What Does The WarnerMedia/Discovery Inc. Merger Mean For DC And Warner Bros.?

The news that AT&T divested its ownership of WarnerMedia to Discovery, Inc. for $43 billion to form a new, merged entertainment company may not sound as exciting as when The Walt Disney Company acquired 21st Century Fox in 2019, but it is just as important.

Ever since AT&T acquired Time Warner for $85 billion in 2018. there were many concerns in the entertainment industry, which turned out to be justified. Renamed, WarnerMedia, the entertainment conglomerate was owned by a telecommunications giant that did not have any experience with entertainment media and this resulted in questionable moves by AT&T. The most impactful were the creation of the HBO Max streaming service and fractured relationships with notable genre directors like Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve and James Gunn.

In AT&T’s quest to push HBO Max to be competitive with other streaming apps, all of the films slated for release this year by the movie studio, Warner Bros., were released simultaneously in theaters and the streaming service. On the surface, this took into account the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that most movie theaters were closed. However, now that the pandemic seems to be winding down (at least in the United States and Europe), this strategy has been questioned. Not only did this move result in diminished box office returns, but it alienated many of Warner Bros.’ top talent.

This first began when Wonder Woman 1984 was streamed on Christmas Day in 2020 instead of delaying the film’s release because of the pandemic. This worked in that it attracted attention (and subscribers) to the streaming app but the film received negative reactions from critics and fans who did not find much original content on HBO Max. Unlike Disney+ or Apple+, HBO Max lacked an attention-grabbing genre TV show like The Mandalorian or For All Mankind to entice fans to stay with the service. The app did stream TV shows that once exclusively streamed on the DC Universe app like Titans and Doom Patrol. But it is baffling that throughout all of the development of the app, no one thought to have an original DC TV show ready. The closest thing to semi-original content being Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which did not stream until this year, months after the app was launched. While Disney+ already streamed the Marvel properties WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, HBO Max has yet to stream original DC content. Its announced Green Lantern TV show seems to be forever in development.

It shoud be noted HBO Max premiered the sci-fi TV show Raised by Wolves when it launched and while it was well done the TV show did not capture much attention. It is a shame because the streaming service is quite good with plenty of content, but its launch was botched and confused people who already subscribed to HBO or used its then-existing apps HBO Now and HBO Go.

Filmmakers such as Nolan and Villeneuve were incensed that films they specifically shot for large screens were to be directly streamed on HBO Max. Not only would this lead to low box office returns but the decision robbed audiences of seeing films meant for the large screens. Denis Villeneuve and Legendary Pictures (the production company which bankrolled Villeneuve’s Dune, Godzilla vs. Kong and other recent genre films) expressed their dissatisfaction to push the streaming service over Warner Bros.’ film schedule. After all, in light of the pandemic, if one is able to access the app, why bother going to the theaters? As it now stands the following genre films either streamed already will do so later this year:

  • Wonder Woman 1984
  • Godzilla vs. Kong
  • Mortal Kombat
  • The Witches
  • Superintelligience
  • The Suicide Squad
  • The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
  • Malignant
  • Space Jam: A New Legacy
  • Reminiscence
  • Dune
  • the fourth Matrix film

WarnerMedia recently announced that starting in 2022, its films would be released solely in theaters before coming to HBO Max. But the damage has been done as many filmmakers openly expressed their dissatisfaction with WarnerMedia and some were no longer willing to do films for Warner Bros.

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The Movie Drought Hits The DCEU

The films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) hit a severe snag thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. As everyone knows the MCU films are now delayed and there won’t be any films released in 2020. Comic book film fans took some solace with the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) upcoming slate. But now they too, are being delayed.

Whereas, 2021 had three films scheduled (The Suicide Squad, The Batman and Black Adam), now Warner Bros. announced that two of those films will no longer come out next year, with The Suicide Squad being the sole DCEU offering from the film studio. In other words, the most highly anticipated superhero film of 2021, The Batman, will now debut in March 2022, well over a year from now. At this point, the film was only about 25 percent completed before the pandemic shut down film productions earlier this year. What added to the delay was that when production started again for The Batman, the film had to shut down again because the film’s star Robert Pattinson tested positive for COVID-19. 

As for fans of Black Adam, that film is now officially in limbo without a release date. Bear in mind this film was announced back in 2014. Expect it to die a quiet death in development hell.

Films scheduled for 2022 have also being shuffled. The Flash, a film forever in development (as well as Black Adam), once scheduled for summer 2022, will now come out in November of that year. Meanwhile, Shazam!: Fury of the Gods, the sequel to last year’s Shazam!, has been bumped all the way to June 2023. By the time they get to filming it will the young kids in the first film be too old to reprise their roles? That would be a shame since they were so wonderful in Shazam! There isn’t any word on the sequel to Aquaman, the biggest DCEU hit, and is scheduled for December 2022. But do not be surprised if it winds up in 2023. Let’s hope Jason Mamoa will still be interested in the film.

The only thing keeping fans going is that Wonder Woman 1984 is still slated to come out in December of this year. But do not be surprised if the Amazonian warrior will have to move to 2021 by the way things are going (the same goes for The Suicide Squad). It’s maddening because Wonder Woman 1984 is already finished and in fact we could have had the film last year if Warner Bros. had not moved it out of its original slot in lat 2019 for a more coveted summer release date. Of course, this is not the fault of the film studio since no one could have predicted this pandemic. Still, this is frustrating. 

On the other hand, the DCEU at least released a film this year, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was released this past February. It was not the best comic book film but it was at least a decent offering for starved fans. 

The best option for the DCEU is to fast track TV shows for HBO Max, in the same way many MCU fare will stream on Disney+ next year. HBO Max will have TV shows featuring DC heroes like Titans and Doom Patrol, but those shows are not set in the DCEU, and the only confirmed DCEU program coming out next year is the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League. A Green Lantern show is coming out on HBO Max but it is still in development. 

Another thing these film studios could do is greenlight lower budget comic book films that do not need to earn hundreds of millions to break even. That way with today’s lowered box office earnings, the films could quietly earn their budget back and perhaps a small profit. Plus, it would keep fans happy. Still the core of the problem is that most people rightfully do not feel comfortable going to theaters and that will not change without a cure or vaccine for COVID-19, which is not expected well into next year. 

For now, there is not anything we can do except hope our situation changes, film studios feel comfortable enough to release big budget films and we can safely see our favorite heroes on the big screen again.