Marvel, DC Duel At the Box Office

Superman is the biggest franchise in comics and Batman is close behind. Marvel's stable of characters is more interesting, though.

Marvel, DC Duel At the Box Office (WaPo, D1)

Suppose Batman and the Fantastic Four are standing at an intersection and get into a fight. Who wins?

An age-old comic book fight is being renewed this summer, and it’s not the struggle of good against evil — it’s the jostling for revenue and prestige between rival comic companies and their fictional universes. Crime-fighter Batman, after all, is an employee of DC Comics Inc., a division of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. His latest adventure on the big screen, “Batman Begins,” kicked off as the No. 1 flick last week and took in a not-bad $48.7 million in its opening weekend. “Fantastic Four,” which opens July 8, belongs to Marvel Enterprises Inc.’s comics.

The difference between DC and Marvel used to be one of those cultural dividing lines — a slightly geekier version of the Beatles-vs.-the-Stones question. The decline of comic books since the 1970s made the issue largely irrelevant, but video games, online role-playing games and new movies are bringing the classic DC-Marvel conflict back to life.

Superman is on his way back to the big screen, as is his DC colleague Wonder Woman. Marvel, riding high off its major successes with the “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” movies, is digging deep into its catalogue and working on screen adaptations of Iron Man, Submariner, Thor, Silver Surfer and others. Marvel’s “Ghost Rider,” starring Nicolas Cage as motorcycle stunt performer Johnny Blaze, is set for a release next summer.


DC is playing a bit of catch-up, though executives at DC and Warner Bros. are quick to point out that they have been more successful on the small screen, with the TV show “Smallville” and several animated series airing on Cartoon Network. What’s more, since its TV and film projects are filmed by studios and aired on networks owned by Warner Bros., DC gets to keep more profit than Marvel does on its projects.

But DC Comics’ most valuable property, Superman, has not struck big-screen pay dirt since the Christopher Reeve movies two decades ago. “Batman Begins” is the first time Bruce Wayne has gotten onto the big screen since “Batman & Robin” flopped in 1997. That last movie “killed the franchise for eight years,” said Chuck Dixon, who wrote Batman comics for over a decade. He skipped “Batman & Robin” even though it featured a villain he co-created called Bane. The character went on to become “a pasta shape in Spaghetti-Os, which means a lot more to me than the appearance in that awful movie,” he said. Last year’s “Catwoman” was also a major embarrassment for Warner Bros., as the company now admits without much prompting.

Superman is the biggest franchise in comics and Batman is close behind. Marvel’s overable stable of characters is more interesting, though. At least that was the case fifteen years ago whe I was still reading comics on a regular basis.

I’m a little surprised that D.C. hasn’t done more with Green Lantern and Green Arrow, both characters that would translate nicely on the big screen. They’re certainly more interesting than Catwoman–although they wouldn’t provide an opportunity to showcase Halle Berry’s scantily clad body. But there’s always the Black Canary character. . . .


DC Comics Superhero Movies:
Batman Begins Movie Review
Batman Begins Movie Trailer
Brandon Routh as Superman
Kevin Spacey to Play Lex Luthor in New Superman Film
DC Comics Unveils New Logo

Marvel Comics Superhero Movies:
‘Fantastic Four’ Movie
Kelsey Grammar to Play “Beast†in X-Men 3
Thomas Haden Church to Play Bad Guy in ‘Spider Man 3-
Topher Grace in Spider-Man 3
Spider-Man 2: Philosophically Speaking
Spider-Man 2 (Movie Review)

FILED UNDER: Comic Books, Entertainment, Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jay says:

    People always doubted me when I suggested that, done right, Green Arrow could be adapted into a successful film. I even had the beginnings of a script idea in mind, lo these 15 years or so ago.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Yep. The Neal Adams-Denny Green version from the early 1970s and then the post-Longbow Hunters versions from the late 1980s were every bit as compelling as Batman and much more so than Superman or Spider-Man.

  3. For some time now, I’ve been wondering why there hasn’t been a Captain America feature. You’d think that, with the patriotic fervor surrounding 9/11, the studios would jump all over it. I certainly would be intrigued by it.

  4. James Joyner says:

    There was a rather pitiful attempt at a Captain America movie in 1991.

  5. Eric J says:

    I’m still waiting to see a movie that really captures the feel of a comics universe – where everyone on the street is aware of the existance of superheroes and villains, and the heroes regularly team up and cross-over. I always thought that Fantastic Four would be the perfect vehicle for a Marvel Universe movie, but we apparently still have to wait.