Imagining the most popular heroes of the next 20 years or DCEU - fix your shit.
If you grew up before the 2000s, chances are Superman and Batman are two of the most famous, familiar and admired comic book superhero of your childhood. Apart from those two, the Wolverine, X-Men, and Spiderman were not far behind. While the rankings are debatable, Superman and Batman are indisputably the kings of the genre worldwide. That is why it will come as no surprise that majority of those 25 years and older today, at the very least, know these two and probably more commonly revere these two. For a lot of us, the choice was simple: are you a fan of the caped crusader or the world’s strongest man?
The reason for this is simple: the media and merchandise you are exposed to as a child defines who your childhood heroes will be. The amazement, wonder, and excitement that is brought about by these characters whether you are playing with their toy counterparts in your living room, watching them save the day on screen or reading about their adventures on print greatly define you as a child. This bond between character and child is something you bring to your adulthood.
Now that those generations of children who were most exposed to DC’s The Batman and Superman or Marvel’s the X-Men and Spiderman are now grown-ups, my guess is that while these legacy heroes will be here to stay, there is a very good chance that they will be dethroned by a new breed of heroes who is currently creating a stronger bond with the kids of today.
Movies are the most telling measurement of a superhero’s success. While they are all rooted in comic books and adapted to TV and other media, a movie’s popularity essentially gives way to merchandise, tie-ins, toys (and lots of them), spin-off TV shows, more comic books, apparel and so on. All these things are integral to the environment and memory shaping of the child. Up until recently, Batman was cowering on top as the highest grossing superhero franchise of all time at an impressive USD 4.913 billion spread across 14 movies. This year, Avengers trilogy surpassed that by assembling USD 4.970 billion spread across only three movies (The Avengers, Age of Ultron and Infinity War). Of course, one could argue that this performance across three movies is a result of 17 other movies from may different individual superhero franchises, but considering those will only be adding to the gap as the final number will be close to maybe tens of billions.
If we look at the most profitable licenses, while I do not have data, I would also expect that the MCU is inching close if not already surpassing the DC duopoly. In 2013, Spiderman was the most profitable license only followed by Batman.
I would argue that the MCU in the past 10 years have raised a whole generation of kids who regard Tony Stark at least on equal footing or superior to Bruce Wayne. Of course, these kids still know Batman (thanks to The LEGO Batman movie) but the relationship formed I think wouldn’t be same as those who glorified the cowl and rep cape in the previous generations. (Add to it the fact that the media landscape of kids today is more connected than when we grew up during the time of physical comic book stores and primetime cartoons)
The DCEU will play a critical role in retaining the dominance of Bruce and Clark for the next generation of consumers who are now busy consuming media content about their childhood heroes. The more globally successful the franchise is, the more it becomes embedded in the minds of more people. Sure, there will be countless of other mediums where Batman and Superman will be encountered by children – but one doesn’t need to be the world’s greatest detective to figure out that none of these will have the lifelong impact similar to seeing Thanos snap a finger on the big screen.
Put it simply, we (together with our kids) are experiencing a superhero renaissance worldwide and the DC duo are not at the forefront of it.