Ten years ago, the fledgling Marvel Studios decided to take a change at adapting one of their B-List heroes with an actor more famous at that time for his struggles with drug addiction than his filmography. It was a risk that ultimately paid as Iron Man became a box office hit, Robert Downey, Jr became of the biggest stars in the world, and Iron Man as a character became as popular a superhero (if not more) as Wolverine and Spider-Man. The movie also became a preliminary step towards a large, interconnected narrative known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe which became fully realized in 2012’s The Avengers and hit its next apex with the release of Avengers: Infinity War. Through Tony Stark, Marvel has become the most lucrative brand at the box office.
One way that the Armored Avenger might have accomplished that was by discarding a well-worn trope of the superhero mythos: the secret identity. While the character had traditionally kept his identity secret by posing as his own bodyguard, the cinematic Tony Stark decided instead to acknowledge he was Iron Man to press at the end of the first movie.
This set a tone for the Marvel movies. Thor paid lip service to the Donald Blake alias but ultimately did nothing with it. Throughout the movies, the entire world knows Steve Rogers is Captain America to the point of holding Smithsonian exhibits about it. Even the one hero whose identity must be secret– Spider-Man– gets outed to just about every important character by the end of his solo movie. This eliminated an urge to follow well-worn tropes already exhausted in previous superhero movies such as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies.
On the other side of the tracks, DC films have not been quite so successful with the approach. The Superman of Man of Steel barely spends anytime in the traditional Clark Kent disguise and Ben Affleck’s Batman seems to out himself to just about anyone. As DC’s pantheon more heavily relies on the secret identity trope, their attempt to emulate the style has not been as cohesive.