DC has been making film adaptations of their superheroes from the earliest days of their existence. And while it’s hard to imagine contemporary fans heatedly debating the virtues of the 1943 Batman, it probably happened, they just didn’t have massive film database where they could express their opinion with a number between 1 and 10.
IMDb has changed all that. Unlike sites such as Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic, where the opinions of professional film critics are the driving force, IMDb has always prioritized its user rating system. It stands as something of a public rebuttal to professional critics, giving the average moviegoer the most visible platform to express their opinions on the films they love and loathe.
DC movie fans and film critics have often found themselves at odds, and the IMDb ratings of several of the films showcase that divide. Conversely, more than a few of them show that critics and fans are on the same page when it comes to the cream of the crop, as well as the inarguable low points. We’re taking a look at the fan side of that argument, chronicling the highs and lows of the DC Universe according to the fans themselves.
These are the 10 Best (And 10 Worst) DC Movies Ever Made, According to IMDb.
20. WORST: Superman Returns (6.1)
Warner Bros. had largely been out of the superhero game for the better part of a decade before Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins rebooted the Caped Crusader to thrilling results. The studio’s second priority was, naturally, to revitalize their other iconic superhero, Superman. On paper, Superman Returns certainly looked like a winner, with acclaimed X-Men director Bryan Singer at the helm, and with an impressive ensemble cast that included Brandon Routh as the titular hero and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor.
And yet the film was something of a box office disappointed and deeply divided fans. Rather than updating the character for the 21st century, Singer leaned heavily on his nostalgia for the Christopher Reeve version of the character, making Returns something of a pseudo sequel to those films. The result was a sentimental, romantic film that was largely out of step with what fans were looking for at the time.
19. BEST: Batman Returns (7.0)
Hot on the heels of one of the most culturally defining comic book films of all time, Batman Returns could have attempted to repeat or expand on its predecessor’s superhero thrills. Instead, director Tim Burton decided to take the Caped Crusader in a much darker, much weirder direction. Featuring a disfigured, black tar spewing version of the Penguin (Danny DeVito), a sexy yet psychotic Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), and a triumphantly bizarre Christopher Walken performance as corrupt business mogul Max Shreck, the film digs into the black soul at the heart of Gotham City, a decidedly more disturbing place than in the previous film.
It’s the Batman film that feels the least like a Batman film, yet it benefits tremendously from Burton – who was at the height of his creative powers – more fully melding his signature style with the Caped Crusader. While it was a step too far for Warner Bros. (who would make the franchise more family friendly with Batman Forever), it was perhaps the last time a Batman movie felt creatively dangerous.
18. WORST: Green Lantern (5.6)
Green Lantern should have been a home run. Revitalized by a wildly popular comic book run by current DC Films head honcho Geoff Johns, Green Lantern was positioned to be Warner Bros.’ answer to the burgeoning Marvel Cinematic Universe. With a great cast and a massive budget, the movie was sold as superhero Star Wars.
Unfortunately, the movie was dogged by a multitude of problems. Veteran director Martin Campbell was clearly in over his head with the CGI spectacle, and Ryan Reynolds’ version of Hal Jordan came across like a dime store Tony Stark. It was an ugly, tone-deaf film that missed what made the comic version of the character so compelling. Fans are hoping the upcoming Green Lantern Corps film can redeem one of DC’s best characters.
17. BEST: Man of Steel (7.1)
Zack Snyder’s 2013 Superman reboot went out of its way to avoid the trappings of the Christopher Reeve films (and, by association, 2006’s Superman Returns). The grimy, handheld camera work owed more to Christopher Nolan than Richard Donner, and Hans Zimmer’s breathtaking score was somber and wistful, eschewing John Williams’ legendarily triumphant theme.
Henry Cavill played a Superman who was flawed, attempting to hide himself from humanity to honor his loving but overprotective adoptive father (beautifully played by Kevin Costner). Visually thrilling and emotionally potent, the film was critically polarizing, much more so than Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was more universally panned. But for those who love it, Man of Steel is a towering achievement. It took some big creative risks, but for the most part it successfully adapted Superman for the 21st century.
