Few franchises have failed to find their footing quite like the DCEU. Whether it was external forces like actors getting tied up in controversy or internal changes of creative direction every couple of years, Warner Bros.’ super-powered efforts have never been able to get the traction (at least critically) that other names in the business have.
And now nearly ten years into the DCEU, the winds of change are blowing yet again. Since WB merged with Discovery and David Zaslav took over as CEO, a realignment of the DC strategy has been high on the to-do list.
With these latest changes comes news that WB Discovery is looking for a new guiding voice to hopefully shepherd in an era of prosperity for the franchise, something that will likely require a reset of the established canon.
As Zaslav and co.’s finger looms over the reboot switch, one should celebrate the good that has come in the last nine-and-a-bit years of DC’s big-screen storytelling. So, from Birds of Prey to Zack Snyder’s Justice League, from Superman’s first flight to the Joker’s last laugh, here are the best moments from the DCEU thus far!
15.) The Amusement Mile (Birds of Prey)
Starting off the list is the sequence that finished one of the DCEU’s best-reviewed movies, Birds of Prey. The battle at Amusement Mile is some of the most fun in this franchise and perfectly showcases why Margot Robbie’s first solo adventure as Harley Quinn had to be R-rated.
The entire sequence features plenty of bloody fun as Harley and the Birds of Prey team up to take down wave after wave of goons. It all happens with the delightfully colorful backdrop of Gotham City’s Amusement Mile, soundtracked by Heart’s “Barracuda”. The entire fight plays out more like a Jackie Chan martial arts romp than the typical superhero CGI finale and was the perfect way to end an overall pretty fun movie.
14.) The Trench Dive (Aquaman)
Next up is the visually stunning moment known as Aquaman‘s Trench Dive. This small nugget of gold comes as Jason Mamoa’s Arthur Currie and Amber Heard’s Mera try to fight off the Trench, a terrifying breed of monster from the ocean’s darkest depths who had their own DC movie planned at one point. After lighting a flare and being overwhelmed by the blood-thirsty foes, Arthur and Mera dive into the ocean, launching into one of the most painterly moments of the DCEU.
As the pair plunge into the waves, the camera punches way out, with the lightning above the water and the red light of flare below being the only two things lighting the scene. This creates a jaw-dropping effect where all the viewer is seeing is Mamoa’s Aquaman drifting ever downward while surrounded by a swarm of the Trench. This is a small snippet of a nearly two-and-a-half-hour underwater epic, but it’s the one scene that many keep coming back to.
13.) The Knightmare Stinger (Snyder Cut)
Coming in the “Epilogue” chapter of Zack Snyder’s four-hour Justice League cut is the Knightmare sequence. While there had been teases of this glimpse of the future before, this was the first time that fans got fully immersed in what Snyder’s vision for a potential Knightmare story would have looked like down the line. The entire scene takes place outside a dusty decrepit city with Ben Affleck’s Batman leading a team that includes Amber Heard’s Mera, Ezra Miller’s Flash, and Jared Leto’s Joker.
Leto’s clown prince of crime was the kicker here, as the actor had not been seen in the role since 2016’s Suicide Squad. Joker reveals to the audience that Affleck’s Caped Crusader let Lois Lane die before the team is confronted by a visibly angry, and ready to kill, Superman. It’s a super fan-servicey sequence and is a little out there, but so is the rest of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and, for the most part, this fan service hits.
12.) Harley Escapes (The Suicide Squad)
James Gunn and Harley Quinn were a match made in heaven and that fact is no more evident than in Harley’s escape in The Suicide Squad. This action sequence is so definitively Harley Quinn; it’s fun, disturbing, and over-the-top in the absolute best way.
After being captured and separated from the rest of the Squad, Robbie’s Harley Quinn goes on a killing spree. She breaks necks with her thighs, does a gunpowder pirouette, and ends it off with a flower power machine gun joy ride. This scene is so fun while capturing the essence of Quinn as a character and Gunn’s style as a filmmaker.
11.) Barry Jumps Back in Time (Batman v Superman)
Barry Allen jumping back in time to talk to Bruce Wayne in Batman v Superman was one of the first indications of a larger DCEU plan and had fans vibrating back in 2016. The sequence is short and sweet but was one of the many teases in Dawn of Justice for what Zack Snyder had in store with his plan for the franchise.
