Could a Justice League Movie Outdo ‘The Avengers’?

The title screen for the animated series, Justice League Unlimited. Source: DC Entertainment.

With how well Walt Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) Marvel movies have done in recent years it's easy to dismiss Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) DC Entertainment as a lightweight challenger. In fact, Thor: The Dark World star Chris Hemsworth half-jokingly did just that in a promotional interview for the movie Rush. "We're just winning aren't we?" Hemsworth said. "That's not really a rivalry."

Maybe he's right. The Dark World seems on pace for $600 million at the worldwide box office and may out-earn last summer's DC hit, Man of Steel. But there's also more to the story. Having looked at the numbers for the first five movies of each franchise, I'd expect Batman vs. Superman to rival Iron Man 3's box office performance and a Justice League movie to either match or even outdo Marvel's The Avengers:
(Domestic / Total Box Office)
(Domestic / Total Box Office)

Batman Begins (2005)
$206.9 million / $374.2 million

Iron Man (2008)
$318.4 million / $585.2 million

The Dark Knight (2008)
$534.9 million / $1,004.6 million

The Incredible Hulk (2008)
$134.8 million / $263.4 million

Green Lantern (2011)
$116.6 million / $219.9 million

Iron Man 2 (2010)
$312.4 million / $623.9 million

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
$448.1 million / $1,084.4 million

Thor (2011)
$181.0 million / $449.3 million

Man of Steel (2013)
$291.0 million / $662.8 million

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
$176.7 million / $370.6 million

TOTAL: $1,597.5 million / $3,345.9 million

TOTAL: $1,123.3 million / $2,292.4 million

Source: Box Office Mojo.

Meanwhile, back at Avengers Mansion
Critics will note that my table excludes several Marvel movies and $3.3 billion in global grosses. True enough. I'm trying to get a sense of how well DC's "phase one" would compare with Marvel's first generation, which includes the five movies shown above and concludes with The Avengers.

Including Marvel's team-up film would put its "phase one" gross at $1,746.7 million  and $3,811 million worldwide. DC is already in spitting distance of those totals, and we've yet to see Batman vs. Superman or a Justice League film. Factor in a growing audience for the CW hit Arrow, and I think DC and Time Warner are better positioned for cinematic success than most fans and investors think.

Don't forget about the blackest night
Cashing in is a different matter, of course. Again, look at the table: Batman's adventures account for more than 70% of DC's box office haul to date. Green Lantern was at least as big a failure as Man of Steel was a success. DC and Warner can't hope to match Marvel's numbers without first figuring out how to make lesser-known characters marketable.

Arrow is already helping some. Adding the Flash and Wonder Woman to Batman vs. Superman, as is rumored, could also boost interest -- especially now, when moviegoers are taking to strong heroines in greater numbers than ever before.

Adding The Flash to Arrow could be a precursor to bringing the scarlet speedster to a Justice League movie.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. Do you think a Justice League film could outperform The Avengers at the box office? Why or why not? Leave a comment in the box below to let us know what you think.

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Read/Post Comments (23) | Recommend This Article (4)

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  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 9:03 AM, ComicInvestor wrote:

    You can crunch numbers all you want, but the key to success is going to be whether Justice League is a good movie or not. Joss Whedon avoided the traps that super-hero action movies fall into--boring first hour, loud explosions and inexplicable plot points the last hour--and added humor and lulls in the action in just the right places. Based on "Man of Steel," I'm not sure I have as much faith in the Time-Warner creative team. We'll see.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 9:18 AM, chrismcv wrote:

    It is just like most of the commentators are saying, you have be faithful to the material and make an enjoyable movie to make it work. It cannot be schlock like 'Man of Steel.'

    Here is my idea for The Atom:

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 9:37 AM, DWM18 wrote:

    Could a Justice League movie outdo The Avengers? Absolutely. It will only take the proper buildup and coherent storytelling to do so. A strong cast can definitely help too.

