Cinematic Universes

This past weekend, Marvel released another movie into its continuously growing cinematic universe, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In my opinion this is by far the best movie Marvel has produced so far. But, this post isn’t about Marvel’s continued successes, this is a post about why I think they are doing such a good job at being successful in comparison to their rivals Warner Bros. and DC. For the sake of this post, I am only going to count movies that Marvel has produced through their own production studio (everything from Iron Man-Present). In the same way, I am only going to count movies that Warner Bros. has produced. This is my way of making my arguments ‘fair.’

Warner Bros./DC were first to the Superhero movie scene with Superman in 1978. This movie was an instant hit. Featuring Christopher Reeves in the role of Clark Kent/Superman, audiences were finally able to see one of the greatest heroes of American history on the big screen. Up until this point the only experience people had with superheroes on any screen was the 1966 Batman tv show. Since that time Warner Bros./DC have continued to release movie after movie which only added to their impressive resume of films. Not only that, but Warner Bros./DC has built an impressive repertoire of animated films and tv shows featuring a wider array of heroes that had not yet gotten a big screen break out.

Marvel on the other hand was very late to the superhero movie game. The first movie Marvel released under their own production company (which is owned by Disney) was Iron Man (2008). Prior to this, Marvel had helped finance several of their own properties that other production companies had bought the rights to like Blade and X-Men among other films.

With Iron Man Marvel took a risk and did something that DC had not done yet with any of there movies up until this time. After the credits in Iron Man Marvel included an extra scene featuring Nick Fury and concluded by hinting at a larger cinematic universe. Not only did Marvel produce a movie with a character that most comic book fans at the time would consider ‘c-list,’ but they initiated a run of films that would all be connected.

The fact that Marvel produced an actual film is a feat in itself. Marvel Studios started as the Marvel Entertainment Group in the early 1970’s and through the 90’s they sold many of their properties to other production companies. In 1996 Marvel Studios was formed. They continued to help fund many of the properties they had sold off to other production companies in the 20 years prior.

In comparison to Warner Bros./DC, Warner Bros. bought out National Comics (which became DC comics) in 1969, and has owned them ever since. The advantage Warner Bros./DC has over Marvel is that they have not sold off any of the movie rights to any of their properties. Warner Bros./DC have an unlimited amount of characters they can use in a cinematic universe. Since 1978 Warner Bros./DC have typically stuck to two different properties with their movies: Batman and Superman. They have made other movies, but those have been considered major flops for the company.

Recently, Warner Bros./DC have produced some of the most memorable superhero movies in recent history: The Dark Knight Trilogy and Man of Steel. Man of Steel was Warner Bros./DC’s beginning attempt to create a cinematic universe. Since then Warner Bros./DC have announced a Superman/Batman movie, and there are rumors of a Wonder Woman movie on the horizon. As of now, DC has no cinematic universe. But with everything rumored on the horizon it appears that DC has a common goal with Marvel. Things are looking promising for DC.

However, things aren’t looking promising for DC. Since Marvel has released Iron Man Marvel has released 9 films that have built up their cohesive cinematic universe, DC has released 6 movies, none of which make up a collective universe, and two of which were considered big disappointments. It would appear that Marvel has already won the movie war with DC. Marvel is even flaunting it with this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel is taking risks, whereas DC is continuing with their exact same plan they have since the beginning.

I believe that Marvel owes much of their success to Kevin Feige, the head of their cinematic universe. His job is to ensure that every movie Marvel produces connects to the larger cinematic universe. That is the major part of his job. Because of his work we are able to get the show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and even connects to the larger universe. Soon we will have multiple Marvel television shows on Netflix to accompany it.

DC has no central figurehead over their entire cinematic operation. David S. Goyer is gradually becoming that central figurehead for the DC universe. After his time writing for The Dark Knight Trilogy he moved on to write Man of Steel and is currently helping to produce the Batman/Superman movie. There is no word yet on how his role will change in the coming years, but it is something to keep an eye on. Recently, Goyer made the comment that he wants to tackle a Green Lantern Movie.

One advantage that DC has had over Marvel is their continued presence on television. The Arrow television show has been a huge success, and Flash is predicted to follow in its footsteps. Depending on how Gotham and Constantine go, we might see DC have a greater presence on television than in the movies. If DC were to tie in its television shows to its cinematic universe, they would become the new media powerhouse. Until we know for sure whether or not DC will build a cohesive television and movie universe, its difficult to say what their future will look like.

Apart from logistical things, the one thing I think that is stopping DC from making truly great movies and a massive cinematic universe is Warner Bros. Warner Bros. is a conglomerate. They own a massive amount of companies, and DC just happens to be one of them. Warner Bros. is capable of making fantastic movies, that much is true. If anything, Warner Bros. is one of the largest of all the production companies and one of the best at what they do. Warner Bros. is a company first, and not a creative entity. I think they care more about the money than they do what they produce. They might be capable of producing great movies, but then we need to remember Green Lantern. If Warner Bros. were to sell off DC, or allow DC start their own production companies, I believe we will see more DC movies more frequently.


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2 thoughts on “Cinematic Universes

  1. I agree that the management/leadership at Warner Bros is holding back DC from setting up a movie universe like Marvel has. By far the most successful thing DC has done in movies for the past few decades are the Batman films, so Warner Bros wants more Batman. But they also see that Marvel is making a mint with its connected universe approach. What we’re seeing with the Batman/Superman movie is DC trying to do both — keep the focus on Batman while still trying to build a larger universe. We’ll see how that turns out when the Batman/Superman movie hits theaters, but I’m not optimistic. I think Warner Bros/DC fails to realize that Marvel built its movie universe from taking that risk of making a good movie with a relatively obscure character like you said (who exploded in popularity because of that very movie), and continuing with separate movies for characters who again were relatively obscure. Warner Bros doesn’t want to take that risk — or rather, they *tried* taking that risk with the Green Lantern movie but flopped miserably.

    I don’t think Warner Bros selling/spinning off DC would help, though. Remember that Disney bought Marvel after the breakout success of the first Iron Man film. It was really the Walt Disney Corporation’s massive resources that let Marvel Studios continue to take high-budget risks. If DC loses the resources of Warner Bros, it loses pretty much any hope of building a movie universe to match Marvel. What I think really needs to happen is that DC needs to make a really good, successful movie *without Batman* that convinces the Warner Bros executives that they can actually make money on movies without Batman. Green Lantern wasn’t it, Man of Steel didn’t cut it. Even if Batman/Superman is any good, it won’t prove the point because it still has Batman in it. Once a really good or even great non-Batman DC movie gets made, I think we can look forward to more being simultaneously developed for the same kind of movie universe as Marvel.

    1. I don’t disagree with you, but you seem to be making the same point I was making. Warner Bros. is exactly whats holding DC back from building a larger cinematic universe. Even if Warner Bros. were to sell DC off to another company, or DC were to buy itself from Warner Bros. (neither of which will ever happen), I still think DC could make successful movies. I think the fact that DC’s television shows are more successful than their non-batman/superman movies is evidence of that. It’s possible to make a good and even a great movie with a low budget, just like its possible to make a terrible movie with a limitless budget (Green Lantern).

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