How DC Films Became A Victim Of Constantly Shifting Warner Bros. Leadership

Another day, another speculative update on what is or isn’t happening over at DC Films. Will The Flash get shelved due to the alleged criminal actions of Ezra Miller? Will Walter Hamada stay on as head of the unit past the October 21 release of Black Adam? Why isn’t The Batman 2 officially greenlit yet? Since the coverage of DC Films has been reliable clickbait, at least since 2013, even the absence of news tends to get treated as news. The narrative from the start has been a variation of ‘DC in disarray,’ even when their films eventually started breaking box office records and winning Oscars. However, one of the biggest challenges facing DC has been ever-shifting corporate leadership and corporate mandates, which have kneecapped what was a relative winning streak. Batgirl is a prime example.

The $70 million actioner, starring Leslie Grace as Barbara Gordon, was greenlit by AT&T boss Jason Kilar under a specific mandate to offer big-for-streaming HBO Max originals within the DC Films universe. The original sin was arguably the thinking that ‘not a white guy’-led DC superhero movies like Batgirl and Blue Beatle (starring Xolo Maridueña) weren’t automatically worthy of theatrical release. To be fair, Kilar was, like Bob Chapek sending Soul and Turning Red to Disney+, prioritizing streaming over theatrical. But sending minority-led flicks to streaming while letting white guy-led biggies go theatrical made for terrible optics. Kilar’s desire for more HBO Max biggies amid the first year of Covid also led to A) Wonder Woman 1984 getting a hybrid release and B) Zack Snyder getting to make his four-hour version of Justice League.

Opening Patty Jenkins’ $200 million, IMAX-friendly superhero sequel in theaters and on HBO Max months before Covid vaccines became readily available turned a surefire $650-$850 million box office smash into a commercial flop. It also became the first example of how, when you offer a big-screen epic at home, the social media consensus gets skewed by performative hate-watching from folks who wouldn’t have bothered to see it in theaters. Bringing Zack Snyder’s Justice League to HBO Max for an extra $70 million succeeded in keeping HBO Max in the media but brought the SnyderVerse back to the front of the DC narrative. The media turned Snyder into David against Goliath, forgetting that Man of Steel and Batman v Superman’s divisive reception led to Joss Whedon taking over Justice League and Hamada taking over DC Films.

These choices were due to AT&T’s desire to turn HBO Max into the next Netflix. Throw in the concurrent public downfall of Joss Whedon and Ray Fisher’s allegations of onset/offset abuse and mistreatment by the replacement Justice League director (with Hamada being retroactively established as the metaphorical final boss despite him being at New Line before 2018). You now have a return to the ‘DC in disarray’ narrative even though A) Hamada’s DC Films line-up was mostly successful and B) absent a friggin global pandemic, Wonder Woman 1984 would have been a hit. Likewise, James Gunns’ acclaimed but overbudgeted ($185 million) The Suicide Squad, released in August of 2021 in theaters and on HBO Max amid a Covid resurgence, would have been less of a ‘the sequel pays for the sins of its predecessor’ flop.

Besides, even if The Suicide Squad was always doomed (no Will Smith, no Joker, no Batman = no sale), it was initially supposed to follow Matt Reeves’ surefire hit The Batman in the summer of 2021. In a non-Covid world, the Snyder Cut remains a pipe dream. Meanwhile, Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman 1984, The Batman and The Suicide Squad would have represented two years of well-reviewed and well-received DC Films flicks. At least two would have been surefire blockbusters with James Wan’s likely huge Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom following them up in 2022. This would have followed good reviews and solid returns for Aquaman ($1.148 billion), Shazam! (rave reviews and $366 million on a $90 million budget) and Joker (strong reviews, two major Oscars and $1,073 billion worldwide on a $65 million budget).

Also make sure to check out some other lists of ours to see other recommendations we have for shows and movies to watch and some streaming to play:

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