The DC Films Universe is once again in a state of complete disarray, following a week of the shocking announcement from the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery entity. Major DC films projects that were either in production or completed (Wonder Twins, Batgirl) have been cancelled completely; TV series like The Flash (and the larger Arrowverse with it) are also coming to the end, and no one really knows what the franchise as a larger whole has to offer in terms of competing with the likes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
That's not to say that DC and Warner Bros. don't have bright spots of hope on the horizon: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is set to kick open the door on a whole new franchise lane with Black Adam; DC has a string of sequels to its biggest hit franchises already in the works (Aquaman 2, Wonder Woman 3, Joker 2, The Batman 2), with some DC franchises spawning tie-in TV series like the hit show Peacemaker, or upcoming Penguin spinoff from The Batman, starring Colin Farrell. There are some good pieces all over the board here, just waiting to be positioned into a more cohesive franchise model – after The Flash movie offers an opportunity for an entire franchise multiverse reboot. But how to do it?
Here's how to build a better DC movie and TV universe, in five key steps:
1. Get a Feige
We hear this term thrown around a lot these days in regards to DC and Warner Bros. – but what does it mean? Exactly.
Well, Marvel's Kevin Feige famously started as a humble assistant and co-producer, before finally getting his shot to realize his own vision (and those of executives and investors, of course) with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Feige's real talent is being a near-perfect balance of creative-friendly collaborator and fiscally-minded executive, who keeps both sides of the filmmaking world happy and steeped in success.
That is exactly the kind of figurehead fans are imagining when they say DC needs a Feige: a person who can bridge the often-wide divide between what Warner Bros. executives want, and the creative whims of ambitious directors they hire. It sounds easy, sure, but it is far from being so: Warner Bros.'s turbulent changes in executive teams – not to mention company mergers – in the last few years have made for shifting sands that would be hard for anyone to build a single film on – let alone an entire franchise.
Right now, a lot of analysis is saying that Dwayne Johnson and his producing partners may be the best bet for building out the shared universe corner of the DC Films Universe – starting with Black Adam this fall. The film has a big buzz behind it and does seem like something (nicely) different in terms of a DC blockbuster movie. So can The Rock be DC's shepherd? If we're talking about making him president, why not?
2. Set Tier Goals
In the midst of the flurry of news about all the changes at Warner Bros. DIscovery is the clear subtext that the DC franchise doesn't have a clear and cohesive franchise vision, which everyone is on the same page about. Warner Bros. Discovery's new CEO David Zslav clearly doesn't jibe with the vision of DC Films President Walter Hamada in terms of what the DC Films brand should look like. Batgirl is the clearest case of that discrepancy, with the $90 million film reportedly being in the middle ground of not big enough for theaters, but too expensive for a streaming feature.
With things being pulled in so many different directions, DC needs to set some tier goals and stick to them. By making a formal structure for tiered levels of projects – blockbuster movies, tie-in streaming content, and broadcast TV series – that get separated into clearly formalized tiers of budgeting costs. The benefit of doing this would be clear: the price point would dictate the decisions that get made about which characters and story arcs get used where. Marvel Studios is a machine when it comes to budgeting, and producing its movie and TV content. DC needs to refine its formula.
3. Still Embrace Variety
It goes hand-in-hand with the tier goals that DC needs to set: the budget tiers are needed so that DC/WB can finally feel fully confident in embracing the franchise's biggest advantage over Marvel: variety of content. DC is a franchise that can have prestige films like Joker, independent blockbuster franchises like The Batman, adult-animated spinoffs like Harley Quinn, and a shared universe with two Batmen (Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton) appearing at once – all happening at the same time. Why settle for less? Once the budgeting frameworks are in place, DC should still pursue a strategy of having eggs in many types of baskets, as variety has been the only real spice of life for this franchise, in the last few years...
What is your opinion about what DC Films needs to do to right the ship? Let us know in the comments.
4. Make Hit Movies
This may seem like stating the obvious – but when it comes to DC, it isn't. It's also the one piece we've heard David Zslav proclaim that feels like it deserves resounding applause. At the end of the day, DC and Warner Bros. taking chances on ambitious artsy films like Joker is great – but not if Justice League fails to deliver to fans and keep the blockbuster core of the franchise alive. Zack Snyder made stylistically ambitious films that tried to mix blockbuster spectacle and deep cinematic prestige – to mixed results. Yet, films like Wonder Woman and Aquaman showed that DC had the potential to make the classic, crowd-pleasing blockbuster films the heroes arguably deserved.
Joker getting a billion-dollar payout is icing on the cake, but DC needs to be shooting for that billion-dollar mark with its main universe of superhero films. Right now, only Black Adam looks like it has that type of potential; for all its increased budget and fun factor, Shazam: Fury of the Gods looks like another DC film that will make a respectable haul, but not big enough bank for the new Zslav era.
DC needs to be confident in producing billion-dollar blockbusters with just about every shared universe or event film it puts out. That $100+ million budge tier has to mean something. That's what it's in place for.
5. Don't Announce It Unless You Actually Make It
Finally, this is the one that has irked fans for over a decade: DC and WB announcing big event films and/or shared universe release slates, that never, ever, happen. At this point, it's hard for DC movie fans to even believe that a movie they saw in theaters was the actual movie the director intended – faking us out by announcing films that never happen has just gotten cruel.6comments
RIP: Justice League Mortal, Flash/Green Lantern film, Cyborg, Justice League 2, Ben Affleck's Batman, Deathstroke, Batgirl, Wonder Twins, etc...
The DC Movie Universe will continue with Black Adam on October 21st.