What Does The Avengers Mean for DC Entertainment?

In spite of having released an impressive and buzzworthy new trailer for The Dark Knight Rises [...]

In spite of having released an impressive and buzzworthy new trailer for The Dark Knight Rises over the weekend, Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment have generally kept a pretty low profile the last week or so as the buzz built to a record-breaking head for Disney/Marvel's film adaptation of The Avengers. But they can't afford to for long. Starting essentially from scratch at the same time that DC was screening The Dark Knight in 2008, Marvel's cinematic universe rolled out and introduced moviegoers to guys like Iron Man and Thor, who previously had been considered also-rans by the few who knew them in the mainstream. While The Dark Knight was critically beloved and went on to be (at the time) the highest-grossing comic book adaptation of all time, it's Iron Man that started a revolution in comics-to-film adaptations. Followed by The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and Iron Man 2, the Marvel cinematic universe started to be built, featuring Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, who would appear in  each film attempting to recruit the hero for the mysterious Avengers Initiative. It all paid off this weekend, when The Avengers exceeded expectations and shattered box office records, besting the next-highest U.S. opening weekend in history (Warner's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2) by more than 15%. And in case Marvel's ability to segue mid-level characters into billion-dollar film franchises hadn't already caught the eye of DC's corporate paymasters at Warners, you can bet it has now. The Batman franchise is the only evergreen product DC Entertainment has in film--even Batman & Robin was profitable from a black-and-white perspective in spite of being disappointing on just about every level. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight have been remarkable successes both critically and financially, at a time when Warner Premier has released Batman: Year One and a number of other Batman-centric animated features. With Christopher Nolan's wildly successful take on the character wrapping up this year, DC had better hope that next year's Man of Steel takes off, or they'll be adrift with no anchor after the failure of last year's Green Lantern film. There are a number of problems with that, including a feeling on the part of the moviegoing public that they know what Batman is "like" and that a cosmic adventure wouldn't suit him, but executives could argue that a good script could fix that problem--after all, The Avengers starred Samuel L. Jackson's turtleneck and Black Widow. It also seems like a no-brainer--and here's where DC has already begun to make progress--that smaller, less well-known properties could be developed as somewhat less risky film and television properties. If Green Arrow or Booster Gold are made into a TV show that flops, it won't have the same kind of bull's eye on it as a bad Batman or Wonder Woman film. And The Avengers has upped the ante. If Man of Steel underperforms, heads may roll at DC as Warner realizes that they're not getting their money's worth from the DCE movie division...and if it's a success, the pressure will likely be on to craft a usable Justice League film sooner than later. Once The Avengers tops a billion dollars globally, saying, "We're not equipped to make the movie good yet" is probably not going to be a sustainable excuse.