The Entire DCEU Timeline Explained
Although it hasn't yet achieved the sprawling scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Extended Universe is gradually building its own multilayered world populated with superpowered characters whose stories occasionally intersect and overlap. Beginning in 2013 with Man of Steel, the DCEU now consists of nine films all sharing the same universe, with many more still on the way. As for the existing entries, these include Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and its spin-off, Birds of Prey, as well as two Wonder Woman films, Aquaman, Shazam!, and the team-up movie Justice League.
While the first few movies were released in mostly chronological order, Wonder Woman's World War I-set adventure threw a wrench into the timeline, and since then, the events of the DCEU have skipped around a fair amount. So how should one mentally sequence the collective events of the DCEU, and do they actually all fit together in a way that makes sense? While it's not exactly clockwork, we'll do our best to unravel the DCEU's millennia-spanning timeline, from before the dawn of humanity all the way up to the modern day.
The DCEU gets started with ancient gods and three civilizations
Around 200,000 years before the main events of the DCEU began to play out, the gods ruled the Earth. The deity Zeus decided to create a new species similar to the gods, but Ares, the god of war, interfered with Zeus' plan and corrupted the newly made human race. In response, Zeus created the Amazons, an all-female race of noble warriors who would "influence men's hearts with love and restore peace to the Earth," according to Queen Hippolyta.
These two civilizations — humans and Amazons — lived together in peace, alongside the Atlanteans, for thousands of years before the Earth was invaded by Steppenwolf, leading a Parademon army. The forces of Earth banded together and ultimately managed to defeat and drive out Steppenwolf and his forces, although he left behind three Mother Boxes when he fled. Each of the three main races on the Earth took one of the Mother Boxes with the intent of keeping it safe.
Years later, the War of the Gods broke out, in which Ares killed all his fellow Olympians, but Zeus managed to create the island of Themyscira for the Amazons before he died. He also fathered Diana with Hippolyta, although the child was born after he passed away, leaving her with no knowledge of her true father. Later, Atlantis sank into the ocean, and the Deserters left and formed their own kingdom. At some point while all these major events were playing out, the Enchantress was born and imprisoned alongside her brother, Incubus. Plus, the Dreamstone was created by the god Dechalafrea Ero, and the wizard Shazam imprisoned the Seven Deadly Sins in the Rock of Eternity, where he remained to guard them.
Diana enters the human world in 1918
All is largely quiet on the gods and superheroes front for the next couple thousand years. And then World War I comes along, which leads Steve Trevor to crash-land on the hidden shores of Themyscira after stealing a German plane. Unfortunately, German soldiers follow Steve, and humans invade Themyscira for the first time. A battle breaks out on the beach, and although the Amazons are victorious (aided in part by Steve), Hippolyta's sister, Antiope, is killed in combat.
Grieving and convinced that Ares is ultimately behind the Great War, a naive Diana decides to accompany Steve back to the human world, determined to root out and defeat Ares. In the process, Diana winds up falling in love not just with Steve but with humanity itself, and she enthusiastically embraces much of what human culture has to offer while still remaining true to her Amazonian roots. Ultimately, although Diana is successful in defeating Ares and ending the war, Steve sacrifices himself in the process. Mourning his loss, Diana decides to remain among humans permanently while continuing to work as a superhero.
Several important origin stories begin in the 1970s and early '80s
On Christmas Day in 1974, a young Thaddeus Sivana is on a drive with his father and his older brother, Sid, when he sees the symbols of the wizard Shazam appear in his Magic 8-Ball. Immediately following this, Thaddeus' surroundings begin acting strangely, and he perceives that he and the car have been transported to a strange new place, which turns out to be the Rock of Eternity. There, Thaddeus Sivana has his first encounter with Shazam, who tells him that he's seeking a champion to inherit his magic. However, Thaddeus proves himself unworthy of the wizard's magic, and he's expelled from the Rock of Eternity. Thaddeus' resulting confusion distracts his father, who's still driving, thus causing a car accident. As a result of all this, Thaddeus vows to one day find his way back to the Rock of Eternity and claim Shazam's power for himself.
Several years later, in 1980, the baby Kal-El is born to Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van on the planet Krypton, shortly before the planet's destruction. Kal-El's parents successfully manage to send their son to Earth before the planet implodes, killing Jor-El and Lara along with the rest of the Kryptonian race. Several months later, Kal-El's spaceship crashes in Smallville, Kansas, where the baby is discovered by Jonathan and Martha Kent, who adopt him to raise as their own. The following year, Bruce Wayne's parents are killed by a mugger, leaving young Bruce in the care of the family butler, Alfred Pennyworth.
Wishes are fulfilled in 1984
Since World War I ended in 1918, Wonder Woman has been operating ostensibly in secret, although she's not particularly good at it since she'll still publicly save people and take down bad guys in extremely flashy ways. By day, though, Diana Prince works as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute, using her lived experience to inform her specialty in ancient Mediterranean civilizations and cultures. There, she meets her coworker, the largely forgettable Barbara Minerva, who sparks Diana's interest when the hero notices the Dreamstone in her office.
