Marvel vs DC films: as one-sided as it gets.
Updated: Jul 7
With Avengers Endgame signalling the end of a long narrative that has been playing out for eleven years (although the movies will keep on coming), I thought it was time to assess what Marvel has done over the years to be successful and leave DC trailing in its wake. I’m sure DC and Marvel comic books sales were closely contested year on year as to which one was more successful but it’s clear what the case is for the movies. Marvel almost went out of business in the 1990s having to sell movie rights for some of their characters which kept the comic book alive and eventually recover to a point where they could produce their own movies.
I’ve never read a comic book before, I never grew up as a Marvel or DC fan so I don’t have any nostalgia bias when comparing the two. My first experience of Marvel was the Spiderman movies starring Tobey Maguire although I aware it isn’t a Marvel Studios film. My first experience of DC came much later with Batman, a combination of The Dark Knight trilogy and the Arkham Asylum games. I watched these as action movies rather than superhero movies and I was very happy with them. I would say these two certainly got me interested in superheroes more from an origin standpoint and all the different villains. That was all before the big explosion of superhero movies beginning with the first Iron Man which was officially a Marvel movie.
It was a bold choice to start a franchise on Iron Man, a little known superhero in the eyes of many people. People on the street would know The Incredible Hulk, Spiderman, Batman perhaps even Captain America but not Iron Man. If Iron Man had failed commercially, the long term ambition might have been dead in the water; I’m sure even if it was critically panned they would have still had a chance as many franchises seem to be able to get away with.
When I watched Iron Man, I had no idea Marvel had a long term project in mind so it blew my mind when I saw a trailer for The Avengers. I was ignorant to the fact that these movies were properly Marvel movies rather than movies based on the comics done by other companies. After all, by this point, we’d already had a Spiderman reboot so I thought nothing more of it other than to enjoy the films. The coordination to build a story to the first Avengers movie was admirable and there are so many details you’ll realise watching the original Captain America, Thor and Iron Man again. The Marvel machine has produced new film year on year but rarely does it feel like a movie has been rushed out by them.
By the time DC could try to emulate Marvel’s success, they were already left far behind and had to hurriedly bring their own superheroes together. I imagine Man of Steel was supposed to be the start of the DC universe with Henry Cavill staying on as Superman a hint at that but it became clear that was what they were attempting to do with Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice introducing Batman, Wonder Woman and the lesser known Cyborg. DC didn’t have the time to properly start a long term project to challenge Marvel so they essentially threw everything in at once to get up to date with The Justice League, DC’s own band of superhero teams.
Even Marvel movies that may be flawed or if the plot goes in a strange direction, they are usually enjoyable due to the action and humour involved. That’s where DC plays a very dangerous game; if the story isn’t enjoyable then there’s not much else in the movie to enjoy. The only DC movie which hasn’t taken itself too seriously was Suicide Squad but that was still criticised all the same. It was a movie I would call dumb fun which can’t be said for many DC movies. I don’t actually have a problem with any of the movies but at the same time, most of them I’m glad I didn’t go and see in the cinema. Wonder Woman was the first DC movie in the DC universe to achieve praise from all corners but they need more than one success.
I think it’s pretty obvious to everyone who has even the slightest idea about comic book movies that Marvel are enjoying total domination over DC in the movie stakes from a commercial point of view as well as a fan and critical point of view. Few people who make arguments for DC being better than Marvel are unbiased and then it’s from people who appreciate DC’s more serious tone. The worst review you can give a Marvel film is average which shows the high standard Marvel has set.
It shows how respected Marvel is that they can dedicate two movies to a hero called Ant-Man, two good solid additions to the Marvel universe, and make it a success. It’s hard to imagine DC being able to get away with a standalone movie not only for a superhero as little well known as that but a superhero with those kind of powers. While all Marvel films are at least average, every few years they manage to bring out a film of the highest quality that shows the franchise hasn’t become complacent like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Marvel has plenty of material to work with for their existing superheroes, even those who might be killed off, and I’m sure has plenty of others who most of us haven’t heard of but will come to love. They’ve barely touched on Spiderman but now they have the film rights and they are after the X-Men too who are huge well-known additions that the casual fan can recognise so it seems as though Marvel can just go on and on. It feels like DC has used its big guns early in an attempt to fight against the tide but it’s having little effect; they’ll probably do well enough to keep going and keep making decent films but I do but there will be a time where they challenge Marvel’s dominance and popularity.