Ever since DC launched a shared comic book universe of its own, it has come under intense scrutiny for how its franchise continues to stack up to the MCU. Not only has the DCEU failed to achieve the widespread critical acclaim enjoyed by Marvel, but many of its films have also been slacking at the box office —turning out a number of installments that have either underperformed or flat out lost tens of millions of dollars.
What makes this is even more surprising is that many of DC’s characters are much more iconic than those of Marvel. A decade ago, it would have been near-impossible to imagine a superhero landscape where a Black Panther solo-outing would massively outperform the first live-action Justice League movie.
That's not to say that the DCEU has been a flat-out failure, though. From its first five films, the DCEU already managed to gross over $3.7 billion worldwide. Let's also not forget that before Warner Bros. launched its shared universe, DC enjoyed decades of success with their Superman and Batman franchises. Now, let's take a look back at some of DC's biggest success stories and tragic misfires.
Before we start, it’s worth noting that the studios never officially release the marketing costs of each film. While some of these movies grossed more than their production budget, there’s a more than likely chance that they still ended up losing a ton of money.
Here are 10 DC Movies That Completely Flopped (And 10 That Are Massive Hits).
20 Flop: Catwoman
Hopefully all the superhero spinoffs currently in the works have kept Catwoman in mind for what not to do when adapting the story of a beloved supporting character.
This 2004 film found Halle Berry suiting up to play the eponymous anti-hero, who has long been a complicated love interest of Batman in the comics. However, aside from the name and a pair of ears, Catwoman took very little inspiration from its source material — turning the character into a lowly cosmetic company worker rather than a cunning cat burglar.
Nearly every aspect of the film was criticized, earning the film a 9% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Ultimately, Catwoman made just $82 million worldwide, failing to recoup its lofty budget of $100 million.
19 Hit: Man of Steel
After Brandon Routh’s turn as Superman failed to take flight, the franchise was rebooted once again in 2013 — this time, serving as a tent-pole movie from which the DC planned to launch their own shared universe.
With Zack Snyder at the helm and Henry Cavill in the title role, Man of Steel explored the character's origins and early days as a superhero.
While the movie received its fair share of criticism, Man of Steel was still a commercial success, grossing $668 million worldwide against a budget of $225 million.
This marked a promising start for the DCEU. If only the filmmakers had heeded some of the complaints about the film's tone and a lack of faithfulness to the comics, they might not have experienced diminishing returns down the line.
18 Flop: Green Lantern
With Warner Bros. sinking $200 million into the production of Green Lantern, the studio clearly thought it had hit on hand. After all, this was the theatrical debut of the character — who already enjoyed a strong following after decades in the comics and on TV.
Despite Ryan Reynolds’ best efforts, the film was a box office disappointment, earning just $219 million worldwide.
This may be more than the cost of its $200 million production, but with an estimated marketing budget of $100 million, Green Lantern was still a major flop.
While the ending of the film set up a sequel, these plans were quickly scrapped following Green Lantern’s poor performance.
We can only hope that 2020’s Green Lantern Corps will finally do these DC heroes justice on the big screen.
17 Hit: Batman Begins
Eight years after Batman & Robin tarnished the DC character on the big screen, Batman made his triumphant return in the 2005 Christopher Nolan film.
Batman Begins not only reestablished the darker tone of the character, it also made the story of Bruce Wayne more realistic than ever by giving the audience an in-depth look at his childhood and extensive martial arts training.
The film was an immediate critical and commercial success, holding the number one slot at the box office for two consecutive weeks and going on to gross $375 million against a $150 million budget.
More importantly, it restored the audience's faith in a Batman film series, paving way for two of the biggest comic book movies of all time.
16 Flop: Jonah Hex
Despite a talented cast consisting of Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, and Michael Fassbender, Jonah Hex was a box office bomb of mega proportions — grossing just under $11 million worldwide against a production budget of $47 million.
Here, Brolin suited up for his first comic book movie to play the title character, a Civil War soldier who is brought back to life and granted supernatural powers, leading him down a path of revenge.
Brolin has since said that he absolutely hated the film.
The cast and crew were forced to reshoot 66 pages of the script in just 12 days.
This resulted in the 81-minute movie being destroyed by critics, and even in its opening weekend, Jonah Hex only managed to debut at number seven.
15 15 Hit: Suicide Squad
With a 28% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Suicide Squad is the worst reviewed movie in the DCEU, by far. But that didn’t stop audiences from turning out in droves to check out this unconventional superhero movie.
With a star-studded cast headed up by Will Smith and Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad follows a group of villains and antiheroes who are offered shorter prison sentences in exchange for carrying out a top-secret mission.