16. WORST: Batman Forever (5.4)
Tim Burton’s Batman Returns wasn’t exactly a flop, but it landed with a decidedly softer impact than the director’s first, massive Batman film. Burton and Warner Bros. were both happy to move on, and Joel Schumacher took the helm for the third entry, Batman Forever. Starring Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne (who took over for a departing Michael Keaton), Batman Forever was a decidedly more family friendly affair than the Burton films, all neon and Jim Carrey guffaws.
The movie was a box office smash, but its reputation has curdled over the years. All of the bombastic warning signs for the disaster that was Batman & Robin were present in Batman Forever: the hammy villains, the lousy plotting, the overwhelming feeling that the movie exists to sell toys. Add to this that Kilmer is arguably the worst big screen iteration of the Dark Knight, and you get the Batman film that has aged the worst.
15. BEST: Superman (7.3)
Before 1978, superhero films weren’t really a serious concern. They were, almost without fail, silly, low budget diversions aimed at very young children who hopefully wouldn’t mind that they were terrible. That all changed when Superman debuted. Attempting to do for superhero movies what Star Wars did for science fictions movies, director Richard Donner’s film made Superman’s origin story biblical in scale, boosted by a cast of Hollywood legends like Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman.
But none of it would have worked without Christopher Reeve at its center. The then-unknown Reeve so perfectly embodied the wholesome, earnest champion from Krypton that all other versions are still measured by Reeve’s. The film legitimized superheroes as fodder for big budget filmmaking, and nothing was ever the same.
14. WORST: Superman III (4.9)
Superman II was a huge success, but it was a behind the scenes nightmare. Originally intended to be filmed simultaneously with the first Superman, director Richard Donner was fired by the film’s producers midway through production. Veteran director Richard Lester was brought in to finish Superman II, and was rewarded for his efforts by getting to direct the third film from scratch.
It would prove to be a mistake. While the first two films never shied away from humor, Superman III indulged in lazy slapstick, including an opening segment that seems straight out of a Police Academy movie. Richard Pryor was shoehorned into the film largely because he was very famous at the time. The film’s only redeeming quality was Reeve, who delivered a performance just as earnest as those he gave in the earlier, better films.
13. BEST: Watchmen (7.6)
Long hailed as one of the greatest comic books of all time, Alan Moore’s Watchmen was considered unfilmable for years before Zack Snyder took it on in 2009. A dark deconstruction of superheroes, Snyder made the bold decision to adapt as much of the comic as precisely as he could, using largely unaltered dialogue and meticulously recreating iconic scenes. The one wholly original scene is, ironically, the movie’s most universally praised: the movie’s opening montage of an alternate American history set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”
While some critics were underwhelmed by such a slavish adaptation, the movie has gained something of a cult following, and the film’s extended Blu-ray cut has an even more devoted fanbase. Like all Snyder films, it’s visually lush, and features fantastic performances from Billy Crudup as the aloof, all-powerful Dr. Manhattan and Jackie Earl Haley as the uncompromising vigilante Rorschach.
12. WORST: Jonah Hex (4.7)
Sometimes a bad comic book film will seem like a missed opportunity, a misfire that people lament as being a few mistakes away from success. And then there are comic book films like Jonah Hex.
One of DC’s oldest characters, Hex is a scarred bounty hunter in post-Civil War America who tends to have dealings with supernatural threats. He’s absolutely worthy of a big screen adaptation, but this one was marked for failure pretty much right out of the gate. Featuring an inexperienced director and a cast full of talented actors who were almost all woefully miscast, the film looked awful from its first trailers, and it more than delivered on that promise. A box office and critical flop, it’s a film Warner Bros. would desperately like you to forget ever happened.
11. BEST: Batman (7.6)
With a few modest exceptions, superhero films really didn’t take off in the 80s in the wake of Superman’s success. The next culturally massive superhero film didn’t land until over a decade later, but it would be the standard bearer for a generation. Tim Burton’s Batman was a rebirth for the Dark Knight, who at that point was most strongly associated with the cheesy Adam West TV series from the 60s.
