Aquaman: The Lost Kingdom, The Flash, Black Adam and The Batman

Jason Momoa in Aquaman: The Lost Kingdom, Ezra Miller in The Flash, Dwayne Johnson in Black Adam and Jeffrey Wright and Robert Pattinson in The BatmanWARNER BROS.

Discovery’s shifting priorities and Ezra Miller’s alleged misdeeds muddied the waters.

Okay, fine, DC Films lost its post-Justice League momentum thanks to Covid and HBO Max-related circumstances. Theatrical is back, so all should be well, right? In a ‘keep moving forward’ scenario, Matt Reeves’ The Batman ($370 million domestic, the biggest ever for a straight reboot, and $770 million worldwide amid rave reviews) should have marked a new era. It would have been followed by Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam and the Aquaman sequel, with The Flash offering Michael Keaton reprising as Batman and trippy sci-fi time travel fantasy from the director of the It duology opening amid those two. Instead, covid-caused post-production delays sent Black Adam to October and Aquaman 2 to March next year, with The Flash set next June. Meanwhile, new leadership via Discovery’s David Zaslov again turned DC Films into a pinata.

I favor Warner Bros. Discovery prioritizing theatrical over streaming. Films that play in theaters do better on streaming than most non-Netflix streaming originals. I favor not drowning consumers in copious DC Films-related movies and television shows just for the hell of it. Just because you can make a Wonder Twins movie doesn’t mean you should. However, canceling a mostly completed Batgirl movie because it wasn’t good enough and big enough for theaters made for ghoulish optics. In October 2014, casting a quirky-weird, openly queer, Jewish, indie breakout like Ezra Miller as Barry Allen was almost aspirational. In 2022, The Flash is the movie being allowed to open theatrically despite criminal allegations against its white male lead, while the Afrono Latina-led superhero movie (with a significant transgender supporting character) gets buried for a tax break.

Fair or not, what happened to Batgirl (and Scoob: Haunted Holiday) has little to do with The Flash. One was due to shifting priorities that made an allegedly medicore streaming flick damaged goods from a prior regime. The $80 million film likely looked and felt much smaller (thanks to streaming economics where everyone often gets paid upfront and less of the budget goes to the production) than an $80-$110 million theatrical like Shazam, Deadpool 2 or Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah’s prior flick Bad Boys for Life. The Flash is a $200 million, spectacle-driven fantasy from Andrés Muschietti, whose two It movies earned $1.2 billion on a combined $105 million budget. The not-absurd hope is that global audiences either won’t know who Miller is or won’t care if The Flash is a good movie.

Batgirl got canceled/buried because it was greenlit under a prior regime and its existence was representative of a business strategy that is now 180 degrees from the current priorities. That it allegedly wasn’t very good and wasn’t theatrically ‘big’ amid a skewed window where its budget could be thrown onto AT&T’s books instead of Discovery was the dealbreaker. I disagree with the decision for reasons related to optics, talent relationships and artistic curiosity. However, when everything is content, a partially completed $80 million Batgirl movie is no less expendable than a completed $30 million Games of Thrones prequel pilot. And I strongly disagree with the notion that DC Films needs a new ten-year plan to become more like Marvel, although the ‘make DC like Marvel’ spin may be pessimistic conjecture on my part.

Whatever went wrong with the first batch of DC films, betting the entire universe of a visual dynamo who’s also a genre deconstructionist or panicking when Man of Steel didn’t pull Dark Knight-level grosses and overdosing on Batman, should be treated as history. Bringing on the guy who helped turn The Conjuring into the first fully-functioning, post-Avengers cinematic universe success story ($2.1 billion worldwide on a combined $180 million budget) was a smart play. He helped create diverse, varied DC films of all shapes, sizes and intents that deprioritized connectivity for stand-alone entertainment value. Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Shazam, Joker, Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman 1984, The Suicide Squad and The Batman represented precisely the kind of something-for-everyone mentality of a viable cinematic universe. The plan was working right until the world shut down.

Batgirl is an unlikely-to-be-replicated situation. At least Blue Beatle became a theatrical release. Before Covid, DC Films was kicking commercial and critical butt, standing alongside Marvel as a promising slew of rock-solid comic book flicks. DC Films may never have topped Marvel in the zeitgeist, but there was and is value to being Homicide: Life of the Street to Marvel’s Law and Order. The easiest way to ‘fix’ DC Films is to stop trying to fix DC Films and for the industry and the media to acknowledge the outside circumstances of its recent melodramas. The biggest challenge DC faced compared to Marvel, along with Marvel Studios beginning when $449 million for Thor was an unmitigated success, is ever-changing management and corporate priorities. The best thing WBD can do for DC Films is just to leave it alone.