Why Does Marvel Dominate?

Imagine that, twenty years ago, you set out to determine which comic book company would dominate the film industry in the coming decades. On one side you have DC, owner of the three most recognizable and loved characters in comics, who also already boast a few popular and acclaimed TV shows. On the other is Marvel, the upstart younger brother, consistently second in public recognition. The answer would seem obvious, and you would have bet on DC in a heartbeat. You would have been wrong. Check out the most successful superhero movies and you’ll find that Marvel owns eight of the top ten and fourteen of the top twenty. In terms of comic book sales, Marvel produced seven of the ten most-purchased comics of 2015, while DC produced one, a difference undeniably fueled by cinematic success. So why is Marvel winning?

Perhaps one of the reasons is simply that DC characters are less interesting. The two DC movies that cracked the top ten superhero films? “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” a pair of Batman films. Notably missing from the top ten? Superman, whose marquee movie “Man of Steel” came in at fourteenth. There’s something telling in this. Batman, with his tortured backstory, clear emotional complexity, and colorful villains, is a character who’s inherently interesting at first glance. Superman, the invincible and truly (some would say boringly) good son of krypton, is a character with whom we need to interact with for far longer than a three-hour movie to really understand his complexity. Marvel characters, one could argue, are simply quirkier and a bit more immediately interesting than their DC counterparts. 

However, I think this would be an overly simplistic argument. After all, it's absurd to say that the studio that produced characters like The Joker and rich societies like that of the Green Lantern Corps can’t create interesting things. However, Marvel seems to be far more willing to reach deep into into their wheelhouse of characters to head up their major films than DC is. Think of the movies put our by DC comics in the recent past. Excluding “Suicide Squad,” the vast majority of the films focus on the “big names” of DC, Batman and Superman, with the future of the company looking toward the company’s most well-recognized team, the Justice League. In contrast, the main characters in Marvel’s recently released movies run the gamut from the surprisingly epic Ant-Man to the obscure but absolutely hilarious Deadpool. Marvel reaches deep into their store of heroes to make their movies, and their use of characters audiences are unfamiliar with keep those audiences constantly interested in new discoveries. 

I think these two explanations are each only one part of the real reason Marvel is smashing DC, at least in film. Batman and Superman have both been done before, and done so many times that it’s hard to make a movie about them that’s truly new and interesting. Marvel, however, is incredibly willing to explore a huge diversity of characters for their blockbuster films, which keeps their film productions feeling fresh and new. DC focuses too much on their big three, to the point that those three actually bore us despite their massive potential. Marvel can see that potential in all their characters, and it's this vision that lets them dominate the comics world.