The last 10 years have seen a marked rise in the popularity of comic book blockbusters, but the truth of the matter is that great movies based on DC Comics properties have been coming out for decades. It was all the way back in the 1970s that audiences experienced cinema that made them feel like they were flying alongside Superman, and many great films have been released since.
We will soon see a very exciting new title become a part of that legacy with the forthcoming release of writer/director Todd Phillips’ JOKER, which is riding high on a wave of positive buzz following premieres at some of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. But the movie’s arrival introduces an interesting question: What are the 10 best theatrically released features based on DC Comics? Every fan has their own rankings, but here’s how we see things.
10. V for Vendetta
V FOR VENDETTA is definitely an atypical DC Comics movie (as will be apparent as you continue reading), but it’s inspired by the works of Alan Moore and David Lloyd and is a fantastic thriller about taking down fascistic powers. The action is spectacular, and both Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving — who never removes his face-concealing mask — deliver excellent performances.
9. Batman Returns
Director Tim Burton didn’t exactly stay close to the comics with BATMAN RETURNS, but what he did do is deliver some of the most iconic adaptations of classic characters. Not only is Michael Keaton once again fantastic as the Caped Crusader, but Danny DeVito delivers an unforgettable performance as the disgusting Oswald Cobblepot aka Penguin, and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle aka Catwoman is one of the most beloved performances in the superhero genre.
As alluded to above, Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN is the film that really kicked off the existence of superheroes on the big screen, released in theatres in 1978. Christopher Reeve's versions of both the Man of Steel and Clark Kent have made an everlasting impact on our perception of the character, and even more than 40 years later, its of-the-era effects look fantastic. It was a total game-changer, much in the way JOKER may be.
7. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
There is actually a wonderful legacy of animated DC Comics movies, including THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE and TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES, but the best of them all is BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM. An extension of the popular “Batman: The Animated Series,” the feature hit theatres in 1993 and exists as one of the Dark Knight’s greatest big screen adventures, with the hero hunting down a violent vigilante that is killing Gotham City’s crime bosses.
It was long said that it would be impossible for a film to fully capture the scope and depth of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ legendary comic “Watchmen,” but director Zack Snyder delivered the best adaptation we’re ever going to see with his 2008 blockbuster. In addition to being absolutely gorgeous, it is just as complex and fascinating as its source material, setting up an alternate universe where the world is on the brink of nuclear annihilation and the most famous god-like being has gone missing. It’s a film that trusts comic book movie audiences with headier material, much like JOKER.
It was just a few months ago that David F. Sandberg’s SHAZAM! hit the big screen, but it can already be easily regarded as one of the best DC Comics adaptations we’ve seen. Not only is it delightfully silly, with Zachary Levi giving an outrageously fun performance, but it also manages to be emotionally poignant and say something about the meaning of family.
Director Tim Burton completely reinvented the pop culture image of Batman with his legendary 1989 film, and the movie will long be remembered as one of the most important blockbusters of all time. It was here, of course, that we first got to see Michael Keaton’s version of the Caped Crusader in action, but fans will also long remember BATMAN for its performance by Jack Nicholson as the Joker, a turn that helped define the character in people’s minds for decades.
3. Batman Begins
While Batman had an excellent stint on the big screen in the late 1980s and early 1990s, things didn’t go so well for the character in the years that followed due to some disappointing sequels. Fortunately, director Christopher Nolan totally changed things by making BATMAN BEGINS in 2005 and for the first time ever told the big screen origin story of the eponymous dark avenger.
2. Wonder Woman
It took many, many years for a WONDER WOMAN movie to get made, with different versions of the character’s story entering development for decades, but director Patty Jenkins truly nailed it with the solo film she made in 2017. Gal Gadot immediately established herself as a big screen heroine that generations are going to idolize, and the movie is simply a brilliantly entertaining adventure, following Princess Diana of Themyscira as she travels from her all-woman homeworld to a World War I-ravaged Europe.
1. The Dark Knight
As noted, Christopher Nolan blew the minds of comic book fans everywhere when he made a blockbuster out of Batman’s origin story, but the filmmaker truly took things to another level with THE DARK KNIGHT — and in so doing, he created what is unquestionably the best DC Comics adaptation we’ve ever seen. It’s a stunningly crafted crime thriller that not only features a brilliant turn by Christian Bale as a haunted Bruce Wayne/Batman, but also an Oscar®-winning performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker (and audiences are beyond excited to see how Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the same character compares).
Where will JOKER ultimately fall in these rankings? We’ll find out when the film hits theatres everywhere on October 4.