When it comes to the rival comic book blockbusters franchises, the Marvel studio films versus the DC comics films, it seems like DC has been playing catch-up and second fiddle to Marvel for the majority of the comic superhero film trend. However, it seems like DC has recently been gaining a significant amount of steam and seen more success in the recent past than they've seen since the epic Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy stormed the film world around a decade ago. And although the studio is presumably thrilled to start seeing the kind of successes that previously only seemed possible for the Marvel franchise, it's actually not very surprising that DC comics has seen a bit of a resurgence, because they really have a lot of things that work heavily in their favor.
And while one or two successes could be considered a fluke, any more than that would seem to indicate a trend, and it looks like the trend is leaning more towards DC movies for a lot of different reasons. So what is it that the filmmakers finally started doing right that encouraged this upswing in the DC film franchise? And what are they doing right that will only keep helping them if they keep at it and stick to it? It's not a sure thing that DC will be able to rival or even beat Marvel, but there are a lot of reasons why they might be able to in the near future.
One of the main complaints about the Marvel cinematic universe thus far has been that they focus on a very small portion of their comic book world and it sometimes seems kind of repetitive. And it seems like the DC cinematic universe has learned some big lessons from those complaints and have decided to try to capitalize on some of the audience that the Marvel movies are missing out on. And while comics have long been considered to be the territory of nerdy white guys, it's clear that the interest in comic movies goes far beyond that, so the fact that DC can see that bodes well for them.
Comic book movies have become a virtual cash cow in the film industry in the past decade, but one of the most obvious problems that arise when something becomes very popular is that it can oversaturate the market very quickly. And as it is, it feels like Marvel is coming out with a new movie every three months or something, which is great for fans of the franchise but which also doesn't leave anyone really wanting more either. DC has released their films at a much slower pace and with a tighter and more focused story, which might really help them in the long run.
Something that very obviously distinguishes DC comics and films from many of their competitors is that DC has quite a few villains that are nearly as iconic, well known, and well loved as their heroes. Their villains are so well loved that they got their very own movie, and their movie became one of the most successful in the DC franchise! It's one thing to want to watch a superhero in action, but it's quite another to get to see a superhero that you love go toe-to-toe against a villain that you love too.
The DC films are starting off with a lot of characters that the audience is already familiar with, so the only way that the franchise can really proceed is by taking these characters that already exist in the minds of the viewers and make them feel more human and more dimensional throughout the films. And when it comes to that, the DC universe definitely isn't shy about humanizing their lead characters and giving them complex relationships with each other and with the people around them. Getting the audience invested in these characters and relationships is the best way to keep them coming back.
One of the things that hasn't worked very well in the Marvel film universe is that they seem very reluctant to write out any characters for good. That's understandable if they want to capitalize on characters that the audience responds well to, but honestly once you fake out your audience with an epic goodbye that you only wind up reversing in the next movie once or twice it becomes something that they expect every time, which makes those plot twists have a lot less impact. DC hasn't permanently parted ways with many characters, but the fact that many of their endings seem like the real end makes it much more powerful.
When you're making movies that are all about a similar subject with similar characters, it's natural for them to fall into a kind of formulaic pattern. But in terms of the way that the DC film franchise has developed thus far, it seems like the filmmakers are open to trying different things and betting quite a bit of money on things that are a little outside of the box (at least in comparison to the average big budget blockbuster movie). And it seems like that bet has paid off in a pretty big way. A lot of DC's most successful films have also been their more out of the box offerings.
While creating a massive franchise is lucrative for a movie studio and great for audience members who are super fans, it is also a bit of a pain to think that you have to watch a dozen movies before you can fully understand everything that's going on in the movie that you're watching now. Having connective threads between a comic universe makes sense, but making other movies required viewing for a lot of the comprehension is too much to ask of an audience. It's also just kind of shoddy filmmaking that doesn't allow a film to stand on its own.
DC has an incredibly obvious advantage when it comes to the superhero movie game because of the simple fact that when most people hear the word "superhero" it is immediately one of the DC characters that pops into their mind. If you're trying to attract a large audience then starting with an iconic headline character is a pretty great jumping off point, and creating a franchise where a squad of these iconic characters can interact and the audience can see new stories and ideas revolving around them seems like a pretty obvious recipe for easy and prolonged success.
Obviously having some comic relief is, well, a relief, but sometimes it seems like Marvel takes that a bit too far. Some people aren't that into DC's grittier film world, but it's hard to argue that if you were living in a desperate place and experiencing violence and despair on a regular basis then you probably wouldn't be bantering about it every other minute. And while Marvel puts its stories on a sometimes incomprehensibly massive scale, it's kind of bizarre to watch so many of the characters treat apocalypse-level events with such a casual and lighthearted attitude.
