With the proliferation of Marvel movies making their way to the theaters these last few years, there is a common opinion that the Disney/Marvel money machine is firmly entrenched as the dominant studio where it comes to all-things-super hero in nature. And while the number of movies they produce on a regular basis certainly seems to confirm that, I have to wonder at the validity of the argument when it comes to making quality films. Not just films either, but also quality television series that will engage people and create solid fandoms. So here I go, attempting to explain why DC may have the upper hand in the so-called super hero movie wars and what they can do to increase their lead. Hit the jump for the full treatment.
First and foremost, I will not try to argue that DC is making more money. If you look at the numbers and average them out, both camps are about the same level over their lifetimes. While that looks good on paper, the fact that Marvel has produced more films means that they are raking in more profit, getting more exposure and picking up the momentum to do pretty much anything they please. You know, kind of like Michael Bay with Transformers, Jerry Bruckheimer with the Pirates series and Universal with their Fast & Furious franchise. In other words, they’re getting away with making movies that people will consistently pay to watch.
Which leads me to my first point…
Point #1: DC makes better films.
I’m not going to bring up tragedies such as Daredevil to make my point. The old abortions of yesteryear don’t really count when it comes to the new market battle (except for people to point fingers at and make fun of). What I’m referring to are almost every Marvel film put out as part of their new Avengers universe. Aside from The Avengers, the majority films produced by the Marvel camp have been B- in quality. Some may hate on what DC has done thus far, but the new Batman trilogy was nominated for many, many awards, including those coveted trophies such as Best Actor, Best Film, Best Director, Best Writing. No, these weren’t the Academy Awards (except the Best [Supporting] Actor one), but keep in mind that the Academy does not generally condone action or fantasy movies where it concerns their precious statues. Luckily, the rest of the world is not so narrow-minded.
The point is, Marvel has had to rely on Robert Downey, Jr. to put on an outstanding Iron Man performance to even get their ship out of port. They then proceeded to turn out shrug-worthy movies with big enough budgets that the special effects would entice people into seeing them. Personally, aside from Iron Man and Avengers, I could have gone without seeing any of them and not felt any loss. If I had missed Nolan’s trilogy or Man of Steel, I would have felt robbed.
And yes, I know Man of steel is contentious. Superman killed someone and Metropolis got leveled so therefore the entire movie was crap. I understand the narrow-minded opinions with regards to this film. I do challenge people to go back and watch it without the judgments and see how well the film was put together. Get past your fanboy-ness and you may see a different picture.
And on to my second point…
Point #2: DC is dominating the television market.
So you may be saying “But hey! There are only two shows on TV right now, Arrow and S.H.I.E.L.D. How can they be winning there?” And I say to you – a better fanbase. While Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fell victim to its own hype, Arrow managed to crawl up from mediocre to outstanding over the course of one season. People still watch S.H.I.E.L.D., of course. If the ratings are accurate, a LOT more people watch S.H.I.E.L.D. than Arrow. But those S.H.I.E.L.D. fans are not quite the same as those Arrow fans. Any Arrowhead who does the circuit will tell you how devoted the fans are. I’ve yet to hear anything of the sort from S.H.I.E.L.D. fans. This is, to me, ironic, because normally this sort of devotion is relegated to Joss Whedon projects. But the Firefly levels of passion and involvement are emanating from the Arrow fans.
Why is this? Because DC has created a much better product, period. It doesn’t boil down to which character(s) you prefer – I hadn’t read a damn thing about Green Arrow before I started watching the series – it relies on the excellence and consistency of production. If DC continues this trend (as I firmly believe they will), then The Flash and Gotham will also become beloved to audiences everywhere.
So what was that third point again…?
Point #3: Marvel’s Universe is split.
While DC/WB has the luxury of tapping into whatever characters and comic story arcs they want, Marvel has to fight it out with rival studios. They’ve been forced to rely on The Avengers line-up, and they can’t even bring in many of the major Avengers members that readers of today know and love. No sir, Spider-Man will sit this one out. Wolverine? Still running around with the X-Men.
