Marvel's huge 'Phase 4' buzz leaves DC/Warner Bros on the outside looking in

Disney’s (DIS) Marvel Studios doesn’t have any new content releasing until 2020 — yet arguably, the franchise’s popularity has never been stronger.

Last weekend, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) stole the show at 2019’s San Diego Comic Con, highlighting what’s to come in “Phase 4” of its shared cinematic universe⁠. The post-Avengers blueprint electrified its fanbase, added momentum to its existing films, and spawned lots of hot takes about what the future holds.

Now compare that with Warner Bros (T) and its DC Extended Universe (DCEU) movie house of heroes. Despite notching some recent wins, DCEU continues to be overshadowed by the MCU’s Hollywood magic.

DC’s roster of super heroes are at least as iconic as those in Marvel — yet Warner and the DCEU have failed to replicate Marvel’s box office success and critical acclaim.

Despite having “Joker,” “Birds of Prey” and “Wonder Woman: 1984” all in the works, Warner Bros. skipped San Diego Comic Con for the first time in 20 years, giving Marvel an easy pathway to be what was most talked about.

“Comic Con is a huge stage and platform to showcase upcoming content, strategies and synergies,” said Paul Dergarabedian, sr. media analyst for Comscore.

“Any superhero brand is missing out on a huge opportunity if this is not taken full advantage of, no question,” he added.

Warner Bros. and DC did not respond to Yahoo Finance's request for comment.

Park staff dressed as The Flash, Wonder Woman and Superman are seen at Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi theme park in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Christopher Pike

The ‘Endgame’ is just the beginning

For DC, its absence at Comic Con squandered what should have been useful momentum from “Aquaman” joining the $1 billion movie club earlier this year, as well as the surprisingly positive reception of “Shazam” this spring.

Meanwhile, despite the conclusion of an Avengers franchise that spanned a decade, Marvel appears to be just getting started. In addition to “Avengers: Endgame” becoming the highest grossing movie of all time last weekend and “Spider-Man: Far From Home” became the first Spidey flick to gross $1 billion.

It’s a stark contrast to DCEU, which remains mired in controversy stemming from the disappointment of “Justice League” — which forced Warner Bros. to rethink its entire superhero strategy.

Given that backdrop, some say Warner’s low profile is understandable.

“it may be a smart move at this point to not hype up their [the DC/ Warner Bros.] slate more than necessary,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst for Boxoffice.com.

And “that probably won't change until DC can pull off a string of strongly received movies,” he said, adding that DC does appear to be heading in the right direction.

Critics and fans alike applauded the lighter tone featured in “AquaMan” and “Shazam!,” which marked a departure from the gritty, darker visions in “Man of Steel,” “Batman vs. Superman,” and the Christian Bale-headed “Dark Knight” trilogy.

“Marvel mania” keeps rolling

“Endgame” may have seen Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans depart from their respective roles as Iron Man and Captain America, but this year’s SDCC made it clear that Marvel still has a fully loaded roster of superstars to keep fans excited.

In a recent (non-scientific) Twitter poll with over 10,100 participants, Marvel-lovers debated which “Phase 4” projects they are most excited about.

The winner was 2021’s “Dr. Strange: Into the Multiverse of Madness,” which scored 55% of the vote. “Thor: Love and Thunder” —which reportedly will see the God of Thunder passing his hammer to a female successor —received a surprisingly modest 28%.

The poll’s comment section also saw a wide range of mentioning, including Jeremy Renner’s “Hawkeye” show on the up and coming Disney + streaming service, the Shang-Chi movie⁠— Marvel’s first attempt at an Asian superhero, and Mahershala Ali’s “Blade”⁠ reboot— which completely rocked the house at Comic Con last weekend.

Part of what has made Marvel characters so popular is that they’re “normal people thrust into extraordinary circumstances,” according to media influencer Jeremy Conrad.

And “Marvel is wisely making sure that they have characters on screen that everyone can identify with,” he added — like African superhero Black Panther and “Captain Marvel,” the MCU’s first female-led movie that also earned $1 billion at the box office.

“Marvel has done something no one has ever done before and every major franchise and studio is trying to mimic that with interconnected storytelling and a similar tone,” said Daniel Richtman, a pop culture influencer.

In order for Warner Bros. and DC to max out on their IP’s potential, like with Batman and Superman, media watchers say that content needs to be prioritized going forward. The DCEU shouldn’t feel like it needs to keep up with what Marvel has spent 10 plus years building, observers say.

“I think they fell into the trap that other shared universes did… Marvel’s success came from people caring about the characters, and the universe sprung from that,” Conrad stated.

“Ultimately, though, DC and Marvel can coexist,” said Box Office’s Robbins.

“The onus is simply on DC to take care of its own business and focus on character-driven films that organically and emotionally move stories forward within their own universe,” he added.

Donovan Russo is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him @Donovanxrusso.

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