By: Nathan Fox
Superhero movies are titans today. They regularly gross in the millions and, in some cases, billions of dollars. Their popularity is undeniable. The juggernauts behind these films are the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe.
There could be many “first steps” in how each of these entities were created, but Marvel’s acquisition of ToyBiz in 1993 was a crucial building block. The company wanted to profit from the sale of action figures. This acquisition was a no-brainer and led to Avi Arad becoming the CEO and president of Marvel Entertainment.
Around this time, Marvel sold the rights of many iconic characters to interested buyers. They did, however, venture into filmmaking with the release of “Blade” in 1998. With a budget of roughly $45 million, the movie made $131 million worldwide.
The next pivotal moment for Marvel came in 2007, when they promoted a promising junior executive to president of Marvel Studios, the one and only Kevin Feige.
Feige got right to work and released “Iron Man” in 2008. The importance of this release cannot be overstated. With a budget of $140 million, Iron Man more than tripled this by grossing $585 million worldwide.
This set the stage for the current iteration of Marvel Studios and their massive success. This is clearly evident with “Avengers: Endgame,” which premiered in 2019 and grossed $2.7 billion worldwide. With their impressive storytelling and worldbuilding, the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand and the profits roll in like clockwork.
On the other side of the superhero movie genre stands DC Studios, the purveyor of the DC Extended Universe.
One of its first key accomplishments came with the release of “Superman” in 1978. The film had a budget of $55 million and grossed $300 million worldwide. The production resonated with audiences, and its impressive soundtrack stands out even to this day.
Their next success came in 1989 with the release of “Batman.” Although this movie doesn’t jump out with flashy numbers, it grossed $251 million at the box office against a budget of $35 million. This movie transformed the landscape and future of DC Films and led to the creation of the much-beloved “Batman: The Animated Series.”
The pinnacle for DC Films is, of course, none other than the Dark Knight Trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan. These films, which seemed like an extreme risk at the time, proved that DC Studios could produce quality content, not to mention the haunting performance of the Joker by the late great Heath Ledger. His performance netted him an Oscar, marking the one and only time an actor from a superhero movie has won the award. These films are truly iconic.
However, DC Studios have made critical missteps as of late. These mistakes are largely the result of disorganization. For example, take 2016’s “Suicide Squad” and 2017’s “Justice League.” These films experienced similar problems, studio overhandling. The story for “Suicide Squad” morphed and transformed numerous times, and the script went through countless iterations. Directors came and went. Justice League was marred by a personal tragedy in the life of the director, Zack Snyder. He ultimately had to step away from the film, and the key to the city was handed to writer Joss Whedon.
This is the distinct difference between how these two companies operate. Marvel Studios creates an environment that provides incredible structure and direction while DC Studios, on the other hand, experiences instability and inconsistency more often than not.
Nevertheless, there is a yellow sun on the horizon for DC Studios. The release of “Justice League: The Snyder Cut” premiered on HBO Max in 2021 and gave fans the release envisioned by the director. While reviews contained a mix of positive and negative reactions, the overwhelming reception was warm, and the release was welcomed by DC fans.
Furthermore, “The Batman,” which was released in 2022, provided another ray of optimistic light for the DC fandom.
Superhero movies are an incredibly important piece of American culture. There is something exhilarating about seeing good triumph over evil. Viewing these films is an emotional experience, and when the product is bad, it can leave a bad taste in the audience’s mouth. It should come as no surprise that the massive audiences who enjoy these films and TV shows have high standards. When a great superhero movie is seen, it makes the bad ones stand out and disappoint even more.
Creating these on-screen spectacles is about more than just money. They engender courage, strength and resilience in the hearts and minds of the many generations who have enjoyed these films and will for years to come.