- After the success of "Aquaman," Warner Bros. has a new DC superhero movie strategy.
- "The universe isn’t as connected as we thought it was going to be five years ago," Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara told the Los Angeles Times.
- It’s the right move. The DC movie universe should focus on what has worked for it, rather than trying to replicate the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- Upcoming movies like "Shazam!" and "Birds of Prey" will tell standalone stories, which benefited critical and box-office hits "Wonder Woman" and "Aquaman."
After "Aquaman" smashed the box office last year with over $1 billion worldwide, a sequel was inevitable. On Wednesday, the studio Warner Bros. set its release date for December 16, 2022. But the success of "Aquaman" doesn’t just benefit the Atlantean superhero. It benefited the entire DC franchise, as Warner Bros. rethinks its superhero movie strategy.
"The universe isn’t as connected as we thought it was going to be five years ago," Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Wednesday. "You’re seeing much more focus on individual experiences around individual characters. That’s not to say we won’t at some point come back to that notion of a more connected universe. But it feels like that’s the right strategy for us right now."
Warner Bros.’ DC movie universe, once known as the DC Extended Universe, began with "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" and "Suicide Squad" in 2016. Both movies performed well at the box office, but were torn apart by film critics (both have 27% Rotten Tomatoes critic scores).
The critical and financial failure of "Justice League" was the final nail in the DCEU’s coffin. Meant to be DC’s answer to Marvel’s "Avengers," the 2017 movie grossed just $229 million total in the US, less than last year’s "Avengers: Infinity War" did in its first weekend.
The silver lining for DC was "Wonder Woman," 2017’s blockbuster that was a hit with both audiences and critics. The movie was largely removed from the larger universe, telling more of a standalone story than "Batman v Superman" and "Suicide Squad." It set a precedent for what "Aquaman" could accomplish, and therefore the DC franchise.
How a new strategy will benefit DC’s movie universe
Both "Aquaman" and "Wonder Woman" were disconnected from the shared movie universe Warner Bros. built that culminated in "Justice League." They’re also the best-reviewed movies within the franchise, and were major hits at the box office.
Going forward, it’s smart for Warner Bros. to zero in on what has worked for the franchise rather than trying to replicate the formula of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only is an "Aquaman" sequel moving forward, but a spin-off movie about the Trench creatures is in development, as well.
A "Wonder Woman" sequel, "Wonder Woman 1984," will once again be set in the past, this time during the Cold War as opposed to World War I. It’s coming to theaters next June after being pushed back from this November. The first movie also hit theaters in June, and Warner Bros. obviously wants to take advantage of the summer release date.
Upcoming movies will try to capture the magic of "Wonder Woman" and "Aquaman."
"Shazam!," about a young boy who is granted magical powers and can turn into a superhero by uttering the title phrase, drops in April. An origin story about Batman’s greatest nemesis, "Joker," starring Joaquin Phoenix as the famous villain, comes to theaters in October. And a "Birds of Prey" movie will be released next February, with Margot Robbie reprising her "Suicide Squad" role of Harley Quinn.
As for Batman and Superman, Ben Affleck will not be returning to the role of the Dark Knight in director Matt Reeves’ ("War for the Planet of the Apes") reboot, set to hit theaters on June 25, 2021. And Superman actor Henry Cavill won’t return, either, The Hollywood Reporter reported in September.
"What Patty Jenkins did on ‘Wonder Woman’ illustrated to us what you could do with these characters who are not Batman and Superman," Tsujihara told the Times. "Obviously, we want to get those two in the right place, and we want strong movies around Batman and Superman. But ‘Aquaman’ is a perfect example of what we can do. They’re each unique and the tone’s different in each movie."
"Shazam!" is a coming-of-age movie, "Joker" will be a crime movie, and Robbie has said that "Birds of Prey" is "not a very serious movie" — its full title is "Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)."
The DC universe got off to a rough start, but its future looks bright.
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