Henry Cavill’s Superman in the DCEU delivers the best depiction of flight, with a memorable scene in Man of Steel.
Marvel’s Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, has a superior portrayal of lightning, utilizing it better than DC’s Shazam and Black Adam.
Many characters in live-action franchises from Marvel and DC share similar abilities, but only one can deliver these remarkable powers better than the other. For almost a century, Marvel Comics and DC Comics have created vibrant, expansive, and complex worlds, inhabited by dozens of superheroes and villains who all display remarkable abilities. When developing these worlds, however, there was bound to be a lot of crossover, with several characters from each sharing similar powers. Comparisons have always been made between them, which has continued in live-action adaptations.
While 20th Century Fox’s X-Men film series ran from 2000’s X-Men to 2020’s The New Mutants, Marvel Studios’ MCU has spanned more projects and introduced many more characters in a shorter period of time. This has left Sony and DC Studios’ faltering franchises trailing behind, but they have all debuted interesting characters with incredible abilities. When comparing characters with similar powers, however, there tends to be a clear winner in each category. Here are ten examples of Marvel and DC’s different takes on similar superpowers, and which franchise did them better.
10 Super Speed
Super speed is one of the most cinematic abilities, and there have been several heroes who’ve displayed this impressive power. Most recently, DC Studios delivered The Flash, which showcased Barry Allen’s super speed, but the off-putting visual effects didn’t do justice to his ability. Marvel has had more success pulling off super speed, particularly with Evan Peters’ Quicksilver in Fox’s X-Men franchise, but it’s the MCU’s Makkari, who debuted in 2021’s Eternals, who did it best.
While Eternals became one of Marvel Studios’ most divisive projects, its representation of super speed far outweighed other studios’ attempts. Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari used cosmic energy to enhance her speed, and this was shown in some fantastic moments as she traversed the globe at record speed. With strong visual effects that didn’t slow down everything around her but showed the world at her pace, Makkari’s speed was made the sole focus of her scenes, culminating in an epic battle against Ikaris, where neither he nor the audience saw her coming.
Flight is one of the most popular gifts that Marvel and DC have both given to some of their most powerful characters. Notably, heroes such as Superman, Ikaris, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern have all displayed this ability, though this power has seldom actually been explained, so the mechanics of an individual’s ability to fly have always been confusing. Even though a number of high-profile characters utilize flight powers in both Marvel and DC storylines, there is only one clear winner, and that is Henry Cavill’s depiction of Superman.
Born on Krypton but raised in Kansas, Kal-El, a.k.a. Clark Kent, was gifted superhuman powers thanks to the different light of the Earth’s sun, and this included flight. Every version of Superman in film has displayed this ability, but the DCEU paid extra attention to Superman’s flight in 2013’s Man of Steel, including a beautiful scene that showed him flying for the first time. This scene will go in history as one of the strongest depictions of flight in a live-action superhero film.
The ability to harness the power of lightning has been given to several heroes over the years, and it’s most notably linked to those imbued with the powers of gods. This includes DC Studios’ Shazam and Black Adam, both of which used lightning in their recent live-action projects, though this was mostly used only for comic relief – such as when Shazam uses it to charge strangers’ phones. Marvel clearly takes the win, as Chris Hemsworth’s Thor has been able to use lightning since his debut in 2011’s Thor, and this power has only grown over the years.
2017’s Thor: Ragnarok saw the titular God of Thunder lose his trusted hammer, Mjolnir, which he had previously used to channel his lightning ability. However, without the hammer, he learned how to channel lightning through his actual body, leading to some intense and exhilarating moments when he embraced his full power. This continued in Avengers: Infinity War (that epic “bring me Thanos” moment), Avengers: Endgame, and Thor: Love and Thunder, where Thor used his lightning to bring drama as well as comedy, something that DC hasn’t yet mastered.
7 High-Tech Suits
Although many characters are enhanced with physiological or magical powers, there are also several who have created their own superhero identities through the use of technology. Most recently, DC Studios’ Blue Beetle debuted Jaime Reyes, who becomes bonded to the ancient Scarab that grants him a high-tech exosuit with some remarkable capabilities. Additionally, Batman has used high-tech armor, as has War Machine, Doctor Doom, and even the supervillain Lex Luthor. However, Marvel’s best Iron Man suits put them all to shame.
After being taken captive by the Ten Rings in 2008’s Iron Man, billionaire Tony Stark designs his first Iron Man armor, and, upon his return to the United States, streamlines his design, forming his iconic Iron Man suit. Stark’s armor gifts him abilities such as flight, super strength, and access to a veritable arsenal of weaponry, allowing him to stand up with some of the more biologically-enhanced Avengers in the MCU. Despite having no superhuman abilities to speak of, Iron Man became one of cinema’s most legendary superheroes, earning the top spot among other armored characters.
6 Super Strength
Super strength tends to be an ability displayed by most of Marvel and DC’s heroes, though is seldom an individual’s only power. High-profile characters such as Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Superman, Thor, and Supergirl, among many others, have all shown off some incredible strength over the years, so it’s difficult to pinpoint which franchise did it better. Even so, DC Studios has tended to neglect its super-strong superheroes, most prominently with Henry Cavill’s Superman, whose super strength was never given the attention it deserved.
