DC Comics and Warner Bros. never could quite compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Disney. Their blatant attempts to copy that success – while forcing every movie to be grim and serious – never quite worked, and they’re just now figuring out how to properly manage each of their properties in films that make sense for their characters. With the release of their eighth entry Birds of Prey, I figured I’d rank each film, many of which still have some good parts.
8. Suicide Squad (2016, David Ayer)
Oof, where to begin? Almost every decision made in this team-up film was the wrong one. Jared Leto's atrocious performance as the Joker is just the tip of the iceberg. With a weak villain, flashbacks that muddle the story, and some of the most groan-inducing needle drops in film history, this is one of the worst films of the 2010s. The only things that actually work in this overstuffed, extremely stupid, downright offensive adaptation are the Oscar-winning make-up and Margot Robbie's star-making turn as Harley Quinn. A sequel directed by Guardians of the Galaxy's James Gunn should be better, but it's not a high bar to clear.
7. Justice League (2017, Zack Snyder)
"A house divided against itself cannot stand," and trying to combine Zack Snyder's (literally and metaphorically) dark vision with the quippy hangout vibe of Joss Whedon simply doesn't work. The villain (Steppenwolf, voiced by Ciaran Hinds) is the least menacing nemesis in a very long time. Just take a look at this scene, an exposition dump that's both confusing and ugly to look at. This also gave us the most annoying hashtag of the all time (#releasethesnydercut), which pops up in just about every discussion of any movie on Twitter. Ezra Miller's Flash is a fun character though. I hope they can finally get his solo movie off the ground.
6. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, Zack Snyder)
For the first two acts, it's a pretty fascinating comic book movie that follows the beat of its own drum, exploring themes of terror and security vs. liberty. I don't know if Snyder really "gets" Batman or Superman, but the versions he presents are undeniably his. And I even like Jesse Eisenberg's tech bro take on Lex Luthor. But then that last act hits, and it's one of the most incredible cases of sabotaging an interesting movie I've ever seen. That climax is so jaw-droppingly idiotic that I still can't believe it actually happened.
5. Man of Steel (2013, Zack Snyder)
There are a few times when the film really soars, but Snyder's complete rejection of Superman as a symbol of "truth, justice and the American way" still rubs me the wrong way. Michael Shannon does some glorious overacting as Zod, but the movie's wanton destruction in the climax feels ill-considered (though seeing the other side of it in the opening minutes of Batman v Superman was pretty great). And having the ghost of Superman's dad (Russell Crowe) guide Lois Lane (Amy Adams) through an ice maze remains a baffling choice.
4. Shazam! (2019, David F. Sandberg)
Now we're talking. Working with a mostly light tone that absolutely fits the movie (what a concept!), this movie is a complete delight when it's focusing on its teenage protagonists and the superpowered foster kid (Zachary Levi) who has to learn to harness his gifts for good and not just to impress girls. But it occasionally gets bogged down in unnecessary mythology about the seven deadly sins and the villain (Mark Strong) who's trying to harness their power.
3. Aquaman (2018, James Wan)
Taking advantage of no Star Wars movie being released around the holidays, this extremely silly underwater adventure made more than $1 billion worldwide. Jason Momoa set hearts a-flutter with one line ("Permission to come aboard?"), but it's Patrick Wilson who really shines, playing his half-brother, bent on the destruction of an Earth that treats the ocean like a garbage dump. Yahya Abdul-Mateen is also great as the revenge-obsessed villain Manta. He'd turn in his black armor for blue skin in HBO's Watchmen.
2. Birds of Prey (2020, Cathy Yan)
After years of serious excursions to Gotham City, we finally have a movie that's not embarrassed by Joel Schumacher's campy entries. Some people may be turned off by its mix of bright colors and gory fight scenes, but it worked like gangbusters for me. Ewan McGregor is easily the most compelling villain thus far: a spoiled rich kid with a penchant for slicing off the faces of those who cross him.
1. Wonder Woman (2017, Patty Jenkins)
Aside from a been there, done that climax – seriously, why does every villain have to be the size of a building? – this is in the upper echelon of modern comic book movies. It's a gripping war movie, convincing romance and awe-inspiring mythology all in one. Plus, if you like seeing movie stars be movie stars, you can't do much better than Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. That No Man's Land sequence still gives me chills. A Day-Glo sequel set in 1984 is due this summer.