Starting in 1952, DC comics has been a mainstay in Hollywood for nearly 70 years. Superman has had 3 live action shows built around him – The Adventures of Superman, Lois & Clark, and Smallville. Not to mention his supporting role in the current Supergirl series, as well as a ton of animated versions. Batman has also had many animated series, his iconic campfest series in the 60’s, and the currently airing pre-Batman show Gotham. All these series proved insanely popular, and showed remarkable staying power
As for the movies, there has been the Christopher Reeve Superman movies of the late 70’s/early 80’s, and the first two are amazing films that still hold up today. The Tim Burton Batman movies were fantastic films that mixed the campiness of the old series with the typical Burton darkness. Unfortunately, they led way to the much lesser Schumacher films which won’t be mentioned again. Finally we got to watch what many consider the best trilogy of modern film making – Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.
One fact remains though, and that is that all the films and tv series mentioned above were separate entities. There was no crossover between anything outside of the their own franchise. However, in 2008, things began to change.
Outside of the X-Men and original Spider-Man franchises, Marvel has had many failed attempts at bringing their properties to the big screen. Daredevil, The Fantastic Four & The Hulk were all considered failures. Then on May 2, 2008, Marvel released Iron Man. Critics and audience loved what they saw. A few weeks later, a rebooted The Incredible Hulk came out and featured a brief appearance from Iron Man. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was officially born. Now, 14 films and 5 tv series in, the MCU is firing on all cylinders and has laid out a massive interconnecting franchise where any character can be shared at any time. It should be noted that the while existing in the same universe, the TV and movie properties are technically seperate. Things get cross referenced all time, but don’t expect Thor to show up on TV anytime soon. There’s also at least 2 more series and 8 more films coming in the next 4 years, so things won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
Of course, seeing how successful Marvel’s experiment was, DC wanted their own piece of the pie. With the Dark Knight series ending, Warner Bros/DC wanted to start their own movie universe with fan favorite characters joining up to fight iconic villains from their rogues gallery. First out of the gate was Green Lantern, which has become more known for it’s sheer stupidity than anything else. So, back to the drawing board they went.
While waiting to relaunch a viable movie franchise, DC launched a mini franchise on TV starting with Arrow. Similar in tone to The Dark Knight trilogy, the first season of the show was a huge success that quickly became the highest rated show on The CW network. During season two, they introduced the character of Barry Allen and The Flash became the 2nd series in what is now affectionately called “The Arrowverse”. The following year, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl (temporarily on CBS) joined the party and now we have four great shows interconnecting in wonderful ways.
For some reason, though, DC didn’t see the appeal of the TV shows and decided they wanted their movie universe totally separate from the TV series. That wasn’t their biggest concern, unfortunately. The first movie in the relaunched DCEU was Man of Steel. Though financially successful, the Superman movie was not exactly embraced by viewers and most were underwhelmed. Next was the long awaited Batman Vs. Superman, which would bring the Caped Crusader into the new universe. Once again, high grosses didn’t mean the film was well liked. As a matter of fact, it was very poorly received. Suicide Squad was the third movie, and things were looking up. The trailers showcased humor, something sorely lacking in the current DC movies, and brought in favorite characters like Harley Quinn and Killer Croc that had never been filmed in live action before. But sadly, quantity over quality occurred once again. Next up is Wonder Woman, and though it’s still early, advanced word is that the fourth time isn’t going to be any better.
While not all the Marvel properties are home runs, the company keeps banging out films and series that are genuine crowd-pleasers – they make money and they make people happy. Meanwhile, the DC extended universe is in serious trouble. One would think that after three movies that failed to engage the audience, WB/DC would course correct and give the viewers what they want. But the upcoming slate of films, including Aquaman, The Flash and a standalone Batman movie, kept going through script rewrites and director changes. Ben Affleck just backed out of directing the Batman movie last week and now, as of this writing, is rumored to want to back out of starring as well
It makes zero sense that a group of four inexpensive TV shows, on a little watched network that caters to the under-30 crowd, can produce stories and characters that people genuinely seem to enjoy and care about, yet the big budget blockbusters on the movie screen just don’t work. Something needs to be done, and fast. I fear that if the upcoming Justice League movie fails to catch on, a whole new reboot of the DC movies will take place and we’ll go though this all over again.