R.I.P. Snyderverse, 2013-2023
Warner Bros. Discovery and DC Studios will be moving on from the so-called “Snyderverse,” a term I broadly apply to encompass all 12 WBD shared cinematic superhero films, since it’s all connected and built upon that foundation. Unless an unlikely miraculous licensing deal could be struck with Netflix, 2023 will apparently see the final four entries in the DCEU and Snyderverse. Before the final bell is rung, it’s time to update the countdown and ranking of all 12 DCEU movies from best to worst.
Whatever hope remained among fandom for the continuation of the existing DCEU in a direction that would include the original cast and plans for sequels ended with news that Wonder Woman 3 was effectively cancelled, Henry Cavill would not return as Superman and the character would be rebooted, and further significant changes are on the way in a new DC cinematic universe for the future. Additionally, unconfirmed rumors and hints point to the potential Jason Momoa might switch DC characters from Aquaman to Lobo.
There is an ongoing effort to convince Warner to license a narrow set of already-outlined and/or scripted film projects to Netflix, for that streamer and Zack Snyder’s The Stone Quarry production company to create exclusive Snyderverse continuation films, including two more Justice League movies. I endorsed a version of that idea, including that the films be animated to make it cheaper and to circumvent any concerns about conflict and competition among live-action films of the characters.
As mentioned earlier, I don’t merely apply the term “Snyderverse” strictly to the original few films and plans, those being Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League, plus the sequel JL projects and a few presumed “honorary members” of the Snyderverse like Ben Affleck’s cancelled solo Batman pic.
At this point, aside from some fan debates about the tonal changes and this or that project developed later, all of the DCEU movies to date are built upon the original foundation of films under Snyder’s original plans or a variation of those plans that still had his input, including an admittedly butchered version of Snyder’s Justice League (but they all generally still fit together even if you prefer to treat ZSJL as the canonical version, as I do). You can watch them straight through and any inconsistencies are minor enough not to notice or matter, and the fact is all but ZSJL are official canon.
So, this DCEU is now all the Snyderverse to me, more so now that it’s all ending and these distinctions become far less relevant or interesting. We’ve bickered and fought enough, I prefer to focus on what united us as fans and movie audiences. We have 12 current films and will have 16 when the year’s out. That’s a lot of DC movies in a single shared universe, and it will at least sort of wrap-up with The Flash (although ideally that pinnacle moment should be the final film released, in my opinion).
Whatever exists at any given time — past, present, or future — as an overarching cinematic collection of DC films might always be called the DCEU. It’s a broad and generic term, after all. Labeling the 2013-2023 DCEU “the Snyderverse” is fitting and helpful as a reference point.
That’s my pitch for switching to using “Snyderverse” as a designation for the current version of the DCEU that is set to expire at the end of this year, when Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom — the last film founded upon and continuing from the original shared cinematic world and plans — hits theaters for the Christmas holiday season. Seeing it through to the end means including those four films in my viewing, hoping they’re as good as they can be and give us some great final outings with this DCEU.
I’ve said before and I’ll say again, no hateful “fire James Gunn and Peter Safran” hashtag spamming or other similar attempts to mobilize angry messages at WBD and DC Studios demanding the removal of the newly hired co-CEOs, nor any further “restore the Snyderverse” hashtags, will move the needle — and the “fire them” demands specifically deserves to be denounced and then ignored.
Those extreme demands and efforts are perceived as merely loud but unrepresentative of broader mainstream sentiment or majority fan sentiment, rendering the negative campaigns irrelevant to the studio anymore. And the targeting of Gunn and Safran, complete with a retread of bogus accusations against Gunn spread by white nationalists and rightwing extremists targeting Gunn for his political views, is hostile and hateful and really degrades the reputation of fans in long-lasting ways.
The only hope for any more Snyderverse stories was a new approach by fans who rejected the negative campaigns and focused on ways the Snyderverse might be continued elsewhere — specifically, Netflix — in a fashion (I suggested anime) that didn’t interfere with WBD/DC Studio’s plans, and which was capable of overcoming the myriad obstacles to anyone even considering keeping it alive in its own pocket universe somewhere.
