2018 is going to be a milestone year for superhero movies, but it unfortunately doesn't seem like DC Films is going to be a major part of it. While Marvel is putting out three highly anticipated films (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp), and Fox will be putting out two big X-Men projects (Deadpool 2 and X-Men: Dark Phoenix), DC will only be bringing Aquaman to theaters very late in the year -- and anticipation for it isn't exactly at a fever pitch.
Behind the scenes, Warner Bros. has just made a bunch of major shifts in the creative and executive powers behind its DC Films franchise, in effort to push the brand in a more successful direction than the mess left behind after the controversial Zack Snyder trilogy, which ended in the utter Frankenstein mess that was Justice League. However, as DC/WB moves forward with the next phase of its plans, we've gathered some helpful tips and strategies to help them succeed.
The first thing that could improve the DC Films universe is to stop teasing fans with new projects that are "in development" only to disappoint those same fans when those projects stall or die without ever coming to fruition.
Right now, there are over a dozen DC Films projects "in development," with only Aquaman, Shazam!, Wonder Woman 2, Flashpoint, and The Batman having a definite chance to hit theaters. The rest is just chatter that has begun to annoy fans, who are taking an increasingly decisive "show and prove" stance on the matter.
Something that DC / WB should've learned by now is that a lot of most successful superhero film franchises of today are built on the backs of new stars. DC/WB has taken the approach of using big stars like Ben Affleck, Will Smith, Jared Leto, or Jason Momoa as their headliners, but really the studio's biggest success have been in breaking new or rising stars like Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, and Margot Robbie.
Marvel Studios has thoroughly learned this lesson, turning up-and-comers like Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Chadwick Boseman, and Brie Larson into international superstars. Marvel has also done a better job re-purposing older actors into modern stars such as Robert Downey Jr., Samuel Jackson, and Michael Douglas. DC Films would do well to follow that pattern, and reap the rewards.
DC Films has already started a process of branching out, with the last year bringing news that there will be two main branches of the franchise: the interconnected films of the Justice League universe, and a series of standalone DC films that would begin with Todd Phillips' Joker origin movie.
While promising more than it could deliver was never a smart move by DC Films, it was forward-thinking to expand the brand in such a way. However, what needs to happen going forward is for DC/WB to embrace the variety that brand expansion offers. Darker R-Rated films for characters like Joker, more inspiring superhero adventures for films like Shazam! or Wonder Woman, and a full-on excursion into the strange and macabre for long-rumored films like Justice League Dark and Metal Men. It's all potentially great content, and it's a great pathway for DC Films to remain relevant, no matter which way the genre is leaning at any given moment.
Following closely behind the idea of expanding the DC Films brand to include a bigger variety of material is the notion of also remaining true to self, and not trying to be a pale imitator.
Justice League was ultimately ripped apart due in large part to the way DC/WB tried to use Avengers director Joss Whedon to transform the film into a Marvel movie clone late in the game. The result was the most "Marvel-esque" film we arguably got from the DCEU, but the reaction from fans certainly didn't follow in Marvel Studios' footsteps.
The big challenge that DC Films has never risen to is figuring out just what they want to be as a brand. But it's long past time for the studio to define their own "be yourself" mentality... and then, stick to it like glue.
A lot of things have gone wrong with the DC Films Universe, ever since it was first conceived as the successor to Chris Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy. The list of violations has been continuously echoed by fans, but we're coming to a crucial junction point where the mistakes of the past could be wiped away clean and a new future set in place.
A lot has already been said about the upcoming Flashpoint movie, which follows the DC Comics storyline in which the Flash alters the timeline, creating a darker and war-torn version of the DC Universe in which the Justice League doesn't exist, and many of the heroes and villains occupy vastly different lives. The Flashpoint movie (like the comic) offers an opportunity to reset the DC movie timeline, where much is still the same, but any characters or events that are still tripping things up get retconned and "fixed." That goes for finding new versions of characters like Batman or Lex Luthor, or undoing controversial actions like Superman killing Zod in cold blood. Flashpoint can make it all possible.
The one thing that used to be echoed in the "DC vs Marvel" debate (back when it was still just about comics), was that Marvel had better series books, but DC excels in exciting story arcs and crossovers.
One thing that DC Films could stand to do better is relying on and adapting DC Comics storylines that have been wildly successful or resonant with the fanbase. It's seemed like Snyder and Co. went out of their way to create films that were far departures from the expected DC Comics story elements and themes, and it didn't work out so great (see: Batman v Superman). There's really no need to re-invent this wheel, though; with so many great DC stories already established, the filmmakers should follow Wonder Woman's example and stick closer to the spirit and storylines of the source material.
Finally, the biggest thing that DC Films need to do is reclaim its biggest stars: Batman and Superman.
Wonder Woman has already stepped and done her part to establish the power base of the "DC Trinity" -- but her colleagues remain mired in controversy. Henry Cavill's Superman is just starting to reach the more optimistic and heroic nature fans felt were missing from Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, while Ben Affleck's Batman is shrouded in doubt over how long he'll even be around for.
Before an entire DC Films universe moves forward, the studio needs to at least have its top three figures standing on solid ground. If The Batman and Man of Steel 2 aren't being looked as pivotal turnaround films, they damn sure need to be.
Justice League will soon be on home video and digital HD; Aquaman arrives on December 21st; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Wonder Woman 2 on November 1st, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020.