Marvel or DC. Superman or Batman. Green Arrow or Hawkeye. Everyone has their own superhero and/or universe preference. Some in the truly devoted geekdom swear allegiance to both. Both comic universes have had a long and healthy history of crossing into many genres that include action figures, video games, board games, animation, live action television, and motion picture. These are all mediums that both universes have played around in for decades. The recent surge in popularity, however, has brought it to the forefront of multiple industries. The debate has always raged amongst those in the geekdom over their favorite superhero; who would win in a fight, who has the coolest power, and of course which is the better ‘verse. This battle is getting played out on the small and large screen even as we speak, and I don’t mean in front of the camera. I’m talking about ratings and earnings.
It’s time to bring Marvel and DC to the mat and discuss their television and motion picture rivalry. Whether intended or not, it’s gone on for decades. Marvel has been the reigning king of the movie universe in the past decade, making some of the top grossing movies for our superhero enjoyment. Live action television shows, however, have not been their forte’ and have barely scratched the surface of notice with few exceptions, not counting animation. DC has had limited luck with blockbusters in recent years, but television has proven to be its medium de jour as its characters have blossomed overnight in the small screen world. When you look back on the past, however, you realize that it was not always that way as they had no solid footing in the small screen world, but the eighties and early nineties were DC’s powerhouse feature film years. For one universe it was quite the opposite while for another, it is currently reversing itself.
Has the tide begun to shift? Let’s examine the facts.
DC characters made a name for themselves in comic books long before the world of television caught wind of them. None drew the art world’s attention more, however, then a costumed alien wearing blue and red lifting a car above his head. When Action Comics debuted Superman the world took notice, and the ultimate Boy Scout was born. No one could have filled those shoes in live action any better than Christopher Reeves. God rest him, I have yet to find anyone who puts him at less than number one on their list of ultimate Superman actors. When his Superman movie launched in 1978 it took the world by storm. Its sequel was shot back-to-back of the first, taking the shoot into a 19 month schedule, but was released in 1980 to equal acclaim. Michael Keaton’s Batman released later that decade in 1989, proving to be of equal value to the DC world and geeks everywhere as we all stood up and took notice of the last actor many thought could make the Dark Knight come alive. To many of us, he is still Batman. His sequel to the movie in 1992 was also well received, but with the absence of Burton’s influence, Keaton’s presence, and Elfman’s musical score, all subsequent Batman movies began to fade in believability for fans. These were films that were made during DC’s glory days. There was a strong handle to be held to for DC movies during this time frame as the Sup’s and the Bat’s movies illustrate. At least until The Quest For Peace…the movie that shall not be named. Cringe with me, people. As time went on, however, we saw the cracks come to the surface.
Catwoman cracked little over 40 million according to Box Office Mojo upon its 2004 release and gained Razzies for Worst Screenplay, Worst Actress, Worst Director, and Worst Picture. Steel earned only one tenth of it’s budget at a teensy 17 million draw-in during its 1997 release, coming out more like a made for TV movie to most people. Jonah Hex earned roughly the same percentage at 10.9 million of its 47 million budget in 2010. And considering how many people want to forget Batman and Robin and Batman Forever I won’t even go into those statistics…
I am not saying that they haven’t had gems in the slightest. Man of Steel was epic and the Dark Knight series was amazing and critically acclaimed. And it’s evident that Batman vs. Superman might put them back in the box office limelight once again. I don’t have a feminine bone in my body, but every time I see the trailer for it I’m squealing like a little girl. Their niche’, however, appears to have shifted if you at the small screen. With the advent of Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll, Funimation, etc., more and more people are binge watching shows on their TV rather than hitting the theater. The tide has been turning and riding this wave has worked out beautifully for DC. As of the April 2015 ratings report The Flash had beat out Marvel’s Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D in the ratings. Arrow’s 2012 fall season debut was the top rated for its network in the past three years prior. Gotham’s season finale this year was the years’ highest rated scripted series runner for a Monday according to Nielsen's preliminary numbers. Smallville ran for ten seasons and to date is one of the longest running- if not the longest running- DC based TV show in history and still has a dedicated fan base. They outshine themselves in this arena. Their small screen light burns out the glare of the theater’s red carpet and it’s obvious that this is now where they belong.
