James Gunn is a storyteller who makes magic happen, but even as the new head of DC Studios, there is no way he’ll get to cross over with Marvel. Since taking the helm of the DC Studios battleship, James Gunn has been asked to do countless, sometimes contradictory, things by the fanbase. Yet, one thing that even Gunn hinted he’d like to see as a fan is a crossover between DC and Marvel Studios. At least right now, not even a storyteller with the goodwill Gunn has at both studios could make that happen.
In the entertainment world, folks should learn never to say “never.” Ten years ago, the idea of Sony partnering up with Marvel Studios for Spider-Man was a financial impossibility. However, that was two studios figuring out how to capitalize on unifying the last disparate corner of the Marvel Comics universe. Crossing over with DC Studios and Warner Bros. Discovery is something entirely. On pure curiosity, a DC vs. Marvel movie would be the “Dawn of Money.” It would earn, but Warner and Disney would only walk away with a quarter of the box office. Such a film (or a pair of them to double earning potential) would be more difficult than Avengers: Endgame to fit into a sensible narrative. At best, it would be a movie-by-committee. At worst? It damages both brands, possibly irreparably.
Comics crossovers happened in the past, but each time they did, the editors at Marvel and DC fought more than the heroes and the rogues. Each company’s heroes couldn’t get over on the others. They had to appear in the same number of panels. And that was the “easy” stuff. A movie would be even more difficult with all the producers and, even worse, studio executives who aren’t in the creative arts. Instead of Superman and Spider-Man duking it out on the top of the Empire State Building, it’d be David Zaslav and Bob Iger wrestling around the Griffiths Park Observatory dome.
It’s clear that Kevin Feige and James Gunn have a good relationship, and if anyone could pull it off, it’s them. Yet, with the jam-packed Marvel Studios’ schedule and the work ahead of Gunn to alter the DC Universe’s course, there’s no time. Adding another or movie or two to the marquee stars’ schedules would be cost-prohibitive. Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery are already cutting costs, including scrapping nearly finished projects. Not only does Warner Bros. not want the DCU compared so directly to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it might not even be able to field a Batman or Superman.
Again, anything is possible in the marketplace. Yet, at least with things as they are now, the only way it happens is if it is both animated and for charity. The charity angle would serve as an incentive to stop a precious WB or Disney executive from blowing it up over something petty. Animation is less work for the actors and not as expensive as live action. If it happens any other way, the argument for superhero fatigue being real and “here” will get stronger.
The MCU and DCU may not be equal in fans’ eyes, but to Gunn, it just might be. Before he was at the top spot, he was into the idea of a crossover. Yet, it’s also clear that DC Comics is (at least) as special to Gunn as Marvel. Even if the universes were on equal footing and executives were interested, Gunn is certainly lost in the mad DC multiverse. Planning a decade of massive, interconnected storytelling is no small feat. Just because he (and Michael Rooker) made the world care about Yondu of all characters doesn’t mean he can do everything.
The revenue problem threatens not just a crossover but also the continued pursuit of this sort of mythical, archetypal storytelling. If box offices continued on their upward trajectory from the late 2010s, a DC and Marvel crossover might be “the thing” to finally push it over $20 billion. Yet, the post-pandemic reality suggests getting back to even a $10 billion annual box office could take years. Furthermore, any DC and Marvel set would exist only so each studio could poach the others’ actors.
A crossover like this is almost always cooler in theory than practice. Gunn has an almost Sisyphean climb ahead of him, and he doesn’t need the added pressure of Marvel swaggering around. Besides, the real Marvel vs. DC battle takes place in the stock market and in the hearts of the fans.