Warner Bros, DC, superheroes: will the plan actually work this time?

DC logo david s goyer
Share this Article:

The DC Universe – now the DCU – is Warner Bros’ big movie bet for the years ahead. But with Batman and Superman leading the charge can this version actually consistently deliver for the studio? 

For those of us who have covering the world of DC comic book movies, it’s hard to count just what iteration of the overall plan we’re now up to. Whereas Marvel has – remarkably – been on a relatively straight line since its experiment with that Iron Man thing paid off all the way back in 2008, in the land of DC things have been different.


Try three issues of Film Stories magazine – for just £1: right here!

DC is one of Warner Bros’ big assets, and Warner Bros has never quite worked out what to consistently do with it, and its extensive catalogue of characters. Oddly too, Warner and DC were in the lead, creating in effect the modern superhero film with the first Superman all the way back in 1978. Then, in 1989, it was leading the way again with Tim Burton’s Batman. And, wouldn’t you know it, it repainted the state of such films a third time with 2005’s Batman Begins. There’s a strong argument that the very best superhero films have a Warner Bros logo at the start of them.

Coincidentally, so do some of the worst. Catwoman, Jonah Hex, Green Lantern, Batman Forever (I’ll take Batman & Robin over Batman Forever, but aware I’m in the minority there), the original cut of Justice League? Well, take your pick.

Just follow the reboots of its cinematic DC adventures since the mid-2000s and you get the sense of a company with a golden goose on its assets book, that seems to come with a manual on how to try and strangle it. Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns brought Superman back and promptly stopped him in his tracks. Christopher Nolan’s trilogy was so standalone, the studio struggled to fashion anything annexed to it. The Marvel Cinematic Universal didn’t exist when Nolan started those films, it was dominant by the time it finished.

And thus, of course, at Nolan’s recommendation Warner Bros turned to a fresh architect: Zack Snyder. But, confusingly, not just Zack Snyder. Whilst Snyder developed and made a main line of three films, Todd Phillips could go and do his own thing with Joker, we had two different takes on Suicide Squad, Matt Reeves stylistically ripped things up again for The Batman, and Patty Jenkins made a bloody good Wonder Woman film in the midst of it all. The scattergun approach to all of this is demonstrated by the fact that we’ve basically had three different Jokers on the go in the last decade, at least two of them in parallel. Sure, we live in a world where we got three Prime Ministers in this country in a matter of months, so a trio of Jokers over a longer period of time feels less dramatic. But still. Even 2022’s Black Adam suggested a crossover and a new way forward, a plan that was dropped within weeks of the film landing.

Something had to give, of course. On the one hand, Warner Bros had given film makers a freeer hand than their Marvel peers received with their films, but on the other hand, they linked together about as well as Jared Leto and his acting coach.

The change, as it tends to do at Warner Bros, was instigated at boardroom level rather than on a creative one. The merger last year between Warner Bros and Discovery to create – wait for it – Warner Bros Discovery has brought with it a fresh laser focus on making fewer things, and making them bigger. That put the world of DC in the crosshairs.

Warner Bros Discovery

Much of the Warner Bros approach to its DC properties has to some degree been a case at looking what Marvel is doing, and trying to copy it. Especially since Marvel has just about sort of successfully jumped to television as well, and interlinking a universe of properties as it did so that still attract large numbers of eyeballs. More to the point, the talk for months, if not years, has been the need for a Kevin Feige-style figure at DC. The chief creative overlord of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the kind of appointment no other studio in town has managed to quite get right. Perhaps that’s what Zack Snyder was supposed to be at one stage.

But now, the job has landed at the door of a Marvel veteran, James Gunn. Along with Peter Safran, he’s gone through the slate of existing projects at Warner Bros/DC, and had the job of trying to pull together the DC films and TV shows into a tangible universe. What he’s delivered is, to a degree, a page right out of the Marvel template, with some wiggle room for legacy stuff too. Five new films, five new TV shows, the majority you could guess, but with one or two surprises.

To a degree, what the pair have done is what the studio has tried to do before. If you’re Matt Reeves or Todd Phillips, you can still make your individual projects that don’t have to glue together. But that aside, let’s announce a whole host of projects in one go, and put across that there’s a forward plan. Granted, there was a lesson learned in that this slate of projects was announced looking towards fans rather than in a corporate investor call as the studio famously did in October 2014. Still, the trick the studio needs to perfect isn’t having a plan, it’s sticking to it.