This is how the ball goes over the net for one universe. It is vaulting over to a completely different side for the other.
Marvel has been the forerunner in the past decade of the motion picture industry. Let’s face it…Stan The Man has given us the characters to live and die by in the theater, and Joss Whedon has helped bring a lot of them to the table recently. In total Marvel has grossed in rough estimate over 5.9 billion in the past decade according to Box Office Mojo’s math, and we all know that this will not be up to date numbers as their stats show Age of Ultron’s numbers way under the one billion mark that it hit on its own; the exact numbers are more than likely double the Box Office Mojo stats. This alone shows that while Superman is the Man of Steel, Marvel has long since been the big screen’s Universe of Steel. That being said, they are slowing switching gears. The change has been subtle, but to the geekdom’s eye it can be noticeable.
Iron Man 2 drew in slightly less than its predecessor, while The Amazing Spider-Man 2 drew in considerably less in its 2014 debut. The same was said for the original Spider-Man movies, whose sequel failed to draw in as much attention and earnings. The last X-Men movie in the trilogy franchise has been widely considered to be so bad that many had written it off as nonexistent long before Days of Future Past retconned the last two movies and The Wolverine from its story arc. While still making gems and while showing that movies like the Avengers are keeping the iron hot just like DC has with Dark Knight and Man of Steel, the kinks have been showing in the armor.
But a new armor plate is being grafted on, and one that Marvel has tried before. Television. This time, however, it seems to be working. Shows like The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man thrived in the late seventies and early eighties. All other attempts made thereafter bombed horribly. Dr. Strange, Captain America, Nightman, Generation X, and Nick Fury were just a few Marvel shows lost to the winds of one season ratings nightmares and begging to be forgotten. The only hope for these characters was to be found in cartoons were they thrived wonderfully in the nineties in the form of shows like Spider-Man and X-Men. Animation helped them survive the eighties live action debacles as well thanks to Marvel Productions. In 1980 Marvel Productions was created as an animation department when their attempts at live action television were not working well for them early on. As an example, their Fantastic Four attempted during this time not only bombed, but the Human Torch was replaced with a metal robot on screen, much to the chagrin of Stan Lee himself. Marvel Productions produced some of the best eighties animation that spanned even beyond the Spider-Man cartoons, such as Dungeons and Dragons and Transformers. While the animation world thrived for them, their live action world kept floundering; the need for creating Marvel Productions should have been the first indication. It was literally Marvel TV CPR. Then one day decades later, along came Joss & Jed Whedon. And along came the creation of Marvel Television, a new division of the studio that now owns the rights to Marvel (who we won’t name because we want to forget about that, plus to protect our online butts.) And then came Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. And then our eyeballs melted in shock and awe. The gauntlet had been thrown as to who reigned supreme in television as the crown to the movie world was being considered in relinquishment. Agent Carter has already been given the green light for its second season and Daredevil has been heralded as one of Netflix top rated original series. Things are shaping up for Marvel on the small screen home front.
Are we in our own X-Men related Apocalypse? Have we been sent back in time and changed the future accidentally? Is it just me or are these crucial media related universal paradigms shifting? One arena has ruled the big screen for decades, yet the small screen is now calling its name and calling louder by the day. The powerful TV juggernaut that has had its share of flops on the large screen has redeemed itself in recent years with the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel rising tall, and might just do so again. Despite their obvious small screen throne, they might end of abdicating. Things are getting very Twilight Zone-ish in the Marvel and DC verse.
And we haven’t even talked about Battle World or 52 yet. That’s how freaky this is getting, people.
And we haven’t even talked about Battle World or 52 yet. That’s how freaky this is getting, people.