The DCEU Ruined Batman And Superman (But It's Not Zack Snyder's Fault)

Superman and Batman in Justice League Movie

The DCEU may have a bright future, but it's without Batman or Superman. The World's Finest used to be the biggest names in superhero cinema, now they're taking a backseat. How have DC Films managed to make them replaceable in a short five years?

Ben Affleck's Batman was subject to controversy from the moment he was cast (as is typical for any new actor taking on Bruce Wayne), and for now almost two years has been dogged by rumors he's already stepping down: he passed writing and directing duties on solo movie The Batman to Matt Reeves, a project which Affleck is now not likely to even star in. While he's still allegedly linked to the standalone, it certainly looks like he's on the way out.

Related: Recasting a Younger Batman For the Solo Movie

Across the bay, Henry Cavill, whose Superman started the whole shared universe with 2013's Man of Steel, has also had his DC career in question since Justice League, with rumblings of long-fought contract renegotiations between him and Warner Bros. That story finally reached its natural end point last week when it was reported that Cavill was out as Superman, with the studio opting to put the character on the backburner and replace him with cousin Supergirl.

Batman and Superman are, for all intents and purpose, done in the DCEU as their present iterations. Recasts and soft reboots will happen, Bruce and Clark will hang out again, and we'll no doubt get some good movies in the future. However, at present, both characters are at the lowest they've been since the late 1990s. How do we get from the Dark Knight to a quipping Caped Crusader? How did the Man of Steel become a rubber-lipped chuckler? The answer, as with any complaints to do with these characters, comes from confusion.

Batman & Superman Used To Be The Only Superhero Movies That Worked

Batman V Superman Trailer Retro Michael Keaton Christopher Reeve

It's easy to lose sight of it now with over ten superhero movies set to be released in 2019, but comic book adaptations weren't always Hollywood's most enviable money-spinner. Before Marvel's rights sale in the late 1990s to avoid bankruptcy led to the successes of X-Men and Spider-Man, they were typically campy, tacky adventures that took the "comic" part far too seriously in both aesthetic and tone. In the fray, the only noteworthy exceptions were Superman and Batman.

Superman: The Movie was the first tentpole superhero film. Released in 1978, it was at that point the most expensive movie ever made (the budget was $55 million, a modest $212 million adjusting for inflation) and really did convince audiences a man could fly: it made over $300 million, made actor Christopher Reeve a star, and cemented Kal-El as a cinematic icon. Three sequels of varying quality and studio meddling followed, and while it ended ignominiously with the humiliating Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the lessons of cinematic Superman were learned.

Related: Why Henry Cavill Quit Playing The DCEU's Superman

Batman's success was even bigger. After his Metropolis buddy's series petered out, Bruce Wayne emerged a movie star himself in Tim Burton's 1989 smash Batman ($411 million on a $35 million budget). While the journey was creatively rocky - Burton's Batman Returns was deemed too dark by WB and parents, then replacements Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever increased profits while decreasing critical attention before Batman and Robin crashed and burned - but it likewise cemented Batman as a star.

It's easy to point to the parallel descents of both series, but Hollywood clearly believed Batman and Superman had continuing potential; even after both series struggled, they were top of the list to be brought back, with Tim Burton's Superman Lives, Darren Aronofsky's Batman: Year One, and an early-2000s Batman v Superman all getting further than contemporary developments. And who can blame them? At the time the only real competition was Howard the Duck, direct-to-TV Marvel movies, Spawn, Steel and other worst movies of all all-time entrants. All evidence suggested they were the only heroes who worked on the silver screen.

However, as the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, bringing once-laughable prospects like Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and even Black Panther successfully to theaters shows, this wasn't exactly a rule. It just took time to improve the filmmaking approach. Nevertheless, it was undeniable that DC's big two were the icons to beat. This thesis was almost proven by The Dark Knight Trilogy, which resurrected Batman from development hell after the misfire of Batman and Robin and turned it into a billion-dollar franchise when only The Lord of the Rings had that honor. Compared even to merchandise king Spider-Man, it was evident there was something about Batman that others couldn't crack.

And yet, two decades later, we do have Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther not only being successful but having seemingly replaced the positions once held by the World's Finest.

Page 2: How The DCEU Slowly Eroded Batman And Superman

Key Release Dates
  • Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
  • Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
  • Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
  • Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
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