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The Top Ten Best DC Comics Movies

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I've always been more of a DC comics guy than a Marvel one. A lot of it has to do with growing up in the 1980's and early 1990's when DC was putting out very good movies with Christopher Reeve as Superman and Michael Keaton as Batman. My favorite TV show as a kid was Batman with Adam West which would have reruns air on TV each day right when I used to get home from elementary school. I started reading the comics and just gravitated to DC. Those were the characters I was more familiar with.

The news came down yesterday that James Gunn and Peter Safran were going to run DC's film, television and animation efforts. Kenjac covered it here:

I thought it might be a good time to take a look back and go over the great DC movies of the past. Marvel has obviously surpassed them in popularity but DC has almost become underrated when you go back and look at the great movies that has come from them. Marvel has some very good movies like both Spider-Man series and Iron Man but I'd take the very best DC movies over anything I've seen from Marvel.

Here are the Top 10 DC Comics movies:

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10. Wonder Woman

This is the only non-Batman or Superman hero on the list and it's also the only movie with a connection to the lousy Zack Snyder Era. I don't think the screenplay is that good but it's so well cast with Gal Gadot and Chris Pine that the movie can overcome any story deficiencies. I also think Patty Jenkins did a really nice job directing this. It's a very impressive movie visually when you think about all the different settings this movie exists in. Jenkins' career is very unusual. Her first film was Monster which came out in 2003 and won the Best Actress Oscar for Charlize Theron.  Due to a couple stalled projects and taking time off to have a baby, this was the next movie she directed and it came out 14 years after Monster. Now she is in line to direct a third Wonder Woman movie as well as a Star Wars movie over the next couple of years.

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9. Batman Returns

You'll see the debate every year about whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie (it is) but this movie is never brought up. Neither is Lethal Weapon or Rocky IV but they all are in my eyes.  This also has the best collection of villains in a superhero movie. Michelle Pfeiffer is perfect as Catwoman and Danny DeVito embraces being disgusting as Penguin. You can tell how much fun he's having being this hideous character, it's foreshadowing a bit to what he does on the great It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. 

The forgotten bad guy in this movie is Christopher Walken who plays ruthless businessman Max Schrek. It's everything you want in a Walken performance. He's weird, oddly likable and yet totally believable. The rest of the movie struggles at times fitting all of this into a 126 minute running time. It's not surprising that director Tim Burton moved on from Batman after this movie. Batman himself is barely in it. You can tell Burton was much more interested in telling the stories of the other characters.

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8. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Batman: The Animated Series was such a great cartoon. I can't call it the best animation on television in the 1990's because of The Simpsons but it's pretty great. If I have a kid one day and they want to watch a cartoon, this would be my first go-to. The movie is slightly darker than the television version and tells an interesting story about a time when a younger Batman really considered walking away. 

This was not a big hit at all when it came out in late 1993 and made under $6 million dollars at the box office. Mask of the Phantasm was originally going to be a direct-to-video release so it was never really marketed properly because it was so late when they sent it to theaters instead. It was also a very crowded movie landscape the last week of 1993 with Mrs. Doubtfire, The Pelican Brief, Tombstone and Grumpy Old Men all in theaters.

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7. The Dark Knight Rises

The Bane Voice might be my favorite voice. I can't do a very good impression of it but if I could, I would do it all the time. This is a pretty clunky movie that I really enjoy in spite of itself. Batman Begins is a better movie and I appreciate it more but I'll be damned if this movie isn't more fun. The Tom Hardy as Bane stuff is so outrageous, Anne Hathaway does a really nice job and by the third movie, you have such a connection with the characters played by Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Gary Oldman. The less said about the plot reach with Marion Cotillard, the better.

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6. Joker

The criticisms of Joker that it's a knock-off of Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy are not unfair ones. I also didn't love how young Bruce Wayne is shoe-horned in as well. I still think this is an excellent movie that is genuinely unsettling. As far as being a Scorsese retread, I think it's obvious the director Todd Phillips was implicitly going for that same kind of feel. Robert De Niro was not cast in this by accident. By the way, I think De Niro was quite good in this. When he is interviewing Joker at the end, you can see look in his eyes when he realizes he has lost control of the situation.

This is a great Joker performance but Heath Ledger's is the most iconic. Ledger was obviously brilliant and what he's doing in The Dark Knight is more unique. It's also not the fairest comparison because Phoenix has to carry this entire movie. I'm very interested in what the sequel to Joker will be exactly. It's being described as musical with Lady Gaga. Todd Phillips hasn't been great with sequels in the past (The Hangover series) but I'll be very excited to check this out.

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5. Superman II

This should have been a disaster. You had a great director (Richard Donner) fired during shooting and replaced by Richard Lester, who was most famous for directing A Hard Day's Night nearly 20 years earlier. Meddling producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind infuriated the cast by firing Donner. Despite all of this, this is a very good movie that tackles the personas of Clark Kent/Superman better than any movie before or since.

