Imagine, for a moment, that you find the Cosmic Treadmill, the device Flash uses to travel through time in the comics. There you are, little old you (or young you, I don’t want to be ageist), with a machine that can take you back to any point you want.
Imagine that you get into it and travel back to April 2007, ten years into the past, and a year before Marvel’s IRON MAN hit theaters to tell yourself that in 2017, there would be a whole Marvel Cinematic Universe, and both an Iron Man and a Captain America movie would gross a billion dollars each, while a movie starring Superman and Batman directed by the guy who made 300 would come a hundred and thirty million short of the big ‘B’. Surely 2007 you would call you a liar, right?
But that is exactly what happened, and it took Warner Brothers by surprise. Now, a year later, Warner Brothers is looking at their DC Cinematic Universe and struggling to find a path forward. Or, maybe they aren’t. Maybe they’ve found the path. Is the DC Cinematic Universe on the right track? How about we look at the state of affairs and take a few guesses?
Warners really thought they had a super smash on their hands with BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, the second movie in their DC Cinematic Universe. After MAN OF STEEL didn’t meet box office expectations, the studio decided to bring the Dark Knight into the sequel, even putting his name at the front. It made sense – the last two Batman movies, THE DARK KNIGHT and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES both broke the billion dollar mark, so the character’s appearance here should boost ticket numbers by a whole lot. WB was so sure that BVS was going to destroy box office records that before the movie hit theaters, Zack Snyder and his crew were already deep into pre-production on JUSTICE LEAGUE. Fan reaction to Ben Affleck as Batman had gone from “UGH!” to “YES!” after seeing him in the suit, and the trailer was a huge hit. Things looked real good.
Then the reviews started coming out. Now, reviews won’t make or break a movie like this (just look at the reviews of the TRANSFORMERS movies compared to box office) but bad reviews won’t help, and BVS ending up with a 28% on Rotten Tomatoes was really bad. BVS came out and the first weekend was solid. Real solid. With $166 million in North America and a worldwide gross of $422 million in the first three days, things seemed awesome for Warner Brothers. When the film’s box office take dropped by 68% on the second weekend, that “awesome” turned to “aww shit”.
Quickly, the billion dollar mark that seemed destined to happen became an impossible goal. In the end, BATMAN V SUPERMAN didn’t even break $900 million. Warner Brothers went into fix mode.
The start of those “fixes” was seen in SUICIDE SQUAD. With four months before SUICIDE SQUAD would hit screens, the movie went in for reshoots to make it more comedic. After the reshoots, director David Ayer edited his version of the movie while Warner Brothers brought in the company that had created the popular SUICIDE SQUAD trailer, Trailer Park, to do their own cut of the movie. Both versions were tested, and the Trailer Park edit ended up going to theaters. Considering the movie outperformed expectations and brought in over $700 million at the worldwide box office, it seems to have been the right call, but as with BATMAN V SUPERMAN, SUICIDE SQUAD was ravaged by reviewers.
As all of that was going down, Warner Brothers was knee deep in two more DC films, JUSTICE LEAGUE and WONDER WOMAN. When BATMAN V SUPERMAN hit theaters, WONDER WOMAN was nearly done filming, but they still had time to try and course correct. We’ll know for sure this June, but there’s no arguing that the trailers have people cautiously optimistic. Adding to that optimism, this past February, Warner Brothers flew a group of film critics to London and showed them roughly 20 minutes of WONDER WOMAN, and the overall reactions were positive. Come June, we’ll know if Diana of Themyscira will light the way for the future of the DC movies.
The JUSTICE LEAGUE trailer, on the other hand, has been more of a mixed bag. While fans of MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN V SUPERMAN praised it, others believe it shows a lot of the same problems those movies suffered from – namely the dark, gritty tone. Yes, there are jokes in the trailer, but the overall look still feels off for the Justice League, a team not know for grim and gritty. One thing everyone seems to agree on is that Aquaman looks like the standout character which is, to be honest, shocking. I mean, he’s Aquaman.
Aquaman is also the only character who has a movie in production at this point, with James Wan at the helm. You can look at the Warner Brothers schedule and you’ll see plenty of DC movies with dates, but there’s almost no information for any of them.
