The 5 DC Movies that Broke the Movie Industry in the 2010s

In the 2000s, characters like Spider-Man and the Watchmen finally got their chance in the spotlight. But it was the summer of 2008 that paved the way for the superhero-heavy decade which followed. Since Iron Man and The Dark Knight, comic book movies have overtaken the box office — and popular culture — in impossible ways. So let’s take a look at the five DC movies that broke the movie industry over the last 10 years.

Joaquin Phoenix at the 'Joker' premiere
Joaquin Phoenix at the ‘Joker’ premiere | Rich Fury/Getty Images

5. ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ (2016)

When Man of Steel director Zack Snyder announced that DC Comics’ two biggest heroes were facing off, fans were understandably psyched. In the end though, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice wasn’t exactly the home run anyone hoped it would be. But its flaws began to reveal DC’s game plan.

Rather than building a shared universe bit by bit, DC launched full-on into it. In hindsight, that approached fell short. However, Batman v Superman proved DC wasn’t interested in following a predetermined blueprint but taking ambitious risks. No wonder Snyder’s film retains a cult following.

4. ‘Aquaman’ (2018)

Remember how Entourage used to joke about James Cameron’s fictional Aquaman movie? Back then, it seemed like such a ludicrous notion for anyone to make a film about the king of Atlantis. And yet, director James Wan (The Conjuring) turned Arthur Curry’s story into a $1 billion hit.

Jason Momoa’s charisma — and, ahem, abs — no doubt contributed to audience interest. But Wan and his team also leaned into the over-the-top aspects of Aquaman lore. The result is a film that is both tongue-in-cheek and visually bonkers. Aquaman is an unlikely hit, but we want more ASAP.

3. ‘Justice League’ (2017)

What works for one comic book-based cinematic universe doesn’t work for another. Such was the lesson DC, Warner Bros., and the movie business as a whole learned here. Nevertheless, the DC Extended Universe rushed into its signature team and suffered its first major box office disappointment.

Uniting Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the rest should have been a slam dunk. Yet, Snyder’s decision to step away from production due to a personal tragedy and the studio’s impatience at finishing the film doomed Justice League. Of course, fans are still hoping to see Snyder’s cut someday.

2. ‘Wonder Woman’ (2017)

Before director Patty Jenkins stepped behind the camera on Wonder Woman, female superhero movies were known for being terrible. Catwoman, Supergirl, and Elektra were all notorious bombs. So Warner Bros. had an opportunity to finally course-correct, and boy, did they.

Following her standout role in Batman v Superman, Gal Gadot became the big-screen female superhero the world needed. The film’s careful handling of Wonder Woman and her world, awe-inspiring action, and delicate themes struck a chord with audiences. Bring on Wonder Woman 1984.

1. ‘Joker’ (2019)

Aquaman and Shazam! proved the DCEU had finally found its footing. Then Joker came and really threw the whole industry for a loop. Director Todd Phillips’ dark, disturbing character study courted controversy from the jump. After all, Warner Bros. was hesitant to loan out DC Comics’ most famous supervillain to the man behind The Hangover trilogy. But torn between no Joker and Jared Leto’s ill-received Suicide Squad version, the studio gambled on Phillips’ midbudget, R-rated vision.

For its trouble, Warner Bros. has been rewarded with some of the best reviews of the year, more than $1 billion in box office receipts, and solid chances at some Oscar wins. Of course, Joker owes a lot of its success to Joaquin Phoenix’s committed performance. But the film overall taught DC Films that audiences were hungry for something new and different in their comic book movies. In response, Warner Bros. is completely rethinking its strategy going forward. While a Joker sequel is likely, we have yet to see just how much Phillips’ film will be responsible for whatever comes next.