Alas, that effort was and remains a Hail Mary pass, and the divisions among fandom — and divisions within those divisions — have already undermined any chance for such an idea to be taken seriously, let alone to have a chance of success anymore. It was always a long shot anyway, and nobody was even certain Netflix and/or Snyder would be interested in the first place (Snyder “liking” a social media post is not confirmation, sadly). If that last-ditch effort fails, as appears all but certain, there’s no option left.
Some have insisted it’s ridiculous to suggest the impossible notion that a studio which is already licensing a bunch of its content could also license a narrow restricted set of three or four stories from among their superhero IP to another studio for TV streaming content, in order to pass along content they aren’t even going to ever use with the decisions and related reactions/demands for a hefty fee.
I mean, Marvel Studios somehow worked out a way to co-produce billion-dollar-grossing Spider-Man movies with Sony and repeatedly rewrite contractual licensing deals around the films and merchandising while splitting who can make what, but apparently WBD and DC Studios could and would never ever sell off four animated movie stories to Netflix, it’s just beyond their abilities or willingness, according to people who have very strong feelings about even discussing this publicly.
Many of the fans demanding Snyderverse content quickly rejected the notion of animated film continuation, despite it being the last realistic last-minute option, and those negative reactions were joined by press folks and fanboy podcasters and others chiming in to shout how impossible licensing would be, with very little traction for the idea in any circles. So, don’t count on it when even the supporters don’t support it.
Even if new future DC Studio plans wind up failing, that will take a few films to determine, and the first of those won’t hit screens for a few years yet. Meaning any hypothetical worst-case scenario of failure would be several years in the future, perhaps five or more, before a decision could be made to change plans yet again. From there, it would take a few more years to get some new set of films into production and release them.
I’m not endorsing or hoping for such failure at all, mind you — I’m quite confident Gunn and Safran will succeed and I’m rooting for their plans to work and be a major success. My point here is simply to explain why there is no chance the Snyderverse will somehow be revived some day based on a studio decision to “revert back to it” based on other future plans failing, as some fans seem to still think/hope is possible.
It would be at least seven or eight years before everything necessary could transpire to create the magical alternate reality where WBD releases a movie “restoring the Snyderverse” to the current iteration. Think how old the actors will be then, how much farther everyone involved will have moved on and into new projects and directions, and how much the public and fandom will have moved on from the memory and anticipation of anything from this current DCEU. That can’t realistically happen.
It’s now or never, and the only horse in the race is the licensing to Netflix idea, as unlikely and crazy-sounding as it is. Sadly, the consensus is fast approaching “never.”
With that in mind, I decided to rewatch and rank the entire Snyderverse DCEU to date.
A quick explanation before we start the countdown — I am including both Zack Snyder’s Justice League and the theatrical cut of Justice League in my ranking, since both use the same outline and most major beats in some version, both include Snyder’s scenes, and the theatrical cut gets extra consideration for inclusion because it was an official release. Also, to be frank, I wanted to include it for balancing the star rankings I assign to the films and for a better narrative tonal shift as the list goes from best to worst, so it wouldn’t seem too lopsided like “ranked all the way from good to great!”
However, I include extended home release versions of a couple of other films, because they represent the full vision as intended, while their theatrical counterparts are omitted from the ranking because they contain only footage found in the extended versions, without any alternate or exclusive footage of their own. In other words, the theatrical cuts aren’t different films, as is the case with Justice League, They’re just shorter versions of the extended original visions.
A final fair warning — I’m not using half-stars in the rankings, but obviously there are matters of degrees and some films with the same star ranking still reside either on the highest end (particularly the first couple of 3-star movies), middle, or lowest end of their particular star.
And now, without further ado, here is my countdown of all of the current Snyderverse DCEU movies, from best to worst!