Burton’s film was the first cinematic iteration to embrace the inherent tragedy and darkness at the heart of Batman’s story, perfectly embodied by Michael Keaton’s low-key, soulful performance. He was presented a perfect foil in Jack Nicholson’s version of The Joker, a hammy, over the top performance that still featured enough venom to make the clown prince of crime feel dangerous. The movie’s alleged darkness has faded with age, but the world Burton created still holds up just fine.
10. WORST: Supergirl (4.3)
In 1984, the producers of the Superman films were attempting to broaden the scope of Clark Kent’s world, developing a spinoff featuring his cousin, Kara Zor-El. It’s pretty easy to see how the producers were using the original Superman film as a template; they cast unknown actress Helen Slater for the titular role, and surrounded her with Hollywood heavyweights like Faye Dunaway and Peter O’Toole.
Unfortunately, they didn’t bother to bring in a director of Richard Donner’s talent, hiring French filmmaker Jeannot Szwarc instead. The film was an embarrassing mess, featuring career worst performances from Dunaway and O’Toole, and essentially hamstringing Slater’s career before it even got started. Despite its massive flaws and universally negative reception, the Superman franchise had yet to hit rock bottom.
9. BEST: Wonder Woman (7.8)
Following the financially successful but critically disappointing Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, DC Films was desperate for a top-to-bottom win. They got it and then some with Patty Jenkins’ luminous Wonder Woman. Sidestepping the darkness and cynicism of the previous two DCEU movies, Wonder Woman’s most obvious analog is the original 1978 Superman film; an earnestly told, romantic origin story that features a largely unknown actor in a star-making turn.
Gal Gadot is a revelation as Diana of Themyscira, perfectly embodying that characters desire to pursue justice and her complicated relationship with man’s world. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is a note perfect romantic foil. Jenkins managed to inject a sense of sincerity into Wonder Woman that’s been lacking in superhero films and it was a winning breath of fresh air.
8. WORST: Batman & Robin (3.7)
At this point, Batman & Robin is essentially shorthand for “superhero movie failure.” Joel Schumacher’s second Batman outing saw the director exponentially ramp up all the hammy, neon excess of Batman Forever. Newly minted Batman George Clooney was woefully miscast as, essentially, a 90’s update of Adam West’s cheesy Caped Crusader. Arnold Schwarzenegger is having the time of his life as his version Mr. Freeze, who is way more cartoonish than the version from the actual cartoon, Batman: The Animated Series.
The movie was met with a sort of once in a generation venom, and it not only mothballed the Batman film franchise for nearly a decade, it did massive damage to the superhero film genre as a whole. The film has gained something of a contrarian following in the intervening years who appreciate it on an ironic level, but, for most people, it’s still Batman’s lowest moment.
7. BEST: V For Vendetta (8.2)
Much like Watchmen, V For Vendetta is a standalone story doesn’t take place in the DC Universe. It was also written by Alan Moore and, just like with Watchmen, the legendary writer was unwilling to cooperate with the film’s production due to longstanding financial issues with DC.
It didn’t matter. V For Vendetta was a vital, brutal film that updated the 80’s political anxieties of Moore’s graphic novel for the 21st century. Adapted by the Wachowskis, the visual influence of The Matrix films is apparent, but the real drivers of the film are its whip smart story about totalitarianism and a harrowing performance by Natalie Portman as a young woman whose eyes are opened to the revolutionary power of anarchy in the face of true evil by the titular hero. It’s a film that still feels relevant over a decade later.
6. WORST: Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (3.6)
After the goofy disappointment of Superman III, Christopher Reeve voiced his desire for the franchise to return to its earnest, idealistic roots. At the very least, Superman IV gave that a try, telling a straight story about nuclear disarmament, no longer aiming for laughs.
Unfortunately, the laughs came anyway; they just weren’t intentional. Notorious production company Cannon Films slashed the movie’s budget at the last minute, resulting in an embarrassingly low rent film. The film’s effects work is of decidedly lower quality than the first Superman film, which was produced nearly a decade earlier. It’s unlikely more money could have saved the film, which told a story that was, at its heart, deeply stupid. That the film was Christopher Reeve’s final turn as the Man of Steel is a genuine shame.
