Across the Great Divide: What REALLY Separates DC and Marvel Fans
Doc had a great idea; at least he thought so. Working from the same approach as his taxonomy of Batman fans, Doc decided to do another survey, this time on one of the great divides in pop culture: Marvel vs. DC films.
Until you’re confronted with the raw numbers, it’s hard to conceive of the staggering amount of data that Ranker Insights collects. There’s such an abundance of it compiled around these two companies that wrapping anyone’s head around it in one blog post is, well, scientifically speaking, crazy talk. That said, Doc found some evidence to suggest that when it comes to Marvel and DC film fans, we’re looking at two distinctly different animals.
First, consider Marvel fans. Doc looked at movie affinities for a number of films, and if anyone is at the epicenter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s none other than Robert Downey Jr. Not only do fans of his Iron Man films overlap with several other Marvel audiences (most notably The Avengers), but that fan enthusiasm spills over to his Sherlock Holmes franchise, as well as a few decidedly non-superhero titles, like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Due Date.
Even Marvel fanbases that don’t have a strong actor preference are tilted heavily towards the characters. However, directors don’t factor too heavily into the equation for Marvel fans. You don’t see the Thor fans seeking out Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V or Dead Again, and Marvel fans’ love for director Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man doesn’t extend to films like Yes Man or Down with Love. On the surface, it seems that Marvel Studios’ tendency to push their directors in the direction of the Marvel “house style” standardizes their differences and allows the actors and characters to take center stage.
Marvel fans are also on the younger side of the spectrum, as evidenced by some pretty startling passions. For instance, who’d have guessed the surprisingly strong correlation between fans of Iron Man and fans of Penguins of Madagascar? (Not Doc, that’s for sure.) Maybe it should be no surprise that fans of Spider-Man—who happens to be one of the youngest major superheroes—also have strong connections with other touchstones of teen pop culture, like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars.
But the common character trait across Marvel fans lists is their pronounced loyalty to the studio itself. Fans of Captain America are also fans of Spider-Man. Fans of the X-Men (whose films, it should be noted, are made by Fox, not Marvel) are also fans of Thor. Despite it not sharing any major characters (yet) with any of Marvel’s other franchises, people who like Marvel movies are big fans of Guardians of the Galaxy. (Left out of the Marvel love fest is The Fantastic Four, who have been ill-served by Fox’s adaptations.) But the sense of brand loyalty you find among Marvel fans couldn’t be stronger.
When you look at DC fans, however, it’s a different story. Within the DC film fan world, Batman is, by far, the hero with the largest following. For those fans, the post-Dark Knight trilogy output is having a tough time getting out from under the long shadow of director Christopher Nolan. For as much as Marvel fans don’t care about directors, DC fans—particularly The Dark Knight trilogy fans—care deeply about their directors. Nolan’s non-Batman films like Inception, The Prestige, and Memento dot the upper reaches of the DC fans’ movie affinities, while Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands rank highly for fans of the 1989 Tim Burton-directed Batman.
DC fans are also older than Marvel fans. While there’s some overlap in the non-superhero movies that fans like—Transformers and Lord of the Rings are popular across the board—once you drill down into the DC favorites lists, you start to see some decidedly grown-up titles you simply don’t see on the Marvel lists, like Platoon, American Psycho, and Full Metal Jacket. If you look at the TV affinities of Wonder Womancomics fans, the list seems to have been ripped wholesale from a stray copy of TV Guide from 1978: Baretta, The Love Boat, Quincy, M.E., Starsky & Hutch, The Bionic Woman. Doc ran the top dozen movies for several comic book fanbases, and the DC lists had more than twice as many titles from the 20th century as the Marvel lists.
Doc isn’t surprised by this. After all, the DC superhero movies aim for an older audience than the Marvel output. Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder like their movies dark and serious, a far cry from the pop and fizz of Marvel filmmakers like Joss Whedon and the Russo brothers. When Superman and Batman fight, it looks like it hurts. When Iron Man and the Hulk fight, it looks like a crazy good time. (Maybe this is a long, roundabout way of confirming something you already suspected might be true. If that’s the case, welcome to data analysis, buddy.)
Remember how a distinguishing feature of Marvel fans is the consistency with which Marvel movies showed up on their lists? Well, one of the distinguishing features of DC fans is also the consistency with which Marvel movies show up on their lists. DC fans have plenty of love for Marvel product, but that fondness isn’t exactly reciprocated. The Dark Knight is the only DC film that shows up frequently on the Marvel lists. Meanwhile, DC fans readily appreciate Marvel titles, particularly The Avengers and the movies of that group’s constituent characters.
Want an even starker example? The good folks at Warner Bros. will weep to hear it, but for fans of The Dark Knight, on their list of affinities, the recent offering Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice sits at number 922. 922! That’s the room number of your hotel, not the distance between your best movie and your most recent movie in the eyes of your biggest fans!
Doc is gonna put it as plainly as possible. The fanbase The Dark Knight shares with the fanbase of Dawn of Justice is roughly the same size as the fanbase it shares with:
Chicken Run (2000)
Do the Right Thing (1989)
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Grandma’s Boy (2006)
Die Another Day (2002)
Grandma’s Boy. That should be a wake-up call to somebody at DC. When Dark Knight fans are considering what movie to watch that night, and it’s a tossup between your most recent Batman movie and Grandma’s Boy? That’s a sign that your cinematic universe could be in trouble.
Interestingly enough, DC does have a crossover success… just not on the big screen. The DC title that’s actually made the most inroads with Marvel comics fans is The CW’s Arrow, which turned up more often than Marvel serials like Daredevil and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Perhaps DC’s film division could take a few notes from its TV team.
For all the distinctions Doc sees between these two fanbases, there is one truth that everybody agrees on: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is a damn good show. Look, it’s not like anyone needed massive amounts of data to tell us that lots of people really like a sitcom that’s openly acknowledged as a beloved classic, but it was striking. Across the affinities of movie and comics fans of both companies, no title, in any medium, showed up as consistently as Fresh Prince. (Who knows? Maybe Will Smith’s presence in Suicide Squad will turn out to be that movie’s ace in the hole.)
See? If Marvel and DC can find some common ground, there’s hope for us all.