Looking at the box office scoreboard, this discussion may seem like a no-brainer. Clearly, Marvel wins in every aspect of movie profitability. Critics and audiences alike seem to score Marvel films highly, and the receipts for this $4 billion Disney purchase make Marvel a bargain buy for the House of the Mouse. While the box office dominance is undeniable, this doesn’t mean that Marvel has a better fan base; it just means that it has better movies.
In fact, the box office reveals something quite different. DC clearly has the better fan base. When a POS like Batman Vs. Superman can rake in $872 million worldwide, it isn’t the casual fan that is making that happen. When a decent but not super film like Suicide Squad can show the legs it has at the end of summer start of fall, it is the DC fans that are making it happen. DC has been making clearly inferior films, and yet, those films have been blockbusters. It can only be fans who return time and again to see their favorite characters. If Marvel had the same fan base, it would have garnered more than the current 4 in the top 12 films on the all-time box office list.
Not only are DC fans propping up the box office, they are also propping up the advertising campaigns. A vocal movement, which made international headlines, to shut down Rotten Tomatoes because of the critic rating of Suicide Squad was enough to create more curiosity among casual movie goers. This seemingly absurd and outlandish petition generated controversy and kept Suicide Squad in the minds of the population who may have otherwise skipped the film because of the critic rating. Critics are often wrong, and in this case, it worked to the advantage of the film.
All of this happens at a company that has no Stan Lee at its forefront. Lee is a god amongst geeks, and his word generally carries fans beyond the pale. His presence in every Marvel film, doesn’t make the film better necessarily, but it does make the fanboys and girls squeal. Lee and his cult of personality should be able to drive every Marvel film above the $1 billion mark. Instead, DC is relying on the strength of the appeal of its characters, if not the actual characters themselves, to bring in audiences, and it has thus far worked.
Marvel films may be glorious hits that are super profitable, but they are drawing on the return presence of fans that aren’t necessarily Marvel fans. DC relies on its core of superfanatics to make sure that it has enough in box office to bring out the next movie. That gives the rest of us hope that DC will figure out how to make the next movie wonderful.