In 2012’s “Dark Knight Rises,” Batman’s foe Bane threatened to blow Gotham City to smithereens.
Bane lost. But ten years later, DC Studios is picking up where the villain left off and wiping out much of the existing DC Extended Universe of superheroes.
On Wednesday it was revealed that Henry Cavill was fired as Superman, a cape he has donned since 2013. The new heads of DC, James Gunn and Peter Safran, also recently nixed director Patty Jenkins’ plans for “Wonder Woman 3.” Meanwhile, actor Robert Pattinson’s “Batman” films and Todd Phillips’ “Joker” sequel, with Joaquin Phoenix and Lady Gaga, will be allowed to move forward but will not be a part of the DCEU.
Good riddance. DC’s movies are mostly terrible and make a pittance at the box office compared to its rival Marvel Studios, which is owned by Disney. Warner Bros., which kicked off the comic book bloodbath this summer with the dramatic shelving of “Batgirl,” has finally figured this out.
It’s a major shakeup that’s been a long time coming. Unlike Marvel, DC has suffered embarrassing flop after flop. This summer’s “Black Adam,” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the title anti-hero, took in just $389 million at the worldwide box office. “The Suicide Squad,” with decent reviews, did $168 million in 2021. And “Wonder Woman 1984” made just $169 million in late 2020. “The Batman” fared best at $770 million back in March.
The string of stunning failures could partly be credited to the pandemic and WB’s short-lived strategy of direct-to-HBO Max releases, which has since been axed by WB Discovery president and CEO David Zaslav. At the same time, however, some of Marvel’s 2021 and 2022 movies were huge successes regardless of broader industry challenges: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” ($1.9 billion) and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” ($955 million). DC films also tend to enrage critics, who vastly prefer the more consistent MCU.
The takeaway is that DC is a monster mess that must be knocked down and rebuilt from scratch, regardless of what those crazed Zack Snyder fans will tell you. But the demolition won’t be easy.
The high-profile, high-stakes effort is one that almost nobody in Hollywood wanted to take on.
“The whole town turned the job down,” an industry source said. “It was almost Todd Phillips. They begged him.”
Ultimately Warner Bros. Discovery went with Gunn, who directed “Guardians of the Galaxy” for Marvel and “The Suicide Squad” for DC, and Safran, who produced “Shazam” and “Aquaman” at DC. The duo were helping Zaslav with the search to replace Walter Hamada, Dick Cheney-style, and wound up with the gig.
Some don’t believe Gunn, who has been in the role since October, is up to the task of turning around the struggling studio.
“Gunn has never run anything,” the source said. “I wonder if big filmmakers will work for another director with zero experience guiding movies through a huge grinder of a system. He’s not Kevin Feige [of Marvel].”
In any case, Gunn is starting out guns-a-blazing with a young Superman film that he has written and says is not an origin story. No director has been announced yet.
Some DCEU movies are already in the can and will, for now, be released in 2023. They include “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” “The Flash” (with controversial star Ezra Miller), “Blue Beetle” and “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” After that, it’s the Gunn show.
Another thorn, though, is that NBCUniversal is said to be eyeing a purchase of Warner Bros. Discovery, so whatever strategic changes Gunn and Safran make could be jettisoned soon enough anyway. Zaslav denied that WB is for sale during a town hall, but the industry source insisted “they are a cash-poor company being stripped to be sold.”
One thing is clear: The Marvel Cinematic Universe has released 30 movies to the tune of $25 billion and a Best Picture Oscar nomination for “Black Panther.” To even remotely compete with that behemoth, DC will need to change in a Flash.
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