The DC vs. Marvel Rivalry Intensifies, but Which Company Is Most Likely to Make You Rich?

Captain America 3 will open on May 6, 2016 -- the same day as Batman vs. Superman. Welcome to Phase 2 of the DC vs. Marvel rivalry.

Both The Wrap and The Hollywood Reporter covered the story, citing unnamed sources who confirmed Marvel's scheduling plans. Meanwhile, studio boss Kevin Feige told SlashFilm during a press junket that the Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) subsidiary has no plans to shift dates in order to avoid competing with Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) .

Makes sense to us. Why back down when the numbers favor you? Initial tracking for Captain America: The Winter Soldier suggests an $80 million or better open when the film reaches U.S. theaters on April 4. That's comparable to November's Thor: The Dark World, a $600 million-plus grosser worldwide. For now, the DC vs. Marvel rivalry is mostly a one-sided affair.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is first up in this year's run of summer comic book films. Source: Marvel Entertainment.

The monster in the middle
A lot could change in the two years between now and when Cap squares off with Batman and Superman. In the meantime, other studios are looking to make their mark in the genre in 2014.

For example, Sony   (NYSE: SNE  ) brings Spider-Man back to theaters on May 2 with The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Three weeks later, the mutants take over when Twenty-First Century Fox   (NASDAQ: FOXA  ) screens X-Men: Days of Future Past. Oh, and don't forget Godzilla. The King of All Monsters stomps into theaters on May 16. Hollywood could very well make its first billion from comic book-related films before the calendar turns to June.

Still, if you break it down, all but one of these films (i.e., Godzilla) are sourced from Marvel Comics. Can anyone really argue that Time Warner is a better stock for investors when Disney-sourced properties are so well-positioned? We asked our top comics and pop culture analysts to weigh in, and as you might expect, the answer isn't as simple as you might think.

Leo Sun: Warner Bros.' humorless impatience will doom the DC Universe
I've never been bullish on DC's chances at the box office for two simple reasons -- its hopelessly gloomy approach to its franchises and its impatience in assembling a cohesive comic book universe, which compare unfavorably to Marvel's lighthearted approach and its brick-by-brick construction of a Marvel Cinematic Universe, which started with Iron Man in 2008.

There's no question that Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy was exceptional, but it gave Warner Bros. the wrong idea that comic book films need to be deathly serious to win over a mainstream audience. Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, which was supposed to be the dawn of the DC Cinematic Universe, retold Richard Donner's first two Superman films as a CGI extravaganza, which removed all traces of the spirit and humor that made the original films such rewatchable classics.

Henry Cavill gave moviegoers a look at Superman's darker side in Man of Steel. Sources: DC Entertainment/Warner Bros.

Meanwhile, hastily tossing Henry Cavill's Superman, Ben Affleck's new Batman, and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (before Justice League or her upcoming solo film) into a sequel helmed by the same joyless director is just a knee-jerk reaction to Marvel's box office success with The Avengers, which grossed $1.5 billion on a production budget of $220 million.

Warner Bros., as we have seen time and again with Superman IV, Schumacher's Batman films, and Green Lantern, has a habit of wrecking its franchises before they get off the ground. Unfortunately history could repeat itself with Man of Steel 2.

Steve Symington: It won't be easy to match Marvel's dominance
I'm also giving Disney and Marvel the edge here, but not because I disapprove of Time Warner's handling of DC at the box office.

To the contrary, I thoroughly enjoyed Man of Steel last summer, and can't wait to see what Snyder can do with DC's holy trinity when the sequel hits theaters in 2016.

Heck, even this year's Godzilla is a co-produced, co-financed product from both Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros., and so far it appears to offer everything old-school kaiju fans have long requested in a modern blockbuster. This, in turn, could lead to a box office performance as big as the film's namesake character.

However, Time Warner has yet to really prove it can do with DC what Disney is already accomplishing with Marvel -- that is, to delight fans by successfully integrating its comics-based properties from a variety of entertainment mediums into one cohesive unit.

To be sure, this week's Lady Sif crossover in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. not only boosted the series' ratings, but also marked another delightful step toward fulfilling executive producer Jeffrey Bell's recent promise the show will continue delving deeper into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

That's not to say Time Warner won't be able to replicate Disney's success over the next few years. But if I had to choose now, I'd prefer investing in what increasingly appears to be a sure thing.

Tim Beyers: There's opportunity in franchise building
Let me be clear up front: I'm a long-time shareholder of both these companies, and I still believe that Disney stock has room to run. Yet between the two, I like Warner's chances of making investors richer over the next five years. There's simply more left to build.

Consider the DC movies we've seen over the past decade. Five of the 14 starred either Batman or Superman. Two, Red and Red 2, were distributed by Lions Gate rather than Warner, and the other seven were either forgettable bombs (e.g., Catwoman, Green Lantern) or cult hits (e.g., Watchmen, V for Vendetta). DC doesn't have a cinematic universe in the same sense that Marvel does.

Yet DC also isn't without assets. Arrow draws 2 million-3 million television viewers per episode while developing a slew of new and engaging characters, including Black Canary, Brother Blood, Deathstroke, Merlyn, Nyssa al Ghul, and if fans get their wish, Colton Haynes' Roy Harper as Red Arrow.  

Warner and The CW are also in the midst of shooting a pilot for The Flash, a spin-off from episodes 8 and 9 of this season of Arrow in which actor Grant Gustin plays the scarlet speedster's civilian identity: police scientist Barry Allen.

Soon, Grant Gustin will join Stephen Amell on The CW in the pilot for The Flash. Credit: The CW/DC Entertainment.

Expect to see more projects like this now that DC Comics has moved from New York to Los Angeles. Proximity to Warner Bros. executives should allow those who care most about its characters (i.e., the comic book creators) to have a greater say in cross-media development, a model that has produced beautifully for Marvel in recent years.

So even if the DC vs. Marvel rivalry isn't much to speak of at the moment, I suspect Warner's improvements will level the playing field over time. When it does, the stock won't be worth the $60 billion in market cap it is today. Rather, it'll be much closer to the $143 billion that Disney commands as of this writing -- a clean double for today's Time Warner investors.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. How do you handicap the DC vs. Marvel rivalry? Which stock would you rather own right now? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think.

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