Over the weekend, I got caught up on superhero movies. Specifically I watched every Marvel and DC movie that came out in the last two years. Here's something non-controversial; the Marvel movies are better. Even if you prefer DC-- heck, even if you prefer the DC movies (you masochist) you cannot deny that the box office speaks for the general public. Marvel movies make more money, DC makes less.
When the two companies approve scripts, Marvel asks for a mask on a story, while DC ask for a mask on a trend.
Marvel's Deadpool was a funny, dark, story about an antihero. DC's Suicide Squad was a dark story about antiheroes. When Deadpool was a box office hit, Suicide Squad did re-shoots to add in humor. Suicide Squad was not a good movie.
That's opinion, of course, but so is everything in this article. When I watched Deadpool I was having fun the whole time. I had fun for the first hour of Suicide Squad, then I started wishing it would wrap up. The vignettes about the moments the squad got caught were a high point that movie never reached again.
And Suicide Squad was also a hit, at least financially. But it's has no buzz it didn't pay for. There's a sequel coming for Suicide Squad that I only became aware of when I started writing this article. They failed to make a story I care about.
This is because for Marvel, the priority is always making a good story. Ant Man is a family friendly heist film. Logan is a cowboy movie in the vein of Unforgiven. The fact that there are superheroes involved adds flavor to the stories, but you could tell them without the costumes and get a similar experience.
DC, on the other hand, takes elements from the last six or seven successful trends and makes sure their movie has them, whether it makes sense in the story or not. I could not tell you why anyone but Superman needed to be in Justice League, other than the fact that Avengers movies are quite financially successful. In Justice League, I don't know what was gained from that scene where Aquaman is sitting on Wonder Woman's lasso of truth, other than it seemed a little like something Joss Whedon might put in a movie.
The people in charge of DC do not understand why some movies are popular and some are not. Worse, they don't understand the difference between people paying to see a movie out of curiosity, and people paying to see a movie out of joy. Every time they release a major title, they make lots of money off of the people who want to see a particular franchise given the Hollywood treatment, and lose most of that franchise's fanbase.
Suicide Squad had a massive box office opening weekend. It then lost 67% of it's audience the next weekend.
But money is made.
It is very hard to convince someone who's job is to make money through movies that their profitable movie making strategy is bad. There's a reason we should try, though, and that is what I just watched this weekend. Marvel started strong and is getting stronger. Not only was it incredibly fun to watch Black Panther, Deadpool 2, and Infinity War, but they are also extremely profitable.
Conversely Justice League made $229 million domestically, after spending $300 million to get the movie made. DC started this new era with their high water mark, the Batman franchise, and each subsequent movie has lost them fans. They are correctly capitalizing on the fact that people enjoy action movies, super heroes, and big-budget epics. They are also correctly assuming that many people don't know the difference between Marvel and DC. What they have failed to account for is the fact that over time people do learn brands, and DC has lost the interest of the general public.
This is how disaster can be result from a strategy even if every stage of it has been profitable. Don't forget, Marvel had missteps with Daredevil, Elektra, and the 2004 Punisher movie, but overall they've been growing their audience, while DC has been losing theirs. The margin of success has gotten more and more narrow for DC, and the amount of money in a "big budget" superhero movie has increased.
We're still looking at a new genre.
How cool must it have been to be going in theaters when buddy-cop movies were getting started? How about westerns? These genres are staples of modern culture, and we now have a new genre being formed. Whether it's big hits like Spiderman: Homecoming or duds like Jonah Hex we are seeing new entry into our lexicon.
We are getting to see the booming start of an era that will be talked about in a hundred years. Whether it's good or bad, whether you prefer Marvel, DC, Image, or indie, you have to admit it's interesting to be a part of.