Where does DC Films go from here? Things to do & NOT to do

Who would have thought that back in 2013 at San Diego Comic Con, upon announcing plans for what would become Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and also announcing a shared DC cinematic universe that would eventually lead to Justice League, that the apex of the universe, Justice League, would be the low point? But with a box office return domestically of less than $100 million in its opening weekend, many are wondering what is to become of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).

Following the critical disappointments of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, Warner Bros. made course corrections. The overriding vision set forth by Zack Snyder was dismissed and DC icon, Geoff Johns, was put in charge of the film universe. The first signs of change occurred with Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. However, Justice League had started production nearly at the same time, if not before Wonder Woman, and course corrections with this would have been very difficult. The result was another critical dud, but unlike ‘Dawn of Justice’ and Suicide Squad, Justice League appears to be a box office disaster domestically (international box office actually looks healthy).

So what does Warner Bros. and DC Films need to do from here on out? And perhaps more importantly, what do they need to avoid doing to cause more problems?




WHAT DC FILMS NEEDS TO DO

1.  Build the Core Characters Through Solo Films: Right now the actual known production slate of DC Films is Aquaman (2018), Shazam (2019) and Wonder Woman 2 (2019). The first thing DC Films needs to do is to move forward with these three films, and help establish Aquaman more than he could be established in a team-up movie, debut Shazam and build out the lone success of the universe, Wonder Woman. Further, other core characters need solo films so audiences can get to know them. This would include:

  • A Flash solo film (preferably not a quasi Justice League movie like Flashpoint would become)
  • The Matt Reeves Batman solo trilogy
  • Green Lantern Corps
  • Superman
  • Green Arrow

That last bullet may surprise, but Warner Bros. must establish a Green Arrow in the DCEU and further bolster the universe with true heroes to balance out the anti-heroes they established with Suicide Squad.

DC Films must produce a series high quality solo films, with consistent tone appropriate for the character, as a means of creating distance from the Zack Snyder phase of the DCEU. Once there has been enough successes in the solo character space, audience anticipation for a crossover might be back to what they were hoping for in the lead up to Justice League.

2. Assemble the Legion of Doom Through Post-Credits: Fans everywhere had a collective geekgasm upon watching the end-credits scene of Justice League where Lex Luthor and Deathstroke unveil plans for a “league of their own.” No, they weren’t talking about Tom Hanks and Rosie O’Donnell. They were referencing the Legion of Doom–which would be a great way to setup a Justice League sequel (at least 4 years from now). Instead of having Brainiac or Darkseid as the villain in the Justice League sequel, keep the threat on Earth and avoid another “invasion” villain. This would hopefully keep costs down to help maximize profit.

The way to go about doing this would be to steal a page out of Marvel’s playbook, and build the Legion of Doom slowly through the end-credits of all the heroes’ solo films. Since Luthor and Deathstroke are already in play, you’d need a villain from Aquaman (Black Manta), Wonder Woman (Cheetah), Flash (Captain Cold or Gorilla Grodd), and Cyborg (which could be anything you wanted, really). Once a super villain team is established, the appetite for another Justice League film might be at a level for DC Films to take advantage.

3. Trust Geoff Johns and Get Out of His Way: Without a doubt, there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Even with Zack Snyder, it was obvious that Warner Bros. execs, including Zack’s wife, Deborah, were voicing creative direction. The result was a somewhat visionless DCEU five films into the universe. Geoff Johns was hired to serve effectively as the Kevin Feige of DC Films. He knows how these characters work. Let him work with directors and screenwriters to ensure the characters will be depicted accurately, and leave him be. 

4. Lower the Budgets: Perhaps it was more of Zack Snyder’s doing, but the budgets of the DCEU films, with the exception of Wonder Woman, were outrageously high. This has to stop. If Marvel can make Iron Man and Thor films for under $150-200 million then so too can DC Films with all of their heroes. Higher budgets have now shown that they lead to too much decadence in the form of narrative and runtime anyway. Let’s get back to basics here. 




WHAT DC FILMS NEEDS TO NOT DO

1. Don’t Abandon Superman!: This is going to be as much a cry for help as it is a strategic point. Warner Bros. has held a love/hate view of the Last Son of Krypton. After the second weekend drop-off of box off sales for Man of Steel, Warner Bros. somewhat panicked and threw Batman into the Man of Steel sequel, which turned out to not be a Man of Steel sequel. However, following Justice League, one of the only consistent points of praise has been for the depiction of Henry Cavill’s Superman. It took three films, but the version of Superman that appeals to wide audiences is finally here. Take advantage!

One of the reasons Warner Bros. has been skittish about Superman movies is the budgets always get high and the box office return hasn’t been great. But upon further examination, the box office return has to do with word of mouth and not having “legs” for weeks. Superman Returns was quickly labeled as decent but boring, whereas Man of Steel was criticized for the third act of the film due to heavy destruction in Metropolis and Superman killing Zod. To avoid all this, stay true to the character that was just established in Justice League, and keep the budget down. As tempting as it would be to do Brainiac as the villain in the film, choose Metallo or Parasite instead to keep costs down. Focus the film on Superman’s relationship with humanity, Metropolis, the Daily Planet and Lois just as much as the violent conflict.

It will work!

2. Do Not Get Over Focused on Secondary Characters for Now: In short, releasing Suicide Squad 2 would be the dumbest thing. It is clear that the failures of Batman v Superman tainted Justice League’s ability to succeed, and the same would be true for a Suicide Squad sequel in relation to its predecessor. Further, do not do a Gotham City Sirens film with David Ayer. While it is debatable how much blame Ayer shares for Suicide Squad, the fact is it is connected to him and DC Films must abandon relationships with personalities from the first era of the DCEU. 

Further, doing Batgirl, Deadshot, Red Hood and Justice League Dark movies is not a great idea. DC Films must concentrate on the core characters of the universe and build off of them. Until Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Shazam and Aquaman have all been positively received through solo movies, no other films should go first. It just leaves the focus of the universe blurry. And once those characters have gone off successfully, the next two should be Green Arrow and Nightwing.

3. Stop Interfering with Films in the 11th Hour: There is a time for studios to intervene during a film’s production and it turns out positive. But as we’ve now seen with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and Justice League, doing so in the post-production stage is a recipe for disaster. This has to stop. Gut checking the vision for a film should occur, at the latest, in pre-production. 

4. Dont Panic: I’m sure there are execs at Warner Bros. who are right now asking themselves if they could shut down production of Shazam, limit marketing costs of Aquaman, and plan to release Aquaman next year and do the sequel for Wonder Woman and call it a day on the DCEU. Very simply–don’t panic. Justice League’s dismal domestic weekend is a product of a damaged brand, studio interference and bad publicity. These are fixable. All the sections above are how you do it. Just avoid hitting the panic button, keep a clear head, and trust Geoff Johns, the directors you hire and the long gameplan and this will start to turn around. 




Written by | Omar Hussain

Omar Hussain serves as the Publisher and Managing Editor of the Heroic Universe.

  • Carter

    These things need to happen ASAP

  • Max McConnell

    Great article. I agree with all your points.

  • Chad Benjamin

    If the solo Superman film succeeds with Parasite and Metallo as the villains, then we should definitely get Brainiac in the third solo Superman film. I have been waiting too long for Brainiac’s cinematic debut.