DC vs Marvel at the Box Office and Everything that is Wrong with Hollywood Filmmaking

Late tonight the new Superman movie Man of Steel will open at the box office nationwide and will no doubt be the smash hit that DC and Warner Bros. hope it will be. It may even surpass The Avengers in total box office revenue which apparently is really important. After all no one much cares if this is a good film or not, right?

Oh, I’m sorry. That is the way movies used to be judged. The quality of a movie was based on such bizarre details like… the quality of the movie. But the big story in Tinseltown this week isn’t so much what Zac Snyder has done with Superman or whether or not he can follow in his Man of Steel’s producer Christopher Nolan’s footsteps but whether or not Man of Steel can help DC topple Marvel for king of box office supremacy. Don’t believe me? Here’s a link: http://news.yahoo.com/man-steels-real-battle-against-marvel-future-superhero-150006378.html

You see Marvel apparently did something quite clever when they made Iron Man. By hinting at a future Avengers movie and then successfully launching films like The Incredible Hulk and Thor they built up an audience of future consumers and established a cash cow franchise in The Avengers and all it subsidiaries. Meanwhile that chump Christopher Nolan was out there just thinking about making a good batman movie and surprisingly people wanted to watch it.

I could be wrong but way back in 2005 when Nolan made Batman Begins I don’t believe creating a 3 billion dollar franchise was his goal. In fact it seems absurd to say now but doing Batman was risky for Warner Bros. In 1997 the studio made the universally panned Batman and Robin and for years scripts about Batman, including one where Howard Stern would have played Scarecrow, were rejected. The idea of doing a reboot or re-imagining of Batman was also odd at that time. Anytime you rework a character’s origin story you run the risk of alienating a built-in audience that has come to expect something from that character.

I don’t think audiences knew just what Christopher Nolan had up his sleeve when Batman Begins was released and although it was a hit it was a modest one making about 300 million domestically. But I had some idea then that Nolan had bigger things up his sleeves. This is a man who made big idea movies like Memento and The Prestige. Nolan has always been big on subtext and what Batman Begins did was ground the character in reality setting up a franchise that could tackle issues like terrorism and progressivism without making Batman any less a hero. When Radiohead put out The Bends in 1995 few suspected their real talent, but having heard them in concert I knew they were on their way up. The experimenting with electronica on that album paved the way for their greatest work OK Computer in 1997 which won album of the year. Nolan didn’t know what the audience would be with Batman Begins but he was testing the waters, dipping his foot in the pond, and when the time was right he launched a cultural milestone movie; The Dark Knight.

The Dark Knight was successful, making over a billion dollars worldwide, but not just because it had a huge opening weekend. People went back to see this movie over and over again. People talked about it like people once talked about great novels or or philosophy. Me and my wife saw it three times in movie theatres. I know people who saw it five or six times.

The intent of Man of Steel should be to do the same thing. To re-imagine Superman in a way that breathes new life and humanity into the character. Bryan Singers 2006 film Superman Returns was too deferential to the Richard Donner 1977 Superman, a film I have called the best superhero movie ever made. But if Zac Snyder carve his own niche into Superman, if he get under the characters impenetrable skin and make us feel something once more, if he can capture even some of the romantic, enigmatic nature of Superman then he will have made a great film, regardless of how much money it makes.

It makes me nervous that their is already a sequel in the works for Man of Steel. It makes me more nervous that this film and a new Batman film are to be used as a launch pad for a future Justice League movie. Personally I liked The Avengers, and the Iron Man movies but I am not certain I want to see a Justice League movie, especially if it is being made just to kick Marvel’s ass.

Frankly I don’t care that the Avengers made more money than the Dark Knight. The Nutty Professor made far more money than Casablanca. Somehow that hasn’t diminished Casablanca. The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight rises are far superior to any superhero movie Marvel has created (yes, even Spiderman 2). Add in the first two Superman movies and the first two Batman movies and I would say DC has the edge on movie supremacy. That is the trend DC should be worried about continuing, not making more money than Marvel.

When Hollywood cares about making quality films audiences will come. Something DC should keep in mind.


Jack K. Brewster


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