    Cast in my mind:

    Superman: Henry Cavill

    Batman: Ben Aflleck

    Wonder Woman: Jaime Alexander

    Green Lantern: Idris Elba

    Green Arrow: Stephen Amell

    Martian Manhunter (voice): Leonard Roberts

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 9:39 AM, Smurfkillersquee wrote:

    To be honest, Justice League WOULD be a great movie if done correctly. However, it doesn't feel that it is being done correctly. Marvel did so well with Avengers because they spent a few years building up to it with their characters. Most people who went to see Avengers at the time thought Robert Downey Jr. was going to be carrying the movie on his back and he was the one they wanted to see. DC is just throwing a bunch of characters together and calling it a day. DC's REAL successes have come from Dark Knight trilogy and Man of Steel (which reboots only came after both movie series imploded on themselves). If they are going to have a hope of doing good for a Justice League movie, they need to slow down and develop the characters. The only character they have that people want to see is Batman (to be honest, people want to see the Christain Bale Batman, I'm still not sure how feel about Ben Affleck playing). They made Superman into too much a Dark Knight type character. Batman vs Superman will probably determine how well Justice League would do though.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 9:42 AM, dribsanddrabs wrote:

    Respectfully disagree. DC has yet to show they can cinematically launch any character beyond Batman and Superman. On the surface, Thor would have seemed a much trickier launch than Green Lantern, yet Marvel nailed it while DC failed it. And now B-lister Thor is earning in the neighborhood of DC golden boy, Superman, which has to be concerning for DC. Nevermind that fellow B-lister Iron Man just earned nearly DOUBLE the "Man of Steel". And...the fact that Batman just got recast, so Nolan's totals aren't really even relevant. Might as well include grosses from Christopher Reeves and Brandon Routh...

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 12:12 PM, no1important wrote:

    Any Justice League movie would have to be extraordinary because it will be seen as just riding the coattails of what Marvel has already done. They've put in the hard work and made it known from the start that they were planning an Avengers movie. DC wouldn't have to work nearly as hard to make it all work now. There's nothing unexpected, assuming they follow the same premises.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 12:22 PM, scrotuc wrote:

    Aside from the most recent batman series and the superman redoot,dc has a horrible track record with their films.They should keep away from both comedy and Tim Burton.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 12:35 PM, TheEconomist wrote:

    The analysis is silly; he's just cherry picking movies to make a point. He sort of left off the franchise that has started the modern superhero genre - Spider-man.

    Ultimately, it will be the writing that will make or break these franchises. The DC powerhouse characters tend to be bland and are difficult to write; notice how the interesting characters don't have powers (Batman, Green Arrow).

    The success of DC has pretty much hinged on one person - Christopher Nolan. If he loses interest, the whole thing is going to fall apart.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 4:17 PM, game385 wrote:

    The problem with these "lead in" numbers is that they aren't actually lead-in numbers... At least not for Warner Bros and DC.

    You can't ignore how much continuity contributed to the success of Marvel's Avengers. It was basically the 6th installment in a successful series and they didn't have to spend half the movie introducing us to major characters...

    DC has an uphill battle if they plan to match that type of success when their replacing Batman and the continuity of their most successful franchise.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 11:09 PM, Mahoog wrote:

    Arrow, and Smallville before it and Lois and Clark before that, don't really figure in the consistent DC universe. They're each in a bubble. Meanwhile Marvel's Agents of SHIELD ties in directly with the Avengers Marvel Universe.

    When the opportunity comes about to tie-in Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four with the Avenger's heroes then Marvel is going to mop the floor with DC. Can you imagine a series of films that incorporates all of them in one of Marvel's trademark world-threatening cataclysms?

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 11:12 PM, Mahoog wrote:

    Oh, and throw in Catwoman and Jonah Hex vs any two Marvel-based films from 2000 on and it doesn't look like much of a rivalry.

  • Report this Comment On November 30, 2013, at 11:21 PM, Mentallect wrote:

    Justice League won't match the Avengers, but it can do well if the script is correct. So many great points were made on previous posts. Summary: Avengers > Justice League.