Henry Cavill and Brandon Routh both did fine jobs as Superman. I actually liked Routh more but that's probably because he's doing a Christopher Reeve impression for much of the movie. The Zack Snyder version of Superman wasn't as focused on who Clark Kent is and why he's doing this. That's why having Reeve matched with Donner and Lester here was so great. The humanity of this alien is what makes this character so great.

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4. Batman Begins

The second The Dark Knight came out, this became an under appreciated movie. I know it is with me. It's a tremendous table setter and does a very good job adding new elements to an origin story everyone was already tired of seeing. Other than the Katie Holmes casting, this is a pretty flawless movie for what it is aiming to do. Christopher Nolan who not only directed Batman Begins but also co-wrote it with David S. Goyer. This is a movie you can tell was really well thought-out and cared about the characters and took them seriously. This was a pretty big change from the previous Batman movie which might have been the worst superhero movie ever: Batman & Robin.

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3. Batman

A pretty bizarre movie (even by Tim Burton standards), it holds up really well with one exception. It's hard not to want to compare Jack Nicholson as the Joker to Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix but that's somewhat unfair. This is a very different version of Batman. Nicholson is great and got a Golden Globe nomination but comparing his Joker performance to the Jokers played by Ledger and Phoenix is like comparing Tom Glavine to Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson. All are great but even in greatness there can be differences in quality. If you had told me when Batman came out that there would be two better Jokers than Nicholson I wouldn't have believed it.

As I mentioned earlier, this does age better than you might expect. A big reason why is the unique Gotham City that Tim Burton and production designer Anton Furst created. With the entire movie shot on a soundstage, it gives off the same dream/nightmare-like setting that you see in Eyes Wide Shot. You feel like you are somewhere you've never been before. Burton's casting of Michael Keaton was genius. Between this gothic setting and a wild Nicholson performance, Keaton grounds the movie but does so while never losing what makes him slightly off kilter. All this and some underrated Prince songs throughout make for a totally unique and fantastic movie experience.

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2. The Dark Knight

This is the moment where everyone reading this disagrees with me. I'll admit this and what I have as number 1 might as well be 1 and 1A. These are both among my thirty favorite movies of all-time. I know for most people, this is absolute peak of superhero movies. That is a totally valid opinion to have.

Everyone talks about Heath Ledger when this movie comes up and with good reason but this has other great themes throughout. What does it mean to be a hero, martyr or vigilante? Should public perception affect our actions (this is touched on in Batman as well but more coldly)? Can and how do you stop chaos? It even touches on the morality of big brother or someone constantly watching us. 

This is my favorite Christopher Nolan movie. It also is one of his least mind-bending. Sometimes like in Momento or Inception work so well. Others like Interstellar just get weighted down by everything Nolan needs to have operate just for the basic story to work. Maybe Ledger's Joker was enough mental twists in the character to satisfy him. 

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1. Superman

Without a doubt, this is the greatest superhero epic of all time. It's such a sweeping story that brings you from Krypton to Smallville to Metropolis. It's the greatest example of director Richard Donner's greatness. Krypton feels like this emotionless and serene place and compare that to the Metropolis that is basically 1978 Manhattan and it all feels earned. Despite covering so much ground, it doesn't feel rushed and no expense was spared. When you consider what the Salkinds eventually did with this franchise both from firing Donner to doing sequels on the cheap, it's a miracle this movie is as great as it is.

Gene Hackman is such a great villain that has been overshadowed by Christopher Reeve in this movie. Hackman and Ned Beatty are genuinely funny together. The supporting cast is outstanding led by Margot Kidder (who is just as good in Superman II) as Lois Lane and featuring very good performances by Beatty, Jackie Cooper (as Perry White) and Glenn Ford (as Pa Kent). Even though you don't see him for almost the first hour of this movie, the best thing about this movie is Reeve. 

It's not necessarily him as Superman which is fine but his Clark Kent is so fantastic. The awkwardness he has as Clark mixed with the confidence as Superman is totally believable (which is hard to do when the movie is about an alien name Kal-El). When those lives collide (like when he is with Lois), Reeve plays it perfectly. Even before his horrible horseback riding accident, his career never quite played out as well as it probably should haven't post-Superman. Deathtrap and Somewhere In Time are both good movies but they came out in the very early 80's. But by the time you get to the end of the decade, he's in (and wrote) the awful Superman IV: The Quest For Peace as well as the lousy Burt Reynolds movie Switching Channels. Right before the accident, he had started to appear as a supporting actor in better movies like Remains of the Day and Speechless. Maybe if he had more time to separate himself from the part of Superman, he might have had a great second act.

I know it's old. If you haven't seen it and you love superhero movies, it's really worth seeing. It's way before CGI so they relied on miniatures and practical effects which hold up so much better than outdated technology you see in movies that are 25 years younger than this movie. I grew up with this and will admit I may like it too much. If people like The Dark Knight more, I get it. But I don't know how anyone who loves comic book movies wouldn't really like this movie.

If that recommendation isn't enough, you do also get a very strange and disaffected Marlon Brando performance as Jor-El on Krypton which leads to this exchange with Reeve and David Letterman.

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