Over the decades there have been a plethora of movie franchises, canons, and continuities based on the DC Universe that are separate from one another; here is the definitive guide on how to watch each and every one. Alongside Marvel Comics, DC Comics has been a staple of the superhero genre for the better part of a century which has led to plenty of adaptations as the film and TV industry has progressed. However, unlike the adaptations of Marvel Comics, it can be argued that DC characters have been shown in movies a lot more commonly over a more significant number of different franchises.
For instance, one medium in which DC Comics characters have often flourished over any other comic adaptations is animation, with characters like Batman, Superman, and the other Justice League heroes often finding success in animated films. When concerning specifically live-action though, the sheer amount of franchises centered on Gotham’s Dark Knight, Krypton’s Man of Tomorrow, or the countless other DC superheroes and villains has led to a more confusing timeline of installments. With that in mind, here is every single live-action DC movie ever made – discounting upcoming DC movies – along with information about what canon, continuity, and franchise each belongs to for a definitive guide to DC Comics on film.
Christopher Reeve’s Superman Movie Universe
While several live-action DC movies existed before this franchise, Christopher Reeve’s Superman series was arguably the first mainstream, immensely popular DC Comics iteration on the big screen. Consisting of four movies centered on Reeve’s Clark Kent, a spin-off involving Supergirl, and a legacy sequel released decades later that ignored the events of all but the first two films, the Superman franchise was one of, if not the first true success story of a DC character on film. 1978’s Superman was directed by Richard Donner and allows this series to hold the argument that it was a DC franchise to peak with the first movie.
The sequel received similar praise as the first, though the third and fourth entries were a marked step down in quality. Given that the Supergirl spin-off was even more critically panned than Superman III, the franchise paused for 19 years as the Superhero genre moved on. However, Superman Returns revisited the timeline and acted as a sequel to Superman and Superman II that ignored the events of the other three Reeve’s universe movies. However, despite generally positive reception, Superman Returns failed to find enough financial success to warrant future sequels.
1978’s Superman retold the Son of Krypton’s classic origin story on the big screen, showing Kal-El aka Clark Kent living his dual life as a Metropolis reporter and the hero known as Superman. When the villainous Lex Luthor threatens Earth with nuclear missiles, only Superman has the power to stop him.
Lex Luthor returns in the sequel to Superman, teaming up with General Zod and two other exiled Kryptonians in a bid to defeat Superman.
Superman III was a notable departure from DC Comics stories, focusing on Clark’s clashes with the original character “Bubba” Webster. Webster seeks to destroy Superman for the latter’s interventions in his company in a bid to become the sole proprietor of the world’s oil supply.
A spin-off of the Reeve’s movies, Supergirl sees the titular character facing off against the evil sorceress known as Selena to save Argo City, an isolated Kryptonian society.
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace
The critically panned Superman IV: The Quest for Peace sees the return of Superman’s arch-enemy Lex Luthor. Luthor creates an evil clone of Superman named Nuclear Man, forcing Kal-El to confront his nemesis once and for all.
Ignoring the events of Superman III and Superman IV, Superman Returns is a pseudo-sequel to Superman II. After Luthor returns from prison and concocts a plan to create a new landmass on Earth using Kryptonian technology, Superman is called into action to stop him once again.
Tim Burton’s Batman Movie Universe
Like Reeve’s Superman franchise marked the first truly successful film iteration of the Man of Steel, Tim Burton’s Batman movies were the same for the Caped Crusader of DC. While the franchise began with Burton at the helm, it eventually moved beyond him to diminishing returns, with arguments often being made over whether the latter two installments are even canon to the first two films. After appearing in the first two films in the series, Michael Keaton was replaced by Val Kilmer as Batman for the third film, before George Clooney then replaced Kilmer for Batman & Robin.
The different tone, style, and feel of the first two movies have led many to discount the two subsequent installments as canon. That being said, the four are often counted as the same franchise despite growing so drastically different as time went on. Regardless of the change of lead actor, Burton’s Batman franchise began in 1989 and ended less than a decade later with the critically-panned Batman & Robin, with the latter film’s overwhelming failures proving how not to adapt Batman on film.
Batman depicts Bruce Wayne’s early years of his war on crime as the titular masked vigilante. The film shows Keaton’s Batman going up against Jack Nicholson’s Joker, the Caped Crusader’s arch-enemy.
