Comic Book Movies: Marvel vs. DC vs. Indie Publishers

  • Publish Date: July 26, 2011
  • Comments: ↓ 9 user comments

Cowboys vs. aliens, indies vs. the Big 2

ImageIndie, not Indy

While fans coming out of Comic-Con might already be looking forward to next year’s impressive lineup of major comic book adaptations (Ghost Rider 2, The Avengers, MIB 3, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises, Dredd), this Friday sees the release of one last comic book film for 2011, Cowboys & Aliens. Unlike many big screen adaptations of comic books, the source material for Cowboys doesn't come from the industry's two dominant players (Marvel and DC, of course), but an "indie," Platinum Studios. Do indie comics make for better movies than those from the two powers? In this article, we’ll take a look at the varying degrees of success Marvel, DC, and the smaller publication houses have had in bringing their comic books and graphic novels to filmgoers everywhere.

The comic book adaptation has begun to monopolize the summer movie schedule, and while Marvel and DC characters, movies, remakes, reboots, and sequels dominate, movie studios are always looking for new material, so over the years, adaptations of properties like those from Dark Horse Comics, and now Platinum Studios' Cowboys & Aliens, have become more popular. Platinum’s first comic book adaptation, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, based on the Italian comic series, was a disappointment to critics and a notable box office flop when it (briefly) screened earlier this year. But hopes are high for Cowboys & Aliens, a $100 million production with director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2), stars Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde, and a loose adaptation that sticks to the themes and setting of the comic book, but re-imagines the story and characters.

So how have Marvel and DC fared compared to each other as well as the independents? We take a look below at comic book and graphic novel adaptations through the years, beginning with a head-to-head comparison. (Note to fans of The Phantom, Dick Tracy, Annie, and Dennis the Menace: our report does not include films based on comic strips; only graphic novels and comic books are included.)

Comic book movies by the numbers

Here is a comparison of how the movies of various comic book publishers have performed with critics and moviegoers. As you can see, while both DC and Marvel have similar average Metascores (as does Dark Horse, the largest individual indie publisher, with an average of 52for a dozen films), DC has a higher percentage of positively reviewed films.

Note that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the only movie based on an indie comic to receive positive reviews since 2008; Cowboys & Aliens hopes to become the second this week.

Average Critic Scores - Releases Since 1996
  DC Marvel Indies
  DC Marvel Indies + Foreign
Avg. Metascore
(All Films) *
52 16 films 54 25 films 53 34 films
% with Positive Reviews
(scoring 61 or higher)
44% good 36% good 35% good
Last 5 Films 3961334456 6765585766 4131396945

Movie Quality Breakdown - All Releases (including 1996 and earlier)
  DC Marvel Indies
  DC Marvel Indies + Foreign
# Great bar 4 (20%) bar 1 (4%) bar 3 (8%)
# Good bar 6 (30%) bar 8 (32%) bar 10 (27%)
# Mediocre bar 4 (20%) bar 11 (44%) bar 16 (43%)
# Bad bar 6 (30%) bar 5 (20%) bar 7 (19%)
# Awful 0 (0%) 0 (0%) bar 1 (3%)
(# Unscored) bar 10 bar 4 bar 18

Domestic Box Office Performance (Adjusted for Inflation) ** - All Releases
  DC Marvel Indies
  DC Marvel Indies + Foreign
Avg. Gross bar $157.5m bar $178.9m bar $67.9m
Last 5 Films bar $70.8m bar $149.2m bar $39.6m
Films > $100m 13 films (48%) 19 films (70%) 8 films (16%)
Biggest Hit
(inflation-adjusted)
$583.9 million
The Dark Knight (2008)
$546.2 million
Spider-Man (2002)
$429.3 million
Men in Black (1997)
Major Flop
(not inflation-adjusted)
$10.4m ($47m budget)
Jonah Hex (2010)
$6.9m ($15m budget)
Red Sonia (1985)
$4.1m ($25m budget)
Tank Girl (1995)

* Excludes a few films that do not have at least 7 critic reviews in our database.
** Box office grosses for all films are adjusted for inflation to 2011 dollars. Note that several films are still playing in theaters; all box office data is through July 24, 2011 (source: Boxofficemojo.com).

On the next page ...

We take a closer look at each comic publisher's films, starting with DC ...

Comments (9)

  • EssenceOfSugar  

    I never wanted to see the second Fantastic Four anyway. I have other superheroes to look at, like Iron Man.

  • heybuddymoives  

    Top ten worst comic book movies: 10. Punisher: War Zone 9. The Spirit 8. Heavy Metal 7. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 6. Daredevil 5. Hulk 4. Spawn 3. V for Vendetta 2. Alien vs. Predator 1. Batman and Robin

  • 89iajo  

    Superman Returns DIDN'T STINK! It has a meta score of 72!

  • davidcraig  

    good feature - i'm a fan of comic books and can't wait to see Marvel's recent films

  • Forbichoff  

    oh awesome write up though, always enjoy them. particularly because they don't look like my list probably...

  • Forbichoff  

    I'll never understand the inflated (NAY BLOATED I SAY) score that Superman II gets. Every time I see it it baffles me. I can't even watch half the film, the Zod character is so damn annoying, the entire group of villains are terrible, and its funny how the 'best' comic movie of all time churns out the 'worst' of all time just 2 movies later in the series...

    those rose colored glasses of you 80s kids are absurd and they have to come off at some point!

  • CollinP  

    "Though this film and its sequels have barely faded from memory, the franchise is already getting a reboot." Yeah, it's called a shameless and creativity-vacuum money grab. Why reboot one of the most successful comic book movie series, especially when the latest film came out a mere 4 years ago? Money.

    No love for the X-men series (original trilogy at least)? I feel like it deserves a nod too...
    Great article though, thanks for keeping it up Metacritic!

  • JasonDietz  

    The item on Persepolis has been corrected.

  • GRubi  

    Persepolis didn't win Best Animated Feature. Ratatouille did. Please check your facts.

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