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The 10 darkest moments in the DCEU, ranked

For better or worse, the DC Extended Universe has depicted some of the darkest moments ever seen in superhero media. This franchise started out especially grim, but it seems to have shaken off this image in the post-Snyderverse era.

Nevertheless, with scenes like these, this cinematic universe has still dared to present some heavy realism in the lives of the heroes and villains who populate it.

10. Jesse’s Death – Aquaman (2018)

Black Manta in "Aquaman" (2018).
Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

Before David Kane becomes the supervillain Black Manta, he and his father, Jesse, battle Aquaman onboard a submarine that they commandeered. But when the vessel starts to flood and Jesse gets trapped, Arthur decides to leave them both to die despite David’s pleas for help.

Though David refuses to abandon his father, the latter unpins a grenade to make him go. The rage and sorrow David feels in this scene are palpable, making for a shocking origin to Aquaman’s archenemy.

9. The fall of El Diablo – Suicide Squad (2016)

El Diablo in "Suicide Squad."
Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

The tale of El Diablo is a tragic one, and when he tells it to the Suicide Squad, everyone can feel his pain. Born with the ability to control fire, Chato Santana struggled to control his powers and live a happy life with his family while also working as a gangster.

But during an argument with his wife, Grace, he sets their house on fire by accident, killing her and their two children. While Suicide Squad may not have done the titular team justice, it still succeeded in painting El Diablo as a tortured and remorseful soul with this heartbreaking backstory.

8. Dirty little secrets – The Suicide Squad (2021)

A tiny version of Starro attached to someone's face in "The Suicide Squad."
Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

When Rick Flag, Ratcatcher, and Peacemaker enter the bowels of Jotunheim, they are horrified to discover the truth behind Project Starfish. They find countless human prisoners under the control of Starro the Conqueror, each revealed to have been subjected to horrible experiments and sexual assault at the hands of their captor, Thinker.

On top of that, the Suicide Squad learns that the U.S. government had funded these experiments carried out by the people of Corto Maltese, revealing that the Squad was merely sent to wipe out all traces of these wrongdoings.

7. Sivana unleashes his Sins – Shazam! (2019)

Doctor Sivana in "Shazam!."
Warner Bros. Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures

After gaining the power of the Seven Deadly Sins, Doctor Sivana barges into a business meeting held by his father and brother. Having been abused by them all his life, Sivana gets his revenge by throwing his brother out the window and having the Sins kill his father and his associates in an infernal massacre. I

it’s a stark departure from the film’s otherwise lighthearted tone, but it’s a scene that cements Sivana as a fearsome and callous villain.

6. Barry at Black Zero – The Flash (2023)

Barry wearing a homemade suit in "The Flash."
Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

Despite its flaws, The Flash gives audiences a phenomenal glimpse at Barry’s first days as a superhero, depicting him in Metropolis during the Black Zero Event caused by General Zod in Man of Steel.

Armed with only a makeshift suit, Barry races in to save people as many people as he can from Zod’s World Engine. Though he manages to save a young boy’s life, Barry is unable to save his father, forcing the speedster to shield the child’s eyes from such an unspeakable tragedy.

5. Silas’s sacrifice – Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

Silas in "Zack Snyder's Justice League."
Warner Bros. Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures

When Steppenwolf arrives to claim the third Mother Box from the Justice League, Victor’s father, Silas, locks himself in a glass cube with the alien artifact.

Though he knows he can’t destroy the box, Silas uses a laser to mark it with enough heat to allow his son to track it later, but at the cost of his own life. Victor suffered more than enough after losing his mom and most of his body. But having to watch his father disintegrate right in front of him is especially heartbreaking.

4. The Knightmare – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

During his quest to destroy Superman, Bruce has a dream of himself fighting in a post-apocalyptic world ruled by an evil Man of Steel and an army of alien monsters and the humans who have submitted to him. Bruce’s allies die all around him until only he is left to suffer an execution literally by Superman’s hand.

At first, this seems like a nightmare brought on by Bruce’s fear of Superman. But it becomes clear later on that what he saw is a vision of a future ruled by Darkseid, setting the stage for the war that’s to come.

3. Cyborg’s vision – Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

Darkseid sitting on his throne in "Zack Snyder's Justice League."
Courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Media / Courtesy of HBO Max/Warner Media

Just as Batman saw an Earth ruled by Superman, Cyborg sees exactly how such a fate comes to fruition. Watching the Mother Boxes form the Unity, Victor witnesses the desolation of Earth, the enslavement of the Amazons, and Darkseid’s killing of Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Lois Lane, the latter of which breaks Superman and allows the evil alien to take control of his mind.

Darkseid may have only been in the DCEU for a few minutes, but this brief scene shows just how terrifying he is. Also, the fact the League inadvertently played a role in creating this dark future makes it even more frightening.

2. Superman kills Zod – Man of Steel (2013)

Superman in "Man of Steel."
Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

Man of Steel was an especially dark origin for Henry Cavill’s Superman, and his battle with Zod dealt a heavy blow to him. While he does reign victorious over the Kryptonian warlord, Clark is forced to kill his adversary when he threatens to murder some innocent bystanders.

Even though he saves these people from certain death, this is the first time he has ever taken a life. And since Zod was the only other Kryptonian left in the universe, Clark’s cries of devastation express the true weight of what he has done.

1. The Capitol bombing – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Superman in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice."
Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

When Superman arrives at the Capitol Building to stand trial for his alleged crimes, the court blows up almost immediately thanks to a bomb planted by Lex Luthor. The scene was already disturbing enough with Lex leaving a jar of “Granny’s Peach Tea,” but it takes things a step further with this act of terrorism that brands Superman as a threat in the eyes of the world.

The scene also focuses on Superman’s reaction within the inferno, depicting his remorse over not being able to see and prevent this terrible fate despite his godlike power, bringing the Man of Steel to a brand new low.

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Anthony Orlando
Anthony Orlando is a writer/director from Oradell, NJ. He spent four years at Lafayette College, graduating CUM LAUDE with a…
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