While some gave credit to the added humor and Robbie’s scene-stealing performance as Harley Quinn, many still felt that the movie jumped the gun and was an overall mess.
With a worldwide gross of nearly $750 million, a second Suicide Squad film is on the horizon, along with a number of spin-offs, which are already in the works.
14 Flop: Steel
Based on the DC character of the same name, Steel follows a weapons designer who — not unlike Tony Stark — decides to forge a suit of armor to take up his own fight against crime.
The character was first introduced during The Death of Superman storyline, where he was a reimagining of the folk hero John Henry.
The film adaptation deviated greatly from the comics, altering Steel’s origin story and severing his connection to the other DC characters.
While Shaquille O’Neal’s performance was particularly torn apart, the corny dialogue, costumes, and special effects in Steel certainly weren’t doing the NBA player any favors.
Even against a modest budget of $16 million, this 1997 film came nowhere close to recouping its investment, grossing a humiliating $1.7 million during its initial run.
13 Hit: Batman
Before Christian Bale or Ben Affleck were receiving their share of backlash for being cast as the Caped Crusader, Michael Keaton had gone through the exact same thing years before when he was cast in the title role of Tim Burton’s 1989 film.
Of course, many now considered Keaton to be one of the best incarnations of the character. He received praise for his surprisingly dark performance as Bruce Wayne. In fact, many were surprised just how much Batman exceeded audience's expectations — offering up a far more foreboding take on the character, which made Batman a lot more appealing to adults.
The film went on to gross over $400 million at the box office against a $30 million budget, ensuring a place for Batman on the big screen for decades to come.
12 Flop: The Spirit
After co-directing the 2005 film Sin City alongside Robert Rodriquez, comic book writer Frank Miller decided to direct The Spirit on his own three years later. Unfortunately, this effort was far from successful.
The Spirit grossed only $39 million against a $60 million budget.
The film follows resurrected cop, Denny Colt, who now fights crime under the moniker the Spirit. The character first appeared as a comic strip back in the 1940s, though The Spirit has also shown up in a number of other publications, including DC, ever since.
While some critics praised the visuals — which were similar to the style of Sin City — the film was criticized for lacking any semblance of real human emotion. The result was a film that only managed to snag the number nine spot during its opening weekend.
11 Hit: Batman Forever
Batman Forever may have been the beginning of the end when it came to the original Batman film series, but that didn’t stop the 1995 film from being one of the highest-grossing movies of the year.
Michael Keaton chose not to reprise his role for a third outing, foreseeing that the franchise was about to take a turn away from its darker roots.
After Batman Returns failed to bring in as much money as the 1989 original, the studio believed that it had to lighten things up in order to get younger viewers in the seats.
The plan ultimately succeeded — for one outing at least — and Batman Returns ended up grossing $336 million worldwide against a budget a $100 million budget.
10 Flop: Supergirl
Despite being the first feature-length superhero movie to cast a female as the lead, Supergirl proved to be both a critical and commercial failure, grossing just $14.3 million against a production budget of $35 million.
The film follows Kara Zor-El, a Kryptonian who ventures to Earth to retrieve a powerful orb. She makes her transformation into Supergirl and is faced with defeating the wicked witch Selena.
Despite existing in the same universe as Christopher Reeve’s Superman, the Man of Steel never makes an appearance in the film.
Therefore, the only link Supergirl has to the previous films is via actor Marc McClure, who plays Jimmy Olsen.
Not only did this mark a new low-point in the Superman franchise, it also made closed-minded studios wary of making another female-led superhero movie for decades.
9 Hit: The Lego Batman Movie
Though it may not have been as financially successful as The Lego Movie — which grossed $469 million worldwide — The Lego Batman Movie still managed to pull in a highly-respectable $312 million at the box office.
Once again, Will Arnett provided his husky voice to play the Caped Crusader, and he was joined by fellow comedic actor Zach Galafianakis, who took on the role of the Joker.
The Lego Batman Movie features no shortage of iconic DC characters, along with a number of familiar faces from other popular franchises. As a result, the film held the top spot at the box office for two weeks, beating out John Wick: Chapter 2 and Fifty Shades Darker.
The animated comedy even managed to win over most critics, as it currently boasts a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
8 Flop: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Even today, Christopher Reeve is considered one of the greatest incarnations of the iconic DC character. Audiences often choose to willfully ignore the third and fourth Superman films, which are both embarrassingly bad.
While Superman III also managed to earn the disappointment of critics, it still faired well at the box office. Things really took a nosedive with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, where the domestic gross was not even enough to make back the film’s $17 million budget.
