These days there are hardly any human beings on the planet who don’t know about Marvel and their characters thanks to the insane success of the MCU. Characters that hardly anyone knew when I was growing up- Hawkeye, Moon Knight, Shang Chi, Black Widow, etc are practically household names across the globe. But what about Marvel’s ‘competition’, DC? They’ve been at this since before Marvel, and for decades had bragging rights over Marvel on both the small and big screens. What the hell happened?
It’s not like DC has been churning out crap for years and years (…actually…), and they have three of the biggest names in all of fiction, forget comic books, in Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. And that’s the real head scratcher here; I was going to make this a top 25 list but to be honest I could BARELY make it to 15. I know Warner Bros is a garbage studio in a lot of areas, but damn…
Maybe it’s because forever they only thought to make Superman or Batman movies, but you would think that a studio like WB that has been making movies of these characters to some degree or another since the late 1970’s would have a large, glorious back catalog of films to select from, but I would say Marvel has far, FAR more good-to-great films in their library and they’ve only been at this since 2008!! (Obviously I’m discounting third party studios leasing out the IP of Marvel characters, although between Blade, the X-Men films and the Spider-Man films there are some great ones).
The good news is that there seem to be a lot of films coming up for DC that cover a lot more of their universe besides just three characters. We’ve got Black Adam, Aquaman 2, Shazam 2, Batgirl, Blue Beetle, and… hmm. Is that it? Well, crawl before you walk, I suppose. Each of these has the potential to supplant one of the entries on today’s list; hopefully in a few years I’ll laugh at this list the way I do this one!
Directed By: Leslie Martinson
Starring: Adam West (Batman), Burt Ward (Robin), Burgess Meredith (Penguin), Frank Gorshin (Riddler), Cesar Romero (Joker), Lee Merriwether (Catwoman)
There’s no way this movie should make this list, but to be honest I had a hard time finding 15! So, the goofy, campy, tongue in cheek Batman: The Movie makes the list. While it is really stupid and silly, it does have a lot of charm to it, puns, rubber sharks, Joker mustaches, and all. Batman and Robin team to combat a team up of some of their worst villains: The Joker, Catwoman, The Riddler, and The Penguin! Their evil scheme: dehydrate world leaders and dress kind of like pirates and… and… honestly, it doesn’t matter. It’s inane, stupid, absurd, and fun.
Directed By: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Keanu Reeves (John Constantine), Rachel Weisz (Angela/Isabel Dodson), Shia LaBeouf (Chas), Djimon Hounsou (Midnite), Gavin Rossdale (Balthazar), Tilda Swinton (Gabriel), Peter Stromare (Satan)
Much like The Crow starring Brandon Lee, ‘Constantine’ is one of those movies that’s not especially great at anything other than maybe casting, but it’s not bad enough for people to hate it and not good enough to really be a big hit, so it’s got a relatively small, yet very passionate, fan base. While it strays pretty insanely far from any recognizable version of John Constantine from the comics, there is a certain ‘charm’ to it, as much as a movie about suicide, damnation and hell can be charming. But it has one thing going for it: it proves my theory that almost anything can become watchable if you put enough Keanu Reeves in it.
Directed By: Richard Donner
Starring: Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Ned Beatty (Otis), Marlon Brando (Jor-El)
‘You will believe a man can fly’. Other than a really super weird scene ‘flying’ Lois around they really do pull it off, for the most part. Considering when this film was made and how movies like this were approached by the vast majority of those in the film industry it’s really quite surprising how good this movie is. Sure, it’s cheesy as all hell, but that kind of works with Superman. While Lex Luthor’s plan is absurd and the ‘flying super fast around the planet to reverse time’ thing is really stupid, Reeve is so perfectly cast as the big, blue boy scout that it hardly matters. A classic.
