I believe the answer to be a resounding “yes”. The DC Extended Universe, started off with Man of Steel in 2013 and will really get going this year with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, ahead of Justice League: Part One and a solo Wonder Woman movie in 2017.
Compare this to Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe, which kicked off in 2008 with Iron Man, and a dozen films under its belt, with the entire franchise grossing over 9 billion dollars. Marvel Studios has had several years to build up its cinematic universe with multiple solo films, culminating in its massive hit The Avengers in 2012. Warner Bros.’ DCEU is still in its infancy, with only 1 film under its belt with rather mixed reviews. But there are a number Suiof factors at play here that could see the DCEU nevertheless end up toppling the MCU, even with it playing catch up.
- DC has more iconic characters: Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman of course, but also the other members of the Justice League like the Flash and Green Lantern (even with its failure in 2011).
- Following on from the above, DC owns all of its heroes. Marvel Studios however, does not have the rights to all Marvel characters. The X-Men and Fantastic Four rights are tied up with Fox, and it was only very recently that Sony worked out a deal with Marvel Studios to allow Spider-Man to appear in the MCU. This cripples Marvel in terms of what storylines they can adapt to the big screen, since they can’t use the X-Men or the Fantastic Four in their films. Meanwhile, DC can focus entirely on making the best films that they can without needing to change the narrative into an unwieldy shadow of its true self.
- DC’s cinematic universe doesn’t have to worry about meshing its continuity with that of DC TV shows, like Marvel’s does with its Netflix series (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, the upcoming Luke Cage and Iron Fist), Agent Carter and Agents of SHIELD. And so we know for certain that the DCEU will not twist itself into a Gordian knot for the sake of continuity; the same can’t be said for the MCU, which may just be getting too big for its boots.
- DC has had time to study Marvel’s films and identify its flaws. For example, Marvel Studios’ films (perhaps as a result of the Disney influence) lacks a certain amount of gravitas, with humour pervading the films quite a bit. In The Avengers, the police force, apparently waiting for the National Guard, need to be told by Captain America to set up a perimeter and to start evacuating buildings. And they only accept his orders after a clumsy bit of comedy when he saves them, earning their, no-doubt, everlasting loyalty. In Man of Steel, once the military become aware of Superman they come after him with a lot of firepower to take him into questioning. Rightly or wrongly, I won’t say, but that is far more realistic than Marvel.
- Marvel’s films are formulaic. Inject in heaps of humour, a hero, a potential love interest, a generic bad guy (even better if he’s a white Caucasian male) who wants to take over the world/get rich…and that’s…pretty much it. They are great films, yes. But being so formulaic is going to hurt them in the long run. If DC capitalises on this, it will surely be a turning point in their eternal grudge match.
Of course, the DCEU does face several challenges – it is still playing catch-up compared to the MCU, Dawn of Justice is packed with quite a lot of characters who will all need to have decently explored (or at least teased) character arcs whilst still resolving the conflict between the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel satisfactorily, etc.
But if they play their cards right, toppling the MCU is going to be very possible for them.