Zack Snyder’s Justice League — 5 stars
The best pure DC superhero movie and the second Zack Snyder film I enthusiastically designate a masterpiece, the first being his 2009 Watchmen. A triumph of artistic vision and as absolute a refutation as possible of every decision made to second-guess and derail that vision. Every hero gets time in the spotlight to shine magnificently. Had the original DCEU theatrical first phase consisted of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Ultimate Edition, The Suicide Squad Extended Cut (or ideally the Ayer Cut), Wonder Woman, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League (maybe divided into a Part 1 for summer and Part 2 for Christmas?), and Aquaman, things today would undoubtably look quite different for the fate of the DCEU. Read my full review below.
Wonder Woman (2017) — 5 stars
Patty Jenkins delivered a near-perfect DCEU entry and one of the greatest superhero origin movies of all time. Gal Godot was proven to be perfect casting, and I cannot imagine a better true cinematic introduction and portrayal for the Amazon Warrior Princess. There has rarely been this ideal of a page-to-screen adaptation of a hero, capturing their essence purely and precisely, and building upon that a living, breathing legend come to life. As one of the early entries in the Snyderverse DCEU, this is what it looked like when the original plans were still in motion while allowing plenty of room for an filmmaker who so thoroughly and deeply understands a character to explore their personal vision as well. Read my full review below.
Batman v Superman: Ultimate Edition (2016) — 4 stars
The DCEU was properly introduced in Snyder’s first superhero team-up picture. While the theatrical cut received mixed reactions resulting in WB executive leadership panicking and disastrously mishandling the situation, the Ultimate Edition solved most perceived problems and explained things far better. It’s a thoughtful, compelling examination of what it means to be a hero in a world seemingly unwilling or unable (out of fear of being left brokenhearted) to aspire to the ideals a hero represents, and what redemption and renewal of faith look like. Triumphant and ambitious, with iconic portrayals in Ben Affleck’s Batman and the brief cameos by Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Read my full review below.
Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) — 4 stars
Jenkins’ grossly underappreciated but tremendously entertaining and heartfelt sequel. If the first Wonder Woman film took inspiration by Superman: The Movie, then Wonder Woman 1984 does likewise but is also (perhaps even more so) inspired by Superman II and a bit of Flash Gordon. It wears its comic book origins and mythical magical themes on its sleeve, with an even larger scale for its impressive action set pieces and resonant timely message than before. More background and depth to the Amazon culture, big eye-popping action set pieces, earnest and amusing, and even some loving nods to the great 1970s Wonder Woman TV series starring the incomparable Lynda Carter. Read my full review below.
Aquaman (2018) — 4 stars
Maybe I’m biased since it’s literally exactly the movie and casting I anticipated years earlier, but this was the ideal way to introduce Aquaman to mainstream audiences in his own solo adventure. James Wan crafted a glorious visual treat filled with action-adventure thrills, emotional journeys, and solid sense of humor. Jason Momoa was (as already noted) my own personal choice as the ideal Aquaman long before he got the job, and he proved to be everything I expected and more. Another example of leaning into the classic superhero movie template established to near-perfection in Superman: The Movie, it lived up to my early (and oft-mocked) prediction that it would reach $1 billion at the box office as crowd-pleasing spectacle. Read my full review below.
The Suicide Squad (2021) — 4 stars
James Gunn, who now serves as co-CEO of DC Studios alongside Peter Safran and who is currently scripting a reboot of the Superman franchise, stepped away from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy to take on another rag-tag team of lesser known characters for Warner’s DCEU (although this franchise was firmly established with Ayer’s earlier film). The result is an absurd, hyper-violent, hilarious, and brilliantly realized comic book movie that embraces the more fantastical aspects of the comics and surprises with an epic third act twist and final action sequence that lives up to the potential we want to see realized in our superhero cinema. Sadly, Covid and controversial day-and-date streaming release hamstrung its box office. Read my full review below.