Directed By: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Zachary Levi (Shazam), Asher Angel (Billy Batson), Jack Dylan Grazer (Freddy Freeman), Mark Strong (Dr. Sivana), Djimon Hounsou (the Wizard)
It’s kind of hard to believe this movie takes place in the same movie universe as the Snyder films, but it brings a much-needed light-heartedness and levity to what had previously been a rather grim affair. Both Angel’s Billy Batson and Levi’s Shazam are engaging, entertaining, clever characters, as us Grazer’s Freddy Freeman. Strong’s Dr. Sivana is probably the weakest part of the film, and it’s a shame, because the lack of a strong villain is really all that holds this one back from being one of the better super-hero origin stories ever filmed.
Directed By: Richard Donner
Starring: Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Ned Beatty (Otis), Terrence Stamp (General Zod), Sarah Douglas (Ursa), Jack O’Halloran (Non)
The theatrical cut of Superman 2 is an odd thing; much of the footage was filmed by Richard Donner, who made the first movie, and the rest is filmed by a sack of worms in a human suit going by the name Richard Lester. The two are really quite different film makers, in that Donner is a capable one, so the result is a little uneven. The Donner Cut of Superman 2 cleans up some of the rough edges and ditches some of the more absurd beats, but because it was never finished it ends up re-using some footage from the first film and, while it’s an improvement over the original cut, it still ends up feeling a little uneven. That said, Reeve again is perfect in the role of Superman, and seeing him go up against Stamp’s intense Zod is awesome.
Directed By: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill (Superman), Ben Affleck (Batman), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Ezra Miller (Flash), Jason Mamoa (Aquaman), Ray Fisher (Cyborg), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Ciaran Hinds (Steppenwolf- voice), Willem Dafoe (Vulko), Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), Jeremy Irons (Alfred), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Connie Nielsen (Hippolyta), J.K. Simmons (Commissioner Gordon), Amber Heard (Mera), Joe Morton (Silas Stone)
Who knew? The odds of this version of the Justice League film ever seeing the light of day after the Whedon monstrosity were slim to none and slim was leaving the building, but when launching the HBO Max app WB decided to throw some money to Zack Snyder and let him finish as much of his version of the Justice League movie as he could and released his version, completely uncut, for better or worse. For the most part it’s better, as despite having a FOUR HOUR run-time, this movie is actually quite good! At least compared to the previous version. It’s also much better than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and does more to set up an actual cinematic universe than anything they’ve released before or since. While they probably could have cut at least 30 minutes out of this version and not lost anything, the extra time gave for much better looks at Cyborg, Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Batman, and so drastically changed the version of Superman that it makes me even madder about the Whedon version just thinking about it.
Directed By: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill (Clark Kent/Superman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Russell Crowe (Jor-El), Michael Shannon (General Zod), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent), Laurence Fishburne (Perry White), Antje Traue (Faora-Ul)
The beginning of the ‘Snyderverse’, Man of Steel is one of the most divisive movies DC has released to date. The thing is, it’s actually a pretty good movie! The issue many have with it, I believe, is the core vision itself. They don’t quite jibe with the version of these characters Snyder puts on screen, and that’s totally fair. But knowing that this isn’t just a Superman film, it’s a ZACK SNYDER Superman film, I’m not sure what they were expecting. While the stuff with Pa Kent is… certainly on film… the stuff with Zod and the renegade Kryptonians is stunning. The score is great, the effects are great, and Henry Cavill is very well cast as Superman. It’s a bit overstuffed and long, but, again, it’s a Zack Snyder movie. Not sure what else you would expect.
Directed By: Sam Mendes
Starring: Tom Hanks (Michael Sullivan), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Annie Sullivan), Tyler Hoechlin (Michael Sullivan Jr), Paul Newman (John Rooney), Daniel Craig (Connor Rooney), Ciaran Hinds (Finn McGovern), Stanley Tucci (Frank Nitti), Jude Law (Maguire)
This one flew under the radar for a lot of people, and it’s really a shame. Tom Hanks sheds his ‘nice guy’ image and plays a man betrayed by those he thought friends and, along with his young son, is dead set on getting his revenge. Hanks is phenomenal, as always, and Paul Newman does a great job as John Rooney, the object of Michael Sullivan’s (Hanks) revenge, but the real attention grabber here is Jude Law as Maguire. He is intense and unsettling in all the best ways. I want to be as vague as possible to avoid spoilers for anyone that hasn’t seen this because I think you should really give it a shot.
