Here’s something I didn’t know until yesterday:
In 1989, Batman saved Warner Bros. At the time, the studio was owned by the company First National. Warner Bros. put everything it had into making “Batman” and made enough profit to buy back the studio. Had the film failed at the box office, there’s a good chance Warner Bros. would not exist as we know it today.
That comes from ComicBookResources’ list of 21 things they learned from the new Dark Knight tour at Warner Bros.’ Burbank, California studios. Today, Warner Bros. is again a subsidiary of a corporate overlord, Time Warners, and though it is not trying to buy out of that situation it is again looking to Batman to save the day. Kind of.
The 10 DC Films WB Is Making
3/25 – Batman Vs. Superman
8/5 – Untitled (probably Shazam)
6/23 – Untitled (probably Justice League)
11/17 – Untitled (probably Sandman)
3/23 – Untitled
7/27 – Untitled
4/5 – Untitled
6/14 – Untitled
4/3 – Untitled
6/19 – Untitled
Clearly, we know that one is Batman Vs. Superman and the other is Justice League, both to be directed by Zack Snyder. The latter has not yet been assigned to a release date yet, though. Beyond that, Dwayne Johnson has practically been walking around wearing a sign reading, “WB cast me in a Shazam movie, but don’t ask me about it directly because I’m not allowed to say anything…wink, wink.” Joseph Gordon-Levitt has already officially been hired to work on adapting and potentially directing/starring in Sandman. Gal Gadot’s Batman Vs. Superman contract apparently includes options for not just Justice League but also a solo Wonder Woman movie just as Ben Affleck’s includes an option to direct a solo Batman movie. There are also heavy hints about a potential Aquaman movie (with Jason Momoa in the title role), and prior rumors of plans to produce low-budget adaptions of some of DC’s lower profile properties, like Suicide Squad and Deathstroke. There’s also Nikki Finke’s pre-Comic-Con report that these were to be among the films on tap for WB (she was clearly a bit off with the dates):
- May 2016 – Batman Vs. Superman
- July 2016 – Shazam
- Christmas 2016 – Sandman
- May 2017 – Justice League
- July 2017 – Wonder Woman
- Xmas 2017 – Untitled Green Lantern/The Flash Team-Up
- May 2018 – Man of Steel 2
Is It a Good Idea?
Look, right now, Warner Bros. isn’t actually locked into much. Sheer practicality tells us that the 4 films scheduled for 2016-2017 are all probably happening because even if Batman Vs. Superman disappoints financially it would likely be too late to cancel the films coming immediately after it. However, there would be nothing stopping them from scaling back, canceling, or delaying any of the other releases. They simply had to jump out ahead and claim these dates because that’s what Marvel has been doing, and as odd as it sounds to say this in 2014 release dates as far away as 2017, 2018, and 2019 are already starting to fill up.
Obviously, Warner Bros. is keying all of this off of Man of Steel, which did the type of business that is good enough ($291 million domestic/$668 million worldwide against an “official” production budget of $225 million) to warrant a sequel, not an entire series of new films. This isn’t Batman Begins territory where you make a fantastic film which does fairly well financially but becomes so loved through home video afterward that the sequel is catapulted into ginormous biz. To do that, the movie you made has to actually have been liked by most everyone, which is not the case for Man of Steel, which remains one of the most divisive blockbusters of the past couple of years.
It’s probably for that exact same reason that they chose not to make a straight Man of Steel sequel but instead a team-up movie with Batman Vs. Superman, much like Fox choosing to follow X-Men: First Class up with X-Men: Days of Future Past. It’s the post-Avengers afterglow in which everyone other than Marvel Studios now seems to think the secret to comic book success is simply throw in as many characters as possible.
Why Are They Going This Big With It?
Short answer: WB is desperate for new film franchises.
Long answer: According to THR, “WB has come in No. 1 or 2 in global market share for nine of the past 10 years.” That’s a stretch that roughly started after the third Harry Potter film arrived and Batman Begins kicked off the Dark Knight trilogy. As KCRW’s Kim Masters put in her Hollywood Breakdown podcast, “Those are all movies that were huge hits for them, and the television equivalent would be like American Idol, just reliable hits that you know are going to come out and forgive other movies that don’t do so well. They just generated so much money that all the boats rise, and now those are gone.”