The sequel to Batman saw the titular vigilante teaming up with Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman against Oswald Cobblepot aka the Penguin and wealthy industrialist Max Shreck.
Batman Forever depicts Batman villains like The Riddler and Harvey Two-Face who seek to rule Gotham City. The film introduces Dick Grayson to Burton’s Batman universe as Batman begins to mentor him in crime fighting.
Batman & Robin
Following their newfound partnership in the prior film, Batman & Robin centers on the titular duo attempting to stop Mr. Freeze’s plans for world domination. Struggling to keep their partnership together, Batman and his sidekick are tested by the villains of Gotham one final time.
Christopher Nolan’s Batman Universe
After the failure of Batman & Robin, Warner Bros. looked to reboot Batman on film. This came in the form of Christopher Nolan’s version of Gotham’s Caped Crusader, a more grounded, realistic, gritty take on the character. Widely regarded as one of the best superhero trilogies of all time, Nolan’s Dark Knight universe is still considered one of the best iterations of a DC character in film history. Batman Begins tells the origin story of Batman from DC Comics which was left out of Burton’s movies and helped to construct a long-standing blueprint of superhero origin stories on film.
The Dark Knight was released three years later and quickly became regarded as the pinnacle of superhero cinema that remains to this day. With an Oscar-winning performance from Heath Ledger as the Joker, The Dark Knight is still the high bar many superhero franchises attempt to eclipse over a decade after its release. The Dark Knight Rises then ended Nolan’s trilogy on a satisfying if uneven note. Expected great performances, Nolan’s grounded take on Batman, and Hans Zimmer’s excellent score help elevate The Dark Knight Rises inferior plot – at least in comparison to its predecessor – for a solid third installment in one of the greatest superhero trilogies ever made.
Batman Begins details Bruce Wayne’s life from his childhood tragedies to training with the League of Shadows to become the titular vigilante who stands watch over Gotham City. When an old enemy resurfaces in Gotham, Batman faces his first major test as his city’s watchful guardian.
The Dark Knight
After defeating Ra’s Al Ghul in the first movie, a criminal leader known only as Joker rises to take his place. This leads Bruce Wayne on his most difficult journey yet, facing off against the Clown Prince of Crime in a bid to keep his loved ones and Gotham City safe from a reign of terror.
The Dark Knight Returns
After the events of The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises depicts Gotham City eight years after Joker’s attacks, with Batman having retired. When a new threat linked to the League of Shadows invades Gotham, Bruce comes out of retirement and dons the cape and cowl once more to fight the evil Bane alongside Catwoman.
The DC Extended Universe
With Nolan ending his trilogy satisfyingly and the overwhelming success of Marvel Studios’ MCU taking Hollywood by storm, Warner Bros. began production on the DC Extended Universe. In an attempt to emulate Marvel’s success by creating a shared universe of films, the DCEU saw a new continuity established from all previous DC film franchises. With the creative mind of Zack Snyder at the helm, at least at first, the franchise came to life in 2013 with Man of Steel seeing Henry Cavill take over from Brandon Routh as the DCEU’s Superman.
The DCEU then rushed into its shared-universe setup, with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice making for an overstuffed set-up of Justice League. The tumultuous production of Justice League resulted in two warring tones and styles marring the DCEU’s future projects all the way up until the announcement of the DCU under James Gunn. With that said, here is every DCEU movie in order of release, discounting the extenuating circumstances of Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
Man of Steel
Marking a new take on Superman’s origin story, the film depicts Clark Kent’s early life as a Kryptonian orphan growing up in Kansas. When General Zod escapes the Phantom Zone and looks to use Clark’s DNA to rebuild Krypton threatening Earth in the process, Kal-El becomes the protector of humanity known as the Man of Steel.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Believing Superman a threat to mankind after his death-ridden battle with Zod in Man of Steel, the second DCEU installment shows Bruce Wayne’s personal quest for revenge against Superman while darker forces are at work that forge the foundations of the Justice League.
A group of DC villains are recruited by Amanda Waller as an expendable hit squad, sent into Midway City to defeat the evil Enchantress in return for reduced prison sentences.
Wonder Woman centers on Diana Prince’s upbringing in Themyscira as the daughter of Zeus before rising to become the first protector of mankind from the will of Ares, the god of war, during World War I.
