HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 12: David Zaslav, President and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, James Gunn, and Peter Safran, Co-Chairman and CEO, DC Studios attend the Los Angeles premiere of Warner Bros. "The Flash" - arrivals at TCL Chinese Theatre on June 12, 2023 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/WireImage)
Leon Bennett/WireImage


Can Superhero Movies Survive? DC Hopes For Better Days Ahead


It would be easy to believe that a well-produced superhero movie will automatically draw big crowds and earn millions or even billions of dollars. With super mega-hits like the “Avengers: Endgame” ($2.7 billion), “Spider-Man: No Way Home” ($1.9 billion), and “Black Panther” ($1.3 billion), the genre has become synonymous with bringing in boatloads of profits. But not always.

One thing the highest-earning films have in common is that they almost always come from Marvel Studios. In fact, eight out of the top ten highest-grossing superhero films are Marvel properties. One (“The Incredibles 2”, $1.2 billion) is from Pixar. In the tenth spot is DC’s crown jewel, “Aquaman,” which brought in a respectable sum of $1.1 billion for Marvel’s biggest rival.

“Aquaman” came out in 2018. That doesn’t mean the studio hasn’t had any hits since then. But with changing management and a new strategy, the future of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) — which includes the Warner Bros. brand — is anything but certain.

The new president of DC Comics Jim Lee shared his thoughts on why some major superhero films are underperforming expectations.

“Once you hit a certain number of people, it’s too large for everyone to kind of love everything. And so they, basically, have splintered into different groups. It’s almost like pro sports at this point,” he told NPR in May, echoing what other industry experts said about the reality of “superhero fatigue” at the box office being part of the reason for disappointing box office numbers.

“Like, even when it was Marvel versus DC, I still felt like everyone loved comics. They embraced the storytelling. They embraced the notions of heroism and hope that the stories reflected. And now, it’s been elevated beyond that. It’s almost independent of what the storytelling is about. And it’s more about business factors or political factors, societal sort of discourse. It’s become highly polarized.”

Lee also mentioned that while smash hits will always rely on drawing in big crowds, studios should remember that they need to cater to their core comic book-loving audience first and foremost. “Yes, you need the broader, more casual audience to really hit those elevated numbers in terms of box office or viewership,” the DC Comics executive said.

“But at the end of the day, if you don’t have that core fan base that loves and knows the material intimately to help sort of propel and drive that energy, it becomes very challenging.”

The two men in charge of righting the ship for the DCEU are director James Gunn and producer Peter Safran. They’re both serving as co-chairs and co-CEOs of DC Studios as of October 2022. Insiders were shocked when the news broke, with The Hollywood Reporter calling it an “unprecedented move” for the studio to select a director to serve as an executive-level decision-maker.

Gunn and Safran already announced their plans for upcoming projects, which include a reboot of “Superman.”

The studio next announced some changes spurred by the new vision for DC. Henry Cavill got booted as “Superman,” which surprised some of the fanbase. “We didn’t fire Henry,” Gunn told Deadline when the news broke. “Henry was never cast. He was in a cameo, and that was the end of his story.”

The first project Gunn and Safran announced was “Gods and Monsters.” Beyond that, the duo said in January 2023 that they were remaining open and “flexible” about developing new content.

“Many of the following projects are already being worked on, but we’re remaining flexible, and we’re going to adjust because we’re never going to put a project into production before the script is right,” Safran said.

Gunn had more to say about staying open to change. “I’ve been around making studio movies now for over 20 years, and the thing that I’ve seen, the biggest change between the past and today is that — and the reason why I think movies in general are not as good as they used to be — is because too many movies get set into a date, and then they’re made no matter what,” he said.

“Then you have movies where they don’t have a third act, and they’re already shooting, hoping that somehow they’re going to work it out, even though they didn’t get it worked out through three years of script. So, we want to really elevate writers, again, make writers as important as they are, and become architects of this story,” Gunn said of the DC strategy going forward.

And as for the content that will be coming, the new heads of DC are planning to blur the line between good and evil, unlike the storylines of superhero movies in the past. Gunn described the current universe as being filled with “almost saintly people” like Superman who were always fighting unquestionably evil villains. The future of DC, he explained, will be a lot more nuanced.

“There’s all these shades of gray of these different types of character, which allows us to tell more complex storytelling,” he said of the superhero stories to come.

The recently released DC property “The Flash” underperformed expectations at the box office over the weekend, earning just $55 million. It’s worth noting that the film was plagued by controversy due to the lead actor, Ezra Miller, facing legal troubles, which meant the studio didn’t do a full-scale promotional tour like they normally would.

Up next, the studio will release “Blue Beetle” in August and then the highly anticipated “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” on December 25. “Joker: Folie à Deux” is slated for a 2024 release, followed by “Superman: Legacy” in 2025.

Will DC be able to compete with Marvel as a true contender in the future? That’s what they’re hoping for.

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