They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but sometimes, things can just go too far! When it comes to superhero universes, it can’t be repeated often enough – DC came first. Not only did Action Comics #1 launch the whole genre with the introduction of Superman, but DC also got started early with licensing its hot properties to the mediums of radio, film, television, and even video games. Remember Superman’s ingenious Atari 2600 game?
Naturally, Marvel has always had to play catch up in many ways, even though Marvel Studios has now clearly jumped ahead in its mastery of running a shared cinematic mythology – both critically and at the box office. So did Marvel movies really “steal” a bunch of DC’s ideas? In some cases, it’s pretty obvious that they did. In others, it feels more like Marvel followed DC’s lead, even if only subconsciously. Theft, homage or just coincidence? You decide!
Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know Marvel Movies ‘Stole’ From DC.
15. Superheroic horror
Back in 1982, exactly nobody thought making the esoteric DC horror title Swamp Thing into a movie was a good idea. Well, almost nobody. Coming on the heels of the two very successful Christopher Reeves Superman movies, pivoting to a bizarre monster title seems like very unconventional thinking. The resulting Wes Craven-directed Swamp Thing didn’t exactly make a huge impact with fans, audiences, or critics.
But somebody at Marvel might have taken this page from history when in 1998, after faltering efforts to bring Captain America and the Fantastic Four to the screen that decade, Marvel opened its crypt to Blade, which worked out fairly well for the subsequent trilogy, driving a stake into the heart of the naysayers.
14. Tap into mystical characters
Both Marvel and DC have their fair share of mages in their pages – magic users have long been standard in comic books But it’s a risky proposition in a larger “regular superhero” universe to get into the arcane arts. Genre-bending can confuse wider audiences, regardless of how die-hard comics fans can find conjuring do-gooders totally (super) natural.
DC took that plunge when it pulled Constantine from its Vertigo imprint in 2005 and adapted it for the movies. The Keanu Reeves starring film about an exorcist named John Constantine did alright at the box office, but fans hated it. Then, in 2016, Marvel jumped on the magical bandwagon by bringing their own mighty mystic, Doctor Strange, to theaters. Was it cosmic destiny, or did DC put a spell on MCU?
13. Go for Camp
Adam West’s iconic Batman will never be forgotten. Anybody who can’t handle the shameless campiness of the 1966 version of Batman needs to get their funny bone checked. Starting on TV, the first feature film version of the Caped Crusader was more jokey than serious, and it just worked. That success was carried on into a three-season run on ABC.
Fast forward 20 years to 1986, and only the second Marvel movie ever – and first live-actioner to be released in theaters – Howard the Duck chose the camp route as well. Of course, it wasn’t nearly as successful. The verdict seemed to be that ’80s cheesiness couldn’t stand up to ’60s nostalgia, leaving Howard to take a lot of flack for his quack.
12. 1940s Serials
Okay, so we’re stretching things a little. Technically, in the 1940s, Captain Marvel appeared in Fawcett Comics (later acquired by DC) and Captain America was to be found at Timely Comics (which later became Marvel). Still, even in these proto-universes, DC was leading.
Movie serials were huge in the ’40s. Theaters would typically have a cartoon and short subject preceding the feature film, and serials were a great way of getting audiences to show up for new screenings week after week (remember, TV was not a thing yet).
This made 1941’s Captain Marvel not only the first superhero serial, but the first time we see any superhero in a live-action adaptation. Marvel copied this formula and pasted it in 1944 with Captain America.
11. Nicolas Cage
Close your eyes. Visualize Nicolas Cage. And now, try and see him as a superhero. Doesn’t really work, does it? Yeah, okay, it has been tried – more than once. But it just doesn’t work! All anybody has to do is watch the documentary The Death of Superman Lives to understand why this doesn’t work.
Superman Lives was the aborted 1998 Tim Burton film where Cage was cast as Superman. Not even Tim freaking Burton could make it work for DC and the film was strangled in the crib. So naturally, Marvel went ahead and gave us Cage as Johnny Blaze as Ghost Rider. Twice. And it didn’t work! Not in 2007, and not in the 2011 sequel.
Memo to Marvel: if you’re going to steal ideas, steal good ones. Nicholas Cage as a superhero just isn’t one of those.
10. A bad end to a hit trilogy
Speaking of following foolishly into failure, boy oh boy, third time is not the charm! The first ever successful feature-length superhero film franchise was the ’70s/80s Superman, starring the late Christopher Reeves.
Superman 2 famously outshone the first film, but 1983’s Superman 3 became a joke, literally, by trying to turn it into a vehicle for the late comedian Richard Pryor. Terrible decision.
The Tobey McGuire-led Spider-Man franchise suffered from a similar fate. Spider-Man 2 was way better than the first one, but Spider-Man 3 — the one where Venom Parker goes all emo on us — just killed the series. Caput. So did Marvel really steal this idea, or did they simply not learn from DC’s mistakes?
9. Flop the first feature for a female hero
When it comes to girl power, geekdom has fallen woefully short over the years. Hopefully, that’s changing now as it seems comics and movies are trying to be more gender-inclusive. Certainly, if 2017’s Wonder Woman was any indication, superheroines are on the rise in our culture. That was definitely not the case in the past.
DC’s first shot at a female-driven feature film was 1984’s Supergirl, which bombed big time at the box office. So, what does Marvel do to follow suit? They drop Elektra on us in 2005. Both films were so forgettable, we can’t even remember them – thank you, amnesia!
In this case, Marvel borrowed DC’s underwhelming approach to lady heroes, with similarly poor results. With any luck, Marvel will come back strong when Captain Marvel hits theaters in 2019, stealing DC’s Gal Gadot template for strong women.
