Much has been written about the success of Wonder Woman, the fourth (and latest) in the line of DC Extended Universe movies. After three weeks of release, Wonder Woman is less than $20 million behind the domestic cume of the first movie in the DCEU – Man of Steel – and about $60 back of Batman v Superman, which holds the largest domestic cume of any movie in the DCEU.
At Lit to Lens, we’ve wondered ourselves if DC is back. But for me personally, that question is less interesting than another: How does DC stack up to Marvel?
The Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off in 2008 with the release of Iron Man, and followed later that year by Edward Norton’s The Incredible Hulk. The first Iron Man was unquestionably a financial success and ranks high on the list of most influential movies of all time.
The Incredible Hulk? Not so much. Take a look at the charts below and you’ll see how the first four movies in each universe stack up.
What’s initially apparent is the disparity between the production budgets. In the MCU, only Iron Man 2 saw its budget stretch $200M or above, while two of the four DCEU movies hit this threshold.
There’s a variety of factors at play as to why this is the case: Superman and Batman are two of the most popular and well-known superheroes that exist. The logic follows that studios can afford to spend more money when the audience awareness is higher. Also, the early success of the MCU paved the way for comic book movies with higher budgets. Greater success equals greater investment.
But it’s not only that. In addition to being the best known, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are three foundational characters of the DCEU (and the Avengers equivalent) Justice League. DC had to invest heavily into these movies, because if they didn’t work, neither would the universe. Now, I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that a higher budget results in a better end product. But it certainly allows for gaudier (and many more) action sequences.
Tonally, the universes are opposites. The DCEU was birthed from the dark, nether regions of Zack Snyder’s visual style. But after Man of Steel and BvS there seems to have been a course correction.
The Suicide Squad trailer looked…fun (even if the movie was decidedly not). Doom and gloom was replaced by mania and Queen. The marketing was lightening up, even if the movies were not.
And then came Wonder Woman. While not light, viewers don’t get a sense of headbangingly purcussive brooding from its main characters. There are jokes and interesting relationships not based upon death and the effects of death.
Viewers would never confuse an MCU entry for a DCEU, if only because the MCU has become so stunningly corporate. An enterprise in machine-movie making. Input a script, a cast, and a director; output something that ties in eight other somethings and moves us along the Marvel continuum on step closer to Thanos.
But those early MCU entries? Not at all. Iron Man is almost a farce, The Incredible Hulk better than you remember but there’s not enough interesting about the Hulk to carry a movie, and Thor is essentially Shakespearean tragedy. Of the four, only Iron Man 2 looks and feels like an MCU movie.
Keep scrolling down the chart and you’ll see differences between the number of theaters each movie opened in (DC blows Marvel out of the water), average cume per theater on the movie’s opening weekend, and the percentage gross that occurred domestically and internationally.
With the exception of Iron Man 2, each DCEU movie opened in more theaters, and that’s despite the total number of cinema sites in the United States trending down the last 15-20 years.
In addition, the vast majority of gross for DCEU movies comes internationally. Whether that’s a function of a more mature foreign film market (more theaters) or greater affinity for superheroes than existed in 2008 is hard to say.