Marvel vs. DC: A Battle of Big Budgets and Rotten Ratings

Recent Updates: More than 6 months
The pandemic has caused serious delays with both Marvel and DC movies. That said, we plan to do a new comparison in the future after both companies release their latest offerings.

Between Marvel and DC, superhero movies dominate the box office, and they don’t show any signs of snapping out of existence any time soon. Ever since the early 2000s release of Spider-Man (starring Tobey Maguire) and then later Christopher Nolan’s dark and gritty Batman trilogy, the two studios have been cranking out the hits.

Marvel vs. DC: Ratings and box office numbers

We combined data for box office sales and Rotten Tomato rankings to find the inevitable champion of all the Marvel and DC movies, and let’s say the results are . . . marvelous.

Marvel vs. DC: Ratings and box office numbers

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Strength in numbers

Marvel put together its most beloved superheroes to take on Thanos and all the box office records. And the long, systematic strategy of producing individual heroes’ stories between the releases of the Avengers series helped build hype for the collective effort. The plan worked: all of the Avengers movies rank in the highest-grossing top 10 for Marvel.

And when it comes to ratings, they score high too. Avengers: Endgame earned a 94% Rotten Tomatoes score, and the lowest-rated film of the series, Avengers: Age of Ultron, still managed to get a 75% rating.

Avengers: Endgame, which was the final film of the series, made nearly $750 million more than the second-highest box office performer, Avengers: Infinity War. While Avengers: Endgame may have ended on a down note, it’s the favorite film of the Avengers franchise for most critics, as well as the highest-grossing movie of all time, beating out Avatar, Titanic, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Marvel vs. DC: World box office numbers

Superheroes have captured the world’s attention, and it’s clear from the rankings that Marvel knows how to grab that attention the best.

Marvel vs. DC: World box office numbers

Marvel vs. DC: World box office numbers

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Click here for the interactive table

Aquaman: Give us some Momoa

Aquaman stands on top of the DC lineup for box office sales. The aquatic superhero used his mighty trident to rake in $1,146,893,640 by himself. While critics didn’t exactly love the film (with only a 66% Rotten Tomatoes score), it’s safe to say that people were certainly excited to see the film. We’ll have to wait until December 2022 to see if they’ll return for the sequel.

Not the hero we deserve, but the hero DC needs

While The Dark Knight is the highest-rated film in the DC lineup, its sequel, The Dark Knight Rises performed slightly better at the domestic box office.

Before Aquaman, The Dark Knight was DC’s moneymaker, bringing in almost one billion dollars ($981,860,046) domestically, which is nearly one-third of the total profits brought in from DC’s top 10.

Marvel vs. DC: Comparing each studio’s 10 top-grossing films (domestically)

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Marvel won over fans by combining big-name superheroes across an expanded universe, gaining momentum with each individual and collective hero release. While DC has classic superstars like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, they haven’t quite tapped into the power of The Avengers and the Marvel Universe at large.

Marvel vs. DC: Return on investment

It’s not all about what you take in, but also what you put out. Superheroes are expensive: you have to pay for all-star casts, high-grade costumes and makeup, and complex computer-generated imagery. So which studio knows a good investment when they see it?

Marvel vs. DC: Average return on investment

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This means the average Marvel film earns $3.87 for every dollar spent on production, while DC brings in $3.43 per dollar spent.

How do the films stack up?

Marvel holds eight out of the top 10 spots for the highest return on investment (ROI), and three of those are from the Avengers series. However, DC has a way of making a smaller budget turn into a lot of money.

DC’s Joker holds the number one spot for ROI at a whopping 1,949%, showing that a $55 million budget might be better than a $200 million budget in some instances. Joker didn’t require a ton of CGI or fancy production, and it’s a somewhat minimalist film in contrast to the grand productions of the Avengers series.

We need an anti-hero

The secret to a high ROI might be, “Don’t make the most obvious good guy your story’s protagonist.” The only two movies to make more than $10 ROI (Joker and Deadpool) were based on anti-hero types.

Marvel vs. DC: Top 10 best investments
TitleMarvel/ DCProduction budgetWorldwide box officeROI worldwide box office
Spider-Man: Far From HomeMarvel$160,000,0001,131,927,996707%
Avengers: EndgameMarvel$400,000,0002,797,800,564699%
Avengers: Infinity WarMarvel$300,000,0002,048,359,754683%
The AvengersMarvel$225,000,0001,518,812,988675%
Black PantherMarvel$200,000,0001,346,913,161673%
Captain MarvelMarvel$175,000,0001,129,729,839646%

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While DC managed to win some good gambles (and win big), it doesn’t change the fact that they also have the majority of the worst ROI films in their lineup. DC lost money on three films: Jonah Hex, The Kitchen, and Catwoman.

Marvel vs. DC: Top 10 worst investments
TitleMarvel/ DCProduction budgetWorldwide box officeROI worldwide box office
Jonah HexDC$47,000,000$11,022,69623%
The KitchenDC$38,000,000$15,980,03242%
Green LanternDC$200,000,000$219,535,492110%
The LosersDC$25,000,000$29,863,840119%
Dark PhoenixMarvel$200,000,000$246,356,895123%
Batman: The Killing JokeDC$3,500,000$4,462,034127%
Fantastic FourDC$56,117,548$167,849,187140%

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Contrasting the top 10, DC holds seven out of 10 of the bottom spots for the lowest return on investment, but they’re not alone in the gamble: Marvel also lost out with Dark Phoenix which earned $1.23 per production dollar spent. Even worse, Marvel’s Elektra earned only $0.87 for every dollar spent, a negative return on investment for the studio.

Curious to find out how DC’s latest film Harley Quin: Birds of Prey did? Harley had an $84,500,000 budget and brought in $201,858,461 worldwide at the box office. With a return on investment of 240%, or $2.40 for every dollar invested in production, the film didn’t make Warner Bros. any big bucks, but it didn’t lose the studio money, either.

Marvel vs. DC: Ratings

In the ratings game, Marvel wins by a large margin: 66% of Marvel films are certified fresh compared to 54% of DC films. Between the box office numbers and ratings, Marvel is still coming out on top.

Marvel vs. DC: Rotten Tomatoes scores

DC vs. Marvel: Rotten tomatoes scores

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Click here for the interactive table

Wakanda forever

While money talks, the critics also have a say in which movies ultimately rank highest in this comparison. Although Black Panther grossed a little less than half of what Avengers: Endgame did, the high-tech tribal leader still holds the highest Rotten Tomatoes score at 97.

And since the Wakandan warrior joined up with the Avengers, too, chances are Marvel was happy with their investment. (Black Panther took in $1,346,913,161 compared to Avengers: Endgame’s $2,797,800,564).

After that, there’s a tie for the second-highest Rotten Tomatoes score between Avengers: Endgame (Marvel), The Dark Knight (DC), and Iron Man (Marvel), which all scored 94.

Marvel vs. DC: Conclusion

It’s hard to deny that Marvel is a clear winner between box office numbers, ratings, and returns on investment. Due to the massive success of the Avengers movies, Marvel dominates the superhero game. While we shouldn’t count DC out just yet (especially with The Joker taking home so many awards), we’ve found our inevitable champion.

Marvel beats DC . . . so far.

Both studios will produce more films over the years, so let us know what you’re excited about, what you’d like to see more of, or what you would like to see Thanos snap out of existence.

This research was conducted by and is in no way sponsored, endorsed, administered by, or associated with the properties listed above or their affiliates.