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2013, at 1:14 AM, Torgo1 wrote:

    Of course it could.... Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are the Holy Trinity of comic book characters. The question, as with all movies is whether it has a good story. And with DC comics relocation to LA, and the history of the Timmverse they absolutely could. The 2 animated JL series of the last decade were quite good so the talent is there. And Marvel has shown them how to approach the cohesion and continuity... Wish them luck.

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2013, at 1:39 AM, ncc1964f wrote:

    They will have to make it epic from the get go. The villan will have to be Darksied and not Lex Luthor. Keep the team down to 4 main heroes. Of course supes and bats with a new green lantern. Idres Elba was thrown out there I like that, then Wonder Woman Jaimie Alexander of course then 2 non powered characters. They should'nt rush it either take your time. I would rather wait and see a good movie than rush to see a bad one.

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2013, at 5:26 AM, delfra wrote:

    While I definitely think a "Justice League" film would definitely be a big hit, I just don't see it putting up 'Avenger' numbers at the box office. You're not talking about having to make 300, 400 or even 500 million domestically, you're talking about having to top 600 million, something 3 films have ever done. And then making 900 more million overseas, it takes a hell of a lot more than hype and a big opening weekend to accomplish something monumental like that. I see the point you're trying to make, but what you say and if the general audience is willing to pay and buy the number of tickets it will take to accomplish such a feat is two different stories. Anybody can say I think this film can be bigger than that film, but that's just one man or a fanboy base speaking, but that nowhere near speaks for what a general audience represents, Tim so many people like yourself foolishly forget that time and time again. Hey I could be hype to the moon about a film's prospects, but just because I do doesn't mean millions of people will feel the same way. Movie audiences have to be invested in a film and captivated by it to be an astronomical success, I doesn't matter how iconic a comic book character is, that's not what's going to sell to movie audiences. Thor: TDW is going to end up making more worldwide than MOS did in the end, and he's not nearly as iconic but his film is more popular to the masses around the globe because movie audiences have a grown investment and more attachment to his character than they do Superman.

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2013, at 8:37 AM, Joe4d wrote:

    Just please. NO ORIGINS ! Every single one of these wastes half the mmovie on an origin story. WE ALREADY KNOW THE ORIGIN !. I dont know why they feel like they need to do this.

  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2013, at 9:27 AM, Ironmac wrote:

    A Justus League movie would do as well as the Avengers movie because I would argue that more people especially those people who never read comics are more familiar with the DC characters then the Marvel characters and I say that as a Marvel fan. Yes the Marvel characters are better because they have more personality and they're multifaceted. Where the DC characters are typically one dimensional with the exception of a few. Joe4d the reason why they always do origin story is because people who never read comics go see these movies too, I agree it's annoying but that's the reason.

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2013, at 7:56 AM, botcher99 wrote:

    Disney/Marvel has succeeded when they focus on the story, not just making money. Crafting a quality film with a good story, acting, directing, effects wins the day. Time Warner has a reputation of thinking things in reverse...crafting a movie that will make money in theory. Throw in a name in the title, invest in special effects and throw together a story designed to make money on action hero toys and tie-ins. The Batman series Chris Nolan directed had great acting, story, effects and directing -- complete opposite what we see in other attempts. Superman Returns, Green Lantern...dreck. Not counting on "Justice League" being anything worth watching unless they do it right. Making money is the reward for making a great product.

  • Report this Comment On December 02, 2013, at 10:01 AM, TrueOne101 wrote:

    Justice League will never be as strong as Avengers. DC has some good, basic characters, but the group dymanic has too many huge, undefined powers and a few weak ones. Superman and Batman and WW can carry a movie on their own. Aquaman, Flash, Green Arrow, Martian, etc are weak characters that won't hold the screen on their own. Even Superman is a weak character because he is SO strong. AVENGERS has been planned out, introducing and developing one character at a time. HULK is a weak character because he is SO strong, but the rest are able to carry their own movie.

