How does the DC Extended Universe look right now? Quite healthy, in fact, when viewed from a financial standpoint. WB and DC are doing quite well if you compare their four films to Marvel’s first four, soon to be five, but there is something I want to address first before getting into some numbers.
It seems that everyone and their mother wants to state that the DCEU is a mess and in a bad state but to me it just sounds like angry fanboys who aren’t getting their way. Something everyone needs to understand, and should have already, is that these versions of these superheroes may not be the version you best remember but it doesn’t mean these versions are trash. There’s a reason why we have so many different versions of Superman and Batman in the comics, everyone has a different idea and wants to explore different aspects of those characters which is also why we have multiple different versions of these characters in live-action and animated movies. If you don’t care for these current versions of the characters then it’s fine. These brands and characters are so lucrative right now that it’s likely we’ll get new versions or visions of these characters down the line. If you don’t want to wait that long then just go back the films you prefer or find the version that suits you in the comics. But don’t ruin everyone else’s day just because you don’t care for whichever version. There are more things to worry about in life than comic book characters, after all.
Now I’m well aware that what was going on in 2008 with comic book movies when both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk came out is vastly different than what is going on in 2017. It’s also really tough to beat out the marketability that is Batman and Superman, even if Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice didn’t turn out as well as many had hoped, so WB/DC would have had to have gone Joel Schumacher levels of bad in order to really screw things up. I never said this would be a fair comparison, and I’m sure there are some folks yelling at me from the back saying that DC has wasted the potential of these films by having Zack Snyder direct two of them (to which I kindly say to these people: You’ve been whining since 2013…shut up), but I still think it’s worth highlighting that DC has made up a ton of ground in such a short period of time. Maybe the future beyond Aquaman (set to release in 2018) looks a bit hazy but a lot can change in a year’s time.
So let’s finally get to the numbers and let me present to you what the whole purpose of this article. I’m comparing Marvel’s first 4 films in their cinematic universe to DC’s first 4.
This doesn’t look like a dumpster fire to me. As I mentioned above, this comparison is not really fair as the box office climate between 2008 and now has changed drastically (The biggest being that China is a massive box office draw right now.) but I’ve included the adjusted for inflation numbers for domestic totals and even budgets (You can thank me later.). There are a few things that jump out to me. When you adjust the budgets of those first 4 MCU films you’ll see that they are only $45M less than the DCEU films at this point in time. The DCEU, on the other hand, grossed nearly $300M more domestically than the MCU did with their first 4 films. I know you’re still thinking “That’s all?” but this is still a pretty impressive chunk of change. So missed potential? Oh yeah, but that doesn’t mean that these films have been failures. I’m very curious about what would have happened if WB/DC had released BvS only two years after Man of Steel instead of nearly three. Maybe this caused the media to harden its stance against Snyder’s version of Superman? We’ll truly never know.
How can WB/DC do better? I have a few ideas, some easier to obtain than others. Firstly, I’d consider shrinking the budgets. I’m not talking to go all Blumhouse-style movies with $10M budgets but to consider what Wonder Woman was able to achieve with the more modest $149M. I understand that not every film is going to be able to have that simple of a budget but it’s still something that WB needs to try and achieve (How much more money was spent on the editing of BvS for its Ultimate Cut?). Secondly, find a version of the film that nearly everyone can agree on and stick with it. The theatrical version of Batman v Superman was a bit of a mess and the Ultimate Cut thankfully cleaned up a lot of the problems. So why couldn’t the Ultimate Cut have been what was shown in theaters? Even tacking on an additional 15 minutes to the film would have made it feel so much better. Suicide Squad (excuse me, the Academy Award-winning Suicide Squad. DCEU 1, MCU 0) suffered similar issues but that was the least of its problems, in my opinion. Lastly, chill out on the marketing. WB, it got you in trouble with Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad but then you played it really well with Wonder Woman. So why are you now going crazy with the bonus extended clips for Justice League? This makes me wonder if WB isn’t very confident in the film so it has to tease the audience with specific chunks of the film to get people to go see the rest of it (Spider-Man: Homecoming was marketed in a similar way).
I know that the DCEU isn’t critically as successful as people want it to be but I think there’s a few things that contribute to that. I’ve been talking with my friends about this concept of “Marvel conditioning” which sounds like a conspiracy theory but I think there’s some truth to it. For years we’ve all paid attention to Marvel and it’s been the “standard” of what comic book movies have been. So I feel like when people complain about the DCEU they tend to ignore similar things that the MCU has done. Can you blame WB/DC for wanting to have some form of levity in their storytelling? Folks will praise Logan as being one of the best CBMs of all time because it took a realistic approach to comic book characters. Yet Batman v Superman didn’t? But what do I know…(I’ll always be salty.)
So, how well is the DCEU doing? I think it’s doing fine. It’s not the massive critical success that I’m sure WB wanted this to be but these first four films are a gateway to many more stories and potentially fantastic films. Considering this is the follow up to one of the most brilliant CBM trilogies to date, The Dark Knight Trilogy, I think as fans of both comics and movies that we’ve been supremely spoiled. I think it’s way too easy to lose track at how lucky we are that studios are actually making these kinds of movies right now. Just remember though, that if any film ends up sucking then it’s not the end of the world (And for the love of God, please don’t threaten people on Twitter. Act like the adult you’re supposed to be…unless you’re a kid and if that’s the case then get off of the internet for a minute.).