Also gone is Jeff Robinov, who had been with the studio since 1997, promoted to studio chief in 2007 and immediately charged with creating new, big tentpole releases to replace the outgoing Harry Potter films. He hit big with the Christopher Nolan Batman Begins sequels as well as Inception, The Hangover, Argo, Magic Mike, and Man of Steel. However, he also missed big on Dark Shadows, Gangster Squad, Zack Snyder’s Watchmen and Sucker Punch, and Pacific Rim. Robinov’s feuding with the studio’s long-time production partner Legendary Pictures over Pacific Rim caused them to walk, landing at Universal, and WB’s exclusive relationship with Christopher Nolan is no longer so exclusive, forced to share distribution duties for his forthcoming Interstellar with Paramount.
Ever since Robinov was fired last June, most of the studio’s projects which have come out since then were all ones he greenlit, meaning he should get some of the credit for Gravity and The Conjuring as well as the blame for Edge of Tomorrow and presumptive failure of Jupiter Ascending, which is pretty much a box office bomb walking after being pushed from next month to next February.
In Robinov’s absence, the studio is now being run by Greg Silverman (WB’s president), Sue Kroll (president of worldwide marketing/international distribution), and Toby Emmerich (New Line’s president). They all answer to CEO Kevin Tsujihara, and this studio-by-committee approach did manage to coax J.K. Rowling back for the forthcoming Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them trilogy. Plus, they still have the claim to 2014’s biggest domestic hit of the year so far, The Lego Movie, and though remarkably front-loaded Godzilla is likely exactly the kind of franchise-starting, tentpole release they hoped for.
The problem is pretty much everything else, i.e., the financial failures of Winter’s Tale,Transcendence, Edge of Tomorrow, Blended, and Jersey Boys. When you look at their future releases, other than The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, another franchise coming to an end. Their 2015 release slate is not much better, with plenty of possibilities for solid business (Magic Mike 2, The Conjuring 2) and several big question marks (mostly in the summer, like Dwayne Johnson’s San Andreas, the Hugh Jackman Peter Pan project, and Tom Hardy/Charlize Theron’s Mad Max: Fury Road). That type of uncertainty is probably true for most studios, but unlike most studios Warner Bros. always had a Harry Potter/Batman/Lord of the Rings/Hobbit film in their back pocket, which previously allowed them to weather big losses on films like Cloud Atlas (2012), Speed Racer (2008), and Green Lantern (2011).
Lego Movie won’t return with its Ninjago spin-off until 2016 and a direct sequel in 2017. Worse yet, it’s still not clear if WB will actually have anything to do with the still-undated Godzilla sequel since they were only ever involved with this year’s Godzilla because of their old deal with Legendary Pictures. And J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter spin-off films won’t begin rolling out until 2017.
If you think that it’s still a bit silly for WB to be considered a studio on the downturn after a decade of extended dominance just look at what has become of Sony Pictures, once so high off of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films.
WB swings for the fences, and it’s very possible that come 2016 their current slump will have become prolonged (just as it’s perfectly possible something like next January’s Man from U.N.C.L.E. will have gifted them a new hit franchise). So, from a studio suit point of view it seems perfectly obvious that they would want to finally go all in on leveraging their DC properties because, basically, it worked so well for them with The Dark Knight trilogy. Sure, Christopher Nolan is barely involved in the new films, and only 2 of Zack Snyder’s films have been box office hits (300, Man of Steel), but WB president Greg Silverman clearly believes in him, telling THR, “”I have done really well in my career betting on Zack Snyder. If I can bet on him once or twice a year, I’d love it.”
How about betting on DC comic book movies 2 times a year every year through 2020? That’s exactly what they’re doing, but this is still the same studio that made Green Lantern and Superman Returns. As The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has proven, a studio’s big franchise plans ultimately come down to making sure the early installments in that plan don’t suck. Your move, Batman Vs. Superman. Please don’t suck. Then again, if Nikki Finke is right it won’t really matter in the short-term because Shazam and Justice League will be on the way no matter what. Still, please don’t suck.