Decades ago, when movies based on comic books and superheroes were considered to be a major risk, DC Comics stories formed the basis of the first couple of films to show their blockbuster potential: Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie and Tim Burton’s Batman. Since then, we’ve been treated to dozens of DC Comics movies.
There are plenty of movies based on DC Comics characters that have gotten terrible scores on Rotten Tomatoes – like the DCEU movies directed by Zack Snyder or the justly forgotten Jonah Hex – but there are also some with pretty impressive scores. So, here are the 10 best movies based on DC Comics, according to Rotten Tomatoes.
Richard Donner’s Superman II set the template for all superhero sequels to follow – which is basically, now that you’ve got the origin story out of the way, go wild with a story that tests the hero’s morals and has a kick-ass villain – with the tale of Superman accidentally releasing General Zod and his cohorts from the Phantom Zone.
Just like Superman: The Movie had blazed the trail for every superhero blockbuster that followed, Superman II has influenced all of their sequels. The stakes are raised in the ongoing story threads from the first one, and Terence Stamp makes a fantastic General Zod.
Not many moviegoers know that David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence is actually a comic book adaptation, taking inspiration from the graphic novel of the same name by John Wagner and Vince Locke.
It tells the story of a small-town diner owner played by Viggo Mortensen who seems like a mild-mannered regular joe until he springs into action during an armed robbery and incapacitates the would-be robbers with his bare hands, bringing up certain questions about his past. Cronenberg’s film is a masterpiece of the neo-noir genre and one of the most underrated films of the 21st century so far.
Christopher Nolan was faced with a Herculean task in 2012. He had to conclude his Batman trilogy in a satisfying way following the critical acclaim of The Dark Knight, the first superhero movie to win a major Oscar, gross over $1 billion at the box office, and be praised as one of the greatest films ever made.
And to be fair to Nolan, he did as good a job as anyone could’ve expected him to with The Dark Knight Rises, a comic book version of A Tale of Two Cities. The fall of Gotham City, the rise of Bane, and the redemption of the Caped Crusader all combined to make this an unforgettable cinematic ride.
Chris McKay’s spin-off of The Lego Movie is, surprisingly, one of the few films to properly understand the Batman character. To him, Bruce Wayne is the real mask. He pretends to be a chauvinistic playboy billionaire to throw people off the scent of his true identity: the Caped Crusader.
Pretty much every single villain in Batman lore (and Warner Bros.’ catalog on intellectual properties) appears in this movie, which is sort of a romantic comedy about Batman’s relationship with the Joker. Batman refuses to accept that he needs the Joker, and that breaks the Joker’s heart. It’s great fun for diehard Batman fans.
Last year, among a crowded superhero movie market, a feature-length adaptation of the animated series Teen Titans Go! was released into theaters.
It has a self-aware plot that alludes to the current trend of bombarding audiences with superhero movies, as well as an impressive gag rate that would give Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker a run for their money. With cameo appearances by members of the Justice League and constant jokes at the characters’ expense, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies walks the fine line between a love letter to DC Comics fans and a parody of the characters they love.
The best thing the DCEU ever did was lightening up its tone. A dark tone is fine for certain characters, like Batman and the Suicide Squad, but others, like Aquaman and the Flash, need a lighter tone. The pinnacle of this breezy, lighthearted new tone is easily this year’s Shazam!, whose poster saw Zachary Levi’s titular meta-human chewing gum and blowing a bubble. David F. Sandberg nailed the character, essentially giving moviegoers a comic book version of Big. Billy Batson is just a regular kid, and Levi plays Shazam as that kid trapped in a superhero’s body, never losing his sense of childlike innocence.
Just when all hope was lost in the DC Extended Universe following the miserable triple-whammy of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad, along came Wonder Woman as a beacon of hope. Although her World War I-set solo adventure maintained the dull visual palette set by Zack Snyder, director Patty Jenkins brought a more optimistic worldview, as well as her own personal artistic stamp, to Diana Prince’s first standalone outing. Gal Gadot became an overnight sensation for her turn in the movie, and it carried a very powerful message: that love will always be better for humanity than war.
This animated movie came out in 2016, the same year that Zack Snyder let down fans across the world with Batman v Superman. Amid all that DCEU dreariness, some fans felt themselves missing the campy tone of the ‘60s TV series – so it was perfect that Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar all reprised their roles from the show as Batman, Robin, and Catwoman in a direct-to-video animated feature that brought the tone back down to the light side of things. The film is set in the same continuity as the ‘60s TV show and sees the Dynamic Duo back together, fighting villains side-by-side.
Superhero movies were unheard of in the late ‘70s when Richard Donner unleashed Superman: The Movie on the world. Even though a major Hollywood blockbuster about a comic book hero had never been attempted before and the rigid formula that we’re all tired of today didn’t even exist yet, somehow Superman: The Movie still stands out as one of the best superhero films of all time.
From the well-paced origin story in the first act to Gene Hackman’s sinister, if camp turn as Lex Luthor to the memorable, Earth-reversing climactic sequence, Superman: The Movie is a masterclass in superhero filmmaking.
Batman Begins was a very good movie, but its sequel blew it out of the water. With the pesky origin story out of the way, Christopher Nolan was free to focus on Batman’s internal conflict, and do his ultimate foe, the Joker, true justice on the big screen for the first time ever.
Nolan didn’t make The Dark Knight as a comic book movie; he made it as a Michael Mann-style thriller that critiques corruption in the American city. Heath Ledger’s chilling portrait of the Joker stole the show from Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne, and he won a deserved Oscar for it.