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A Case For Marvel Being More Popular Than DC (besides DC just having bad quality movies)

Are the movies of the DC universe just that bad? After watching Justice League, inclined to think that the reason Marvel continues to be more successful is due to DC’s inability to create a compelling, coherent, complete story. If it weren’t for the high quality of Wonder Woman, this would certainly be the case. While Marvel’s popularity may be largely due to simply having better content, may can theorize other reasons why Marvel has attained more recent cultural success through utilizing what we know about direct benefit, clusters, and tipping points.

In the article by Stephen M. Colbert (not to be confused with the late night tv show host), the author comments on the disparity between the reviews of Marvel movies and DC movies on Rotten Tomatoes. While none of the seventeen movies released as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have received a rotten rating (a rating below 60%), four of the five DC movies released have gotten a rotten score. Colbert explains that the way that scores are calculated follows an algorithm that considers individual reviews from hundreds of critics, and coalesces them into a single rating. The author then points out this algorithm as a source of the disparity between the scores, for people who see DC movies largely have higher expectations than people who see Marvel movies.

The fact that Marvel started making movies first, coupled with its superheroes generally been showing less in the media, means that people at expected less when going to see a Marvel film. There hadn’t been many movies about characters like Thor, Iron Man, or Captain America, so people didn’t uphold lofty expectations for the quality of the movies. Thus, people didn’t expect to get a high payoff from seeing the movie; but since the movies tended to exceed expectations, they received a high payoff than projected. With most people having their expectations exceeded, the popularity of the Marvel movies skyrocketed past the studio’s unstable tipping point, putting them at a place where it’s hard for them to fail. Friends would tell their friends about the Marvel movies, people would hear about the movies on the news, and the overall good information would continue to spread and possibly cascade. Certain clusters among groups that have a low threshold for seeing superhero movies would be infected with this ‘Marvel mob’ mentality. It’s clear that timing is crucial, as by the first DCU movie rolled around in 2013, Marvel had already created one of the highest grossing movies of all time (adjusted for inflation).

Something we learned in class is that there can be a path dependence to an item’s popularity; one item of a particular type/purpose could lower the success of the similar items. While it’s not crazy to think that all superhero movies could coexist and dominate the box office together, DC’s negative reviews can in part be attributed to the Marvel’s consistency. While Marvel is still floating above its initial tipping point, DC has yet to jet past its own; even Wonder Woman wasn’t enough to ensure the studio’s popularity in the short term. The fact that there are clusters of Marvel fans doesn’t help either; these clusters may be so set on supporting their own studio that they refuse to support DC, even if DC creates something of good quality. Thus, while the direct benefit of seeing Justice League may be high, as there are still thousands of people across the globe who will surely still see the movie, the information that ones gains from seeing bad reviews will mostly likely make them feel less sure about going to the theaters.

In sum, Marvel starting early and surpassing everyone’s expectations is the main thing that’s holding DC back from being nearly as culturally dominant. Popularity breeds popularity, and the rich will very much get richer; Marvel’s early success bred positive reviews, which increased the informational benefit for seeing the movie, which led to more fans, which increases its popularity, and so on. As long as they can make movies of fair quality, they’ll most likely always be on top. DC needs to create a movie of HIGH QUALITY to turn things around, and unfortunately, Justice League isn’t it.



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