It happens about midway through Batman v Superman when Bruce has dozed off while sitting at the Bat Computer. It is then that Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen, aka the Flash, tears a hole in reality in front of the DC playboy pleading, “Find us, Bruce! You have to find us!” This sets Affleck’s character on the path to eventually forming the Justice League, something DC fans were itching to see on-screen for years.
10.) Storming the Beach (The Suicide Squad)
The moments on this list are sort of divided into two camps. There is the worldbuilding bucket and the eye-catching action scene bucket. This one falls firmly into the latter. Serving as the opening of 2021’s The Suicide Squad, the storming of the beach/the first mission is some of the most fun one can have in the DCEU.
Leading into James Gunn’s DC debut there was much talk about the extensive cast in The Suicide Squad. Whether it was Nathan Fillion, Pete Davidson, or Michael Rooker, fans were amped to see all these actors take on these various DC roles. Well, only a small handful of them actually make it past the opening mission. Brutal death after brutal death, audiences were shown that no one is safe in this, making the beachfront battle one of the most shocking DCEU moments of all time and thus one of the best.
9.) Shazam Tests his Powers (Shazam!)
Back in 2019, Shazam! asked the question, “What would a kid do if they got superpowers?” And in thrilling ’80s feel-good-comedy fashion, it delivered answers. That is why Shazam testing his powers is one of the best moments of the DCEU. As young Billy Batson and friend Freddy Freeman begin to realize just what had happened with Batson’s newly acquired super-powered persona, they, as any child of the 2010s would, record it all and post it to YouTube.
This entire sequence, set to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” is a joy. It features everything from charging people’s phones with god-like lightning powers to attempting to leap a building in a Superman-like fashion and crashing into the 33rd floor in the process. It’s the superpower training montage fans have seen over and over again in comic book movies, but done in a new and original way that shines in its execution.
8.) Ratcatcher 2 vs Starro (The Suicide Squad)
There are few moments in movie history that have the ability to make one smile, have their stomach turn, and move them to tears all at the same time. Ratcatcher’s final stand against Starro in The Suicide Squad does exactly that. Coming out of James Gunn’s bloody 2021 romp, Daniela Melchior’s Ratcatcher 2 was a fan favorite, and this is why. As a final stand against the kaiju-like villain, Ratcatcher summons hoards of rats. This results in an emotional swell of redemption for a character who, like the other members of the Suicide Squad, are not traditional movie heroes by any means.
After seeing a few people eaten alive by the swarm of rodents, audiences are treated to a flashback of the original Ratcatcher (Ratcatcher 2’s father) telling his daughter that “rats are the lowliest and most despised creatures, my love. If they have a purpose, so do we.” It’s a sequence that may look a little silly from the outside, but in the context of the film is one of the rawest and most emotional moments in the DCEU; not to mention being scored to perfection.
7.) Flash Uses the Speed Force (Snyder Cut)
Next up is the scene that took the prize for last year’s Oscar “Fan Cheer Moment.” It’s the Flash using the Speed Force in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Happening at the climax of the film, Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen is forced to break his one rule and go faster than the speed of light in order to turn back time after it seems the Justice League has failed and all hope is lost.
He does this, muttering to himself along the way, telling his dad that “[he] was one of them,” he was one of the Justice League. It’s this Peter Parker-esque kid that ends up saving the universe (at least for now), doing so with visually stunning effects all around him and a ripping Junkie XL score blaring in the background. In a franchise that has had a lot of misses, this was certainly not one of them.
6.) The Trinity Unites (Batman v Superman)
While maybe not as effective as the spin-around shot in 2012’s The Avengers, this was that moment for DC super-fans. Coming at the tail end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the trio of Henry Cavill’s Superman, Ben Affleck’s Batman, and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman teamed up to take on the monstrous Doomsday.
The three have not been seen together on-screen much since then, but at the time, this was DC’s Avengers moment. This was supposed to be the beginning of something that fans of DC comics had been waiting for since the inception of the Justice League, and that is why it ranks so high on this list.
