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At the Box Office: Marvel has it right and DC has it wrong.

Steve Ankney Comics 1 Comment

Even though we just recently completed a podcast of all the awful things that are going on in regard to DC’s films I felt it necessary to lay it out visually so that way everyone can get a feel for just how pathetic DC’s movie attempts have been. Ignoring what I would call the out of date movies (original Superman films) and (I know I’ll catch hell for this) the graphic novel based films (yep, I’m not letting DC count The Dark Knight Trilogy, V for Vendetta, or Watchmen because, frankly, they are of a completely different design), DC hasn’t been able to score higher than a 76% (I seriously can’t believe Superman Returns got a 76%) on the trusty Tomatometer since Batman Returns in 1992 and for anyone who has recently re-watched that movie…. let’s just say it hasn’t aged well.

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My question is why? It’s not as if DC doesn’t have the characters. In fact, I’m the first Marvel fan to admit that DC has much better villains. For whatever reason Marvel has a recipe that has been working and from what I can tell, it doesn’t look like it will be slowing down for at least another 10 years. So, all that said, let’s lay it all out to really put it all in to perspective. You’ll see below that I only include Marvel’s films before they went to Disney and while with Disney.  Similar to my argument regarding graphic novel films, I don’t believe either genres exhibit the present state of both film studios.

Movie Year TomatoMeter
Howard the Duck 1986 14%
Blade 1998 55%
X-Men 2000 82%
Blade II 2002 59%
Spider-Man 2002 89%
Daredevil 2003 45%
X2 2003 87%
Hulk 2003 62%
The Punisher 2004 29%
Spider-Man 2 2004 94%
Blade: Trinity 2004 26%
Elektra 2005 10%
Fantastic Four 2005 27%
X-Men: Last Stand 2006 58%
Ghost Rider 2007 26%
Spider-Man 3 2007 63%
Fantastic Four: Silver Surfer 2007 37%
Iron Man 2008 93%
The Incredible Hulk 2008 67%
X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2009 38%
Iron Man 2 2010 73%
Thor 2011 77%
X-Men: First Class 2011 87%
Captain America 2011 79%
The Avengers 2012* 92%
Iron Man 3 2013 78%
Thor 2 2013 65%
Capt. America 2 2014 89%
Guardians of the Galaxy 2014 90%

*Everything after this date is under the the ownership of Disney

Movie Year TomatoMeter
Superman 1978 93%
Superman II 1980 89%
Swamp Thing 1982 64%
Superman III 1983 26%
Supergirl 1984 8%
Superman IV 1987 12%
Return of Swamp Thing 1989 33%
Batman 1989 72%
Batman Returns 1992 81%
Batman Forever 1995 41%
Batman & Robin 1997 11%
Steel 1997 12%
Catwoman 2005 9%
Superman Returns 2006 76%
Jonah Hex 2010 12%
Green Lantern 2011 26%
Man of Steel 2013 55%

Now I know what you’re thinking, this is just critics and it doesn’t really mean anything because what really matters is the fans. To that I say, touché! But with enough mining around the internet you will find that the fans aren’t pleased either. These ratings are much more on point than they might be with other films. Here are a few bullet points I believe explain why Marvel gets it and DC doesn’t.

Hear me out on this one because at first you’re probably thinking Thor is a demigod, Hulk is a green rage monster, Capt is a super soldier from the 40s and Ironman is a playboy who helped the crew fight aliens that were brought down to Earth because Thor’s brother Loki is a prick, what about any of that is “believable”?  Here’s the thing, Marvel has had 15 years to prepare its audience for The Avengers but you were too busy cheering them on that you didn’t even notice.  By slowly easing you in to each character they’ve turned you into a believer of the Marvel universe.  While DC, on the other hand, has forced itself into your life by rushing explanations, confusing origin stories, poor acting/writing, and no build up to the insanity.  I split up my in-depth explanations below in case you want to skip ahead:

In order for Marvel to get your undivided attention they started off by hitting you with some very real terrorism and a hero born out of revenge who’s mere intelligence and deep pockets helped him to create the Earth’s best weapon. Next in the line-up, The Incredible Hulk, a science experiment gone awry and although the monster part of his story is extreme it is, at the very least believable that toying with one’s testosterone levels and adrenaline could probably do some serious stuff to a human (steroids anyone?). Thor, the biggest stretch; here is how you introduce a character like Thor, base him off of ancient mythology. It’s crazy, stupid, and in some cases ridiculous but, Thor is a name people know and love without being a “superhero” which makes him much more tangible. Next it’s Capt and if you’ve kept up so far then freezing the “Hulk gone right” won’t really affect your emotions. Throw in some spies, a guy who is good with a bow, some of the most intelligent cross-franchise marketing in movie history and suddenly you have the “almost believable” Avengers.
Now we swing it over to DC where character’s are introduced in such a way that makes it hard to fathom.  The only character that is absent in this case is Batman who is arguably the only superhero in either DC or Marvel that could actually maybe-ish happen.  Let me give you an example of some of the extreme origins that DC wants you to get behind.  Superman, born on a planet in an unknown galaxy far far away is sent to Earth via his dying parents final moments.  As he comes to the right age he discovers he has extraordinary abilities that make him special: supersonic flight, infinite strength, laser eyes, immortality, impenetrable skin, heightened senses, speedier healing, and a few other less exciting abilities (except for that one where he can fly so fast that he can change the speed in which the Earth rotates).  Oh also, the only thing that ruins his day is the remnants of his own planet.  And the thing delivering these powers to him is our sun… for some weird reason not even the internet can give me a solid answer on.  Again, I know what you’re thinking, after Thor how is this so hard to believe?  My argument is that Superman is the first hero in the past and present movies to make an impact so you had no time to get prepared for what DC is going to shove in your face.  Next, you have Batman, who has literally no powers except the power of wealth and intelligence and although you can argue he is the “Ironman” of the Justice League I would actually argue he is more in line with our Marvel spy friends, Hawkeye & Black Widow.  That may seem extreme (especially since Batman is probably my favorite of all the DC characters) but Batman’s suited abilities are nothing more than a Ra’s Al Ghul trained James Bond with a cape  (notice the imbalance between Superman & Batman).  Our next movie in the line-up from DC is these two in some sort of cage match.  Now, I’m certain when they use the title “Batman Vs. Superman” they aren’t referring to a literal fist fight (because all Superman would have to do is sneeze and Bruce could be found in the fetal position crying about his parents) but instead they are referring to a more “intellectual” fight.  Regardless, what that means is you’re going from Superman’s crazy story-line straight into a battle between the two most unbalanced superheros followed up by The Flash, a guy who can run faster than the speed of light, and Wonder Woman (the Lasso of Truth and her invisible airplane, what?) and then, suddenly, we will find ourselves in the first Justice League.  And I didn’t even mention The Green Lantern… 
One of the major problems in regard to making movies is the ability to retain actors for the life of the franchise so that viewers have a seamless experience from the beginning of the storyline to the end.  Although both companies have had their fair share of identity crises, I feel Marvel has learned how to lock its actors down over the last decade while DC has struggled with this for nearly three decades.

