Ranking The DC Comic Book Movies

Listeners of the show and people who know me in real life know about my Completionism, a life altering condition that forces me to be all in or all out on pretty much everything in my life. I like lists, I like rankings, but in order for my brain to work properly (or very NOT properly as the case may be), I feel like I have to have as much knowledge as I can possibly have about said subjects. As such, when I set out to put together a ranking, I feel like I HAVE to do a deep dive into the particular franchise or universe I’m writing about in the interest of fairness. Sometimes, that’s no problem. I love the Marvel movies and have no problem watching any or all of them any time. The DC movies are, ahem, a different animal.

I want to put this out there right up front: I love Batman. He’s my favorite superhero, hands down. Moreover, growing up, outside of Spider-Man, all of the comic book characters I cared about were DC, not Marvel. I desperately WANT the DC universe of films to be as good if not better than the Marvel universe just because of my longtime interest in the characters. I would be lying, however, if I said that was anywhere close to the truth. The DC brand has been dragged through the movie mud repeatedly and drudging through this collection of films was a chore at times, a punishment at others. This is an incredibly top heavy list, followed by a host of films that, in my book, range from “not good” to “very bad” to “oh sweet Death, please come and take me quickly.” I tried to stay positive but, dear readers, this was a difficult task. Here now, I present to you my official ranking of all the DC comic and graphic novel film adaptations from worst to first.

(NOTE: I didn’t have time/interest/brain power to see Steel, Supergirl, or the Swamp Thing movies. I am okay with these exclusions.)

21. Batman & Robin (1997) Rotten Tomatoes: 11%, Worldwide Gross: $238M
After having watched all of these illustrious movies over the last couple weeks, I think it would be more than fair to put Catwoman or even Green Lantern at the bottom of this list. They’re probably actually worse movies. But Batman & Robin physically hurts me. There’s not one frame, one line of dialogue, one subplot that works for even 30 seconds and that just should not be possible in a Batman movie. From the Bat Nipples on the Bat Suit on down, this movie is a travesty. I think watching it again actually took years off my life.

20. Catwoman (2004) Rotten Tomatoes: 9%, Worldwide Gross: $82M
True story: I had never had the pleasure of seeing Catwoman until I started this project. Lucky me. Who would’ve guessed that a movie directed by someone who goes by simply Pitof would be bad. This is a special kind of bad, though. Catwoman has an atrocious script and features probably the worst performance that an Oscar winner has ever given. Seriously, it’s a wonder that Halle Berry’s golden statue wasn’t reposed after this mess. My favorite scene was when Catwoman, imbued with special powers from some cat she saved, uses her abilities to play a game of sexualized one-on-one basketball with Benjamin Bratt while a host of elementary school kids look on in awe.

19. Green Lantern (2011) Rotten Tomatoes: 26%, Worldwide Gross: $219M
I hadn’t seen Green Lantern since I attended a midnight premiere in 2011. (Side note: I’d like to punch 2011 me in the face.) What an absolute trainwreck. To be fair, Reynolds himself isn’t TERRIBLE as Green Lantern but he’s also not good and he certainly doesn’t do anything to bring up the material. Also, Green Lantern gets special credit for attacking my eyes with some of the worst special effects I have ever seen in my entire life. This is an aggressive assault on the eyes.

18. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1984) Rotten Tomatoes: 12%, Worldwide Gross: $36.7M
Wooo boy, this one is a peach. Preachy and outdated even when it premiered, The Quest for Peace basically finished the job that Superman III started and killed off the character for 20+ years. Made on a shoe string budget and featuring a clearly uninterested cast, the highlight of this movie is when Superman uses a net to ferry all of the world’s nuclear weapons into the sun. Seems logical.

17. Jonah Hex (2010) Rotten Tomatoes: 12%, Worldwide Gross: $10.9M
With a cast that includes Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, and Michael Fassbender based off of a fairly beloved graphic novel, you would think that Jonah Hex would be at least passable. And you would be wrong. Even the studio knew they had a dud in their hands, opening it against Toy Story 3 and essentially pulled it from theaters after two weeks. In truth, I don’t think Jonah Hex is QUITE as legendarily bad as the buzz surrounding it would have me believe but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s anything less than “very, very bad.”