5. BEST: Batman Begins (8.3)
Batman was at a particularly low cultural ebb in 2005. The memory of Batman & Robin was still fresh enough to give people pause at the idea of a new cinematic version of the character. Luckily, Warner Bros. knew what they were doing this time; they hired up and coming director Christopher Nolan to tell a street level origin story for the character.
Beautifully played by Christian Bale, Batman Begins chronicled Bruce Wayne’s unavoidable march toward the cape and cowl through Nolan’s signature time fractured style. The film’s supporting cast is, frankly, ridiculous, featuring Michael Caine as Bruce’s most loyal ally, Alfred Pennyworth, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox (essentially Batman’s version of Q from the James Bond films), and perhaps most importantly, Gary Oldman as a revelatory version of Jim Gordon, a good cop who makes an uneasy alliance with Batman to weed out corruption in Gotham.
The film resurrected Batman’s reputation, and set the stage for even greater things to come.
4. WORST: Catwoman (3.3)
Warner Bros. had been attempting to develop a Catwoman film since briefly after Batman Returns was released in 1992. Michelle Pfeiffer’s version of the character in that film had captivated audiences and the initial plan was for Tim Burton to direct a spinoff starring Pfeiffer. Batman Forever’s family friendly success derailed those plans, and the movie stewed in development hell for a decade, before a grotesque mutation of the original idea surfaced in 2004.
Starring Halle Berry as a Catwoman who had no ties to Batman – and didn’t even share the name Selina Kyle – the film was an unmitigated wreck. Directed by French visual effects artist Pitof, it involved a cosmetic company conspiracy, ancient Egyptian cat superpowers, and a surprisingly evil Sharon Stone. The film was a career low point for virtually everyone involved.
3. BEST: The Dark Knight Rises (8.4)
Christopher Nolan’s third Batman film had an unenviable duty: how do you follow up not only the most beloved comic book film of all time, but one that can’t include that film’s breakout star due to tragic real world developments?
For the most part, The Dark Knight Rises was up to the task. Easily the largest scaled of Nolan’s Batman films, it features an aging, spiritually lost Batman who must overcome his mistakes to take on Bane, portrayed with staggering bombast by Tom Hardy.
The film also manages to break new ground, giving us the first real cinematic version of a happy ending for Bruce Wayne’s story. It’s a more than worthy finale to Nolan’s trilogy, ensuring it would be the standard by which all other superheroes are measured.
2. WORST: Steel (2.8)
There’s bound to be a perfectly good explanation as to why anyone thought a film about a C-list Superman supporting character starring Shaquille O’Neal was a good idea. Until that explanation is unearthed, Steel stands proudly as the low point of DC’s cinematic output. Released the same summer as Batman & Robin, Steel did its part to make 1997 a historically bad year for comic book movies.
Directed by genre TV lifer Kenneth Johnson, the movie looks decidedly small screen, and inexplicably strips the character and his world of all his ties to Superman. While there’s theoretically a version of Steel that could work without Superman, this was not it. And while this will not come as a thundering shock to anyone, it needs saying anyway: Shaquille O’Neal is probably not winning an Oscar anytime soon.
1. BEST: The Dark Knight (9.0)
The final scene of Batman Begins made a promise. As Batman and Gordon discuss the city’s escalating crime problems, Gordon mentions an armed robber with a theatrical flair, and hands Batman a playing card. The Joker was coming.
And what a Joker it was. Heath Ledger’s version of the face painted psychopath was a force of nature, easily the most terrifying big screen iteration. Ledger’s Joker somehow doesn’t overwhelm the movie, as his relationship with Batman is defined as two opposite elemental forces raging at the other.
The heart of the film is, in many ways, the story of district attorney Harvey Dent. Played wonderfully by Aaron Eckhart, Gotham’s corrupt underbelly slowly takes everything away from him, and he can’t avoid surrendering to that darkness. Batman makes tremendous personal sacrifice not only to salvage Dent’s legacy, but to prove The Joker wrong. Batman, despite all his angst and rage, believes people are inherently good. They just need a little vigilante help getting there sometimes.
Which DC film do you think is on the wrong side of this list? Let us know in the comments!
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