Superman II Donner cut logo

What’s announced it not without promise, even though most of it could be and had been predicted. Gunn after all had already been bullish that a brand new Superman film with a brand new Superman would be leading the charge, and tellingly, he’s writing Superman: Legacy himself. Not for nothing did Safran call this “the launch of the DCU” (we’re calling it to the DCU now, to differentiate it from the DCEU, or whatever it was). This is the project that’ll set the tone for what’s to come, and all eyes will clearly be on it. As if to highlight the interconnected nature of it all, the first Supergirl film in 40 years will be arriving as well.

And of course there’s yet another Batman too, this time with Robin popping along as well (Chris O’Donnell’s agent has presumably been in touch, and it’ll be separate from what Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson are up to). All the big hitters, with some less high profile stuff that’s clearly in Gunn’s wheelhouse (looking at you, The Authority, the leftfield part of the announcement). That, and a Swamp Thing movie that’s been on the stove for years, but is very welcome that notwithstanding.

Television accounts for half of the projects, with Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller not just becoming the person who could skate between two entirely different Suicide Squad ventures, but also arguably three different eras of DC screen productions. Details of the full announcement are here.

And so far, everyone’s talking a good game. Why shouldn’t they? They know things haven’t gone to plan before, they know that they need to sort it out this time, else if they don’t, Marvel will continue making hits and Warner Bros can sort it out next time instead.

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman 1984

It’d be remiss not to acknowledge casualties in all of this, and not just the already cancelled despite being complete Batgirl. Clearly the studio can’t release the toxic The Flash fast enough, and one of Gunn and Safron’s first acts was to watch Black Adam, write down ‘WTF’ on a pad, and decide that a sequel would not be necessary.

It’s hard not to feel more sympathy for Patty Jenkins, who made one terrific Wonder Woman movie, one meh-ish one, and had plans for a third. And then there’s Henry Cavill, the right actor in the right role at just the wrong time. He, like Brandon Routh, will also feel like a sort-of-lost Superman. One who deserved better.

On reflection, I can’t help but think there’s a tiny bit of General Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth about this. Certainly there’s a response already from fans that goes along the lines of we’ve seen this before, or I’ll believe it all when I see it. The first 40 seconds of this clip in particular seems to capture some of what Warner Bros Discovery is up to…

But then I also appreciate that sells Safron, Gunn, and the next generation of filmmakers they approach to their DCU, short. As Gunn himself said, “there was never any real power given to the people in charge. And so somebody could always go over their head and do whatever they wanted. We had the DCEU, which then became the Joss Whedon Justice League, but it also became the Snyderverse, which became this”. He’s also making the right noises about getting the writing right, and putting across that there’s someone at the top making informed decisions.

And maybe that’s the key here. We knew there’d be another Batman, and another Superman. We didn’t know there’d be The Authority. But now we see just who the creatives are going to be. Who’s going to be donning the assortment of uncomfortable outfits in the DC costume cupboard. And whose underwear is destined to be worn on the outside of their trousers. Flesh on the bones of the plan, if you will.

After all, just because Warner Bros Discovery has followed the Marvel model – arguably at a point when Marvel itself is spluttering – doesn’t mean it’s not the right approach. In truth, it’s likely to work to a degree, and certainly there feels fresh confidence in the announcement itself.

But for many of us, we’ve also been round this block a few times. I queued up to see what tone Zack Snyder was going to set for Superman at the start of his era, and walked away baffled, whilst others were delighted. Who knows how we’re all going to feel in 2025 when all this kicks off. The only real certainty is that by the time the new DCU kicks in, Marvel and Disney will have banked another couple of billion. For Warner Bros Discovery, it best hope that its new creative overlords are still happy, still in place, and finally delivering consistent results for the studio. Failing that, don’t rule out a Jonah Hex 2

Thank you for visiting! If you’d like to support our attempts to make a non-clickbaity movie website:

Follow Film Stories on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

Buy our Film Stories and Film Junior print magazines here.

Become a Patron here.

Share this Article:

Related Stories

More like this