DC and Marvel have been at war for years for comic-book dominance, but in the last decade that war has moved from the page to the screen. And right from the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel has been winning handily, and there’s a good reason for that. We care about Marvel’s characters. Even if you didn’t know that consciously, you probably felt it, and a study from ZappiStore is bearing it out.
The firm used an emotional recognition platform called Affectiva to measure viewers’ emotional engagement with the movies. Users would watch the trailers for Marvel and DC movies in front of an internet-connected webcam while the platform recorded their faces. Viewers liked the DC trailers for the explosions and action, of course, but when it came to characters, Marvel is where it’s at. Viewers were drawn more to Marvel’s heroes and the humor that tends to mark Marvel films.
Guardians of the Galaxy‘s use of popular music and humor and Captain America: Civil War‘s use of familiar characters helped put both trailers up at the top of the positive responses. 78 and 58 percent of viewers “loved” those trailers, while DC’s Justice League and Batman v. Superman trailers ranked at 71 percent and a dismal 60 percent, respectively.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect, though, is that Marvel’s trailers scored significantly higher on brand linkage, which is the term given to the idea of the movies matching up with peoples’ image of the comic book source.
I can’t help but wonder if this boils down to how well-known DC characters are. While Marvel characters are certainly well-liked, very few are as iconic as Superman and Batman. Going into the first Iron Man film, Tony Stark was barely known outside of the comics community, and he was hardly A-Tier in the same way Spider-Man is. Superman, meanwhile, has been in the public consciousness for decades. He’s the first truly huge superhero. His Max Fleischer cartoons are legendary, and he’s been portrayed on the big and small screens by George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, and a bunch of other actors. Everyone knows who Superman is, and how he’s supposed to act. The same goes for Batman. It’s hardly a surprise that they’re struggling while their lesser-known colleagues, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and even Cyborg are being met with positive reactions right from the start. Some of them have been around almost as long as Supes, but they aren’t stitched into the fabric of our modern culture to nearly the same degree.
It seems, then, like DC is focusing on all the wrong stuff with the DCEU. Superman feels all wrong throughout Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and even through the first chunk of Justice League. It’s not until the final battle against Steppenwolf that the Superman of the DCEU even vaguely resembles the Superman in the collective consciousness in anything other than looks.
Critics and fans alike have been saying this for years now. Maybe a study like this one will finally convince the execs to do some sharp course correction if they do indeed go through with making Matt Reeves’ (still no relation) Batman film and the inevitable Man of Steel sequel.