State of the DCEU

Recently Warner Bros. announced that it is stepping back from the DCEU in favor of more standalone DC films like the announced Todd Phillips Joker origin film. This is predicated on the assumption that more people enjoyed Wonder Woman because it existed in a vacuum and spent no time “world building”. This is all tied to the concept of Wonder Woman as the first “successful” film from the DCEU, the fourth in the new franchise.

After the critical failure of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad last year, WB delayed many of its planned future films. At this point they no longer plan to continue with a two film per year release schedule, and future films like The Batman and Batgirl may exist entirely outside of the connected universe. This is not without cause, but looking at some numbers I think it’s important to keep perspective by comparing the success of MCU at the same stage in its development.

DCEU Worldwide Gross Rotten Tomatoes RT Users Metacritic MC Users IMDb users Cinemascore
Man of Steel $668m 55% (6.2 average) 75% (7.8 average) 55 7.5 7.1 A-
Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice $873.3m 27% (4.9 average) 64% (7.0 average) 44 7.0 6.6 B
Suicide Squad $745.6m 25% (4.7 average) 61% (7.0 average) 40 6.2 6.2 B+
Wonder Woman $821.1m 92% (7.6 average) 89% (8.6 average) 76 7.8 7.7 A
Average $777m 50% (5.9 average) 72% (7.6 average) 54 7.2 6.9 A-


MCU Worldwide Gross Rotten Tomatoes RT Users Metacritic MC Users IMDb users Cinemascore
Iron Man $585.2m 94% (7.7 average) 91% (8.4 average) 79 8.5 7.9 A
The Incredible Hulk $263.4m 67% (6.2 average) 71% (7.2 average) 61 7.4 6.8 A-
Iron Man 2 $623.9m 73% (6.5 average) 72% (7.4 average) 57 6.4 7.0 A
Thor $449.3m 77% (6.7 average) 76% (7.6 average) 57 7.1 7.0 B+
Average $480.5m 78% (6.8 average) 78% (7.7 average) 64 7.4 7.2 A-


MCU to DCEU Worldwide Gross Rotten Tomatoes RT Users Metacritic MC Users IMDb users Cinemascore
Difference $296.6m (DCEU) 28% (0.9 average) (MCU) 6% (0.1 average) (MCU) 10 (MCU) 0.2 (MCU) 0.3 (MCU) Even


As you can see from the table above, DCEU is far more financially viable than MCU at its current state. Although MCU has done much to pave the way for the success of those films, plus Superman and Batman are already recognized properties in the public sphere compared to Iron Man and Thor. There is also a component of inflation to consider. All of that taken into account, a $777m average is still nothing to scoff at and represents a vitality among its fans.

The biggest disparity in favor of the MCU is Rotten Tomatoes scores, however that 28% differential is less damning when paired with a 0.9 difference in the average score. That means that while 28% more critics gave a recommendation to see MCU films, the actual score they award each film has a differential of only 9%. When looking at the user scores on Rotten Tomatoes (Flixter) you see a considerably more narrow field: 6% more recommendations and 1% difference in ratings. All of this shows that while there is a very slight preference toward early MCU over DCEU among viewers, the characterization of the pre-Wonder Woman DCEU films as hated by fans and critics alike is overblown. Similar trends can be found at Metacritic, where reviewers show a modest 10% difference in average score (very close to the 9% at Rotten Tomatoes) and a 2% difference in user scores. IMDb user scores, which typically house the largest number of user ratings on the internet, show only a 3% disparity, keeping close to the MC and RT user scores.

Cinemascore, which uses exit polling to determine moviegoer reactions on opening weekend, shows almost equal responses between the two franchises. The graded rating system offers a 13 point scale which averages out to 10.5 (DCEU) and 11.25 (MCU), again showing a similar response from those viewers.

Looking at these numbers it should be clear to anyone that DCEU is not in trouble. It has a healthy existence on all fronts, save the number of critics giving an unfavorable recommendation. Yet DCEU is still treated as a problem child by WB and they are hoping to distance themselves from the label and concept. It’s true that “franchise fatigue” is a trending term today, and simply the label of Dark Universe was enough to sink The Mummy earlier this year. By allowing films to exist outside of canon it gives audiences less homework before seeing an entry. I suspect many viewers today are considering whether or not to see Justice League, partially based on having skipped all films until now.

During the enormity of trailers shown before Blade Runner 2049 at AMC, a trailer for Justice League was shown. It played in a beautiful 1.9:1 aspect ratio and emphasized Wonder Woman more than previous trailers had. When the green brand of the next trailer hit the screen, I heard the Thursday night audience snicker, scoff, and sigh in exasperation at the mere suggestion they may be interested in Justice League. I would venture a guess that few of those audience members had watched the first three DCEU films in any meaningful way. This is yet another indication of the impact that one specific metric, the Rotten Tomatoes percent score, has on the viewing public’s perception of a film.

I worry about Justice League myself. WB has been far too reactionary to the criticism of BvS, leading to many of the tonal problems in Suicide Squad. It seems this has taken Justice League to camp-level comedy territory. I also worry that what was intended to be an epic film will be relegated to a modest length due to the criticism of BvS hitting the 2.5-hour mark (despite the vast improvement the 3-hour extended cut provides). I hope to see this film succeed in all categories as Wonder Woman did, I also hope it is a better film than Wonder Woman. Perhaps that will convince WB that attaching DC films to the expanded universe will aid in their storytelling and not harm their box office.

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