After the death of Superman, Bruce Wayne recruits a team of meta-humans from across the DCEU to oppose the invading Steppenwolf, an agent of the intergalactic conqueror Darkseid, who wishes to reshape Earth into his homeworld using ancient powers known as Motherboxes.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Zack Snyder’s original vision for Justice League involves Bruce Wayne’s building of the team, only this time to prevent Steppenwolf from conquering Earth in the name of Darkseid so that the latter can find the Anti-Life Equation and rule the cosmos.
Set after Justice League, Aquaman sees Arthur Curry return to his home of Atlantis to reclaim his rightful throne from the clutches of King Orm who wishes to unite the seven underwater kingdoms to wage war on the surface world.
Shazam! follows Billy Batson, a young foster child chosen by the titular wizard to become his champion, who needs to stop Dr. Thaddeus Sivana and the Seven Deadly Sins from taking over Earth.
Birds of Prey
After breaking up from the Joker in Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey follows Harley Quinn teaming up with Huntress, Black Canary, and a Gotham Police detective to destroy Roman Sionis’ criminal empire in protection of a young pickpocket named Cassandra Cain.
Wonder Woman 1984
Set between Wonder Woman and Batman v Superman, Wonder Woman 1984 sees Diana Prince come into conflict with Maxwell Lord and Barabra Minerva/Cheetah amid the Cold War while reckoning with the mysterious revival of Steve Trevor, her lover in the Great War.
The Suicide Squad
A pseudo-sequel to Suicide Squad, The Suicide Squad sees Amanda Waller build a new version of Task Force X. The team is sent to the island of Corto Maltese to destroy all traces of the extraterrestrial known as Starro to cover up the U.S. Government’s illicit activities involving experimentation on the alien.
Black Adam focuses on the titular sorcerer being freed from his magical imprisonment who is forced into conflict with a criminal organization named Intergang whose leader seeks to use the mythical Crown of Sabbac to rule Adam’s home nation of Kahndaq.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods
Shazam! Fury of the Gods focuses on the Shazamily continuing to protect Philadelphia after the defeat of Thaddeus Sivana. The family comes into conflict with the Daughters of Atlas who seek to strip the wizards of their powers due to their ancestral history.
Still feeling the effects of the murder of his mother and his father’s wrongful imprisonment for the crime, an adult Barry Allen travels back in time to right the traumas of his past. In doing so, Barry messes with the timeline of the DCEU and embarks on a multiversal adventure to set the timeline back to how it was.
Blue Beetle focuses on a new hero named Jaime Reyes, a Latino-American from Palmera City who is chosen as the host of an ancient alien known as the Scarab. Jaime becomes Blue Beetle, the legacy hero of Ted Kord, and vows to put a stop to Victoria Kord’s attempts to use the Scarab to emulate her father’s superhero abilities.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom
A sequel to Aquaman, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom will see Arthur Curry attempt to protect Atlantis from an ancient power while facing off against old enemies like Black Manta.
The DC Universe is an interesting update on DC canon in film in that it is simultaneously a soft reboot of the DCEU while introducing its own continuity. Some characters from the DCEU will continue in Gunn’s DCU, while some will be recast like Superman and Batman. Until more information is given by Gunn, the DCU is being regarded as a fresh new universe for DC films with some connection to the DCEU.
James Gunn announced the first slate of DCU projects in January 2023, falling under the title of Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters. Sporting a mix of feature films, live-action TV shows, animated shows, and comic-book or video game tie-ins, Gods and Monsters will mark the beginning of the DCU. While more information is yet to be revealed about certain projects of the DCU’s Chapter 1, here are all the live-action theatrical projects announced thus far.
Set to be the first true installment in Gunn’s DCU, Superman: Legacy will focus on a new version of the son of Krypton as he balances his heroic and personal lives. David Corenswet will take over the role from Henry Cavill and the film will be the kickstarter of Gunn’s plans for Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters.
Based on the obscure team from DC Comics, The Authority will be a DCU film set within the continuity of Superman: Legacy. With no release date or casting announcements made as of the time of writing, little is known about The Authority.
The Brave and the Bold
The Brave and the Bold will introduce the DCU’s Batman and be based on the comic run of the same name and introduce the DCU’s Bat family. Like The Authority, no casting or release information has been revealed about Gunn’s version of Gotham’s Dark Knight.
Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow
Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow will highlight the dichotomy between the DCU’s Superman and his cousin, who was raised on a small rock of the destroyed Krypton and became jaded as a result.
