It was not supposed to be like this. For decades, DC Comics’ characters ruled the box office and airwaves, especially with Batman, thanks to the backing of their parent company Warner Bros. That all changed starting in 2008 when Marvel Studios successfully launched their interconnected series of films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which soon overtook DC and Warner Bros. in terms of critical and fan reception and economic success. Warner Bros. did put up a fight and launched their own version of interconnected films, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), with the release of Man of Steel in 2013.
That film, featuring a new, updated version of Superman, had mixed reactions. Some applauded the grounded, grittier take of Superman, while others complained about the dark tone of the film and its over-stylized look thanks to director Zack Snyder. Still, thanks in part to Henry Cavill’s performance as Superman/Clark Kent, the film was the sound basis for an interconnected film universe featuring DC characters, which continued with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016. At last, Warner Bros. had a true counterpart to the DCEU because the second DCEU film greatly expanded its cinematic world as it not only introduced the DCEU version of Batman, but Wonder Woman, and other members of the Justice League superhero team.
But as we all know, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had a negative reaction thanks to its uneven and convoluted storyline and the DCEU never quite recovered with its sophmore film. The DCEU had an uneven track record with its filmography. For every critical and commercial success like Wonder Woman and Aquaman there were failures like Justice League and the Suicide Squad films. The film universe was inconsistent with its tone and output, meanwhile, the MCU churned out hit after hit without any legitimate competition.
What made matters worse for the DCEU was the fact that Warner Bros. seemed to give up on the DCEU by delaying long-announced films, including a solo followup to Man of Steel. This last issue drove Cavill away from the role as the film studio made announcements about new versions of Superman, which never materialized. Instead of focusing on the DCEU, Warner Bros. turned its attention to projects outside of the DCEU like Joker and The Batman, as well as TV shows that were not connected to the DCEU.
Many of these projects were successful, but they did not do anything for the DCEU. Fans asked for DCEU films featuring Superman and the other DC heavy hitters, but instead Warner Bros. greenlit films featuring lesser known characters like Black Adam, Blue Beetle and the Wonder Twins.
Then there were issues with the pandemic, which delayed film productions and forced Warner Bros. to debut films like Wonder Woman 1984 on their streaming platform, HBO Max. In fact, the parent company of the film studio, AT&T decided to forego or deemphasize film releases in favor of premiering films on HBO Max. This led to diminished financial returns for DCEU properties like The Suicide Squad.
Another sign that implied that the film studio had given up on the DCEU were rumors that the long-delayed DCEU film, The Flash, would be used to reboot the DCEU with new actors. Evidence for this lies with the fact that Michael Keaton is reprising his role as Batman in The Flash. Meanwhile the DCEU version of Batman, played by Ben Affleck and Superman, would be wiped out of existence thanks to the Flash and time travel hijinks. But that was nothing compared to the big changes instituted by new owners.
Recently, Warner Bros. was merged with Discovery to create Warner Bros. Discovery and the president and CEO of the new company, David Zaslav, essentially cleaned house at the film studio.
Zaslav is seeking to make Warner Bros. more succesful and has stated that the DC properties should be better handled and its most successful, legacy characters were neglected for too long. He raised attention by cancelling projects like the Wonder Twins film before it went into production. Not a big deal because very few people were interested in a film about obscure cartoon characters.
However, some controversy was raised in the past couple of weeks when he cancelled the upcoming Batgirl film, which was surprising since that film is nearly complete and to stream exclusively on HBO Max. Rumor had it that the film did not test well, and would turn out poorly and damage the DC brand. Plus, for a moderate-budgeted film, Batgirl’s budget had ballooned significantly and the film studio felt the best way to recoup some of the film’s cost was to basically write it off for tax purposes. Unfortunately, this means we will never see Batgirl for ourselves to determine its merit, unless someone leaks out a copy that will wind up being sold as a bootleg DVD or Blu-ray. This may be harsh for those involved with the production like Leslie Grace, who played Batgirl, and Michael Keaton, who reprised Batman, but at least these people have been paid for their work.
During a meeting on August 4, 2022 investor meeting, Zaslav fully committed to releasing quality, big-budget films in theaters, including those featuring DC characters. In the meeting, Zaslav said, “The focus is to make these films as good as possible.” This also meant that upcoming original programming for HBO Max like Green Lantern Corps and Strange Adventures will probably be cancelled, though others like Peacemaker and Doom Patrol are likely safe, for now.
More importantly, Zaslav promised a ten-year plan for DC films that will follow the same formula as the MCU, with a film division devoted to DC properties. This demonstrates that he sees the value of these characters and is willing to nurture the properties to produce the best possible films.
Does this mean there is a future for the DCEU? Aside from upcoming DCEU films like Black Adam, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and The Flash, there have been no annoucements about future DCEU films. Will the DCEU come to an end in 2023 with the release of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and The Flash? Will Warner Bros. completely reboot the DCEU, call it something different and have the films feature new actors for the iconic roles? Or will the film studio try to salvage what worked with the DCEU and use The Flash to usher in a soft reboot to reset continuity and even new actors (looking at you Ezra Miller!), while keeping popular actors like Gal Gadot?
Honestly, while some actors like Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa were excellent in their superheroic roles, it may be for the best to start all over. This means recast the roles with younger and probably less expensive actors, redoing the continuity and so on. Then again, Warner Bros. may decide that the DCEU is salvageable and keep the actors that worked out well and simply tinker around with the DCEU. Some precedent has been set for a soft reboot, as we saw last year with Zack Snyder’s version of Justice League that was very different from the original version. It depends if Zaslav and the executives think it is worth the time and money to hold onto the DCEU.
Will fans be fine with a soft or hard reboot? Sure, there will be the toxic fans who will be vocal and unhappy no matter what Warner Bros. decides. But as long as the result of Zaslav and the film studio’s efforts are high-quality DC films, then all will be forgiven. We could be in store for some exciting times.