Like a super powered Amazon mowing through Germans in No Man’s Land Wonder Woman continues to rake in the millions and set records. It is on its way to making $600 million at the box office and Patty Jenkins has achieved the title of biggest live action hit ever for a female director.
In the midst of the mountain of box office receipts and showers of critical acclaim many fans are debating whether it is the best film of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) so far. I have even seen someone say it is not as good as Suicide Squad. Yes, you read that right that, Suicide Squad.
For this list I will be putting the Wonder Woman film up against not only her DCEU counterparts – that would be a very short list – but the best of all DC live action movies. I am focusing on modern films and main DC characters so I will not be including the 1950s Superman movies, 1966 Batman, V for Vendetta nor Watchmen, though I thought the latter two were pretty good movies. So with a SPOILER ALERT pull on your tights, throw on your cape and let’s count it down:
#10 The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
After the mess that was Batman and Robin director Christopher Nolan made the caped crusader dark and cool again with the solid origin story Batman Begins (2005). He followed that up with the masterful The Dark Knight three years later. And then we had The Dark Knight Rises which sadly was a drop in quality from the previous two.
Sure Tom Hardy was great as Bane, when you could understand what the heck he was saying, and Anne Hathaway was an okay Catwoman, but the plot was uneven and the pacing was off. Michael’s Caine Alfred was barely in it, we got very little Batman, the Gotham siege was lifeless and the twist with Talia al Ghul could be seen a mile away. The final entry in the Nolan trilogy rides on the coattails of its predecessors but is inferior to them both.
#9 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Anticipation was high for this squaring off of DC titans and second film in the DCEU but what fans got was mostly disappointment. Ben Affleck gave us a strong Bruce Wayne and Batman, Gal Gadot was a revelation as Wonder Woman, Henry Cavill was decent as Superman and there were some solid action set pieces. But Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor was nails-on-a-chalk-board annoying, the story was all over the place, the setting up of the Justice League was via YouTube videos and the less said about that “Martha” resolution the better.
For every thing to enjoy about Batman v Superman you can find something else to dislike. In the end director Zack Snyder gave us a very average superhero that could not live up to the hype train that led up to it.
#8 Man of Steel (2013)
After the artsy farts-y, action-lite and dull as a snail race Superman Returns (2006) Snyder gave us a Superman who could kick Kryptonian backside and take names. Henry Cavill was a solid, if overly serious, Supes and Michael Shannon did a respectable job as General Zod. The action was intense and the special effects were glorious even if Superman inadvertently destroyed a sizable portion of the city and killed multiple people.
But did the film have to be so dark and Dark Knight Nolan-esque, down to the muted colour palette? This is the man who fights for truth, justice and the American way, not the one who hides in the shadows and beats criminals to a pulp. Lighten up and have some fun with Superman DC! Batman he is not. And I did not have a problem with him snapping Zod’s neck to save civilians at the end but him letting his dad die in a tornado while shouting was just stupid.
#7 Batman Begins (2005)
Batman Begins was the best solution to remove the stain of the camptastic, puntastic and cringe-worthy Batman and Robin. Christian Bale nailed it as both Bats and Bruce Wayne, Michael Caine gave us the best live action Alfred Pennyworth, Gary Oldman was fantastic as Jim Gordon and Morgan Freeman was fun as Lucius Fox. On the villain side Cillian Murphy was wickedly delightful as Scarecrow and Liam Neeson was awesome as Ra’s al Ghul. Katie Holmes’ lawyer Rachel Dawes was a bit meh though.
We got a solid story exploring the origin of Batman and his first appearance in Gotham, wonderful action scenes and fantastic pacing. A true return to form for the Dark Knight.
#6 Superman (1978)
No list of the best DC live action movies would be complete without the patriarch of superhero movies – 1978’s Superman. Christopher Reeve gave us an iconic portrayal of Clark Kent and Superman that resonates to this day. Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman were also fun as reporter Lois Lane and evil industrialist Lex Luthor respectively.
The special effects were great for the time, the score is epic and the movie is just full of energy and vigour. Supes spinning around the globe to reverse time was dumb though but not enough to detract from this landmark film. And that opening theme? Forget about it!
