9 Ways DC Entertainment Can Catch Up to Marvel Studios

Since we’re just one week away from Comic-Con and two weeks away from the release of The Dark Knight Rises, this seemed like as good a time as any to look at the Distinguished Competition to Marvel Studios and see where they stand when it comes to bringing the fans of their comic books to movie theaters and turning moviegoers into fans of their characters.

Roughly three years ago, DC Entertainment launched with plans to push the DC Comics characters into movies, television and other media and two years ago at the Las Vegas exhibitor’s convention ShoWest, Warner Bros. President Alan Horn said that the company hoped to have the DC Comics characters pick up the slack after the end of the “Harry Potter” movies. So what happened? A little over a year later, we got Green Lantern, a disappointing movie on so many levels, both in terms of quality and its box office take, reportedly costing $200 million and grossing only $220 million worldwide (not enough to pay the production costs). ShoWest is no more, replaced by CinemaCon, and where is Horn? He just became the head of Disney, the parent company of Marvel Studios.

Meanwhile, Marvel’s The Avengers has become a huge worldwide hit, completely spanking the records set by Warner Bros.’ biggest superhero hit The Dark Knight. Sony has just launched a second successful Spider-Man franchise with The Amazing Spider-Man, Fox is trying to do the same with their Marvel characters and Marvel Studios is already planning for the next two years of movies.

Warner Bros. and DC still have Batman and Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” movies, which while hugely successful, will be coming to an end with The Dark Knight Rises. They have the Superman movie Man of Steel in the works for next summer, and they’ve announced a bunch of other movies.

As you may know from reading Spencer Perry’s reviews, DC Comics proper has been killing with their line-wide New 52 reboot since last August/September showing that you could reinvent something and bring in lots of new fans without losing those who already love the characters. We look at the New 52 as one of the smartest moves done by a comic book company in decades, but then we look at what DC Entertainment has done outside the comic books and cartoons since its inception and we aren’t nearly as impressed. The success of Marvel Studios as well as other movies based on Marvel characters has put them far ahead of the competition and one wonders whether there’s any chance for them to catch up.

You wonder where all the optimism Horn had for DC Entertainment keeping Warner Bros. afloat over the next decade and beyond has gone and whether it was somewhat misplaced. Sure, it may seem somewhat harsh to call out DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. in this way–after all, they’re about to have an enormous hit with The Dark Knight Rises–but I promise that all of the suggestions I make come from a love of the DC characters and a desire to see them being taken as seriously by moviegoers as Spider-Man, Wolverine and The Avengers.

1. GET YOURSELF A “KEVIN FEIGE”

One of the reasons why Marvel Studios has been so successful is that they have one man who has acted as a conductor or an orchestrator for the past six years helping to pull things together and give Marvel Studios its own identity after the Marvel movies made by Sony, Fox and Lionsgate. Feige has had the foresight to hire the likes of Jon Favreau, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston and Joss Whedon to direct movies based on their comic characters and who else would ever have seen the potential in the likes of unknown actors like Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston to play Thor and Loki? He also has put together a crack production team to make all the productions go smoothly.

Warner Bros. certainly has lots of experience with film production and they’ve done a fine job over the years, but if they really want to make a serious effort making movies based on their comics, they need someone who knows as much about making movies as they do comics. Geoff Johns would be the obvious choice since he’s done such a masterful job guiding the DC comic book universe over the last few years, but he hasn’t produced as many movies in the same way as Feige. (And maybe we’re selfish but we wouldn’t want Johns to have to give up writing the comics to have the time to produce movies.)

You’ll still want creative individuals like Johns and Jim Lee involved every step of the way if you want to make a movie that lives up to the comics, but you also need bonafide filmmakers, those who know what works for the audiences sitting in theaters. You also need someone who can navigate the ins and outs of film production (Johns’ background is television), and this means that Warner Bros. needs to find someone they can trust to take the reins of the movies and make them happen. In the time since leaving Warners, Lorenzo di Bonaventura has proven he can do this so we can only imagine that other forces were holding him back when it came to doing comic movies at Warners. (Although to be fair, Catwoman and Constantine were made under his watch.)