Curious to learn more about the Dreamstone, Diana and Barbara begin to form a friendship, but everything goes sideways when they both wind up unknowingly making wishes on the stone. Diana wishes for Steve to come back, while Barbara wishes to be more like Diana, resulting in her receiving Diana's powers. The stone eventually falls into the hands of oil tycoon Maxwell Lord, who tries to use it to gain power and success for himself by essentially becoming the Dreamstone. Barbara then allies herself with Lord, who bestows cat-like powers upon her, turning her into Cheetah. Ultimately, though, Lord's plans collapse in on themselves. The Dreamstone's power is lost and all of its wishes are eventually renounced, including Steve's resurrection, and he and Diana say goodbye yet again.
Family secrets permeate the late '80s and mid-'90s
After the chaotic events of the early '80s, the second half of the decade is much calmer, although it still carries some major developments. In 1986, Arthur Curry is born to human lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry and the Atlantian queen, Atlanna. Unfortunately, while Arthur is still a baby, Atlantian guards attack the Curry home, determined to return Atlanna to Atlantis in order to marry King Orvax. Heartbroken, Atlanna leaves her family behind to keep them safe, and Arthur is raised as a human by his father.
Also in the late '80s, Clark Kent begins to realize he has superpowers, which causes him great distress. As his powers continue to emerge and grow, his parents urge him to keep them to himself, and they finally tell him the truth about his origins. Clark initially follows their wishes, but their desire to keep his identity secret ultimately winds up leading to Jonathan's death, even though Clark could've saved him. Around the same time, while Clark is discovering and struggling to come to terms with his powers, Bruce Wayne adopts the secret superhero identity of Batman, and he begins practicing his own unique brand of justice in Gotham.
Complicated childhoods and dysfunctional relationships in the late '90s and 2000s
As Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent each circle their superhero destinies in the early 2000s, other eventual heroes and villains are just beginning to embark on their origin stories. Right before the turn of the century, Arthur Curry begins training with Atlanna's advisor, Vulko, working to unlock and hone his Atlantean powers so that he can one day take the throne as king of Atlantis. Several years later, in 2004, Billy Batson is born, but he's abandoned by his mother when he's four years old, leading to him being placed in the foster system. At the time, he believes that he was accidentally separated from his mother, and he vows to find her again someday.
In the late 2000s, psychiatrist Harleen Quinzel gets a job working in Arkham Asylum and winds up falling in love with her patient, the Joker. The Joker convinces Quinzel to help him escape, but in return for her efforts, he subjects her to electric shock therapy and pushes her into a vat of chemicals, which alters her physical appearance and mental state. After emerging from the chemicals, Quinzel adopts the name Harley Quinn, and she and the Joker become two of Gotham's most notorious criminals. During roughly the same time frame, archaeologist June Moone is possessed by Enchantress while exploring the Tres Osos Caves in Peru.
In 2013, Superman takes flight
After wrestling with his mysterious origins for years, Clark Kent finally discovers his true identity in 2013, when he goes to investigate a mysterious object in northern Canada and finds the ruins of a Kryptonian ship. There, he learns his true name of Kal-El, and he also meets Lois Lane, using his powers to save her life. Later, she agrees not to print the truth of who he is, after he tells her how his father died. Upon finding the answers he'd always been searching for, Clark finally embraces his powers, becoming Superman.
Soon after, the Kryptonian General Zod, one of few survivors of the destruction of Krypton, demands for Clark to be turned over to his care. Concerned for the people of Earth, Clark voluntarily surrenders, and Zod attempts to persuade him to join him in his mission to create a new Krypton on Earth. Clark refuses and battles with Zod, destroying much of Smallville and Metropolis in the process. That includes the Wayne Financial Building, where a nearby Bruce Wayne looks on in dismay. The battle eventually ends when Clark kills Zod. Later, Clark begins working at the Daily Planet, where he's reunited with Lois, who continues to keep his secret.
2015 ends with a tragic DCEU death
Following the destruction of Metropolis and the public reveal of Superman, Lex Luthor and his company, LexCorp, begin looking into metahumans — or individuals with heightened abilities — which leads them to the discovery of kryptonite in the Indian Ocean. LexCorp soon begins working to develop weapons technology using kryptonite, and it throws a fundraising gala to raise money for their work. Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, and Diana Prince all attend this gala and meet briefly, though none of them realize the others' secret identities.
Later, Bruce Wayne plots to kill Superman using kryptonite, blaming him for the destruction of Metropolis. But before he can take action, Lex Luthor bombs the U.S. Capitol during Superman's Senate hearing. In the process of investigating LexCorp, Bruce and Diana discover the metahuman files, which includes info on Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash. Bruce then attempts to carry out his vendetta against Superman, but when Lex Luthor creates Doomsday, the heroes ultimately team up to fight the monster together. Doomsday is defeated by Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman, but Superman is killed in the effort, and a disgraced Lex Luthor is sent to Arkham Asylum.
