Since Marvel Studios absolutely changed the game with 2012’s Avengers, a lot of competing film studios have been playing catch up while attempting to establish their own “cinematic universes.”
The obvious main competition to Marvel’s hegemony is Warner Brothers/DC Comics DC Extended Universe, which unlike Marvel Studios has access to every character in their comic book pantheon (as Marvel’s heroes are split between Fox, Sony and Disney’s Marvel Studios).
DC is also much more established in terms of longevity and recognition. Batman and Superman are two of the top three most popular comic book characters and before 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, had never appeared on screen together. That film had both of them and another popular character — Wonder Woman.
While the film was billed as the beginning of the Justice League, it didn’t have the entire team together. This year’s Justice League, the DCEU’s answer to Avengers, was an important film for Warner Brothers. It aimed to lay the foundation of their extended universe.
However, things aren’t looking great. The most expensive film they’ve ever was also the least profitable in its opening weekend. Bringing in under $100 million dollars at the North American box office — with a final total of “just” $96 million — it grossed less than Batman v. Superman, Man of Steel, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman.
For a while it appeared that the DCEU was releasing films that were invulnerable to bad critical reception. While critics loathed most of what Zack Snyder and company were churning out, people were still showing up in droves to check out their favorite characters on the big screen.
Now that people have both seen the “Trinity” that is Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman together on film, there really isn’t much of an incentive to spend money to go see another entry that is still not that great. That’s bad news for Warner Brothers and the DCEU. While Wonder Woman was a massive success both financially and critically, it appears to be the exception.
Because they were so behind Marvel in terms of starting their own universe, Warner Brothers appeared to be rushing things under the guise of doing things differently from Marvel when they announced their plans for their own cinematic universe.
Marvel spent four years establishing their individual characters and universe before they brought each of the four main Avengers together in 2012’s Avengers. At the time it had the largest opening weekend of any film ever, with over $210 million dollars.
Because Warner Brothers decided to do things backwards and create a team-based combo film that introduced half of its team in the movie — as opposed to introducing them in their own films first, like Marvel did — there was less build up.
Justice League was meant to be a springboard for multiple future franchises. If people aren’t excited about the introduction then they’re going to be less apt to go check out their solo films. Take Avengers as an example, after the success of that film each member of the team with their own franchise doubled their box office totals with their second or third film.
Iron Man 3 easily cracked over $1 billion dollars by itself. While Avengers: Age of Ultron made less than the first Avengers, it still cracked $1.4 billion at the global box office. The DCEU has yet to crack the $1 billion mark. Meanwhile,this year alone, the MCU’s three films — Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok — have cracked almost $2.5 billion dollars at the box office.
Does this mean that the DCEU is doomed? Perhaps not. Wonder Woman did show that people are still very interested in these characters, they’re just not willing to continue to go watch bad movies. The next two DCEU films are Aquaman and Shazam!. Aquaman is set for a December 2018 release.
They may announce the release dates of some of their other planned films between now and then but that’s a long time without any reminders that the DCEU does in fact exist. Perhaps that’s what’s needed in case they do a complete overhaul of their universe.