Directed By: Tim Burton
Starring: Michael Keaton (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Jack Nicholson (Joker), Kim Basinger (Vicki Vale), Michael Gough (Alfred), Jack Palance (Grissom), Billy Dee Williams (Harvey Dent), Robert Wuhl (Alexander Knox), Tracey Walter (Bob)
While not a perfect film by any stretch, there is something about this film that makes it impossible to forget. The overall vision, from the sets to the costuming to the makeup to the lighting to the shot composition is all very effective. The cast, for the most part, is bringing their ‘A’ games, and it’s one hell of a cast to begin with. For many, Keaton’s Batman is THE Batman, Nicholson’s Joker is THE Joker, the batmobile is THE batmobile and the Danny Elfman theme is THE Batman theme. It’s honestly hard to argue any of these points too hard. Loses a few points for some of the silliness, a horribly forgettable and hardly used Jim Gordon, and for committing the cardinal sin of killing the freaking Joker (spoilers).
Directed By: Eric Radomski & Bruce Timm
Starring: Kevin Conroy (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Mark Hammill (Joker), Dana Delany (Andrea Beaumont), Stacy Keach (Phantasm, Carl Beaumont), Bob Hastings (Commissioner Gordon), Robert Costanzo (Detective Bullock)
Batman: The Animated Series was responsible for bringing an entire generation to the caped crusader and his cursed city, and it was so well made that it still (mostly) holds up today, THIRTY YEARS LATER (sweet lord I’m old). For the most part the same can be said about Mask of the Phantasm, the theatrically released feature film adaptation of the animated series. Bruce Wayne reconnects with an old flame as a new menace terrorizes the Gotham underworld. Who is the Phantasm? Can Batman stop them from running rampant in his city? What does the Joker think of all this? While the animation doesn’t hold up to today’s standards in a few places, for the most part it looks fantastic, and has a tremendous score and some of the best voice acting in the industry to elevate it. Required watching for fans of animation, Batman: The Animated Series, or Batman, in general.
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Liam Neeson (Ra’s Al Ghul), Michael Caine (Alfred), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Cillian Murphy (Dr. Crane/Scarecrow), Katie Holmes (Rachel Dawes), Gary Oldman (Jim Gordon), Rutger Hauer (Mr. Earle), Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone)
When the film equivalent of Andy Dick and Carrott Top- Batman & Robin- came and just shit all over the place, it felt like the Batman films were dead Forever. Thankfully, Christopher Nolan came along with this grounded, gritty reboot that focused on the psychology of the character and spent the first half of the movie showing Bruce Wayne, piece by piece, recreating himself into the Batman. With an excellent score by Hanz Zimmer and eschewing silly backlot sets for real locations, not to mention an absolutely loaded cast, this was the first movie to really take a shot at making the Batman and his supporting cast feel like real people in a real city, and it totally works. The story sags a little in the third act, but not enough to really hurt it. Murphy’s Scarecrow and Neeson’s Ra’s Al Ghul are excellent, and such a breath of fresh air for Batman film villains compared to everything that had come after Nicholson’s Joker.
Directed By: David Cronenberg
Starring: Viggo Mortensen (Tom Stall), Maria Bello (Edie Stall), Ed Harris (Carl Fogarty), William Hurt (Richie Cusack)
Another one that flew under the radar a bit, A History of Violence is a hell of a movie. Viggo’s Tom Stall is a family man just trying to live his life when he is recognized by some out of towners as a guy they’ve been looking for for quite a while now. Seems Tom looks like this guy that ripped off some really bad people a long time ago, and they’ve never stopped looking. Is Tom who they’re looking for? Or is he a victim of mistaken identity? How far will he go when his family is threatened? Who is Tom Stall, exactly? Viggo is great here, as always, as are Maria Bello and Ed Harris, but it’s William Hurt, in a fairly short amount of screen time, that steals the show, earning him an Academy Award nomination.
