We���re living in a golden age of comic book movies with more characters making their way to the big screen than ever before.
But years ago, comic book movies were a rarity. The critically slammed 1997 "Batman & Robin" put the genre on ice for some time. If a movie was based on a comic book, studios were less than forthcoming with that information. The next high-profile comic franchise was 2000���s "X-Men," which reinvigorated this style of movie; Sony���s "Spider-Man" solidified that superheroes could be viable in film again.
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Now, Marvel Comics in particular is driving this trend. Though popular Marvel heroes like Spider-Man and the Hulk have starred in films and TV shows since the 1960s, the publisher has dug into its portfolio over the past few years to make stars out of lesser-known characters like Iron Man and Daredevil. And as more characters become box-office draws, they���ve continued to exist in the same interconnected movie and TV universe.
Marvel���s biggest rival, DC Comics, is diving into the cinematic-universe-building business, too, but with a less cohesive strategy where its TV and movie worlds don���t intersect -- ever. Since there are only so many hours in a day, which universe should you invest your time and energy in? Let���s look at the players.
Both Marvel and DC���s approaches have their pros & cons.
Both Marvel and DC���s approaches have their pros and cons. The Marvel Cinematic Universe populated by the Avengers (a team of superheroes that includes Captain America and the Hulk) is filled with stories crossing from the big screen to the small, which makes it a lot of fun to get involved. But those hours and hours of stories to watch can get a little overwhelming -- miss a single episode or film and you may miss references to past events or inside jokes.
Unlike Marvel, you don���t have to watch years of movies to get to know DC���s new filmic universe. "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" recently introduced a slew of characters at once. Future DC films will pick from that storehouse of heroes and focus on a single character each. While it���s possible this approach will be easier to follow, there���s a catch: DC���s TV programs like "Arrow" and "Gotham" have no connection to the movies. And because different actors will be playing the same role (at least in name) on TV and the big screen, that can get frustrating.
Just because a movie starts with a Marvel logo, doesn���t mean it���s part of the Avengers franchise.
MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE
Before Walt Disney purchased Marvel in 2009, Marvel sold and licensed various film rights to a number of studios, prohibiting certain characters from appearing in each other���s movies. You wouldn���t see Spider-Man and the Hulk team up onscreen, for instance, because the character rights belonged to Sony and Universal, respectively.
It was an irritating arrangement for comic book fans -- they could read crossover stories with multiple Marvel characters, but couldn���t watch them on TV or film. Fortunately, fans were relieved when Disney���s purchase of Marvel and its associated film rights set the stage for an interconnected movie and TV universe that felt more like comic books.
Just consider Marvel���s larger Avengers universe, which began onscreen with 2008���s "Iron Man," where the combination of Robert Downey Jr.���s charm and the fun, lighthearted approach to superhero saviors (compared to films such as The Dark Knight trilogy, or 2006���s "Superman Returns") struck a chord with moviegoers. "Iron Man" was the starting point for a coming series of Disney and Marvel releases, like 2011���s "Thor" and "Captain America," that spotlighted individual Avengers characters. 2012���s "The Avengers" then brought all of these characters together in a good, old-fashioned Marvel comics team-up.
TV viewers also got in on the fun with 2013���s "Agents of SHIELD," which occasionally features storylines that tie directly into the Avengers films. The result is a rich and layered superhero world that gives you a real sense that all of these characters are connected. "Agent Carter" features similar related tie-ins, despite being set in the 1940s. Recently, Disney announced it will also produce a show called "Marvel���s Cloak and Dagger."
Netflix also has a partnership with Marvel, which led to 2015���s "Daredevil" and "Jessica Jones," as well as "Luke Cage" and "Iron Fist." In addition, a crossover miniseries featuring all four characters, called "The Defenders," will air on the streaming service. It���s obvious that Marvel is applying the same theory of its film universe to these Netflix productions: single-character introductory series followed by a large-scale crossover event. What remains to be seen is if these will remain tangential MCU properties or feature crossover storylines with the "proper" movies and shows.
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Outside the MCU
Though Disney���s purchase brought the Avengers characters under one roof, competing studios still own the film rights to some high-profile Marvel characters. Fox makes the original and rebooted X-Men series plus the now-insanely-successful Deadpool movies; Sony retains rights to Spider-Man. That means characters in Fox movies won���t share screen time with any Avengers characters, and vice versa. And that���s a shame since X-Men���s Wolverine and Captain America go way back. But thanks to a deal between Disney and Sony, Spider Man makes his first MCU appearance in "Captain America: Civil War."
Just since the turn of the century, we���ve seen multiple studios get in on the action with eight X-Men films, (and more coming in the next few years), five Spider-Man films with two different lead actors (plus another coming soon), and many more you might not even realize were Marvel productions, like the Blade trilogy.