8. Multiple villains in one movie
Superhero fans often roll their eyes when they find out the next installment of their favorite franchise has multiple villains. It’s hard enough to tell one villain’s story right, adding more super-crooks to the pot rarely makes things better.
In 1991, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns broke that mold, pitting both Catwoman and the Penguin up against the Dark Knight. By 2007, with Spider-Man 3, Marvel figured it would be a good idea to combine Sandman and Venom in opposition to ol’ Webhead. The result was a convoluted continuation of a trend which has rarely worked and pretty much everybody has gotten sick of dealing with – see The Amazing Spider-Man reboot series.
Note to DC and Marvel: sometimes, less is better.
7. Weak spinoffs
Come on Marvel and DC! How can you screw up spinoffs so badly? When Catwoman came out in 2004, the Batman-related project had already faced over a decade of development hell, with Michelle Pfeiffer originally slated to reprise her role as the villainess from 1993’s Batman Returns. But once this Halle Berry stinker hit screens, it fell into box office hell.
Marvel made the same mistake the following year, this time with a far quicker follow up to 2003’s Daredevil – which wasn’t exactly a big winner either. Elektra was another critical and financial flop, effectively killing the Daredevil franchise until the Netflix series came along. So rather than a cat-burgler or assassin, Marvel kind of acted like a lemming, following DC over the spinoff cliff.
6. Screw up franchise reboots – twice!
Look, nobody said rebooting franchises was easy. But Superman and Spider-Man are easily the two most popular heroes DC and Marvel have ever had.
As mentioned before, the wildly popular Christopher Reeves films easily won over audiences. Then Superman Returns showed up in 2006 and it was a dud. The second reboot attempt came in the form of Man of Steel, a film so flawed that it nearly killed the chance of another sequel.
Marvel followed in these missteps almost to a ‘T’ after the much-loved Tobey McGuire Spider-Man movies were retired. The first reboot fell so short by 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that they abandoned a third movie even though they set up a sequel. Instead, 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming started a whole new cycle.
5. Replace the lead superhero actor 3 times in a row
Who said third time’s the charm? After two super-popular Batman movies, both Tim Burton and Michael Keaton parted ways with the franchise. Director Joel Schumacher took over the next two movies, and he wasn’t able to capture that lightening in a bottle again.
His first try was putting in Val Kilmer in the caped role for 1995’s Batman Forever, replacing him with George Clooney for Batman and Robin (1997). Marvel must have been dared to do worse when it came to the Hulk. For the first movie, 2003’s The Hulk, Eric Bana played the titular role. In 1998’s The Incredible Hulk, the sequel saw Edward Norton as the angry green giant. Bailing on the franchise, we next see Mark Ruffalo pop up in 2012’s The Avengers as Bruce Banner/Ol’ Greenskin.
Marvel may have learned its lesson though, as so far Ruffalo has stayed in the role, while the Batman franchise has seen Christian Bale and Ben Affleck take over – with Affleck possibly about to fly the bat-coop.
4. Grim-dark superheroes
It’s no secret that when the first Tim Burton-directed Batman movie appeared in 1989, it heavily borrowed its tone from Frank Miller’s legendary Batman: The Dark Knight Returns story. Where past tales of Gotham’s defender were bright, colorful, and hopeful, this film was dark, grim, and cynical.
Marvel followed this reinterpretation tactic, albeit 20 years later. The Wolverine trilogy departed from its X-Men franchise predecessors in 2009 by taking Logan through the inner workings of a deep state government program and all the conspiracy landscape that comes with it – each subsequent film darker and grittier than the one before.
Lately, there’s been a backlash against all the darkness, as Batman v Superman was panned for being way too bleak, and Wonder Woman was praised for its optimism. Somebody turn on the lights already!
3. Franchise-saving Reboots
Sometimes, the best way to build something up is to burn it all down. DC’s early Bat-verse followed the Tim Burton playbook of hyper-reality and extreme stylization until its dire end with Batman & Robin. When Batman Begins showed up in 2005, it was clear that the vision changed direction with Christopher Nolan’s more serious, dramatic approach.
Marvel must have seen the value of embracing change when it officially got the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe started with 2007’s Iron Man. Instead of sticking to thinly-connected individual properties, it launched a shared universe following a very careful plan which has famously flourished ever since. Fresh starts paid off big time for DC, and Marvel cashed in on that lesson.
Was 1995’s Batman Forever really supposed to be that funny? Or did audiences laugh at the film more than with it? In any case, DC made a conscious choice to cast comedian Jim Carrey as the primary villain, made Val Kilmer’s rubber bat-suit super-ridiculous, and loaded the movie with one-liners.
Although the results were less than spectacular, Marvel must have looked back at Batman Forever when concocting 2014’s breakout hit Guardians of the Galaxy. Fans fell in love with the endlessly snappy repertoire of Star-Lord, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, Gamora, and Groot.
Bordering on a straight-up comedy film, Guardians of the Galaxy set a template that subsequent Marvel films have benefited from. The DCEU, meanwhile, is fighting to gradually lighten its tone with Wonder Woman and Justice League.
1. Hard R-Rated movies
Sorry kids – superheroes aren’t necessarily safe for your young unsullied ears anymore! Once thought to be the worst move possible for a comic book property, more and more tentpole movies are being made for rated-R audiences.
When DC pulled V for Vendetta from its Vertigo imprint for a screen adaptation in 2005, it was clear they were angling for a different kind of moviegoer. But Marvel took that idea and ran with it to insane levels with 2016’s Deadpool. V for Vendetta, after all, was not a traditional superhero book, and it took place in an extremely violent dystopian future. But Deadpool is a straight-up superhero property that’s laced with F-bombs, tons of blood, and all sorts of not-safe-for-kids stuff.
What other aspects of Marvel movies were inspired by DC? Let us know in the comments!