16. Superman III (1983) Rotten Tomatoes: 26%, Worldwide Gross: $59M
I have a (VERY) small soft spot for Superman III because at least it attempted to do something a little different by bringing in Richard Pryor. But oh sweet goodness, what a TERRIBLE plot! I know it was 1983 and our understanding of computers and satellites was minimal but sheesh, the stuff that Pryor’s character is able to do with access to one satellite is so absurd that it becomes unwatchable. And while Superman splitting into two separate beings is a fun twist, the battle before and after said split is awful.

15. The Losers (2010) Rotten Tomatoes: 49%, Worldwide Gross: $29M
The Losers so badly wants to be fun and yet it fails to come through on that effort time and time again. A decent cast (including Idris Elba and Chris Evans just before his break out as Captain America) is overshadowed by a cumbersome, uninteresting plot and a painfully bad performance by Jason Patric as the lead villain. The bad taste Patric leaves behind is really the only thing I remembered from The Losers before my rewatch and I thought he couldn’t possibly be as bad as my memory would have me believe. But no, he’s incredibly bad and he takes what could be a B- sort of movie and plunges it downward.

14. Batman Forever (1995) Rotten Tomatoes: 41%, Worldwide Gross: $336M
There are parts of Batman Forever that work in some capacity or another. Kilmer isn’t a bad Batman, really, and some of the action set pieces hold up fairly well. But it is just so far over the top in almost every scene that after 20 minutes or so you start to feel like Jim Carrey is in your house and he’s just SCREAMING in your ear. To me, the whole thing boils down to horrendous direction, which makes the decision to give Joel Schumacher a shot at Batman & Robin even more frustrating.

13. Man of Steel (2013) Rotten Tomatoes: 56%, Worldwide Gross: $688M
This is undoubtedly the most frustrating film on this list. I didn’t care for Man of Steel upon first viewing and had soured on it even further over the last three years. When I sat down to rewatch it, I was struck by how good the stronger moments (the father-son element, some of the early action sequences, a slightly different take on the Superman origin story, etc.) really are…and how those moments are completely swallowed up by bad camera work, stilted dialogue, and a vision of Superman (and the universe he exists in) that thoroughly flies in the face of what Superman is all about. In the hands of a better director, I think Man of Steel could be a very fine film; instead, it’s mostly a mess.

12. Batman Returns (1992) Rotten Tomatoes: 80%, Worldwide Gross: $266M
Batman Returns gets worse with every viewing. Ten years ago I would’ve probably had this one somewhere around the top five. Five years ago, it would drop a bit but would still find a place in the top ten. Now, I think it only sits this high because of how much I dislike the films beneath it. On the plus side, Keaton is fine and DeVito is creepily great. On the downside, Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is excruciating from beginning to end and Burton lets almost every scene drag on and on, like he forgot the camera was rolling. In hindsight, we were probably past the Burton experience in 1992, it just took 15 years to realize it. Regardless, time has not been kind to Batman Returns.

11. Constantine (2005) Rotten Tomatoes: 46%, Worldwide Gross: $230M
Okay, I like Constantine. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. Back off, we all have our weak spots! I would never say this is a “good” movie but I kind of dig Keanu’s zoned out take on the character and I’ve always found the concept interesting. Moreover, Peter Stromare’s portrayal of the devil in the final act is, I think, fantastic and bumps the movie as a whole up a grade or two for me.

10. Watchmen (2009) Rotten Tomatoes: 65%, Worldwide Gross: $185M
I will say this for Zack Snyder’s epic adaptation: it tries hard. I think as a whole, Watchmen rides the “is it good or bad?” fence in nearly every scene but there are moments of greatness (mostly involving Rorschach) and moreover, the graphic novel it’s based on is probably unfilmable if we’re being honest. I mostly despise Snyder’s sensibilities but it is ironic that it is Watchmen, on the surface his least accessible film, that brings out his best work (minus the music cues, most of which are awful). It’s a VERY flawed film but at least it’s one that received an honest effort.

9. Batman The Movie (1965) Rotten Tomatoes: 80%, Worldwide Gross: $3M
Campy, cheeky, and somewhat stupid, the original Batman movie is still a whirlwind of fun. Most people of my generation grew up with the Batman TV series playing some role in our lives and I probably watched the movie a hundred times in my younger years. I can’t say that the movie has held up over the last 50 years save for one element: It’s still extremely fun to watch. Adam West for president.

8. Superman II (1981) Rotten Tomatoes: 89%, Worldwide Gross: $108M
I’m not entirely sure which versions of Superman II I’ve seen and which I haven’t. Production issues resulted in Richard Donner being replaced at the helm and a final cut that was different from the original concept. Regardless, Reeve’s Superman saves this movie for me. Lois Lane, somewhat annoying in Superman, becomes INCREDIBLY annoying in Superman II and the fight between Superman and Zod looks pretty terrible 30+ years later. But Reeve really hits his peak here and carries the film to greater heights than maybe it deserves.