Admittedly, Marvel has done a damn fine job with a stock of characters that many have never even head of. But they’ll be forced to work twice as hard for the same results that DC can achieve just by grabbing up some second-string writers and directors and pressing the “go” button. Which is why, in my opinion, DC works to make excellent films that break the mold as opposed to following the Marvel example of cycling out fan-safe and audience-safe productions that tend to fall into the “meh” range rather than stand out (for better or for worse). Now, if Marvel could get a decent Hulk film going, that might be a different story…
In the end, Marvel has the upper hand and the longer DC delays the harder it will be for them to achieve their rightful place in the universe. With Batman vs. Superman being delayed until 2016, this makes things even worse. Marvel now has another 4-5 films that will drop before DC is able to punch back, including Avengers: Age of Ultron. This will solidify Marvel as the go-to for super hero films in the minds of the casual audience and DC may lose its chance. With their TV series blossoming, however, they may be able to hold on long enough to get that second gasp of air.
If DC wants to dominate, they’re going to need to do things right. I’ve got a few ideas of my own on how they could do this (geez, don’t we all?).
Tactic #1: Plan out more movies.
Whether DC is doing this already behind closed doors or not is an unknown. They could have the Wonder Woman solo script already penned out for all we know. Not to mention a new Green Lantern, maybe some Teen Titans in there somewhere, who the hell knows? But they’ll have to start in with at least one production a year if they hope to keep people’s attention. Alternatively, they can ride the wave and make a few extra bucks before the super hero film market crashes, playing it safe so they don’t have to have all their money gambled on one particular trend.
Tactic #2: Integrate!
With the success of Arrow comes a huge pile of fans that think Steve Amell is God’s gift to planet Earth. Grant Gustin will likely produce the same response for ladies (and dudes) that prefer their men geeky. And with Gotham, I’m sure we’re going to get a James Gordon that is noir-sexy for those that prefer their men dark and dreamy (Gordon as a sex symbol… we truly live in a different era). And that’s just the tingly-crotch appeal. Regardless of what you think of them, the actors on Arrow are doing a good job – perhaps even a movie-worthy job.
Thus, DC, though they have said their TV and movie universes won’t collide, needs desperately to use their TV momentum to fuel future movie projects. And if they can afford to do it, bring whatever incarnation of Batman or Superman they have going to the small screen for a while. How much would ratings skyrocket if Henry Cavill showed up in his Superman outfit to hang with Arrow? In short, DC needs to use all the power at their disposal in this fight. Setting their properties into two different corners removes one of their greatest advantages.
Tactic #3: Keep up quality.
While many may disagree on whether Zack Snyder or Christopher Nolan are indeed quality directors, they are still popular and produce work that is unique when compared to the usual train of Marvel flicks. Marvel has… Jon Favreau? Oh yeah, he’s the guy that directed Cowboys and Aliens. And let’s not forget Kenneth Branagh who did… um, Thor and some other movies I’ve never heard of. The point being, Marvel is, aside from picking up Joss Whedon, still throwing second-string directors at their movies.
Yes, Snyder is getting a face full of shit for what he’s done to Superman. People are going to be upset when you mess with canon, that’s just a rule of the game. But people will also look back at your movies and see something that stands out in a sea of mediocrity. People will sit down with their kids and watch Nolan’s trilogy with a much different purpose than when they sit down to waste some time watching Thor or Iron Man 2. DC’s movies are the stories that make you think. Marvel is letting people sit back and not think. Both have their purpose in the world of entertainment, but the former ideal is the one that traditionally stands the test of time.
So you may agree with me or you may not (I’m guessing most are going to fall into the latter category), but I see great things on the horizon for DC if they play their cards right. Of course, with the X-Men franchise going hyperactive over at 20th Century Fox, we might see another contender entering the race. Personally, I hope X-Men: Days of Future Past breaks records. More players means more competition which means a greater push to achieve something above and beyond the mediocre in an effort to attract audiences. But until then – Make Mine DC.
If you feel like telling me what a douche I am, place your angry words in the comments below. Or say something nice, that’s always good too.