With arguably the most recognizable heroes and villains filling out their roster, the DC Film Universe has struggled to keep pace with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How have things gone so wrong for the majority of these franchises?
Before heroes like Iron Man, Thor and Black Panther became household names, Batman was all the rage. Tim Burton reinvigorated the Dark Knight for audiences back in 1989 and again in 1992 as Michael Keaton donned the cape and cowl. Since that time, numerous other actors have tried their hand at protecting Gotham such as Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale and currently Ben Affleck. The 90s were a very “dark” time for Batfans, specifically with the Joel Schumacher abominations that are Batman & Robin and Batman Forever. It wasn’t until 2005 when Christopher Nolan got things back on track and gave us the Batman that we deserved.
After Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy ended with The Dark Knight Rises in 2012, talks of creating a shared universe of DC heroes began to come about instead of just putting out standalone films like 2011’s Green Lantern, 2006’s Superman Returns, or 2010’s Jonah Hex. George Miller was set to direct Justice League Mortal that would have seen Armie Hammer as Batman and was to feature other heroes like The Flash, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Lantern and Aquaman, but the project fell apart.
2013 saw the release of Man of Steel starring Henry Cavill as the Last Son of Krypton, which was the beginning of the shared DC Universe. The film is divisive amongst fans and critics, holding a 55% critic score and 75% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Shaking off some of the negative feedback, it took another three years until Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice was released to very mixed reactions. Though the film introduced the heavy hitters like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg, issues like pacing and tone left a bad taste in many mouths.
Suicide Squad followed a few months later, seeing villains like Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, Diablo, Boomerang, Slipknot, Deadshot, and Katana forming an anti-heroic team to take down the Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Woman in Enchantress. Also introduced was Jared Leto’s take on The Joker and a cameo from Ben Affleck’s Batman. Though fangirls everywhere began cosplaying as Harley Quinn, critics and audiences alike were disappointed, as the film holds a 27% critic and 60% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Things looked to be turning a corner when Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman hit screens in 2017, marking the first female-led super hero film to the delight of many. The origin story of Diana Prince and her journey through the events of World War 1 seemed to be the shot in the arm that DC and Warner Brothers desperately needed…until Justice League followed shortly after. The mere mention of DC’s biggest heroes joining forces should’ve automatically made $1 billion, but Justice League severely disappointed with just under $658 million worldwide. As it stands, Aquaman is set to release in December of 2018, the Zachary Levi led Shazam! is set for April of 2019 and the Wonder Woman sequel is set for November of 2019.
Aside from the remaining three “definite” films on the docket, there are also reported films such as: Suicide Squad 2, Birds of Prey, Cyborg, Green Lantern Corps, The Batman, Flashpoint, two Joker films, Nightwing, New Gods, Batgirl, Justice League 2, Deadshot, Lobo, Harley Quinn, Justice League Dark, Black Adam, Deathstroke, and pretty much any DC character you can name.
So why has Warner Brothers & DC had such a difficult time making quality films? Of course, the outlook on this is all subjective in terms of quality, but the numbers don’t lie. Looking at the five currently released films in this shared universe, they average a 48.2% critics score and a 72% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. In terms of the financial end, these five films have a combined worldwide gross of $3.76 billion on a $1.14 billion budget, netting $2.62 billion. While more than $2 billion is a pretty nice chunk of change, let’s compare these films to the last two MCU films to be released in Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.
Black Panther netted $1.3 billion worldwide on a $200 million budget while Infinity War joined the $2 billion club on around a $358 million budget. Adding up the totals for these two films sees a worldwide gross of $3.3 billion on an estimated $558 million budget for a profit of $2.7 billion. The fact the Disney and Marvel were able to make more money on these two films, which have an average of a 90% critic score and an 85% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, goes to show that the quality of their films supersedes that of DC & Warner Brothers.
Now that we’ve done our math lesson for the day, let’s take a look at some of the other factors contributing to the issue. We now know what critics and audiences thought of these films in terms of their scores and how much money was shelled out to see them, but probably the biggest thing in the way…is the production studio. There have been so many films announced and later scrapped at each subsequent San Diego Comic Con over the years that fans just don’t know what films are actually coming out. When a film slate gets announced and then cast and directors are confirmed, something happens that derails the project.
Take a look at The Flash, for example. The Scarlet Speedster was to get his own standalone film after Justice League with Seth Grahame-Smith hired for directing duties in 2015 before dropping out. Rick Famuyiwa replaced him but then dropped out in November of 2016 before filming was to begin. Currently, John Francis Daly & Jonathan Goldstein are attached to direct what will now be Flashpoint.
Another major issue has been with Superman. Though we’ve seen Henry Cavill play the Man of Steel three times now, he still hasn’t gotten a sequel to his first film and was used as a temporary villain in Justice League after being killed and grossly misused in BvS. Superman can be a tough character to write for with the large array of powers and abilities he has, but for crying out loud, he’s arguably the most well-known super hero there is!
Speaking of heroes that some people know, what about Batman? Ben Affleck has done a pretty great job playing the Dark Knight in BvS, Justice League and his cameo in Suicide Squad. But before Justice League even released, rumors of Affleck not returning to the role began to run rampant among conventions, geek circles and the internet. The weekly “will he, won’t he” conversation began to grow tiresome and eventually Affleck relinquished both writing and directorial duties for The Batman, which was to be his own solo film. Director Matt Reeves has filled his shoes and now reports are surfacing that Reeves’ The Batman will be a younger version and Affleck will be re-cast.
DC can’t get its heroes right, save for Wonder Woman, who gets her highly anticipated sequel in 2019, but they also can’t seem to get their villains right, either. The Rogues Gallery of villains that DC has to choose from is vast, but they still intend on giving us multiple versions of The Joker and multiple Harley Quinn films. Jared Leto painted his face for Suicide Squad but now Joaquin Phoenix will also play the Clown Prince of Crime in a Todd Phillips directed film set to be produced by Martin Scorsese. There is still talk of a Joker & Harley team-up that will reunite Leto and Margot Robbie, but the newest reports have Phoenix’s Joker film tied in to Reeves’ The Batman in some kind of separate universe from the main shared universe.
However the story plays out with the currently unreleased films, the fact that so many films, actors, directors and producers keep getting announced is just plain ridiculous. If you look at the way Disney, Marvel and Kevin Feige have constructed their shared universe, the differences are night and day. Marvel is under the direction of one man in Kevin Feige that has set them on a clear path and has kept everything in order. The only red on his ledger was the announcement and then cancellation of the Inhumans film, which later was adapted into a terrible TV series.
To top things off, AT&T recently acquired Time Warner for $85 billion and is now in control of the DC film division. With the shakeup that’s sure to be coming, could all of the future plans that were already so jumbled become even more unclear? There’s no telling what direction DC will take under new management or if any of the seemingly countless proposed films will actually happen now, but one can hope that this change will be for the better. Honestly, it can’t get any worse, can it?
We want to hear your take on all things DC. What films have you enjoyed? Which ones have you hated? What proposed films are you looking forward to seeing? And how do you think AT&T can “fix” the DC universe? Leave your comments below!