chance to see these powers in play for an entire live action feature was worth the wait.
Jason Mamoa was born to play this character. Bringing his charming yet bad boy persona to the character is something that is always a pleasure to see. Directed by James Wan, previously known for directing iconic horror films like The Conjuring, Insidious and Saw, he brought Atlantis to life with bright colors and stunning visuals, the kind of thing you wouldn’t expect out of an Aquaman movie. And yet, it worked so well in this film. With plans of a sequel already announced, we can’t wait to return to Atlantis with Mamoa as the King of the Sea.
7. Shazam! (2019)
DC and their films have always been considered dark and gritty compared to other comic book companies, Shazam! breathed new life into the franchise as a much lighter hearted approach to DC Comic movies. Shazam has always been an easy character to relate to. Unfortunately it has taken so long for Shazam to make his big screen appearance. But I think it’s safe to say the wait was worth it.
The story of Billy Batson and his transformation into the super human being is a story that you can easily jump on board with. And even when he is making poor choices, you just can’t help but root for him and hope he ends up finding what he is looking for. But what makes Shazam! so different from the other DC films is the way it obviously pokes fun at other superhero films, which is where the comedy comes into place. Completely self-aware of what kind of film this is and what it is trying to be, Shazam! ends up being the kind of film that kids will grow to envy, wishing they could also just say the magic word.
6. Superman (1978)
As I mentioned previously, Christopher Reeves will always be Superman in our thoughts, after flying onto the screen in 1978 and stunned audiences as they questioned how they made a man fly. Superman was ground breaking for its time with its incredible never before seen special effects and the way they brought the Man of Steel from the pages of DC Comics onto the screen.
Not only did Reeves establish himself as our definitive Superman, it was difficult to imagine anyone else than Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor and Marlon Brando as Jor-El. Every performance was a near perfect representation of how we viewed all these characters from the comics. And though he might not have been a cast member let us not forget to give thanks for the iconic theme song made by the talented John Williams. Superman was just doing something that no one else was doing at the time that no one else was doing. And despite its age, we cannot deny its influence on film and where the superhero genre is at today.
Also read: 10 Underestimated Superhero Movies to Stream During Quarantine
5. Batman (1989)
There seems to be a reoccurring trend that Warner Brothers likes to cast an actor that doesn’t seem to fit the ideals of DC’s more popular characters. That trend began in 1989 when they cast the comedic actor Michael Keaton in the film Batman. Another strange choice attached to the film was director Tim Burton, who previously made strange and polarizing films like Beetlejuice and Pee-Wees Big Adventure. Many were skeptical about what this duo would create. What ended up happening was one of the biggest blockbusters of 1989, and a film that changed the way we viewed The Dark Knight forever.
Ditching the campiness of Adam West’s Batman from 1966, Tim Burton took a much darker approach to Batman and Gotham City that resembled more of the new era of Batman comics. Many might debate which actor has the best representation of Batman and Michael Keaton is still to this day a top contender. Keaton’s piercing eyes and very little words is what made his version of Batman so intimidating. As Bruce Wayne he pulled off a sophisticated yet damaged and complex performance that gave us the Batman we as fans were craving in a Batman film. Burton’s film also provided us with a mesmerizing version of the Joker played by Jack Nicholson, and by far the coolest Batmobile ever put on screen.
Zack Snyder’s attention to detail when it comes to recreating iconic scenes from comic books is a massive appreciation as a fan. And when comes to his film Watchmen it shows. The graphic novel by Alan Moore remains to this day one of the most celebrated stories ever written as a comic book. The tale asks us “What would the world be like if heroes and superheroes were in our world? How would it affect the events of the world around us? And how would we deal with it?”
Unfortunately in this story the answer to those questions don’t have the best outcomes. But that is what a film like this provides to audiences, a setting taken out of the norm of modern day comic book films. Not only does Snyder provide iconic scenes for us, but he is one of the handful of directors that is pushing the envelope when it comes to visual effects. The amount of work that went into bringing Dr. Manhattan to life not only by the visual effects team but by actor Billy Crudup. If only Warner Bros and DC would give Zack Snyder the chance to bring together his Justice League and Watchmen together for a live action Doomsday Clock movie.
3. Wonder Woman
Despite the critical misfire of 2016 Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the one thing everyone could agree one was the explosive appearance of Wonder Woman. But just as many thought the DC Extended Universe had fallen flat on his face, Gal Gadot did what was necessary and rose from the trenches to restore hope in fans and the future of DC Films. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman film came out at a time where DC needed a Hail Mary and most comic book films had male-lead casts. Wonder Woman broke those boundaries and introduced us to a new style of comic book film.
Gal Gadot was a lesser known actor, her most notable role coming from the Fast and Furious franchise. She quickly became an icon for little girls around the world. Even after three years, DC and non-DC fans alike still adore the film. It will always be remembered as the film that saved the DC Extended Universe. That only serves to increase the excitement for the Amazonian Princess’s next outing. Taking place before the events of Justice League, she will face off against the intellectual Maxwell Lord played by Pedro Pascal and the vicious Cheetah played by Kristen Wiig in the highly anticipated Wonder Woman 84.
2. Joker (2019)
Now the highest grossing R-rated film, Todd Phillips’ Joker broke new ground for comic book films. Recently more and more audiences have been interested in comic book films centered on the origins of super villains following the release of Venom. Unfortunately the consensus of Venom was mixed, many loving it and others bashing the film. Enter Joker, a film telling the tale about the criminally insane Clown Prince of Crime. Little is known about the background of the Joker. The character is meant to be written in an ambiguous manner. “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!” said it best himself. We have never really known where the Joker comes from and that’s the beauty of the character; we often fear the unknown. Which is what this film also provides for us. As we unravel the layers of Joker’s mind, we find ourselves a bit lost as the film gives us multiple perspectives and begs us to question the true reality of the events taking place.
As Arthur Fleck continues to deal with the pain and tragedy in his life, we can’t help but feel sympathy for this man. We know he is the Joker and we know what he is capable of, we understand the motives behind his violent crimes. We understand that when pushed to their absolute limits by society, anybody can eventually snap. This leads us to believe that maybe we are a little bit like the Joker.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
Making a decision for the top spot was difficult between this pick and Joker. However, after another viewing of both films there was really no competition. Considered as the greatest comic book film of all time, The Dark Knight is still to this day as influential to film and comic books as it was in 2008. Let’s start this off by talking about the legendary performance of Heath Ledger as Joker, and what makes his version the best we have ever seen.
Heath Ledger was often considered as a pretty boy in media, and when they announced he would be taking on the Joker he ended up giving us something no one saw coming. He put the Joker into a perspective that was obvious to fans, yet a new angle on the relationship between Batman and Joker. Many believe that the Joker’s goals involve loads of money and Batman’s head mounted in his living room. But The Dark Knight taught fans that Joker needs Batman. Without Batman, Jokers life has no… punchline.
The Joker sets out to make an example of Batman and is considered an agent of chaos, showing the world that he and Batman share the same duality. Despite an impressive performance by Joaquin Phoenix in Joker and the highly anticipated film The Batman starring Robert Pattinson as The Caped Crusader, it will be difficult to ever top another Batman film like The Dark Knight. It set the standard.
What do you think is the best Live Action DC Comics film? Do these films deserve to be on this list? What future installments could potentially wedge their way onto this list?