FLASH was set to get his own movie in March 2018, but after losing two directors, the movie was pulled from the schedule.
SHAZAM has been in development since 2014, and while the villain, Black Adam, has been cast, there’s no word on who will be playing the hero or his civilian identity (if you don’t know, when he isn’t Shazam, Billy Batson is a twelve-year-old kid). The last word on this movie, set for a April 2019 release, was that Black Adam, being played by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, would be getting his own movie.
Cyborg, who we’ll all meet in JUSTICE LEAGUE, is set for his own solo movie, scheduled for April 2020, but there’s no word on a writer or director at this point (though there’s still plenty of time).
Possibly the most worrying thing is Batman. In July 2015, Warner Brothers announced that along with playing the title character, Ben Affleck would direct THE BATMAN. Word came out that Affleck was working on the script with writer Geoff Johns, who with his comic book credentials and past work with Richard Donner, was selected to head up the DC Cinematic Universe for the studio. In August of 2016 it was revealed that Joe Manganiello would be taking on the big bad role for the movie, playing Deathstroke. Then things got weird.
THE BATMAN was set to start filming this spring, with a release sometime in 2018 (likely, Warners was looking to fill in the hole created by FLASH) but in January of 2017, Affleck started to suggest that the movie wouldn’t be ready to start shooting in the spring. Before the end of the month, it was announced that Ben wouldn’t be directing the movie. This was, to be blunt, a huge blow to Warner Brothers. Rumors started spreading that Affleck wasn’t just stepping away from directing, but from being Batman. Theories flew around the internet that, after the shocking critical panning of BVS, and worries that JUSTICE LEAGUE would get the same reaction, Affleck was looking to get out of playing the Dark Knight Detective.
While we all waited for Batman news, Warner Brothers announced plans for a GREEN LANTERN CORPS movie, set for a 2020 release. For a moment, it looked like David Goyer, who started the superhero movie age with BLADE, would be directing, but Warners has since denied that – he is writing the script though.
After what felt like an eternity for Batman fans, but was really just a month, it was announced that Matt Reeves, director of DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES would step into the director’s chair. Then, for a week, it appeared that Reeves was out, but we were all able to breath again when the official announcement was made. It was clear, though, that getting THE BATMAN on screens by 2018 wasn’t going to happen. At this time, there is no set release date.
With Matt Reeves, a swell of some pretty good news came along. Fresh off the critical and box office success of THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE, Warner Brothers announced that Chris McKay would be directing a NIGHTWING movie with a script by Bill Dubuque.
David Ayer, who didn’t hold any ill will towards Warner Brothers after his cut of SUICIDE SQUAD was reportedly shelved, signed on to direct GOTHAM CITY SIRENS with a screenplay by Geneva Robertson-Dworet. The movie will focus on Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie and other female Batman baddies who will be revealed sooner or later.
Then Warner Brothers gave fans a one-two punch of happiness. First came word that Matthew Vaughn was working on a new Superman film. Vaughn, who resuscitated the near-dead X-MEN franchise for Fox with X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, was a shocking, but seemingly great, choice to help make a movie about the Man of Steel that was filled with action and hope. The second hit was when word got out that Joss Whedon, who gave the world BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and gave Marvel their first billion dollar movie with AVENGERS, was working on a BATGIRL movie. This came out of nowhere and, to be honest, still seems too good to be true.
It seems like in the last few months, Warner Brothers and their DC division has shifted focus. While AQUAMAN is in full swing, talk of a JUSTICE LEAGUE sequel has quieted down, and as mentioned before, there’s been little to no movement on FLASH and CYBORG. Seemingly taking place of these movies are more Batman-related material. Is the DC Cinematic Universe shifting to a Batman Cinematic Universe? If they are, would that be a bad thing? Arguably, the Batfamily is the biggest thing DC has that Marvel has no answer for. It doesn’t hurt that Batman and his gang are some of the biggest brands in comics.
At this point, the DC Cinematic Universe appears to be in a transition as Warner Brothers looks for a way to make fans and detractors of BATMAN V SUPERMAN happy. Come June 2 and the release of WONDER WOMAN, we may know if the transition is on the right track. As a guy who grew up dreaming of seeing these characters on the big screen, I hope they are.