  • Report this Comment On December 03, 2013, at 9:08 AM, Allend406 wrote:


  • Report this Comment On December 04, 2013, at 9:54 PM, matthewluke wrote:

    I'm sure it will succeed in terms of the money it earns, but as a comic book fan I'm hoping they will succeed in telling a good story. But after watching their non-Batman Trilogy movie efforts, I'm not sure if they will be able to tell a good story.

    I never would have thought it possible, but the gloominess of Man of Steel made Superman Returns seem upbeat by comparison. Man of Steel was so depressing. That movie was nothing but destruction-porn. It was like watching a Roland Emmerich movie (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and other films where any and everything is horribly destroyed).

  • Report this Comment On January 05, 2014, at 12:54 PM, Aramis wrote:

    Warner Bros. hit it out of the park with their first try with Superman (1978). It is largely seen as the "how to" way to make a movie about a superhero. This was followed up with a series of sequels each one worse than the one previous.

    Then what could possibly be studio machinations prevented them from developing another for 11 years till Batman in 1989, another huge success mainly due to the hype surrounding it's release and the popularity of the character. After that, a series of sequels each one worse than the one previous.

    Then we have countless other DC properties that turned out to be non-starters like Catwoman, Green Lantern, Jonah Hex, etc.

    Fast-forward to now, Man of Steel makes a ton of money because it's Superman after all and for a sequel they bring in none other than Batman coming off a long 1-year hiatus. Not to mention the suit-driven choice Ben Affleck to play him. What's the forecast? I think you know where I'm going with this.

    TV has been a lot kinder to DC with the original Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman series, not to mention Smallville, Mercy Reef (though it never got passed the pilot stage or they could have had another hit on their hands but it is the WB after all) and now Arrow.

    Now we're expecting a Justice League film from these people? At least maybe the first one will be good. Maybe they can make it a TV series instead.

    Leave the creative decisions to those that know what they're doing, take a serious approach to the material, get a good script and hire actors that are right for the role and not ones that you think will bring in the most bank in one way or another (Affleck's directing not acting), and maybe you'll see something that has some legs and can mushroom into a series of successful films.

    WB has made a lot of money but if it's not Batman or Superman, forget it.

    Take note WB/DC, Marvel started this entire comic book film renaissance with a D-List African-American superhero starring Wesley Snipes (Blade 1998).

  • Report this Comment On May 10, 2014, at 5:13 PM, PayneZileQueen wrote:

    I'd say that the Avengers would beat The Justice League, pure and alone because Marvel has everything planned out (to 2028 even) and DC seems to have trouble to know what they really want.

    If they do it like Marvel did, so Each a seperate movie, and from there on out make way to a huge movie which will have every single one of them. Then I think they will do it much better instead of having 3 superheroes in 1 movie (Batman vs Superman also includes Wonderwoman) while the rest are Really good TV heroes,

    I don't think that it'll fit within the Universe what the CW created for Arrow and is creating for the Flash to tie in with a Justice League film.

    I'd say DC. Stay with the CW, and make Arrow, Flash, and the upcoming Gotham, maybe even a Batman series. A good one. And maybe from there on out, with those characters. Make a Justice League movie or a special for on TV.

    So far, I've only really liked the CW series, Smallville, and now Arrow. On the big screen, they just don't seem to fit that well. Of course Christopher Nolan ruled with the batman trilogy (though IMO TDKR sucked) but the new Man of Steel movie wasn't that great, I liked the Green Lantern movie more actually, and it's not even that good.

    For the Man of Steel it felt waaaaay to long term.

    Half an hour in and we were STILL on Krypton, maybe the first 10 minutes or so but not longer.

    And then all basically happened was Jor-El seeing his son, gave him the suit and basically said "Here, go play superhero my boy" and then it happened.

    They need to build more into the movie, into becoming the actual hero. Like Nolan did with Batman Begins.

    When that happens, and with every hero of the Justice League. THEN DC could have a chance on beating the Avengers, and not how they're doing it now. Sorry WB, I usually like your movies, but DC, you should learn from Marvel this time, they took the Avengers by watching the Justice League, now you learn on how to make a kick-ass movie.

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