#5 Batman Returns (1982)
After the fantastic Batman (1989) star Michael Keaton and director Tim Burton returned to Gotham for this sequel. Keaton is wonderfully brooding as ever, Danny DeVito is despicable as the Penguin, Christopher Walken is superb as evil business tycoon Max Shreck and Michelle Pfeiffer delivers the best Catwoman performance bar none. And did you know she did all her own whip work? She whipped it good.
And while not as strong and action packed as the original it was still a grand Gothic time, complete with moody Danny Elfman music. The film did surpass its predecessor in terms of a darker tone. It featured more death, including Bats blowing up a large clown henchman, and more adult themes. When parents complained about kids being scared and companies had trouble selling tie-in merchandise Burton effectively got the boot. And we all know how that turned out. *cough cough batnipples cough cough*
#4 Wonder Woman (2017)
Just missing out on the podium is the most recent DC film – Wonder Woman. This movie is simply fantastic! Gal Gadot is brilliant as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, giving us both strength and vulnerability, wisdom and naivete. Chris Pine gives ample support as ally and love interest Steve Trevor. The chemistry between the two leads is sweet and believable. The action is exciting, the special effects mind blowing, the music pulse pounding and the themes of the cost of war deep and impacting. And unlike other DCEU films the movie had bright colours, humour that landed and actually had fun! I’m looking at you Man of Steel.
On the negative side the story is somewhat generic and, like most superhero movies, the villains are the biggest let down. The final, CGI-filled battle is also a low point in the film. But these issues are minor compared to the wonder that is Wonder Woman. It is easily the best film the DCEU has released so far and deserving of all the praise heaped upon it.
#3 Superman II (1980)
If the original Superman showed what superhero films could be then the sequel showed what superhero films should be. Before Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker was throwing away his Spider-Man suit in Spider-Man 2 Christopher’s Reeve’s Kal-El/Clark Kent was wrestling between enjoying a normal life and love with Lois Lane and protecting the world as Superman. And before people were falling in love with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki Terrence Stamp’s General Zod was blowing everyone away with his performance as the power hungry General Zod. Kneel before Stamp I say. Kneel!
With a stronger story, sweet action and fun villains Superman II outdid its predecessor and delivered one of the best superhero films of all time.
#2 Batman (1989)
Before this movie the public image of Batman was the campy 1960s Adam West version; condolences to his relatives and fans on his recent passing. While that was fun and fine for the decade when it came out we needed a serious Batman for the late 80s. And director Tim Burton delivered that and then some.
Where to start? Michael Keaton defied expectations to give us both a haunted Bruce Wayne and a powerful, bad guy intimidating Batman. Jack Nicholson was explosive and darkly hilarious as the Joker. The batsuit looked awesome, the batmobile was suh-weet, the action was superb, the costuming was great, the dialogue memorable and the Danny Elfman score was like honey for the ears. This film astounded audiences when it was first released and it remains one of the best iterations of the Dark Knight ever.
#1 The Dark Knight (2008)
Simply put, The Dark Knight is a masterpiece. It is not only one of the best superhero films of all time, it is also one of the best films of all time. Bale, Caine and Oldman once again deliver strong performances as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Alfred and Gordon respectively. They are joined by Maggie Gyllenhaal in a sterling performance as Rachel Dawes (a welcome replacement of the weaker Holmes) and Aaron Eckhart is intriguing as Harvey Dent/Two-Face.
But Heath Ledger’s the Joker? Find an adjective that is synonymous with astounding and just throw it at him liberally. From his unmasking in the introduction to his final swinging upside down Ledger’s Joker is jaw dropping brilliant. Every line, every movement, every affectation is engaging and iconic. The actor received a posthumous supporting actor Oscar for his work and definitely deserved it. The film was nominated for seven other Academy Awards and also snagged Best Sound Editing.
The story and its exploration of what drives heroes and villains and what it means to be a good human being are timeless and deep, especially for ostensibly a superhero film. The special effects, action and stunts are breathtaking. The dialogue is sharp and the pacing masterful. This is truly a jewel in Nolan’s directing crown and receives the gold medal on this list as the best DC live action movie of all time.
So what is your top DC live action movie? Feel free to comment below.
For my list of the Top 6 Modern Live Action Superman Actors you can click here.