Directed By: James Gunn
Starring: Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Idris Elba (Bloodsport), John Cena (Peacemaker), Viola Davis (Amanda Waller), Joel Kinnaman (Col Flagg), Nathan Fillion (TDK), Jai Courtney (Captain Boomerang), Flula Borg (Javelin), Michael Rooker (Savant), Mayline Ng (Mongal), Pete Davidson (Blackguard), Sean Gunn (Weasel, Calendar Man), Daniela Melchior (Ratcatcher 2), Dee Bradley Baker (Sebastian- voice), David Dastmalchian (Polka-Dot Man), Sylvester Stallone (King Shark- voice), Peter Capaldi (Thinker)
A soft reboot/sequel to the Suicide Squad film a few years prior that Warner Bros pretends didn’t happen like they didn’t studio note it into the ground. This time out they gave James Gunn the keys to the car and he told them to get the fuck out of the way. For once in WB’s history, they listened, and the result is one of the most bonkers, entertaining movies DC has ever made. Unlike the previous version, this is a true Suicide Squad: almost nobody in the (rather large) cast makes it out without being horribly maimed and/or murdered. Huge, huge, huge bonus points for giving us an immensely likable King Shark, making Ratcatcher loveable (and more importantly, the rat Sebastian), and not only giving us fucking STARRO, but making it work! The real breakout of the film, it turns out, was John Cena’s Peacemaker, who went on to a very enjoyable and successful series on HBO MAX (by Gunn).
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Heath Ledger (Joker), Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent/Two-Face), Michael Caine (Alfred), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Rachel Dawes), Gary Oldman (Jim Gordon), Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow)
In the same year that the MCU launched with Iron Man, the Dark Knight might not only be the best comic book movie of that year, it might be the best movie that was released, period. An improvement over the (already excellent) previous installment- Batman Begins- in nearly every way, the Dark Knight is damn near a work of art. There are nits to pick, as there are with anything, but they are completely eclipsed by the absolute master class in acting being put on by Heath Ledger as the Joker, which causes everyone else involved to raise their game, as well (other than ‘Thank You for Smoking’ I can’t think of anything else I’ve seen Eckhart be this good in). The story furthers the points began in Begins, gives us deeper looks into Batman and Jim Gordon, a deeper look into how the criminals in Gotham operate, and centers on the alliance made by Batman, Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent to bring down the mob and how the mob’s decision to turn to a murderous psycho clown spells doom for everyone in some way or another. Absolutely essential watching.
Directed By: Matt Reeves
Starring: Robert Pattinson (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Andy Serkis (Alfred), Jeffrey Wright (Jim Gordon), Zoe Kravitz (Selina Kyle/Catwoman), Paul Dano (Edward Nash/Riddler), Colin Farrell (Penguin), John Turturro (Carmine Falcone)
Is it stupid to put this in front of the Dark Knight? It very well may be, and a year from now I might see this list and wish for a time machine to come back to this moment and punch myself, but right now I’ve got to say Matt Reeves’ ‘The Batman’ is my not only my favorite live action adaptation of the caped crusader, it’s my favorite DC movie, period. I love the atmosphere to death; the look and feel of Gotham is note perfect. The hopelessness pervades every scene, every character. This is a young Batman, early in his career, and it’s nice to see him making mistakes and approaching every situation like he can just punch the living shit out of it until it’s not a problem anymore (which he is really good at), but having to adapt and come to a new understanding of his mission, his city and his place in it by the end. The casting is, simply put, note perfect nearly the entire way down the cast list. It does an excellent job of setting up this new version of the Batman and his universe with tons of characters without getting bogged down. Pattinson is awesome as Batman, and Jeffrey Wright is equally awesome as Gordon, but it might be Collin Farrell’s Penguin that steal the show (if nothing else the makeup job is worthy of all of the awards). Very excited to see where they go from here (come on, Robin!).