Marvel is very much into enormous world building, but sometimes its storylines seem like they get so abstract that it can be hard to follow or really get in to. It's cool to imagine that there are cataclysmic things happening in the universe because of what our heroes or villains are doing, but in reality it can be hard to translate that grand scale into film. DC doesn't typically go for stories that encompass the entire universe, but it also makes the stakes feel more real and makes the climaxes feel more powerful, and keeping your audience glued to the screen is a big win for them.
There is definitely something to be said for planning out a massive story with painstaking organization, but when you're dealing with a situation and audience that can change over time it makes a lot of sense to figure things out as you go along. Marvel clearly favors the former strategy, but DC seems to be favoring the latter, and it seems like a decision that will probably greatly benefit their franchise in the long run. It might be an expensive way to learn what works and what doesn't, but ultimately it's probably better than the alternative, and will probably yield better results longterm.
DC movies have been pretty good about editing out what doesn't work or changing the direction of something if the audience doesn't respond well to it, but on the other side of that coin, they also focus on what the audience does like and try to incorporate that more deeply into their movie universe. Marvel studios has actually come under some pretty heavy criticism because of their general inability to listen to what the audience is interested in and adjust their plans accordingly, and while it seems so simple it's almost stupid. DC is going to have a serious advantage in the long run if they keep on selling what the audience actually wants to buy.
Stylistically most of the DC movies have a very similar look and feeling to them, whereas it seems like the Marvel movies don't have much of a particular style or vibe to them at all. That's not necessarily a huge problem for Marvel, but creating a franchise of films where an audience member who likes one of the films is likely to enjoy the other films is obviously a smart strategy for finding and keeping an audience. And what really works for DC is that their movies have a style, and it's a style that clearly is inspired by comic books.
The plan that Marvel studios has mapped out for their film series is epic and sprawling. It might actually be one of the most complex plans that anyone has ever created for a movie series. And while that does do the series some favors, it also means that in the past, now, and for the foreseeable future they will be stuck in the same story. That could be good news if the audience loves it, but it could be bad if the audience loses interest. On the other hand the DC films seem to be much more stand alone, and it doesn't seem like they've trapped themselves in a story they can't get out of.
Most people don't think of popcorn blockbuster movies as character-driven pieces of film, but the DC films have actually gone to great lengths to build up their characters as entities that have relevance outside of the single stories the audience is seeing in one particular film. You might think that a series of films that is built around characters would automatically put a lot of focus on the development of those characters, but the MCU has kind of dropped the ball on that, at least in comparison to the DC films. But audiences will stick with a character they love no matter what, so the character focus in the DCCU is bound to help them.
One of the most obvious advantages that DC has when it comes to creating a smash hit movie franchise is that almost all of their lead superheroes are characters that everyone in the world is already familiar with. Clearly Marvel has some very successful characters in their own right, but none of them are quite as iconic as characters like Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman. If you're starting with a foundation of universally beloved characters you are really starting a few feet away from the finish line, so if they just make entertaining movies then their success will only continue to grow.
The DC universe has certainly evolved over the course of the past few years, but it's clear that the foundation of the entire DC film universe and one of the main reasons the DC films became a major movie franchise in the first place was because of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. And honestly, if you're looking for a film franchise that hit the ground running then the Dark Knight trilogy is essentially the Usain Bolt of the movie world. Those films certainly raised the expectations for superhero films and the other DC movies haven't always lived up to it, but it's definitely one incredible foundation.
Obviously creating an award winning movie isn't at the top of the to-do list when it comes to making most superhero movies, but the DC films have the exceptional distinction of actually being award-winning films in their own right. It would probably be nearly impossible to recreate the impressiveness that they managed to achieve with The Dark Knight, but they have created a movie universe in which that kind of quality is possible. DC has been hit or miss when it comes to creating next level action movies, but they have absolutely left themselves room to make something amazing happen.
What's interesting about the DC films is that instead of focusing on what the producers, writers, and directors think will work well they just focus on what the audience responds well to instead. And that might seem like an obvious choice seeing as they're essentially making a product and just listening to the consumer feedback about that product, but the willingness and ability to change directions and play up what the audience really enjoys is a pretty big deal when you consider how much money, time, and effort is putting into planning out all of these films and the franchise as a whole.
Marvel definitely deserves credit for creating a massive master plan for their franchise, but one of the things that gives DC a huge advantage when it comes to their ability to adapt is that if they find something in their movie universe that isn't working, they can just fix it or write it out without messing up their plans for the franchise. DC has had its fair share of missteps, but it seems like they have learned a good lesson and adjusted their plans going forwards with every mistake they've made, and their franchise is definitely the better for it.
References: imdb.com, wikipedia.com