Ten years ago if you told me the Avengers would be one of the highest grossing films of all time, I don’t think I would have believed you. Even when Marvel Studios started pushing out the solo films that would introduce the cast of the Avengers, most people would ask me (being their “comic book” friend) who Captain America, Thor and Iron Man were. For the most part, people knew who the Hulk was because of the cheesy television series and on occasion had at least heard of one of the other members of the team, but if you had asked them if it was a film they were going to be excited to see, most would probably have passed at the opportunity.
Conversely, a decade ago if you had talked to people about a Justice League movie, you probably would have gotten a much higher positive response rate. Just from DC’s Big 3 of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman (even before the Christopher Nolan series of films), people would have cared about the series. Fond memories of Christopher Reeves as the Man of Steel and any of the previous Batman movies were still acceptable enough to get people behind the idea of seeing them all together in one movie. But now, it’s a very different story if someone was going to try to put together a Justice League team movie.
After a series of successful solo titles and sequels, the Avengers and its big four have all become household names while support characters have even become recognizable. I mean, you know that Marvel has a lot of faith in their franchise since they are plotting new Iron Man, Thor and Captain America sequels as well as Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man films. Let’s think about the last part of that sentence. Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man. That is some major faith in the power of a brand. While it was some of the best spacefaring comic book work of the past few decades, the most recent Guardians of the Galaxy book only lasted a few years. And Ant-Man, his last series only lasted twelve issues and it was with a new Ant-Man, not even the classic Hank Pym version.
On the other hand, DC hasn’t given themselves the proper setup to work in to a Justice League film, at least in the near future. First, the Christopher Nolan Batman films, while a huge success, aren’t tied into a greater DC continuity. Almost like how Spider-Man or the X-Men films lived outside of the Avengers world, the Dark Knight trilogy never gives reference to what was going on in Superman Returns or Green Lantern, nor was it referenced in either film. Also, while avoiding spoilers, the Dark Knight Rises doesn’t leave the iconic version of Batman at the ready to be a member of the Justice League.
Green Lantern, who was making a play in recent years under the guidance of Goeff Johns for Wonder Woman’s spot in the Big 3, unfortunately was a flop of a film. Between poor critical response, poor box office performance and negative reviews from both mainstream audience and comic book fans alike, Green Lantern has not set himself up as a big draw were the team to be pulled together for a film.
The one remaining hope for a Justice League film kickstart comes from the only-seen-so-far-in-trailer-form Man of Steel. Not only is it a reboot of the Superman character, it is the chance to start the new DC movie universe fresh. Much like Superman was the first real superhero, this film could be the first in a brand new DC continuity. Nolan is done with Batman, so in a few years DC is probably going to reboot it anyway.
Now they can come up with a connected world that both Batman and Superman are present in. They can also work on a Wonder Woman feature film (and can even use all the costumes that went unused when the television series was canceled). The other characters like Green Lantern, Flash or Aquaman don’t need their own features just yet and can be brought in with faster origins during the film. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Flash is a guy who runs fast.
But right now, DC just needs to play their cards right. Marvel Studios and the Avengers proved that super hero movies are mainstream. DC has seen this successes and failures of their own in this market as well. Hopefully, they have learned from mistakes like Green Lantern and Superman Returns and put together the right series of movies to lead up to a Justice League movie that really matters. Otherwise DC will never be able to touch the quality or success that Marvel was able to from the Avengers.