One of the few DCU projects with a director attached, James Mangold’s Swamp Thing will be a gothic-horror exploration of the titular character’s origins in the new DC franchise.
Matt Reeves’ The Batman Universe
When the DCEU began to see diminishing returns, a new Batman was created in its own continuity. Directed by Matt Reeves, the first film was released in 2022 and has since been labeled an Elseworlds property of Gunn’s DCU. This standalone continuity of Batman will have a sequel, as well as three TV series spin-offs centering on Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin, Arkham Asylum, and the Gotham City Police Department.
Starring Robert Pattinson as a new version of Batman, The Batman centered on year one of the Caped Crusader’s career. Early into his vigilante lifestyle, Bruce Wayne looks to end the reign of terror in Gotham by a criminal known only as the Riddler.
The Batman – Part II
The sequel to The Batman will be released in 2025 and see Reeves return as director. With Pattinson returning as Batman, The Batman – Part II will expand on the Batman-centric world established in the first movie.
DC Stand-Alone Projects
Aside from the various continuities, franchises, and shared universes of DC’s film past, there have been several standalone movies released based on DC Comics characters. While some may be loosely connected to other franchises or intended to be the start of their own, these movies all fit squarely into the bracket of standalone films. As such, they can be watched in any order regardless of continuity.
Superman and the Mole Men
The first feature film based on any DC Comics character was Superman and the Mole Men. The film starred George Reeves in the title role and was a suitably low-budget, VHS iteration of the Man of Steel.
The first theatrical film based on Batman was 1966’s version starring Adam West. A continuation of the TV series of the same name, Batman featured the titular guardian’s attempts at protecting Gotham from returning enemies like Joker, Penguin, and the Riddler alongside his sidekick Robin.
Horror director Wes Craven took a stab at superhero filmmaking in 1982 with Swamp Thing. The film told the origin of the DC character but was suitably horror-infused by Craven with little to no connections to any other DC continuity.
The Return of Swamp Thing
A sequel to Swamp Thing, The Return of Swamp Thing saw Jim Wynorski replace Craven as director. Striking a lighter tone than its predecessor, the film marks the last iteration of the titular character on film before Mangold’s DCU installment.
Initially set to be a spin-off of a Superman movie that did not happen, Steel starred Shaquille O’Neal in the title role. Essentially creating an origin story for a DC character that did not have one, Steel centered on the titular hero facing off against criminal organizations who mass-produce weapons across the world.
Catwoman drastically alters the story of the film’s main DC character, following Patience Phillips who discovers a conspiracy within the fashion world that causes health issues before being killed and revived by ancient Egyptian cats that grant her the powers of Catwoman.
Constantine stars Keanu Reeves as the titular warlock detective from DC Comics who can communicate with half-angels and half-demons in their true forms, halfway between heaven and hell.
Watchmen was Zack Snyder’s second attempt at a comic book movie after 300 with the comic series of the same name being loosely connected to DC. Since then, Watchmen characters have been officially folded into DC continuity, making 2009’s Watchmen very much a DC property based on retired superheroes who reunited to investigate the death of one of their own and uncover a sinister conspiracy.
Much like Steel, Catwoman, and Constantine, Jonah Hex was a DC film with little to no resemblance to its comic book counterpart. The negative reviews and box office failure of the film saw it essentially become dead on arrival.
Green Lantern was DC’s attempt at creating a franchise based on the titular intergalactic police force. With Ryan Reynold’s in the starring role of Hal Jordan, Green Lantern shows Jordan confronting Parralax, a being who threatens the peace of the galaxy.
Since dubbed another Elseworlds property of the DCU, Joker focused on a new origin story for the titular Batman villain. Set in its own continuity, Todd Phillips’ Joker focuses on Arthur Fleck, a failed clown and aspiring stand-up comic whose descent into mental illness starts a violent uprising against the rich citizens of a decaying Gotham City.
Joker: Folie ? Deux
The sequel to Joker, Joker: Folie ? Deux is a musical installment centered on Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker and Lady Gaga’s Harley Quinn. Another Elseworlds property, Joker: Folie ? Deux is set to reinvent what a film in the DC Universe can look and feel like given its drastic change of genre.
Key Release Dates
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom
Joker: Folie a Deux
The Batman – Part II
DC’s extensive movie history is laid bare. Read More