2016 brings a different kind of super team
In the wake of Superman's death, Amanda Waller — the director of the Advanced Research Group Uniting Superhumans (A.R.G.U.S.) – becomes worried that equally powerful but malicious metahumans could become a major problem for humanity. In response, Waller gets the idea to assemble a team of expendable, superpowered individuals to resist such a threat, which she dubs Task Force X. These individuals are selected from among incarcerated metahumans, and the inaugural members of Task Force X are Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Killer Croc, El Diablo, Captain Boomerang, and Slipknot. The team is led by special ops operative Rick Flag, who's assisted by his sword-wielding bodyguard, Katana.
The team is deployed in response to the reemergence of Enchantress, who also releases her brother, Incubus. Task Force X — nicknamed the Suicide Squad by Deadshot — confronts Enchantress and Incubus, but the group's disorganized and scattered nature leads to the team nearly disintegrating. However, the members eventually reassemble to fight the supernatural villains, and our antiheroes are ultimately victorious. Rick Flag kills Enchantress, freeing June Moone from her possession, and the rest of Task Force X returns to prison with improved conditions — although the Joker soon breaks Harley free. Separately from these events, Bruce Wayne sends Diana Prince a photograph of her during World War I with Steve Trevor.
The Justice League comes together in 2017
About 5,000 years after his previous defeat, Steppenwolf returns to Earth in search of his three missing Mother Boxes. He locates the first in Themyscira and attacks, and while Queen Hippolyta and the Amazons do their best to hold him off, they're unsuccessful. Hippolyta warns Diana of Steppenwolf's presence on Earth, and Bruce Wayne and Wonder Woman locate metahumans from LexCorp's files, including Arthur Curry (Aquaman), Victor Stone (Cyborg), and Barry Allen (the Flash). The group battles Steppenwolf in Gotham, but they're unable to defeat him.
While Steppenwolf attacks Atlantis in order to retrieve the Atlantean Mother Box, the newly formed Justice League uses the third box to revive Superman, thinking he's the key to defeating this overwhelming villain. At first, Superman has no recollection of his former life, but his memories eventually return to him upon seeing Lois Lane, and he joins forces with the Justice League. Together, they manage to defeat Steppenwolf at Pozharnov, saving Earth. While the team is now all on good terms, they part ways, each returning to their own lives. Shortly thereafter, Lex Luthor escapes from Arkham Asylum.
An aquatic battle and unexpected powers mark 2018
The son of Atlantean King Orvax Marius and Queen Atlanna, Prince Orm Marius attacks the surface world, hoping to unite the seven sea kingdoms and destroy the land, which he blames for his mother's banishment. His betrothed, the Xebelian Princess Mera, opposes Orm's plan but can't get him to listen to her, so she heads to the surface to ask Arthur for help. Together, the two go to Atlantis in search of the Trident of Atlan, and their journey eventually takes them to Sicily. There, they fight Black Manta, who carries a grudge against Arthur for refusing to save his father when he was dying.
After narrowly escaping Black Manta, Arthur and Mera continue their search for the Trident, leading them to the Hidden Sea at the Earth's center. There, Arthur is reunited with his mother and then goes to face the mythical Karathen, who dubs him worthy of the Trident, giving him control over the seven seas. With his new power, Arthur defeats Orm and becomes King of Atlantis.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Billy Batson is placed into the Vasquez foster home, and soon thereafter, he's transported to the Rock of Eternity, where he's given the powers of Shazam. Although he's initially confused, Billy quickly adapts to his new powers and basks in the excitement of being a superhero. Around the same time, Thaddeus Sivana finally completes his quest to locate the Rock of Eternity and unleashes the Seven Deadly Sins upon Philadelphia. Determined to stop him, Billy passes Shazam's powers on to each of his foster siblings, and together, they defeat the demonic baddie. At some point afterward, Billy as Shazam meets Superman and convinces him to stop by his school for lunch with his best friend, Freddy Freeman.
2020 introduces the DCEU's first all-female team
The year 2019 is a fairly low-key in the DCEU, although a few important events occur. Captain Boomerang escapes from prison, making him the second member of the Suicide Squad to regain his freedom after the Joker freed Harley in 2016. However, Harley and the Joker's romance is ultimately doomed, and the two eventually break up, prompting Harley to blow up the Ace Chemicals building in her distress. Meanwhile, detective Renee Montoya begins investigating Roman Sionis, owner of the Black Mask club and a ruthless local crime lord.
In early 2020, teenage pickpocket Cassandra Cain is arrested by the Gotham City PD after being caught stealing. Sionis, in turn, hires Harley to recover a diamond that Cassandra swiped, but upon realizing that the young girl has swallowed the gem, Harley breaks her out of jail instead and waits for her to pass the diamond, knowing Sionis and his henchmen won't be so patient or merciful. Gradually, Harley and Cassandra develop a friendship, and they eventually wind up crossing paths with Huntress, Black Canary, and Renee Montoya, coming together to form an unlikely alliance. Together, the group manages to defeat Sionis and his henchmen, killing the gangster in the process. Later, while the five of them talk about staying together as a group, Harley and Cassandra go off on their own, and the remaining three continue to fight crime as the Birds of Prey.