Due to this, the onus falls on Marvel to deliver some impressive feats of super strength. Bruce Banner’s Hulk has caused a huge amount of destruction since his debut in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk thanks to his super strength, including defeating Abomination and battling Iron Man in Age of Ultron. However, Chris Evans’ shows of strength as Steve Rogers’ Captain America takes the top spot. 2016’s Civil War saw him hold back a hovering helicopter, while Avengers: Infinity War showed that he was strong enough to briefly stop Thanos in his tracks, a feat not many other heroes could have pulled off.
5 Incredible Aim
Having a sharp aim is an oft-underestimated superhuman ability, but one that certainly comes in handy in both Marvel and DC’s franchises. DC Studios has previously showcased antiheroes such as Will Smith’s Deadshot and Idris Elba’s Bloodsport from 2016’s Suicide Squad and 2021’s The Suicide Squad, respectively. Both of these characters have impressive skills, but Marvel Studios’ Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, has been given the most time to develop his power and show off in some brilliant moments.
In his early appearances, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye was practically ignored, but from 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron onwards, his character has seen some major developments and has been given the chance to fully show off his ability. Whether he is taking on a Chitauri army with a bow and arrow in The Avengers, freeing Wanda Maximoff from Avengers HQ by distracting Vision in Civil War or using his power to take down bad guys in Avengers: Endgame, Barton has put this ability to good use in the MCU. Good aim is an often undermined ability, but Hawkeye excels in this regard nonetheless.
4 Marine Life Telepathy
Although most of Marvel and DC’s heroes operate on dry land, there are also a select few who prefer life beneath the waves. Most notably, Namor and Aquaman are both leaders of Atlantis-inspired civilizations beneath the sea in Marvel and DC Comics, respectively, though they are surrounded by the likes of Mera, Namora, Triton, and Aqualad. While Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is one of the DCEU’s most popular heroes, and his underwater powers are given more time to be developed, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever debuted Namor and his underwater civilization much more convincingly.
Tenoch Huerta debuted as the MCU’s Namor in Phase 4, and while he hasn’t had as much screen time as Momoa’s Aquaman, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s depiction of his powers and underwater city were much more impactful. The visual effects of Talokan far surpass those of DC Studios’ Atlantis, and the explanation of Namor’s powers is much clearer in the MCU. Namor has also proven himself to be more formidable than Aquaman, most notably during his attack on Wakanda, setting him up to be a much more powerful and consistent character in his franchise.
The ability to harness magic is a very popular power that has been used by many characters in both Marvel and DC’s franchises, but this has arguably been delivered much more effectively in the MCU. Pierce Brosnan’s depiction of Doctor Fate in 2022’s Black Adam was one of the highlights of the poorly-received film, proving that DC Studios can properly showcase magic and its useful properties. Even so, Marvel Studios has debuted a huge number of sorcerers, witches, and wizards who have all displayed some remarkable feats of magical power.
High-profile MCU characters such as Loki, Thor, Doctor Strange, the Scarlet Witch, and Agatha Harkness have all proven themselves to be among the MCU’s most powerful characters, thanks to their mastery over magic. While Loki’s abilities to cast realistic illusions and, more recently, enchant other beings are certainly impressive, Doctor Strange’s vast repertoire of magical uses means he has earned the title of Master of the Mystic Arts (and Sorcerer Supreme in Marvel Comics). Strange’s incredible powers have been shown off many times, most recently when he dream-walked into his own corpse in the MCU’s Phase 4.
2 Size Changing
Akin to Hawkeye’s perfect aim, characters being able to change size has often been undermined in both Marvel and DC’s franchises, with the likes of Ant-Man, the Wasp, and Atom Smasher being regarded as some of the “weakest” superheroes. Even so, this ability grants its users some brilliant capabilities. 2022’s Black Adam delivered a strong debut for Noah Centineo as Atom Smasher, but the MCU’s Ant-Man and the Wasp have many more abilities granted by their mastery over the Pym Particle that makes them clearly stronger in almost every regard.
While Atom Smasher can only enlarge, Scott Lang has proven that he can both enlarge and shrink, earning the name Ant-Man instead of Giant-Man. The Wasp’s suit also has blasters and wings attached, which gift her even more abilities than her partner in crime, and both are skilled hand-to-hand combatants that make them strong allies in any fight. In DC Comics, Atom Smasher can change size without his suit, which Ant-Man and the Wasp cannot, but Marvel’s insect-themed superheroes are far more powerful in most other areas.
1 Dark Magic
There are two major characters who use dark magic in Marvel and DC’s live-action franchises, while other notable characters have tapped into other magical sources. In the DCEU, 2016’s Suicide Squad debuted Cara Delevigne as Enchantress, the titular team’s first (and only) adversary, while in the MCU, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch has been a staple of the franchise since 2015’s Age of Ultron, and is the far superior dark magic user. Suicide Squad’s Enchantress was heavily criticized and didn’t really have much to do in the film, but the Scarlet Witch has seen some huge developments in the MCU.
Wanda Maximoff has gone from minor villain to Avenger to full-blown villain in the MCU’s Multiverse Saga. This journey has seen her unlock more and more power with every appearance, eventually displaying the ability to create an entire virtual world within Westview, New Jersey, and even traverse the multiverse on the hunt for her children. The Scarlet Witch’s power far outweighs Enchantress’, not only making her one of the MCU’s most powerful characters, but seeing her become of the most powerful characters in any Marvel or DC franchise.
Key Release Dates
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom
Captain America: Brave New World
Kraven the Hunter
Joker: Folie a Deux
Marvel’s Fantastic Four
The Batman – Part II
Avengers: The Kang Dynasty
Avengers: Secret Wars
Marvel and DC’s heroes share similar abilities. Read More