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Debate Club: The 5 best DCEU movies, from Aquaman to Wonder Woman
Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.
OK, so maybe the DC Extended Universe movies haven't exactly set the world on fire like the Marvel Cinematic Universe has. But then again, they're just getting started, and the last few have shown definite improvements.
So, today, we look at the top five DC Extended Universe movies so far. Hopefully, we'll have some movies knocking out the bottom few on this list in the next couple of years.
05. Man of Steel (2013)
The awful Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was so thudding and oppressive — and ultimately so outside the bounds of who Superman is supposed to be — that it can be easy to forget that the original Man of Steel had some positives.
And it did! Kevin Costner is a terrific Pa Kent, Russell Crowe has his moments in the Brando role, and Amy Adams is smart at making the most of every scene she’s in. Also, this one doesn’t have Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. That helps, too.
Okay… we're stretching, we admit it.
04. Shazam! (2019)
One of the major complaints about the early DC Extended Universe movies was that they were too dark, too foreboding, too… serious. That's not a problem with the aggressively silly Shazam!, which, as a superhero film, is pretty flimsy... but as a big, goofy, pumped-up version of Big, it works just fine.
Zachary Levi always assumed that the studio wanted a bigger actor than him to play the role, but he's the perfect choice: He really does seem like a little kid who can't believe he has superpowers now. The movie is frivolous, but it's a fun frivolous.
03. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
Could you blame this film's disappointing box office on the confusing title? Maybe. Just don't pin the fault on Margot Robbie, who's great as Harley Quinn, returning to the character she first played in the negligible Suicide Squad.
Robbie is center stage in Birds of Prey, where her character is dealing with a breakup with the Joker — who needs Jared Leto's loser, anyway? — and meeting some new friends. Those pals end up being the Birds of Prey (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and Rosie Perez), who arguably aren't as dynamic as Harley.
Still, from director Cathy Yan to the female-centric cast, the movie illustrates that Warner Bros. is serious about making the DCEU a little more gender-balanced. But if they make a sequel, maybe put Harley's name first? Couldn't hurt.
02. Aquaman (2018)
Listen, a superhero who can communicate with fish probably shouldn't take himself too seriously. Hence, the agreeably daft Aquaman, which sees no problem with Dolph Lundgren (!) playing a long-haired, utterly ridiculous King Nereus.
Aquaman announced the star power of Jason Momoa, who superbly embodies the movie's hey-bro surfer energy and treats superhero cinema as one totally rad adventure. Nicole Kidman as the ultra-regal Queen of Atlantis. Patrick Wilson as a hunky, bad-guy King of Atlantis. Willem Dafoe as Aquaman's noble mentor. So many distinguished actors happily took the studio's money to play underwater gods! Let the Dark Knight brood — Aquaman rules with a goofy grin.
01. Wonder Woman (2017)
There was a time, not that long ago, when this movie felt like a huge commercial gamble. Would audiences accept... a female superhero?
Actually, yes. Wonder Woman wasn't just a big hit, it was the highest-grossing comic book movie of 2017, giving the DCEU the jump-start like no post-Nolan DC film has been able to. Gal Gadot didn't just evoke Diana's heroism, she was able to suggest what's so inspiring about the character: her belief that people should aspire to be their best selves.
When Justice League came out later that same year, nobody cared about any of the other superheroes — we just wanted more Wonder Woman. This summer, we'll get our wish: Wonder Woman 1984 opens in June.
Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.