DC Films: An Uncertain Future
November 30, 2017
The path of Warner Bros’ DC Comics franchise seems to constantly be in flux. Following the at best divisive reactions of their first three releases (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad), the franchise finally found success in June’s Wonder Woman, a massive financial hit and one of the year’s best reviewed blockbusters. Sadly, Warner faces another stumble with Justice League, which will likely lose the studio upwards of $50 million (the production cost alone is reported to have exceeded 300 million) and is a critical dud. This loss calls the fates of upcoming standalone films in the series into question.
As of this article’s writing, Warner Bros. reportedly has more than 20 DC films in some stage of development. These projects range from a solo Batman film from War for the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves to more than a few sequels (Suicide Squad 2, Wonder Woman 2, etc.) and even an origin story for The Joker from Todd Phillips (The Hangover). However, the studio’s messaging in regards to what films are actually in active development, or frankly even exist, has been dodgy to say the least.
That seems to Warner’s central problem: they simply have no idea how to communicate a cohesive vision for this franchise. From a constantly shifting tone, both between and within films, to failing to craft amicable relationships with filmmakers and actors (Joss Whedon and David Ayer’s directorial clashes with the studio have been widely reported, and Ben Affleck is already positioning his exit from the Batman role), press has not favored them at almost any turn. Whether the result of studio infighting, which seems likely given how consistently information leaks out of WB, or pure incompetence, this is an issue that needs to be addressed rapidly if this franchise is to have any kind of success in its future.
There are a few paths Warner could take from here. The first and most likely option is to continue the franchise as it is, save for the departure of Affleck, which is all but inevitable, and an embrace of the tone employed by Wonder Woman rather than the confused dreariness of the other three films. This solution would have obvious growing pains but is easily the studio’s safest choice. The second is to essentially reboot the series timeline via the Flash solo film, which is rumored to follow the iconic Flashpoint comic saga (this miniseries is set almost entirely in a universe parallel from the mainline DC realm). The third and least plausible possibility is for WB to cancel the DCEU and hold off for the next few years while they prepare a new take on these titanic characters. In today’s constantly evolving studio system, this would essentially be fiscal suicide for Warner, particularly given the deteriorating success of the majority of their other projects.