The DC Extended Universe will have to change its name to the Batman Extended Universe if much-needed changes aren't made soon.
The #DCEU has been struggling with the cinematic universe game for quite some time. The first film in its franchise, 2013's Man of Steel, was met with mixed reviews, with fans equally praising and criticizing this darker, more serious tone to the #Superman mythos. The second film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, was universally panned and widely criticized for its jarring pacing and writing (the Martha scene? The reanimated Zod corpse? Egad). And while Suicide Squad represented a bold new creative direction for the DCEU, it was also widely panned and seen as a preposterous, overblown action fest with little personality or uniqueness in this supervillain team-up.
Now, DC isn’t holding back. This year, Wonder Woman and Justice League are both being released. In addition, DC has a loaded film slate on its hands, including solo films for Aquaman and Cyborg. One of the more interesting titles of this list is Ben Affleck’s The Batman, with the Caped Crusader also set to appear in the Justice League films as well as cameo in other films.
It's a no-brainer as to why Warner Bros. is relying heavily on everyone’s favorite Dark Knight. He’s one of the most iconic superheroes of all time, and the Batman film franchise has long been a moneymaker for Warner Bros. Nevertheless, if Warners wants its cinematic universe to succeed, it's going to have to pull the attention away from #Batman and focus more on the other areas of the DCEU.
Batman’s Plate Is Already Loaded
Let’s take a quick look at Batman’s involvement in the DCEU. So far, his appearances on the big screen, both past and coming, includes the following:
- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
- Suicide Squad
- Justice League
- Justice League Part 2
In addition to these films, Batman also has his own solo movie in production and will likely appear in a few potential Gotham City-centered spinoffs, should they come to cinematic fruition. These titles include:
- The Batman
- Gotham City Sirens
Wow. That's a potentially full dance card you've got there, Bruce. I don't even think Tony Stark was that busy in his first few years in the MCU.
Too Much Batman?
The fact that these movies are potentially being plotted by Warner Bros. is not bad news. Batman has a complex and dynamic history, and that's part of the reason why fans love him so much. What is concerning is how this slate focuses so much on Batman and threatens to pull away focus from the rest of the characters in the DCEU.
When Iron Man was released in 2008, Robert Downey Jr. dominated the superhero scene, so much so that Disney paid him a whopping $200 million to star in the upcoming Avengers movies. Yet, despite his star power, Iron Man has had no spinoff movies minus the Avengers and Captain America films. No War Machine movie. No Rescue movie. No Vision or Scarlet Witch or Black Widow movies, and there’s a good reason why: It’s simply because these characters don’t need solo movies. They all function and appeal best when they are used in supporting roles within the #MCU, allowing for greater storytelling potential for Marvel’s bigger, more recognizable stars.
The same thing applies to the DCEU. Nightwing and Batgirl are both interesting characters for sure, but are they enough to support their own movies without the help of Batman? That’s doubtful, especially when you think about how similar the two are (dark costumes, stealthy takedowns, beating criminals to a pulp, intimidating vigilante justice, etc.) How can you be sure that viewers will see Nightwing and Batgirl as their own heroes and not just as Batman copycats?
Shaking Up The Cowl
The worst part is that it makes sense for DC to rely so much on Batman because so far he’s been the biggest meal ticket. According to The Numbers, estimates suggest that the Batman film franchise has grossed more than $4.5 billion total at the worldwide box office, making it more successful than Marvel’s own X-Men and Spider-Man franchises. Superman isn’t even close to Batman’s box office supremacy, trailing by about $2 billion.
It makes sense for Warner Bros. to spotlight the Batman mythology, because so far it’s paid off very well for the studio. But if you have too much of a good thing, it creates the danger that soon people will grow tired of it and gradually back away.
Look at the X-Men franchise. None of these films have broken $800 million at the box office, a benchmark that even Batman v Superman crossed. With most of the X-Men movies, the average box office numbers hangs around the $300–$400 million mark, which is by no means terrible, but it’s underwhelming compared to the Spider-Man franchise and the MCU’s average of $700 million. The highest-grossing film in the X-Men franchise was Days of Future Past with $747 million, while its sequel Apocalypse deescalated to $542 million.
The explanation for this inconsistency is simple. With X-Men being Marvel’s longest-running franchise and featuring the same cast over the course of nine films, people understandably got bored and gradually lost interest. Nobody will deny that Hugh Jackman was great as Wolverine, or that Bryan Singer is a series staple, or that X2 was a masterpiece in superhero cinema. But in terms of franchising, 20th Century Fox just kept delivering the same product in each film release. That product is what audiences kept seeing, and their deflating interest was reflected in the inconsistent box office numbers.
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Then came the wild card Deadpool, a spinoff of the X-Men franchise. That movie grossed over $780 million at the box office, which makes it not only the highest-grossing film in the X-Men universe, but also makes it a higher earner than The Amazing Spider-Man and more than half of the MCU’s films.
Why is this? Simply put, #Deadpool was different. It was funny. It was irreverent. It gleefully lifted the middle finger to action cliches and giggled sadistically while doing so. It was unique to the superhero genre and to how we view heroic archetypes, and people loved it. They were hungry for it. They enjoyed it so much that they watched it more times than they watched any of the X-Men or Tim Burton Batman movies. Their excitement reflected in the box office because of the creativity that movie instilled, not because of the character that was involved.
The DCEU needs to adopt a similar ideology for the future of its franchise. The issue is not which characters will or won't feature, but how will these films be different from its competition. Relying on Batman as a crutch will not help the DCEU be different, let alone successful.
If the DCEU wants to be considered serious competition for Marvel going forward, it needs to embrace all areas of its diversified and unique universe, not just the ones that wear a cape and loom over Gotham late at night.
We'll next see Batman in Justice League, which hit cinemas on November 17. Check out the trailer below and tell us in the comments section if you think the DCEU move away from movies centered around the Caped Crusader, or do you want to see more?