DC Comics has cultivated one of the greatest collections of characters and stories in pop culture, thanks in part to a company history that spans almost ninety years. In 2013, DC Studios, under Warner Bros., released Man of Steel, officially launching their shared universe, putting Zack Snyder at the helm. Comprised of the shared universe of DC movies that were released between 2013 and 2023, the DCEU is currently wrapping up; The Flash and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom are its final films.
From the word go, the DCEU was at a disadvantage. It took on a darker tone than the MCU, it was tied too directly to the unpopular New 52 era of DC Comics, and it didn’t take the time to build a shared universe. Almost every DCEU movie that should have been a hit turned into either a box office or critical failure. Though the franchise did have some genuine successes, it needed to adapt better stories from the start to shake the MCU’s hold on the superhero movie market.
10 Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
“Public Enemies” was one of the best arcs in the 2003 Superman/Batman series. It took place in a near future where President Lex Luthor dispatched a team of heroes to bring Superman down. This could have provided a great platform to introduce both heroes to the DCEU, especially since they teamed up against Luthor anyway.
One of the most disappointing aspects of the DCEU was that fans never got a standard Batman/Superman team-up at all; their first meeting was almost purely adversarial. A simpler, two-hour-long story of the Caped Crusader and Man of Steel trying to bring President Luthor to justice could have been a brilliant buddy cop/superhero movie.
9 Flash & Green Lantern: The Brave And The Bold
Though it isn’t an official part of the DCEU, 2011’s Green Lantern was actually DC’s first attempt at creating a shared universe that could compete with the MCU. However, the movie was a box office flop and its mistakes are well known. Rather than starting so cosmic, Green Lantern could have debuted in a street-level story alongside The Flash.
In comics, Flash and Green Lantern actually share one of the oldest friendships, and introducing Hal Jordan sometime around the Justice League movie could have been a success. Their shared 1999 miniseries could have given the DCEU its first double team-up movie, as well as redeeming Hal in moviegoers’ eyes.
8 The Dark Knight Returns
Superhero movies sometimes amalgamate several comic book stories into one. Batman v Superman borrowed from The Dark Knight Returns and “Death of Superman,” combining two sagas that were never slightly related in DC Comics. They should have been separate movies from the start.
If DC had pursued a more faithful adaptation of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s iconic miniseries, it could have been a massive blockbuster success. This could have even been a good way to introduce a more seasoned, older Batman into the DCEU, which was the theme underlying Snyder’s vision. Certain elements could have been swapped out, but the triumphant return of a retired Batman would have changed the DCEU.
7 New 52 Justice League
For all the New 52’s faults, the era’s Justice League run kicked off with a very enjoyable bang that gave the JLA a terrific origin story. Rather than create a slow build to a single encounter with Darkseid, Geoff Johns’ series began with the evil god’s initial incursion on Earth and the team formed to beat him back.
Beginning with the franchise’s biggest, baddest villain could have given fans a taste of the promise of Snyder’s Justice League plans. The 2017 cut of Justice League was underwhelming, and Steppenwolf was a lackluster villain. DC could have had its cake and eaten it if it had just followed its New 52 plan to a tee.
Most DCEU movies had a clear comic-related inspiration for their story. Black Adam, however, had no direct source material, beyond borrowing a little bit from stories like “Black Reign.” Rather than simply dropping the JSA into the heart of a Black Adam movie, the Justice Society should have been given their own movie.
The Justice Society of America has some of the best stories in comics. Arcs like “The Next Age,” “Stealing Thunder” and even some of its Golden Age adventures make for good entry points into the team’s mythology. The JSA’s links to the past could have even made for a Steven Spielberg-style World War II superhero movie. It also could have shaken off the perception that the franchise was too dark and edgy by giving fans lighthearted characters like Liberty Belle and Johnny Quick.
5 Marv Wolfman And George Perez’s New Teen Titans
Neither DC nor Marvel has had great success adapting younger superheroes to the screen. However, the Teen Titans are probably the most successful kid team in the history of comics, only rivaled by Marvel’s New Mutants.
The New Teen Titans could have been the source for a colorful, energetic superhero movie aimed at younger fans who were alienated by Snyder’s endlessly dark tone and older heroes. Introducing the Teen Titans also could have worked as a way of testing the waters on future young heroes, like Blue Beetle, or even placing Robin in a Batman movie.
4 Rebirth Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman 1984 was by no means the DCEU’s biggest flop, at least not when Covid-19’s stifling effect on cinema is factored in, but it quickly became one of the franchise’s most disliked entries. The movie felt less like a story inspired by the comics and more like an attempt to capitalize on ’80s nostalgia.
The Rebirth era of Wonder Woman could have served as a template for bringing Diana Prince into a modern setting, delving deeper into modernity juxtaposed against ancient mythology. Its story also would have done a better job of integrating the hero into the modern events of the DCEU, allowing for some heroic team-ups.
3 Justice League Dark
Film audiences love a good magical movie. The combination of light horror, dark fantasy, and magic rolled into a superhero movie could have captivated a range of moviegoers, pulling from the audiences for Hellboy, Harry Potter, and Blade in equal measure. The arc that saw the Justice League Dark travel to Myrra could have been a great adventure story, too.
In the hands of someone like Guillermo Del Toro, a Justice League Dark movie could have proved to audiences that DC was more versatile than Marvel. It could have also capitalized on the success of 2017’s Wonder Woman, letting the popular heroine lead her own team against threats like the Upside Down Man.
2 Batman: Hush
Perhaps the strangest decision made during the DCEU was the franchise’s aversion to a solo Batman movie, despite the success of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. In Hush, DC had a modern hit that could have easily translated into a Batman detective movie and worked as an introduction to his DCEU stories, as well as his villains.
While “The Court of Owls” could have been a solid beginning detective movie too, that was still a fresh story when the DCEU began, whereas Hush already had a lot of mainstream recognition. A grounded tale about Bruce Wayne solving the mystery of a masked killer was successful in The Batman but Hush could have ushered it into the DCEU.
1 Batman: The Man Who Laughs
It’s no secret that, together, Batman and Joker are DC’s surest path to success, as the billion-dollar success of The Dark Knight proved. One of the most hated aspects of the DCEU was its strange, edge-lord Joker. If the DCEU had implemented The Man Who Laughs‘ story instead, it would have given them the Joker audiences were craving.
Batman: The Man Who Laughs was written as a modern retelling of the first time Batman encountered The Joker, who waged a war on Gotham’s chaos. DC had more than enough time to let The Dark Knight simmer and they could have easily delivered readers this dark crime story to introduce Batfleck’s rivalry with the Clown Prince of Crime.
While the DCEU referenced popular stories like The Dark Knight Returns, adapting comics like Public Enemies could have saved the franchise. Read More