7. Superman Returns (2006) Rotten Tomatoes: 76%, Worldwide Gross: $391M
I will stand by Superman Returns as a quality comic book movie and I think it is the Superman movie that comes the closest to capturing the spirit of its hero while also delivering a somewhat interesting plot. I think it’s much more rewatchable than any of the other Superman films. It has two big problems, however. For one, at times it falls into a pattern of over-romanticizing the hero and his values to the point of become hokey. But more important, Bryan Singer and company missed on casting almost entirely. Brandon Routh isn’t a bad actor by any means but he doesn’t jump out at you as Superman. Kate Bosworth is overmatched by her role and seems out of place. And Kevin Spacey is just plain bad as Lex Luthor, which is weird because it seems like he’d pull this off quite well. I think if you made this movie with different actors but kept everything else the same, it’s a better product overall.

6. Superman (1978) Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, Worldwide Gross: $300M
This is one of those times when I’m forced to weigh the difference in personal opinion and objective criticism. I actually don’t care for this movie much. I think it’s boring and for the most part, it just doesn’t speak to me in tone or content. But, I can recognize that it’s a well-made movie featuring a quality actor in a prestige role and accept that while it’s not my cup of tea, it deserves a prominent place on this list.

5. V for Vendetta (2005) Rotten Tomatoes: 73%, Worldwide Gross: $132M
I had V quite a bit lower on my list when I first sat down to put this thing together. But after my rewatch, I came away much more impressed with the movie than I’d ever been before. It’s actually better in 2016, I think, than it was in 2005 and that’s quite an achievement. I’m a sucker for dystopian glimpses into the future but I gotta be honest, this one doesn’t seem too farfetched given the insanity of the Donald Trump phenomenon. V is well acted (the last truly good Portman performance?) and the writing mixes “playful” and “deathly serious” in an interesting way that keeps the plot moving at a solid pace.

4. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Rotten Tomatoes: 87%, Worldwide Gross: $1.08B
I love The Dark Knight Rises. That’s not an extremely popular opinion but I’ll defend it to my dying day. To me, the big issues with the film are Bane’s mask (fixed on the blu-ray) and the over-packed plot. That could’ve been fixed by splitting the movie into two parts but then people would’ve accused Nolan and WB of money grubbing so it’s kind of a lose-lose. Obviously I think it’s the weakest of the Nolan Batman films but it’s still a darn good movie and one that wraps up a tremendous trilogy quite well, I think.

3. Batman (1989) Rotten Tomatoes: 72%, Worldwide Gross: $411M
I debated moving this one up a slot based on my personal attachment to it. Seeing Batman in the theater at age six was a formative experience for me. I love Keaton’s Batman, I love Nicholson’s Joker, and I think it’s an example of what Burton is capable of when his crazy creativity is harnessed appropriately. You could release Batman tomorrow and it would look almost just as good now as it did in 1989. It holds up extremely well in my book (minus the weird musical cues; late 80’s pop/hip-hop should be eradicated from our society).  “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” is an AWESOME quote. Plus, Batman gets extra credit for being THE standard of what a superhero movie should look like for a solid 15 years.

2. Batman Begins (2005) Rotten Tomatoes: 85%, Worldwide Gross: $374M
I remember only being vaguely interested in Batman Begins back in 2005 and now that seems ridiculously foolish. Nolan’s vision for the Batman reboot is so fantastic and his choice for the Caped Crusader was superb. Mock the voice all you like, but Christian Bale played both sides of the Batman-Wayne coin tremendously well. I’m not sure there’s ever been a better origin story in the comic book movie universe and Batman Begins sets the table brilliantly for what was to come.

1. The Dark Knight (2008) Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, Worldwide Gross: $1.04B
This should come as no surprise as there’s no other sensible option to sit at the top of this list. The Dark Knight is the greatest superhero movie of all-time and in my book, it’s not particularly close. From a technical standpoint, it is a master class in filmmaking: shot selection, sound editing, production design…they’re all perfect. PERFECT. Add in a very strong narrative, an outstanding cast, and an iconic, untouchable performance and you’ve got an incredible film, regardless of comic book affiliation. I don’t think there will be a better superhero movie in my lifetime and I’m completely okay with that.