Movie superheroes of the MCU and DCEU franchises are actually more violent than the supposed villains they battle, according to a new study. Comic book adaptations are nothing new to the world of cinema. Studios were lifting iconic characters from the page all the way back to at least the 1970s. They've only grown more prominent over the ensuing decades. With the way paved by the likes of Tim Burton's Batman, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy, and the X-Men franchise, the world of superheroes and villains has grown exponentially in popularity. While the likes of The Dark Knight and Logan showed that the genre could stand toe-to-toe with Oscar-level productions, Marvel Studios were the ones to take things to a whole new level of commercial viability.
Kicking off with Iron Man back in 2008, the MCU has gone on to utterly dominate the box office. The release of Ant-Man and The Wasp, in fact, saw their overall total grosses soar past $17 Billion. With Man of Steel through to Justice League, the DCEU has followed suit in trying to establish a connected universe. Though the latter hasn't proved as financially successful, the DCEU still generates a rabidly passionate fanbase. In short, audiences are as dedicated as ever to watching their favorite heroes punch their way toward a safer world.
According to researchers at Pennsylvania State University (via IFLScience), that actually might not be a good thing, with fans potentially rooting for the wrong side. Ahead of a presentation at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2018 National Conference & Exhibition, researchers studied a range of superhero movies. They focused primarily on the top 10 grossing films from 2015 and 2016. Those would have included titles like Avengers: Age of Ultron, Suicide Squad, and Batman V Superman. The results were unexpected, to say the least.
After labeling them as either a protagonist or antagonist, the university analyzed each character's actions. The results showed that whilse villains averaged 18 violent acts per hour, heroes averaged 23. Heroes were more often shown fighting, using lethal weapons, or destroying property. Even more worrisome still is that heroes committed 168 murders. The villains, meanwhile, only committed 93. The only time villains actually lived up to their names, is when researchers assessed acts of intimidation, bullying, and torture.
Upon reflection, it's easy to see how the study could come to these conclusions. Although it was not a part of the study, Man of Steel drew considerable criticism for its depiction of wanton, reckless destruction from its protagonist. Batman v Superman attempted to address the issue but ultimately served to emphasize it, turning Batman into a remorseless killer. Marvel was no less destructive, with the heroes often prioritizing battling through the streets over saving lives. Back in 2016, of all people, Mel Gibson noted this trend. By and large, heroes are naturally predisposed to punching their way out of trouble.
Then again, the fact that the results may be slightly skewed needs to be accounted for. After all, recent superhero films have seen a new trend emerge in their villains. Civil War featured a non-powered antagonist having to rely on his smarts to achieve his goals. Similarly, the equally normal human Lex Luthor had to do the same in the aforementioned Batman v Superman. Their plots also largely revolved around pitting heroes against each other, almost assuredly going against the hero's respective counts. There is also the fact heroes get a lot more screen time and action scenes. Not to mention the almost cathartic need audiences have to see the heroes prevail, even if that means, as was the previous MCU trend, fatally dispatching their foes. A villain's more bloodthirsty acts, meanwhile, tend to occur off-screen, usually to preserve a family-friendly PG-13 rating. Were the results of Thanos' infamous snap in Infinity War also included in the equation, however, the villainous murder count would no doubt have been much, much higher.