After a week of rumors and apocalyptic speculation on the state of Warner Bros. Discovery, the company finally revealed some of its plans for the future during an investor call on Thursday. While much of what CEO David Zaslav had to say was far from the doom and gloom projected by many, the executive’s comments on this week’s cancellation of the Batgirl movie and what the DC Universe will look like going forward have raised even more questions.
According to Zaslav, Warner Bros. Discovery is aiming for a quality-over-quantity approach to content, which extends to the DC Universe. In response to a question about Batgirl’s cancellation, Zaslav said, “We’re going to focus very hard on quality. I said we’re not going to launch a movie until it’s ready. We’re not going to go into a movie to make a quarter and we’re not going to release a movie unless we believe in it. And that’s it. I mean, particularly with DC, where we think we want to pivot, we want to elevate, and we want to focus.”
Zaslav went on to explain that the company has taken a hard look at the numbers for its direct-to-streaming titles, along with the entire direct-to-streaming video model in general, and that the company can’t find any economic case for it. Instead, the studio will focus on theatrical releases for blockbusters, and on a new and improved DC Universe.
The CEO also outlined the company’s plan to revive its superhero brands, by explicitly pointing to Disney, and its ambitious, unprecedentedly successful approach to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“We have done a reset,” Zaslav told investors. “We’ve restructured the business, where we’re going to focus, where there will be a team with a 10-year plan focusing just on DC. It’s very similar to the structure that Alan Horn and Bob Iger put together very effectively with Kevin Feige at Disney. We think we could build a long-term, much stronger, sustainable growth business out of DC.”
While a 10-year plan sounds good in theory, none of Zaslav’s comments made it clear what this might look like in practice. Part of the draw of Marvel’s films was their exhaustive interconnectivity. Each story, sometimes to its own detriment, was deferential to the larger narrative, giving the universe the building blocks for its next big team-up or villain.
DC, on the other hand, is currently juggling several universes that are disconnected. There’s Flash, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman, all part of the universe Zack Snyder started with Man of Steel, which seem to have little connection to the Shazam and Black Adam stories, which may or may not be connected to anything else or each other.
At the same time, there are at least two Batman universes. One is led by Matt Reeves and starring Robert Pattinson, which has at least two spinoff shows and a sequel in the works — for now, anyway. The other is Todd Phillips’ Joker universe headlined by actors Joaquin Phoenix and Lady Gaga, and seems disconnected from everything around it.
DC and Warner Bros.’ current scattershot, “director-driven” approach wasn’t always the plan. Under Snyder, DC planned to bring Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman together to form the Justice League, then give heroes like Aquaman, Flash, Cyborg, and Green Lantern stand-alone films of their own. But when Justice League failed to bring in Avengers-sized box office numbers, WB pivoted.
Now it’s seemingly pivoting again, and it’s unclear how Warner Bros.’ multiple universes will continue, or even if they’ll come together at some point. Unfortunately, it’s also not the most confusing part of the DC lineup.
Along with all of the slated sequels above, Warner Bros. has also announced several projects that now sit in limbo. Among those mystery projects is the Blue Beetle film that was supposed to go direct to streaming, a Superman story from Ta-Nehisi Coates and J.J. Abrams, a Zatanna movie, and a Supergirl movie — all of which remain in doubt now. After Batgirl and the recent cancellation of a Wonder Twins movie, DC and Warner Bros. seem focused on only the biggest superheroes.
One project that isn’t in doubt is The Flash. While the movie has been delayed multiple times, Zaslav says that it’s still part of Warner Bros. Discovery's plans for the future and a movie that folks inside the studio are excited about. That’s apparently despite the ominous air surrounding star Ezra Miller, who has been embroiled in highly publicized negative controversies in recent months, including arrests for assault and disorderly conduct, and allegations of harassment and child endangerment. Just this week, Miller was also the subject of a new story from Insider which quoted associates of the actor saying they were concerned about Miller’s mental health.
Despite all the focus Warner’s DC lineup got both during the investor call and before it, it’s not actually clear that much is changing. Warner made it clear that it’s still just as committed to DC’s lineup of heroes, and that big theatrical blockbusters will remain the focus. Other than that, and the cancellation of Batgirl, DC’s future still remains a mystery.