Movie Year Actors
CAPTAIN AMERICA
Captain America 1944 1st - Dick Purcell
Captain America 1990 2nd - Matt Salinger
Captain America 1, 2, 3, & The Avengers 1, 2, 3, 4 ’11 - ‘20 3rd - Chris Evans
DAREDEVIL
Daredevil 2003 1st - Ben Affleck
Daredevil 2015 2nd - Charlie Cox
HULK
The Incredible Hulk 1978 1st - Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno
Hulk 2003 2nd- Eric Bana
The Incredible Hulk 2008 3rd - Ed Norton
The Avengers, Avengers 2 ’12 - ‘15 4th - Mark Ruffalo
PUNISHER
The Punisher 1989 1st - Dolph Lundgren
The Punisher 2004 2nd - Thomas Jane
QUIKSILVER
X-Men: Days of Future Past 2014 1st - Evan Peters
The Avengers: Age of Ultron 2015 2nd - Aaron Taylor-Johnson
SABRETOOTH
X-Men 2000 1st - Tyler Mane
X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2006 2nd - Live Schreiber
SPIDERMAN
Spiderman 1, 2, 3 ’02 - ‘07 1st - Tobey Maguire
The Amazing Spiderman 1, 2 ’12 - ‘14 2nd - Andrew Garfield
WAR MACHINE
Ironman 2008 1st - Terrance Howard
Ironman 2, 3 2010 2nd - Don Cheadle
HARRY OSBORN
Spiderman 1, 2, 3 ’02 - '07 1st - James Franco
The Amazing Spiderman 2 ’12 - ‘14 2nd - Dane Dehaan
NORMAN OSBORN
Spiderman 1, 2, 3 ’02 - '07 1st - Willem Dafoe
The Amazing Spiderman 2 2014 2nd - Chris Cooper
Movie/TV Show Year Actors
BATMAN
Batman: The Movie, Batman (TV Show) ’66 - ‘68 1st - Adam West
Batman, Batman Returns ’86 - ‘89 1st - Michael Keaton
Batman Forever 1995 2nd - Val Kilmer
Batman & Robin 1997 3rd - George Clooney
Dark Knight Trilogy ’05 - ‘12 4th - Christian Bale
Gotham (TV Show) 2014 5th - David Mazouz
Batman Vs. Superman 2015 6th - Ben Affleck
CATWOMAN
Catwoman 2005 1st - Halle Berry
Dark Knight Rises 2012 2nd - Anne Hathaway
Gotham (TV Show) 2014 3rd - Camren Bicondova
THE FLASH
The Flash (TV Show) ’90 - ‘91 1st - John Wesley Shipp
The Flash (New TV Show) ’14 - ‘15 2nd - Grant Gustin
The Flash (Movie) 2018 3rd - Actor TBA
GREEN LANTERN
Green Lantern 2011 1st - Ryan Reynolds
Green Lantern 2020 2nd - Actor TBA
THE JOKER
Batman 66 - ‘68 1st - Burt Ward
Batman 1986 2nd - Jack Nicholson
The Dark Knight 2008 3rd - Heath Ledger
LEX LUTHOR
Superman ’78 - ‘87 1st - Lex Luthor
Superman Returns 2006 2nd - Kevin Spacey
Batman Vs. Superman 2015 3rd - Jesse Eisenberg
SUPERMAN
Superman and the Mole Men, Adventures of Superman (TV Show) ’51 - ‘58 1st - George Reeves
Superman I, II, III, IV ’78 - ‘87 2nd - Christopher Reeve
Louis & Clark (TV Show) ’93 - ‘97 3rd - Dean Cain
Smallville (TV Show) ’01 - ‘11 4th - Tom Welling
Superman Returns 2006 5th - Brandon Routh
Man of Steel, Batman Vs. Superman ’13 - ‘15 6th - Henry Cavill
TWO FACE/HARVEY DENT
Batman Returns 1986 1st - Billy Dee Williams
Batman Forever 1989 2nd - Tommy Lee Jones
The Dark Knight 2008 3rd - Aaron Eckhart
Gotham (TV Show) 2014 4th - Nicholas D’Agosto

When I first started to make these tables I began with the intent of only doing the past 15 years because I thought that time period truly exemplified my point but as I dug into the data I realized that this isn’t just a recent problem but one that spans the entire history of both companies. I know I started this post by not including the graphic novel films and the films made outside of Disney post-purchase but I thought it was necessary because the argument here is slightly different.  Viewers who aren’t comic book fans are trying to follow these characters and when the actor who plays Batman changes every 3 to 5 years, it makes it incredibly difficult to follow.  Below are some of the major points that I thought should be noted.

