10 DC Comics Films That Critics Loved
The reviews for Suicide Squad are in, and they're fairly terrible, so naturally it's time for the conspiracy theorists to come out of the woodwork. Complaints from this select group of DC fans range from bias against comic book movies in general, to bias against "dark" comic book movies, to bias against Zack Snyder, to bias against DC movies specifically, to "paid Marvel shills" that are apparently employed by news outlets around the country. Now, this group of fans is so upset by Suicide Squad's Tomatometer rating (33% as of this writing), in conjunction with Batman v Superman's (27%) and Man of Steel's (55%), that they're actually petitioning to shut down Rotten Tomatoes.
But let's get something straight here: critics aren't Marvel shills, nor do they hate comic book movies on principle (which are contradictory complaints in themselves). The accusation that critics are paid off by Marvel is ridiculous for so many reasons, not the least of which because Warner Bros. has equally deep pockets. And it's not just the MCU that critics love; in the last decade alone, critics fell in love with movies like Deadpool (which, granted, is still Marvel Comics), 300, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Sin City, Dredd, etc. So the only remaining complaint is a bias against DC movies specifically, but if you look at the history of DC Comics adaptations, this accusation holds no water. Critics have panned a few DC movies, but they've also loved a large proportion of them, and their ratings tend to line up with the fans' opinions of the films over time. Here are ten DC movies that were beloved by critics when they came out (and yes, they all got a "certified fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes):
Tomatometer: 65% Swamp Thing
It's hard to argue that there's a bias against Zack Snyder when you consider Watchmen. Snyder's slavishly faithful adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel was appreciated by fans and critics alike, and mostly for the same reasons. Both the reviews and the general fan consensus in recent years agree that Snyder's devotion to and reverence for the comic is apparent, and was both the movie's greatest asset and greatest flaw. So it got exactly the rating it should have: a mixed, ambivalent one that reflects the "love-it-or-hate-it," controversial nature of the movie.
I know, we were surprised too, but critics actually had a genuine appreciation for Wes Craven's Swamp Thing, citing the visual style and the emotional script as the highlights among all the bad effects. Roger Ebert himself gave it three out of four stars, saying that it "fall[s] somewhere between buried treasures and guilty pleasures" and that "there's beauty in this movie, if you know where to look for it."
Here's the crazy thing: Superman Returns is not a good movie. In fact, it probably deserved a lower rating than it received from critics, who enjoyed Bryan Singer's visual style and the "emotional complexity." (I guess portraying Superman as a deadbeat dad is a little more emotionally complex than the character usually is, but not necessarily in a good way.) But 76% is still a reasonable score, since no one really hates this movie, they mostly just don't remember it. It's a decent movie—not great, not terrible—so it got a decent score, just as Batman v Superman would have if it weren't a nearly unwatchable mess.
Superman started the classic Christopher Reeve era of Superman, and critics absolutely loved it. The Superman movies are a little older, so one could argue that criticism has probably changed quite a bit since then, but Rotten Tomatoes scores include mostly retro reviews from current websites, and they all love the movie as well.
Superman II (1981)
Superman II had a similarly positive reception when it came out, and is still beloved by modern critics, and is even cited by some as the rare sequel that surpasses its predecessor. Superman hasn't done too well in the movies recently, but the love for the old Superman movies shows that the character can be done right, for both critics and fans.
The Dark Knight Rises
TDKR was by far the most disappointing entry in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, but only because the bar was set so high by The Dark Knight. It had a bloated runtime, a slightly flat ending, and villains who couldn't compare to the Joker, but overall it was still a thematically ambitious, well-acted, and well-written movie. And while there were a few plot holes here and there, and was definitely stretching the bounds of reality in its depiction of devastation back injuries, there was nothing nearly as silly or contrived as the "Martha" MacGuffin.
V for Vendetta
Another adaptation from DC's Vertigo imprint, V for Vendetta is a powerfully acted movie with a mind for philosophy, politics, and extreme psychology. It's become a classic vigilante and anarchist film, demonstrating that DC comic book movies can transcend the genre and be adored by both critics and fans.
The Dark Knight trilogy is credited with making comic book movies prestigious for the first time, so people sometimes forget that Tim Burton's Batman was a classic in its own right. Critics at the time praised Burton's idiosyncratic visual style, the writing, and of course, Jack Nicholson's Joker, which is challenged by Heath Ledger's take on the character but is still no less iconic. And critics absolutely loved this movie (more than the Tomatometer would suggest), with many calling it "the best film of the year."
Batman Begins did the "gritty reboot" before it was cool. While not without its flaws, it was groundbreaking for comic book movies, as it showed that they could transcend genre trappings and be taken seriously alongside other dark and serious dramas. Critics called it the "perfect summer blockbuster," and marveled that Nolan had made a character study out of such a famous character. But, of course, the top spot goes to...
The Dark Knight
I still think The Dark Knight is the best superhero movie of all time, and many critics do, too. It was almost universally beloved when it came out, especially for Heath Ledger's now-iconic take on the Joker, but also for the rest of the star-studded cast, the high-minded writing, and yes, the dark but distinctly comic-like aesthetic. It was not only nominated for several Oscars, and won for Best Supporting Actor, but was the first comic book movie to be in serious consideration for the Best Picture category, to the point that the category was expanded after 2008 to avoid another similar snub.
The Dark Knight single-handedly provides powerful anecdotal evidence that there is no critical bias against DC (especially since it only came out eight years ago). Critics didn't hate Green Lantern, Jonah Hex, Catwoman because they were snobs, they hated them because they're straight-up bad movies, and most fans tend to agree. They didn't hate Batman and Robin because they were paid off, they hated it because of the Bat-Nipples, and deservedly so. Reviews are subjective by nature, but there's no automatic bias in favor of Marvel. (Can you imagine any of the MCU movies making the shortlist for Best Picture?) Feel free to disagree with critics about Batman v Superman, or Suicide Squad, or any other movie for that matter, but there is definitely no conspiracy.