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DC Comics vs. Marvel: Super Films or Super Flops?

By Cassiah Joski-Jethi · April 2, 2013

In the past ten years or so, Superhero films have exploded onto mainstream cinema. True, superhero films have been around years before the turn of the Millennium, but the recent rapid release of superhero flicks are unparalleled.  Even within the time span of ten years, Spiderman (2002) has already had a remake! But is the demand for superhero films justified in terms of film quality? Are they, excuse the phrase, super films or simply super flops? To best examine this, it is wise to look at the two producers of these super tales: DC Comics and Marvel.

First, we shall look into the quality of DC Comics’ superhero films. Of course, the first movie that would spring to mind is, The Dark Knight (2008)! Christopher Nolan certainly successfully took the Batman franchise and turned it into a trilogy of respectable films. Nolan’s ability to frame a superhero story away from the daft action and cheap dialogue created a beautiful movie able to stand as a movie in its own right. Drawing on the themes of human morality, duality and desire, Nolan’s aesthetic elements matched the intense and thought provoking material.

Unfortunately however, compared to other DC Comics films, Nolan’s Batman trilogy is an anomaly. Catwoman (2004) was a laughable portrayal of a super female, using her sexual prowess and a whip above all else to achieve her one dimensional goal of revenge. Similarly, The Green Lantern (2011) was loose in terms of plot, cinematic shaping and character development. To argue that other DC Comic films had any great cinematic significance is a weak claim, but is the strength of Nolan’s Batman trilogy enough to stand up against Marvel?

Marvel superhero films are an interesting case study, far more diverse than the polar opposite scale applicable to DC Comics superhero films. Marvel has an overall higher rate of box office and critical success. X Men, Spiderman, Iron Man, The Avengers are to name a few successes which have thrust Marvel into the forefront of mainstream superhero audiences. The Avengers was the highest grossing film of 2012, and is one of the highest grossing box office hits of all time.

However, there are also a handful of Marvel films that are best forgotten, including Elektra, Ghost Rider, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Unfortunately, the narratives were simple and non-engaging , and the characters had little substantial motivation and development. Particularly disappointing was Elektra, as it had the potential to have a strong superhero female lead in a credible film. Sadly, Elektra as a character has no deep moral developments, and the film adheres to superficial superhero film conventions that are uninspiring.

It appears that Marvel has a greater array of super films than DC Comics does. Yet, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises all surpass the quality of Marvel’s top dogs. There are a number of super flops shared between DC comics and Marvel that they share, which is a shame, but does not discount their successes.

It comes down to DC Comics with one Super Film, a film that can stand alone outside the genre and superhero conventions, and Marvel with a string of super films, but that will not necessarily go down in history as one of the greatest films of the past decade. 

And overall, in the world of superhero films, it is about a fifty/fifty split between films that are Super Films and Super Flops. However, maybe with the recent success of the Batman trilogy and The Avengers, future superhero productions will follow suit, endeavouring to create more Super Films as opposed to Super Flops.