The once-promising DC Cinematic Universe went off the rails after the release of the underwhelming Justice League movie in 2017, but Warner Bros. is now looking to Marvel for inspiration and has formulated a new 10-year plan to get its comic book franchise running at full steam once again.
David Zaslav, the recently-installed CEO of the fresh merged Warner Bros. Discovery, confirmed during an earnings call this week that “DC is at the top of the list” moving forward. “You look at Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman, these are brands that are known everywhere in the world and the ability to drive those all over the world with great stories is a big opportunity for us. We have done a reset. We've restructured the business and where we're going to focus,” Zaslav told attendees on the call (which gave more insight into the HBO Max and Discovery Plus merger).
Zaslav wasn’t shy about the inspiration for this restructuring either. “There will be a team with a ten-year plan focusing just on DC. It's very similar to the structure that Alan Horn and Bob Iger put together very effectively with Kevin Feige at Disney,” Zaslav explained.
Of course, DC has tried to mimic the juggernaut success of the MCU in the past. Starting with Man of Steel in 2013 and leading into the critically-panned and commercially-disappointing Justice League. In the wake of DC’s flagship team-up movie failing to live up to the Avengers, the DC Universe has become increasingly fractured. While the interconnected franchise has continued with movies such as Wonder Woman 1984, standalone DC movies such as Joker and The Batman have muddied the waters significantly.
Under Zaslav, Warner Bros. hopes to refocus DC and place a clear emphasis on quality. "We think that we can build a long-term, much stronger, sustainable growth business out of DC. And as part of that we're going to focus on quality, we're not going to release any film before it's ready,” said Zaslav during the earnings call.
Zaslav continued by declaring that DC isn’t going to release movies purely to fill a pre-determined schedule, but instead try to ensure that each project is "as good as possible." This is a much-needed course correction as several DC movies over the last decade including Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice took a critical beating, the latter even being branded the worst comic book movie ever by some critics.
It appears that the newly-focused Warner Bros. won’t be afraid to be ruthless when it comes to DC movies either. A Batgirl movie planned to premier on HBO Max was canceled this week, even though it had already finished filming and around $90 million had been invested in the project already.
Studio sources insist its quality wasn’t the issue, but an industry insider has leaked that test audiences described it as “like a TV pilot” and made unflattering comparisons to X-Men: Dark Phoenix. At the very least, Batgirl’s surprising cancelation appears to back up Zaslav’s words that DC is being shaken up quite significantly.
What about DC’s current slate of movies?
As noted above, the DC Cinematic Universe has become increasingly fractured over the past half a decade but as of right now there are still multiple upcoming DC movies in the pipeline. Both Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods are scheduled to release this year with The Flash and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom currently on track to debut in 2023.
How the announced restructuring of DC will impact these movies remains to be seen, but it seems likely that these four films will still make their way to theatres, especially as Black Adam and Shazam 2 already have multiple trailers released. Although as the cancelation of Batgirl proves, Warner Bros. isn’t afraid to write off a significant cost if they feel it’s the best course of action.
In fact, there have been reports already that The Flash could be pulled from its planned June 23, 2023 release date. However, these reports are due to the erratic behavior and allegations of misconduct against its star, Ezra Miller. Adding even more intrigue to the mix are the rumors that The Flash is set to be used as a vehicle to reboot the DC Universe. The film will see speedster Barry Allen play with time travel, so could be used to remold the current DC timeline.
Making the matter even more complicated are the DC movies that exist outside of the extended universe's continuity. For example, The Batman released early this year to great fanfare and a sequel (and spin-off TV show) is already in the work, plus Joker 2 is moving ahead and Lady Gaga just joined the cast earlier this week. How these movies will mesh with DC’s new 10-year plan remains to be seen, but the possibility of multiple Batman franchises existing concurrently seems fanciful.
Hopefully, Warner Bros. is able to mold the DC Universe into something special because increased competition for the all-conquering MCU wouldn’t be a bad thing. Marvel Studios have got a little too comfortable in recent years, and there is an argument that the MCU is currently floundering. A revitalized and refocused DC could be exactly the tonic needed to push both superhero franchises to greater heights, and in that case, the real winner would be us viewers.
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