While films based on DC Comics have been made since the late 1970s when Richard Donner made Superman: The Movie, the blockbusters have been doing things very differently in the last decade. In 2013 Warner Bros. released Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel, and with it launched the DC Extended Universe – an expansive continuity that sees some of the greatest superheroes ever created – including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the entire Justice League – occupying a single world. It’s a canon that continues to expand, with new movies coming out every year, and while that’s a great thing for fans, it can also be a touch problematic for newcomers trying to get a grip on things.
If you’re flustered about how to get into the movies of the DC Extended Universe, we’ve got you covered. There are a couple of different ways to watch the DC movies in order, including by release date order and in chronological order, and we’ve built this feature to illustrate how to go about doing both. Your methodology should differ based on your experience with the various titles and characters, so we’ll start with the proper order if you’re brand new to the whole world…
DC Movies In Order: Release Date
When a franchise is first coming together, a studio makes calculated choices regarding what stories are told and when, and the DC Extended Universe is no exception. Running from 2013 until the present, the continuity now features a total of nine movies (10 if you include Zack Snyder’s Justice League as its own thing), and you can watch them in the order they came out in by following the list below:
Man Of Steel (2013)
Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)
Suicide Squad (2016)
Wonder Woman (2017)
Justice League (2017)
Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)
DC Movies In Order: Chronologically
If you’re well-versed in the canon of the DC Extended Universe, and are simply looking for a new way to engage with the storytelling, a chronological viewing is definitely an option, as not all of the blockbusters take place in the order in which they were released. Moving from the past to the present, here is how to watch the DC movies as they take place across the franchise timeline.
Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman not only includes scenes that take place thousands of years before the main action of the DC Extended Universe, but also has a plot that is set in 1918. The film’s story is deeply tied to real world events, as Gal Gadot’s eponymous heroine travels with Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor from Themyscira to Man’s World right at the height of World War I – a conflict that Wonder Woman helps to resolve by defeating the villainous Ares (David Thewlis), the God of War.
Wonder Woman 1984
While Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984 is set more than half-a-century after its predecessor, it is still the second film to watch while viewing the DC Extended Universe in chronological order. Set in its titular year, the movie is deeply ingrained in its setting, as the attitudes of greed and fear from the era are key to the developing plot, finding Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) making a play for the Dreamstone so that he can grant wishes to people around the world and gain god-like influence.
Man Of Steel
Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel has some scenes set in the 1980s, as it’s in that decade that Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner, Diane Lane) discover a Kryptonian space ship crashed on their farm – but the majority of the film takes place around the year that the movie was released, a.k.a. 2013. It’s at this time that Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) begins to understand what his history as a Kryptonian means as he lives among humanity, and faces down his first potentially world-ending threat in the form of General Zod (Michael Shannon).
Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice
Keeping the continuity tight, Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice is set right in the wake of Man Of Steel, with the whole arc for Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) constructed as a reaction to the destruction caused in the battle between Superman and Zod. It creates a conflict between the two key male heroes of the DC Extended Universe, and, meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) schemes to bring the monstrous Doomsday to life – ultimately leading to a battle that sees the alien hero sacrifice his life.
On the whole, David Ayer’s Suicide Squad is a movie that plays around on the outskirts of the DC Extended Universe canon, with the titular group of convicts coming together to stop the out-of-control Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), but there are hints and clues that provide audiences tips regarding where it takes place in the timeline – and that place is between Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Justice League. We know this because it’s specifically mentioned that Superman is dead, referencing the end of the former movie; and the mid-credits scene features Bruce Wayne going to Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) in hopes for meta-human information that will aid his mission to form a superhero team, referencing what happens in the latter movie.
Having made peace with the idea of aliens and meta-humans after the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Bruce Wayne follows up his meeting with Amanda Waller in Suicide Squad by putting a special group together… and that group is formed in 2017’s Justice League. Reuniting Batman with Wonder Woman, and introducing Flash (Ezra Miller), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the heroes have to work together to stop an invading alien force – led by the villainous Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) – from taking over the planet.
Zack Snyder's Justice League
Though it’s not technically considered canon, Zack Snyder’s Justice League can either be watched in lieu of the 2017 release, or with it for comparison purposes. It mostly functions as a four-hour version of the theatrical cut, with extra material that fills out the back story, builds out the new characters, and teases a direction for the future of a franchise that, for all intents and purposes, lead to a dead end.
James Wan’s Aquaman doesn’t really engage much with the plot from Justice League, but Mera (Amber Heard) does at one point remind the titular hero about his efforts helping to save the world from Steppenwolf, putting it directly after that story in the timeline. That being said, the story is very insular, mostly taking place underwater and finding Arthur Curry find peace with the war within himself between land and sea on his journey to become the king of Atlantis.
Once again we have here another DC Extended Universe movie that doesn’t have tight ties to the rest of the canon – but David F. Sandberg’s Shazam! is definitely included – as evidenced by the look of the Batarang owned by Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) and the suit worn by Superman in the end credits. It’s possible that the movie could take place before, during, or after the events of Aquaman, but watching it after in a chronological rewatch of the franchise is a safe bet.
Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn)
Cathy Yan’s Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) has what could be called a loose connection to the rest of the DC Extended Universe, as its only real link is Margot Robbie reprising as Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad – but that’s enough to connect it to the canon (things will certainly get more complicated with the arrival of James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad). It’s technically possible that the events which take place in this movie occur at any point in time between the end of the David Ayer movie and the end of Shazam!, but when in doubt about these kinds of things it’s always best to just go by release date.
Of course, the continuity of the DC Extended Universe is a fluid thing, as the franchise is far from dead, and has more than a few major releases set to debut in the next few years. To get the low down on everything that’s happening with projects both in and outside of the canon, be sure to check out our Upcoming DC Movies guide. And, for everything that's coming up in the genre with our Upcoming Superhero Movies guide.