5.) Welcome to the Planet (Man of Steel)
Another moment that was supposed to be the beginning of something special was the “Welcome to the Planet” scene at the end of Man of Steel. The final minutes of Henry Cavill’s debut as Superman perfectly encapsulate what makes the character so special. The sequence depicts Cavill’s Kryptonian reminiscing about his adopted father, Jonathan Kent, before finally taking up refuge on his own amongst the people of Earth.
It is the Metropolis portion of the scene that is so incredibly special. The tone captured as Clark Kent enters the Daily Planet for the very first time is one that has seldom been seen in the franchise since. After Clark tours the office, under the sound of him telling his mother in Kansas about finding a job where he can “keep his ear to the ground,” he is greeted by Amy Adams’ Lois Lane. Lane gives him a handshake and puts the bow on everything by saying, “Welcome to the Planet,” a brilliant double entendre that was the perfect way to end the first movie in the DCEU.
4.) The Warehouse Fight (Batman v Superman)
No best DCEU moments list would be complete without what some might call the greatest Batman fight scene of all time. Yes, this Batman kills, and it is pretty evident in this sequence, but the whole warehouse fight from Batman v Superman is the most brutal and most engaging the Dark Knight has ever been fighting on-screen.
From beginning to end this whole fight is thrilling. Ben Affleck’s Batman zips around, breaking arms, lodging Batarangs into goons, and literally slamming people through walls. It might not have the emotional weight that some of these other moments do, but this is fight choreography done flawlessly. No CGI gimmicks, or ten-story walking starfish, just the Dark Knight, his fists, and a whole lot of force.
3.) No Man’s Land (Wonder Woman)
Starting off the top three here is the No Man’s Land set piece from Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. Everyone loves a superhero debut, but this one was special. As Gal Gadot’s Amazonian and her team of soldiers are pinned down in the trenches of France, she decided she needs to do something, and thus goosebumps were induced.
Diana climbs up over the edge of the trench in full Wonder Woman regalia as the music swells, and the world looks upon her for the very first time. This is an action scene with emotional weight behind it as Gadot’s hero slowly pushes forward, throwing aside anything the enemy sends her way. In-world this was Wonder Woman’s coming out party and it plays beautifully even more than five years later.
2.) First Flight (Man of Steel)
It is hard to beat the first flight from Man of Steel. It was a scene that was so good Zack Snyder basically did it again in his re-cut of Justice League. This sequence spotlights Henry Cavill’s Superman as he tested his powers for the first time as an adult. After being told all his life to hide his gifts, this is the moment he overcomes that.
Upon emerging from an ancient Kryptonian ship stuck in the ice of the North Pole, Cavill’s hero attempts to take flight for the first time as the words of his Kryptonian father Jor-EL (played by Russel Crowe) echo through his head. As the Hans Zimmer score begins to build, Kal-El finally gets it, bounding off the ground and into the sky above. Director Zack Snyder takes the viewer on a ride through Earth’s atmosphere as the film’s hero finally realizes why he is special and comes to terms with his gifts. It’s exhilarating to watch and that is why it comes in at number two.
1.) The Ending (Justice League)
And last but certainly not least is the “Up in the sky” ending from the original 2017 cut of Justice League. Yes, the best DCEU moment up to this point comes from what might be one of the most lauded movies of all time. But it is in these final three or four minutes that WB showed just a glimmer that they had finally figured out what the DCEU should be.
This franchise thrives when it focuses on the symbols of hope that these superheroes can be. Sure, it is not the rip-rollicking good time that something like the MCU is, but it doesn’t need to be the dark and gritty affair that it has been all too often as well.
As evidenced in this scene, Amy Adams’ Lois Lane narrates over a montage of the film’s heroes, all serving as symbols for the newly-saved world. Fans get a glimpse at Barry (the Flash) talking to his dad in prison, Aquaman diving amongst the waves, and Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince with Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne setting up Justice League headquarters.
All this wraps up as Lois touches on the topic of hope once again, saying “these heroes were here the whole time. To remind us that hope is real. That you can see it. All you have to do is look up in the sky.” Her monologue comes to a close as Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent rips open his trench coat and shoots into the air as Superman.
In conclusion, it is this moment that perfectly distills what the DCEU can and should be. It’s that despite all the added baggage and misses here and there, the potential for these stories is endless. All it takes is a little hope.
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