The best order to watch the DC extended universe

Photo via Warner Bros

From Wonder Woman to Shazam!

The DC extended universe, as the company’s collection of films is known, got off to a relatively rough start. Batman v Superman, featuring the first team-up between two of comic book’s greatest heroes, struggled to find an audience. But DC is reportedly de-emphasizing the connections between its movies, hoping future entries will stand on their own. Now that we’re seven movies into the DCEU, it has developed into a surprisingly nuanced world. If you’re looking for the DC movies timeline or the DC movies in order, look no further.

If the future of the DCEU is disconnected solo movies, that’s fine, but we can still enjoy the remnants of what came before. Here’s the ideal watch order for the DC extended universe. Rather than basing this watch order on when the films came out, we’ve based it on the timeline of the universe itself. That means watching chronologically and filling in a few gaps where needed.

DC movies timeline: The DC extended universe in order  

1) Wonder Woman (2017)

DC movies order - Wonder Woman Furious Trailer/YouTube

Despite being the third film released in the DCEU, Wonder Woman is the best starting place for this world. No film in the series better sums up the intersection of magic, science, and human ingenuity that defines the DC universe. Join Diana Prince on her first adventure outside the lost island of Themyscira as she seeks to stop the God of War Ares from destroying civilization. Teaming up with a crack group of Allied soldiers, she storms the front lines of World War I, fighting mad scientists and an evil god along the way. It’s strange it took so long to get a Wonder Woman movie in theaters, but this was worth the wait.  

2) Wonder Woman 1984

Director Patty Jenkins returns to DCEU in the mysterious Wonder Woman 1984. Currently, only a scant few details are available about the film. We know it’s set in the ’80s, features the return of Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor, and will introduce Kristen Wiig as the villainous Cheetah. Beyond that, the production remains largely under wraps. All Jenkins will say is that the film isn’t a sequel, even if it continues Wonder Woman’s story. We’ll have to wait and see June 5, 2020, to find out more.

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3) Man of Steel (2013) 

DC movies order - man of steel 4K HDR Movie Clips

After decades of Superman being a symbol of hope and justice, it can be a little jarring to see Man of Steel for the first time. Treated as its own story, Man of Steel is a surprisingly deep movie. It explores the idea of what it means to be a hero by giving us an untested, imperfect Superman and putting him in a world that fears him. While its super battles at the end uncomfortably bring to mind memories of 9/11, Man of Steel is a bold reimagining of the hero.

4) Suicide Squad (2016) 

dceu movies order Warner Bros.

Man of Steel introduced the world at large to the idea of superpowered beings, but in Suicide Squad, we learn the government has been collecting supers for some time. Viewing them as weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. government gathers a group of its most dangerous captives to form a crack black ops squad. If the missions don’t kill them, they get time off their prison sentences. If they run, they die. Suicide Squad was hampered by last-minute edits and reshoots, which render large parts of it incomprehensible. That’s why you might be surprised by how fun it is. Margot Robbie is electrifying as Harley Quinn, while the rest of the cast, including Jared Leto and Will Smith, has a blast chewing scenery. I’ve seen the film five times and still don’t entirely understand what’s going on. But it sets up Batman v Superman perfectly, establishing the government’s fear of supers and how much the world changed after the battle of Metropolis.

5) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

DC movies order - Batman v Superman Furious Trailer/YouTube

Finally, after all these years, fans get to see the two biggest heroes of all time slug it out. If you come in looking for an action-packed blockbuster, you might be surprised to discover how talky it is. Once you adjust to the pacing, you’ll find plenty of fights, but they’re often buried deep in the film’s world-building. When these titans finally trade blows, it doesn’t disappoint—but good lord, did it need to take two hours to get there?

While the pacing needs work, it’s cool to see Snyder create a superhero universe where things matter. If a city is destroyed, that has an impact on the world and society around it. Those are interesting ideas. We just wish the film was a bigger success since some of its most interesting ideas were setups for later DCEU movies. Want to know why Flash appears to Batman in a dream? You’ll never know because the mixed box office results of BVS led to dramatic changes in the Justice League movie later on. Thanks to those changes, BVS is packed with little moments that promise something later but will never be delivered on.

6) Justice League (2017) 

dc movies in order DC Comics

Justice League is a deeply flawed movie. It’s perhaps one of the greatest examples of what happens when a studio quickly tries to course-correct after giving an artist complete power. Originally, Justice League was going to set up the post-apocalyptic Knightmare world seen in Batman’s dream during BVS. When that film struggled, the script was rewritten, resulting in the mishmash of styles you see on the screen.

Director Zack Snyder leaving the film early, only to be replaced by Joss Whedon, led to further stylistic quirks. The result is a movie that feels disconnected from the rest of the DCEU, full of villains we’ve never met and don’t know why we’re supposed to care about. So should you even watch Justice League? Heck yeah. Ezra Miller is incredible as The Flash, and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman makes it clear why his solo film would end up such a hit.

7) Aquaman  (2018) 

DC movies order - Aquaman Warner Bros.

If you believe the universe rights itself after a great wrong, it makes a lot of sense that Aquaman followed Justice League. Set immediately after Justice League, we find Aquaman as a minor celebrity who helped save the world. Thankfully, that’s all that’s left of Justice League. We pick up with our hero seeking to stop a war between Atlantis and the surface world. After the sadness of BVS and Justice League, it’s nice to be having fun again. Aquaman shows what the DCEU is capable of when it stops trying to be serious and focuses on its characters. Plus, it leaves all of its bad guys alive, meaning we’ll have familiar faces for the inevitable sequel.

8) Shazam! (2019) 

dc movies in order Shazam!/Warner Bros.

Shazam! marks the beginning of the new DCEU, where the films focus less on connecting than telling individual stories. That doesn’t mean, however, that it isn’t part of the DCEU. Shazam’s human form, Billy Batson, is a teenager obsessed with superheroes. He even has a Batarang on his desk. That’s where the connections end, however, with nary another DC hero interrupting the story. It’s nice to see DC learn its stories are rich enough to stand on there own without needing to be stuffed together.

We hope it’s a long time before the DC heroes meet face to face again. Marvel waited until after five solo movies had established its universe before giving us The Avengers. It allowed stories time to grow and the studio space to set up future plots. DC arguably has a better slate of characters than Marvel. With the right timing and care, its extended universe should take over the cinematic world. The foundation is already in place. 

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DC movies in order: Further consideration

Batman Returns (1992)

Before anyone cries foul, let’s be clear: This movie isn’t part of the DCEU. However, since the DCEU starts us off with an old Batman who is at the end of his career, there are lots of gaps to fill in. Oddly, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns fills that blank perfectly. It stars a younger Batman, comfortable with his gear but still largely hated and feared by Gotham City. Some still believe he’s a myth. More importantly, Burton’s Batman kills folks, so he matches with the world Zack Snyder built in Batman v Superman. We’d go so far as to include the original 1989 Batman in this list if it didn’t star the Joker. But even that feels like it works since the Joker in Suicide Squad is so firmly removed from the Joker in Batman. Is it so hard to believe that 20 years after the Bat killed the Joker, an enterprising lunatic might have picked up the purple jacket? We don’t think so. Both films should be unofficial canon.

John-Michael Bond

John-Michael Bond

John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adopter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also also find him regularly performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.