Reeve later regretted being involved with the film, which was painfully corny — even for a movie made in 1987.
The result was Superman not making his return to the big screen until 2006.
7 Hit: Wonder Woman
The DCEU’s biggest success story to date, Wonder Woman was released last year to both critical and commercial success — a first for the shared comic book universe.
After already getting a glimpse of the established superheroine the year before in Batman v Superman, Wonder Woman took audiences back to the early days of Diana, exploring her journey from sheltered Amazonian warrior to a battle-hardened protector of Earth.
Wonder Woman went on to gross $821 million against an estimated budget of $149 million. While this didn’t make it the highest-grossing film in the franchise, it was definitely the most profitable.
It looks like the studio is looking to recreate the same kind of success for the sequel, as Patty Jenkins will once against serve as director, with Chris Pine also expected to reprise his role alongside Gal Gadot.
6 Flop: Batman & Robin
In actuality, Batman & Robin ended up making back its $125 million production budget by grossing nearly $240 million worldwide — though it’s hard to know how much the studio ended up making without an official marketing cost. Even still, the 1997 film massively underperformed when compared to the franchise's earlier films, and it is still the lowest-grossing live-action Batman movie to date.
Upon its release, Batman & Robin was absolutely destroyed by critics, who found the film’s corny dialogue and action-figure facade to be totally at odds with the earlier films in the franchise.
Star George Clooney and director Joel Schumacher have apologized for the film on a number of occasions.
It ended up keeping Batman off the big screen for the better part of a decade.
5 Hit: Superman
Though the iconic character had already seen success on the big and small screen, the 1978 film starring Christopher Reeve truly shot the Man of Steel to new heights.
Made on a budget of $55 million, Superman was the most expensive movie ever made at that time. As a result, the superhero film boasted a star-studded cast headed up by Reeve and Margot Kidder, featuring Marlon Brando as Superman's father and Gene Hackman as the villainous Lex Luthor.
Superman also featured its fair share of cutting-edge special effects, which would later end up winning the film an Academy Award.
Upon its release, the superhero film shattered a number of box office records, earning over $300 million worldwide and becoming Warner Bros.' biggest movie at that time.
4 Flop: The Losers
Based on the Vertigo comic series (an imprint of DC), The Losers follows an elite special forces team who are betrayed by their superiors, leading them to go off the grid and mount a mission of their own.
The film featured a star-studded cast, many of whom would go on to join the MCU, including Chris Evans, Zoe Saldana, and Idris Elba.
Yet none of these talents could save the movie from its countless action movie cliches — though many did praise the film’s fresh sense of humor.
The Losers went on to open at number four at the box office, and domestically, it only brought in $23 million against a $37 million production budget. Even with international sales, it's highly unlikely that The Losers turned a profit when factoring in the additional cost of advertising.
3 Hit: The Dark Knight
Following its release in 2008, the second installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy went on to be one of the few movies that managed to surpass the billion-dollar mark at the box office. Of course, that milestone has since been surpassed by a slew of movies. But it’s not hard to forget just how big of an impact The Dark Knight had on popular culture.
Even a decade after its release, The Dark Knight continues to be regarded as one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. Nearly every aspect of the film has received recognition, particularly Heath Ledger’s hypnotic performance as the Joker — a performance that earned him a posthumous Academy Award.
For many, The Dark Knight will always be the quintessential Batman movie.
2 Flop: Justice League
With a production budget of $300 million and a global box office of $657 million, it may seem like Justice League had a sizable return on investment, but that’s leaving out a number of additional costs that the studio never discloses — including marketing and talent residuals.
When you factor these in, many film analysts believe that at best, Justice League could have done a little better than break even. At worst, it could have resulted in tens of millions of dollars lost.
It cannot be refuted that Justice League is the lowest-grossing movie in the DC shared universe to date.
This alone should mark the film as a major disappointment, especially considering that its the first live-action film to bring the Justice League together on the big screen.
1 Hit: The Dark Knight Rises
While most would agree that The Dark Knight was the best installment of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, the third and final film actually managed to rake in slightly more money.
With a much grander scope than the previous two films, the budget on The Dark Knight Rises soared to an estimated $250 million — making it one of the most expensive movies ever made at that time. That didn’t stop the film from still being extremely profitable, as it grossed over $1.08 billion throughout its initial run.
Despite DC launching their own shared universe and turning out a number of movies since, none have enjoyed the same level of success as The Dark Knight trilogy.
Do these movies deserve their hit/ flop status? Let us know!