Man of Steel (2013) — 3 stars
This first modern DCEU entry (originally intended as a standalone franchise before evolving into a launchpad for a shared superhero universe) is on the high end of 3 stars. A modern reimagining of the first two Richard Donner Superman films focused more on the hero’s doubts and search for purpose, it gets so much right and transcends a flawed script thanks to Zack Snyder’s deft direction and a remarkable cast including star Henry Cavill. It’s a film that has aged well, and many of my initial complaints faded as my admiration for what works increased. Read my full review below.
Shazam! (2019) — 3 stars
One of the best page-to-screen comic book adaptations in terms of tone, personality, and potential. David F. Sandberg’s film is a living, breathing incarnation of Geoff Johns’ definitive modernized take on the character and his world. Despite a limited budget and with a hero most of the mainstream public doesn’t recognize, the result is among the most rewatchable and family-friendly superhero films around. An outright comedy-action movie with unapologetically earnest and endearing themes about acceptance and family. Read my full review below.
Suicide Squad: Extended Cut (2016) — 3 stars
David Ayer’s film wound up considerably altered as part of the reactionary decisions of then-leadership’s misunderstandings and overreactions to the mixed reviews of Batman v Superman. As a result, the theatrical version of Suicide Squad was a somewhat of a mess, but still enjoyable and with plenty to admire. The Extended Cut, however, is even better and improves upon the theatrical cut immensely — albeit still not close enough to Ayer’s original version, which I do hope we get to see some day on HBO Max. Read my review of the theatrical version below.
Birds of Prey (2020) — 3 stars
Self-satirizing within its own unique world of magical realism, demonstrating what happens when DC antiheroes and villain-protagonists fall into Bugs Bunny’s askew Looney Toons world. It doesn’t go as far as its R rating would’ve allowed (and perhaps in retrospect a Harley-focused film should’ve been PG-13 to avoid excluding the droves of younger girls who are big fans), but gets good mileage from the character relationships and Harley’s whacky uber-violence and daring escapes. It hasn’t aged poorly, but has perhaps lost some of its original charm. Read my full review below.
Black Adam (2022) — 3 stars
Coverage started out dominated by news of Henry Cavill’s return and this being “one for the fans,” and ended up dominated by discourse about whether it made a profit or not. Too bad, because Jaume Collet-Serra made a good straightforward superhero team-up movie introducing the Justice Society and showcasing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s superhero-movie physicality (if not enough of Johnson’s sense of comedic timing and self-depreciation, which would’ve really boosted the film considerably). It released during Covid without an at-home screener, so I didn’t review upon release.
Justice League (2017) — 2 stars
Upon first viewing, I feared a hodgepodge disaster might be in store. Instead, I got the live-action equivalent of a Super Friends cartoon, a makeshift assembly of new (often incongruent) scenes and cheap VFX hung on stripped-down skeletal remains Snyder’s original footage. It suffers from too many immature jokes, weak CGI, and the loss of Ray Fisher’s Cyborg arc that originally drove the story. A half-Snyder live-action superhero cartoon is still pretty watchable, but having seen Zack Snyder’s Justice League this one is obsolete and doesn’t hold up well. Read my full review below.
And there you have it, dear readers, my new countdown and ranking of the entire DCEU from best to worst.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods unleashes on March 17th. The Flash races into theaters June 16th. Blue Beetle will land in cinemas August 18th. And Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom looks to rule the holidays with a December 25th bow.
I’ll be updating my rankings to include the final four Snyderverse DCEU entries, and I might include the streaming series Peacemaker in the rankings, and any other hypothetical potential DCEU spinoff shows if any of them survive and manifest over the next year or so.
I’ll keep you updated on the DCEU’s fate and DC Studio’s upcoming plans as they are announced, and of course some speculation and discussion about other DC projects including Matt Reeves’ The Batman sequel and spinoff series The Penguin and Arkham Asylum (as I’m referring to it until an official title is announced). So stay tuned and be sure to check back again soon, dear readers!