Since the 1930s, Marvel and DC Comics have had a friendly rivalry, stemming from the comic book pages and now transcending onto the big screen. Movies such as The Dark Knight (DC), The Avengers (Marvel), and Guardians of the Galaxy (also Marvel) have broken box office records, showing that film adaptations of comic book superheros — even obscure ones — are truly a force to be reckoned with. However, despite the similarly avid fans, there are major differences between the two companies.
The studio structure
Marvel Studios, lead by the ubiquitous Kevin Feige, is a subsidiary under Marvel Entertainment. Since 2009, when the Walt Disney Company acquired Marvel Entertainment, Disney can now use all its divisions (consumer products, television, etc.) to promote a Marvel film, which ends up raising the Disney stock. Disney reported about $40.9 billion in licensing revenues in 2013 (per LicenseMag).
DC Entertainment is under Warner Bros. which reported about $6 billion in retail sales. However, as DC does not have a separate production house away from Warner Bros., the numbers include big mainstays such as Harry Potter and The Hobbit. In contrast, Marvel’s separate division can use all its marketing forces to promote the latest superhero film.
[Update, 6/30/16: Following the fallout over the mixed reception for ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, Warner has formed a separate “DC Films” division that will be headed up by Executive VP Jon Berg, and comic-writer-turned-executive Geoff Johns.]