The power of super movies
Courtesy of Radio Times
In the past decade, our screens and lives have been dominated by superhero content. Suddenly, debates between family members at Thanksgiving shifted from being completely about political parties to choosing sides between DC or Marvel. People started to have emotional connections with characters and form strong feelings about one sequel or another almost identical sequel, and suddenly the movie landscape drastically changed.
The release of “Iron Man,” which celebrated its 11th birthday this past week, brought the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) into the lives of billions. It generated the spark for a multi-billion-dollar industry to overrun movie theaters like clockwork every year. Before Marvel's complete domination of the superhero genre at this point, DC was the only source of this kind of content for decades. They had been producing superhero content since the first Batman and Superman movies in the mid-’60s. However, compared to characters in the MCU, DC characters were less adapted to the times and more stuck in the traditional ideas of what the character should be and what the plot should follow. This allowed movies like “Iron Man,” “Captain America” and “Thor” to thrive during a time when DC was trying to reinvent itself with “The Dark Knight” movies and the emergence of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) with “Man of Steel” in 2013.
Marvel and DC, although different in their own respects, have found ways to together monopolize the genre. The only other superhero film that can hold its own against these major franchises is “The Incredibles,” which is truly in a ballpark of its own based on the many differences it has in its content, production and target audience. What makes Marvel and DC so unique and untouchable by outside content creators trying to break into the genre is that the movies being produced are able to assemble the large fan base that it has accumulated in an unimaginable amount of time. Seconds after movies are released, your social media timeline, whether you watch superhero movies or not, is filled with memes and spoilers about the latest movie. This kind of hype, as seen at the end of “Avengers: Infinity War,” led not only to millions more in box office earnings through this movie alone, but to an unheard-of turnout and anticipation by fans old and new for “Avengers: Endgame.”
While there may be debates about which Universe creates better content, it is clear that Marvel has had more success than the DCEU in the past few years. From 2018 through April 2019 alone, Marvel produced “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” “Captain Marvel” and “Avengers: Endgame.” In that same two-year time period, DCEU released “Aquaman” and “Shazam!,” two unmemorable movies that were blown out of the water by the $1.2 billion opening weekend of “Avengers: Endgame” alone. The only time two movies of the same caliber ended up with similar box office results were “Wonder Woman” and “Captain Marvel.” Although “Captain Marvel” had a larger opening weekend, both movies were almost equal in total gross.
While it is hard to compare the movies of these two entities since the superhero genre, although niche, is very broad, it is hard to miss the similarities between characters and their journeys to becoming superheroes. Bruce Wayne has always been seen as an aloof, brooding millionaire who uses his money and technology to save people. In the MCU, Tony Stark is at first also seen as an aloof, brooding millionaire who uses his money and technology to save people. There is an obvious parallel here, yet the evolutions of Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark are two completely different paths. It is here where the broadness of the genre can really be seen. This conflicting contrast and direct comparison at the same time is what attracts people to one universe over the other. If you prefer darker, more serious content, then the DCEU is a perfect place to find that. If you prefer more lighthearted and motivational content, then the MCU is what you would prefer.
Superhero movies have been around for half a century, and it is probable that they will continue to stick around for half a century more at least, especially considering the speed at which these movies are being created and distributed. No matter if you prefer DC or Marvel, or even “The Incredibles,” superhero movies will remain a dominant part of our society and culture. As long as society fails to see a Captain America or Superman coming to our rescue when the going gets tough, then there will be a need for these stories to continue being told.
These movies give viewers the ability to enter an alternate world of super tech, power and other-worldly beings, along with underlying representations of real-world problems. If the genre continues on its current path, the possibility for new content that can alter the movie and pop-culture landscapes for future generations is highly likely. The genre is in an age where it is held in such high regard and no matter what movie or universe or superhero, there is sure to be a devout following that will love it 3,000.