DC

  • 12 different actors have played just Superman & Batman.
  • 30 different actors have played 8 characters.
  • Batman’s origin story has been done 5 times while Superman’s origin story has been rebooted 6 times.
  • The major players of the Justice League (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, and The Flash) have all been rebooted on multiple occasions.
  • They have repeated 3 of their most important villains a collective 7 times (The Joker, Two-Face, and Lex Luthor).
  • They started off both of their 50s and 60s TV shows, Superman and Batman respectively, with a movie.  It seems DC intended to introduce their early TV shows by using the big screen which is reminiscent of what Marvel is doing today.

Marvel

  • 7 different actors have played just Captain America & The Hulk.
  • 23 different actors have played 10 characters.
  • Spiderman’s origin story has been done 2 times while The Hulk’s has been rebooted 4 times.
  • Green Goblin is the only major villain to encounter a reboot.
  • Of The Avengers, only The Hulk and Captain America have had actor changes.
  • Chris Evans is set to play Captain America for a total of 7 different released/announced movies and has been quoted as saying he will end his acting career as Capt.
The many faces of Batman.

The many faces of Batman.

I’m not trying to say that you can’t change actors, sometimes it is necessary.  War Machine is a great example of Marvel making the necessary to changes to keep quality actors in the right seats for the future of the Marvel universe.  The changes at The Hulk were somewhat unavoidable; Eric Bana was awful, Ed Norton lacked interest in the franchise, and Mark Ruffalo was the actor willing to sign on for the long-haul.  I’m not saying Marvel is perfect, in fact, far from it!  Spiderman is one of the franchises that Marvel lost control of prior to the Disney purchase and you can tell that the Marvel recipe isn’t in place considering Sony is looking to reboot the character a third time in under 10 years. With all of that said, and being that Spiderman is arguably NOT a Marvel film, what makes Marvel solid is the fact that they’ve only had an identity crisis with one of their major characters, The Hulk.

DC, on the other hand, has not only had a consistent problem with its identity but seems to show no means of stopping.  With The Flash being played by a different actor on the big screen then on TV, Batman coming off The Dark Knight series into a recast with Ben Affleck and the introduction of the Gotham TV show, the actor playing the Green Arrow has already expressed his frustration with DC and has a lack of interest in playing the character on the big screen, and Superman having his re-intro to the limelight in 2006 and then rebooted again in 2013, DC still doesn’t have its major players under control.

Throughout all of the DC and Marvel movies and comics one of the major pain-points I believe DC has, is that they can only be found in a fantasy world while The Avengers fight for Earth and have ties and direct contact with the cities and people we all know and love.  Even DC’s characters homes are in fantasy places; Superman resides in the Fortress of Solitude, Wonder Woman is from Themyscira, and Wayne Manor is located in the fictional town of Gotham.  Although this point may belong with the “believability” section, I would argue that this is slightly different.  It’s not so much that Gotham isn’t “believable” it’s more of an issue that no one can relate to these made up worlds whereas Stark Tower is located in midtown Manhattan making it a home to millions of real people experiencing “real” tragedy.

With all of these points made, the final thing I’d like to add is that science may be the factor that sets these magnificent companies apart.  Whether it be in regard to flight, energy, speed, or ability, Marvel does its best to take science into account when doing its movies.  Let me clear, I’m not saying that everything that happens in Marvel films are possible I’m only saying that the mere fact that Thor exhibits a form of “locomotion” prior to flight (spinning the hammer) and Ironman has thrusters and engines keeping him airborne gives it some form of realism.  Our friends at DC, on the other hand, give Superman the ability to keep himself off of the ground and able to fly fast enough to change the speed at which the earth turns and they exhibit this by him laying down, with his arm extended and looking stoic….  But don’t take my word for it:

Sound off in the comments and let me know if I either missed anything in these tables or if my opinion is wrong. Lets hear it Dweebs!

Steve is an Executive Recruiter at Robert Half Executive Search in Madison, WI with a business degree in Information Systems and E-Commerce from the University of Toledo. Steve loves spending his time away from work; running, gaming, watching movies, checking out new social networking tools/sites/start-ups and blogging.
At the Box Office: Marvel has it right and DC has it wrong. was last modified: November 23rd, 2014 by Steve Ankney

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