DC vs. Marvel: The Verdict on Each Cinematic Universe's First 3 Films

Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 2008 and Henry Cavill in Man of Steel 2013-Split-photofest-H 2016
Paramount Pictures/Photofest; Warner Bros./Photofest
Was 'The Incredible Hulk' really better than 'Batman v. Superman'?

It's three movies in, and the DC Extended Universe is 0 for 3 when it comes to the critics.

Reviews for Suicide Squad have been rough — proving it's even harder than it looks to launch a cinematic universe. Everyone wants one (seriously, everyone!), but as of now, only Marvel Studios has managed to get one off the ground that is both embraced by fans and critics alike. But people, even Marvel struggled in its early days — with some of its first films decidedly less acclaimed than the movies they are pumping out now on a yearly basis.

In that light, it's time for a round of Marvel vs. DC and let Marvel's first three films do battle with DC and Warner Bros.' first three.

Iron Man (2008) vs. Man of Steel (2013)

Marvel Studios had the surprise hit of the summer, with the film about a second-tier comic book character (Iron Man) starring an actor many thought was washed-up (Robert Downey Jr.) and helmed by a comedy director (Jon Favreau) going on to be among the most influential comic book movies ever made. Downey's charm went on to help him command $50 million a picture and become the anchor of the incredibly profitable MCU. The film earned raves from critics (it holds a 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and fans alike — who left theaters electrified by the Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) mid-credits scene, which promised an "Avenger initiative" in the future. In a summer also featuring The Dark Knight, Iron Man more than held its own. The $140 million-budgeted film grossed $585 million worldwide (chump change by Marvel standards today, but a huge win at the time). 

Man of Steel had a lot riding on its shoulders. It not only had to follow up the The Dark Knight trilogy and erase the bad taste left in the mouths of fans by Superman Returns (2006), it also had to serve as a way for Warner Bros. to play catch-up with Marvel and launch its own cinematic universe. Fans enjoyed the Bruce Wayne Easter Eggs, but the film also proved to be incredibly divisive — with complaints about the destruction during the battle of Metropolis being so loud that director Zack Snyder made them the centerpiece of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Man of Steel holds a 55 percent on Rotten Tomatoes (the highest of any DCEU film so far) and earned $668 million worldwide on a $225 million budget.

The verdict: Clear advantage to Iron Man, which has proven to be the cornerstone on which the MCU was built.

The Incredible Hulk (2008) vs. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

The Incredible Hulk is the MCU movie time has forgotten, partially because Edward Norton left the universe and was replaced by Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, with the new actor playing the character to even greater acclaim. The film earned a 67 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but it has not stood the test of time, with it rarely factoring into fan conversations about the MCU. It's one of the worst reviewed MCU films, with only Thor: Dark World ranking lower on Rotten Tomatoes. It took eight years for the events of the film to circle back and impact the MCU in a big way, when Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) reappeared in Captain America: Civil War. It's also currently the lowest grossing MCU movie, earning $263.4 worldwide during its entire run. For comparison's sake, the first Avengers grossed more than $200 million in its opening weekend alone.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice does not have Hulk's luxury of being forgotten. The film was among the most hyped in comic book movie in history, with nearly three full years of anticipation leading up to a huge openingfollowed by a historic dropoff at the box office.  The reviews (it holds a 27 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and fan reaction sent Warner Bros. into damage control to assure fans that the rest of its slate would be more fun than this. But that hasn't stopped mockery of key elements of the film (no one can look at the name Martha the same way again). The film earned $872.2 million at the box office, but also received a B CinemaScore — a poor showing, as most superhero films earn at least an A-.   

The verdict: Is it better to burn out or fade away? It's all a matter of perspective. Though BvS earned more than $600 million more than The Incredible Hulk, it also caused undeniable damage the DCEU brand. The Incredible Hulk was shrugged off as "acceptable" and then not thought of again, while the sins of BvS will not quickly be forgotten by fans.

Iron Man 2 (2010) vs. Suicide Squad (2016)

Iron Man 2 was a rare misfire for Marvel. It earned a 72 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, a steep drop from the first Iron Man two years earlier — and like Incredible Hulk, is rarely discussed in fan circles. (If it is discussed, its usually for fans to complain about Iron Man partying in his suit.) Its treatment of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) also did not sit well with fans (though fortunately, her character was given new depth by Joss Whedon two years later in The Avengers). Despite the complaints, Iron Man 2 brought in $623.9 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing MCU movie at the time and continuing Marvel's upward trajectory toward Avengers billions.

Suicide Squad was sold as a fun, irreverent romp — DC's answer to Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool. While fans have yet to deliver their verdict, the critical response suggests this is not the case. This graph from The Hollywood Reporter's review seems to be the consensus: "Part smart-ass genre sendup, part grimy noir that wants to be as dirty as Deadpool but remains constrained by its PG-13 rating and part short-falling attempt by Warner Bros. to get a big-budget DC Comics mashup right, the film starts with promise but disengages as it loses its creative bearings." A third strike is not a good thing as Warner Bros. continues to push its slate of upcoming heroes.

The verdict: Advantage Iron Man 2. While complaints with Iron Man 2 could be glossed over thanks to goodwill generated by the original Iron Man, as well as the promise of The Avengers, Suicide Squad does not have that luxury as it’s the third in a string of divisive and dismissed films for the DCEU.