With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice not going over as well as Warner Bros. had hoped, The Hollywood Reporter broke news today that WB is launching DC Films as a new, separate division within the studio.
Running this division will be Jon Berg, a current VP at Warner who’s already been involved with the DC film universe as well as with Ben Affleck’s WB productions like Argo and the forthcoming Live by Night. Geoff Johns, a writer at DC Comics and the chief content officer who notably helped launch the company’s successful television shows (Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl) will join him. In addition, Johns is co-writing the upcoming standalone Batman movie with Affleck, who’s also directing. Interestingly, Berg will report directly to WB Pictures’ president Greg Silverman, while Johns will report to DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson.
The new direction marks a stark shift away from the director-led, Zack Snyder-shaped approach WB had been taking with its cinematic branch of the DC Extended Universe. Minting Berg and Johns as a brain trust specifically for DC is their attempt to build a two-headed version of Marvel Studio’s Kevin Feige. There’s a reason Feige is a household name over at Marvel, and it’s largely because of the singular kind of continuity and general quality control he’s helped foster with both audiences and creative personnel. Any cinematic universe hoping to truly succeed is going to need clear guidance moving forward, so the creation of DC FIlms makes sense.
It also seems logical in the wake of the performance of BvS. After taking a lashing both from critics and fans, the film has failed to break $870 million at the worldwide box office since its March 25th debut. Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, on the other hand, features a pretty similar storyline and has already hit $957 million worldwide less than two weeks after opening. It also helped push the Marvel Cinematic Universe to over $10 billion global gross.
Berg and Johns already have their work cut out for them, with Suicide Squad closing in on its August release and the first Justice League film currently filming and due in 2017. Moves have already been made to put this new creative force into action, however, as Johns has been heavily involved in the recent multi-million dollar Suicide Squad reshoots (reportedly to add more humor and clean up a messy third act). Affleck has also signed on as executive producer for Justice League, giving more control into the hands of one of the few bright spots to come from BvS.
The shakeups are only the latest such moves by WB/DC. Recently, screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith left The Flash, with which he was meant to make his directorial debut. The parties claimed “creative differences,” though it would seem WB wanted to put one of their tentpole heroes — especially one that has already seen success in TV form — in the hands of a more experienced filmmaker. The companies also announced a plan for an all-female Suicide Squad spin-off led by Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn.
But despite the hopes of a turnaround, the bigger picture is kind of disheartening. According to the Reporter, the launching of DC Films is just the first in a string of genre-specific subdivisions WB is set to create. “Now, instead of a broad range of movies to oversee, executives will be charged with managing ‘genre streams’ while reporting to Warner Bros. Pictures president Greg Silverman,” the story goes. According to THR’s sources, some of these executives have already been named: Courtney Valenti will oversee the Lego and Harry Potter properties, Jesse Ehrman will handle comedy/family films, and Niija Kuykendall will head up all sci-fi and action movies.
“Genre streams.” Here’s how we live now, folks.
UPDATE: Shortly after the Reporter article about Johns and Berg taking over DC Films, Johns spoke to Vulture and a small number of other journalists. While Johns didn’t directly address the DC Films news, he nevertheless touched base on a few relevant topics, including the optimal presentation of Superman, something widely criticized in relation to Snyder’s films:
““I think people make a mistake when they say, ‘Superman’s not relatable because he’s so powerful.’ I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me? He’s a farmboy from Kansas who moves to the city and just wants to do the best he can with what he’s got.’ That’s the most relatable character in the world.”
Johns’ roots in the comic world showed through here, as in his comments on the ideal vision for DC in general. He was quoted as repeatedly mentioning “hope and optimism” as an ideal cornerstone of the brand, a departure from the tone established in recent years. And with regard to fan affection for certain characters, Johns observed that “There’s a lot of emotional underpinning of the characters and the stories. It’s not that people take it for granted. They’re just not as aware of it. But when it’s not there, you really feel that emptiness.”