DC Entertainment Chief Reveals What's Next for Superman, Wonder Woman and 5 Superheroes Who Deserve Movies (Q&A)
Diane Nelson, Warner Bros.' brand manager for superheroes, reveals why "Man of Steel" worked but "Green Lantern" fell flat.
This story first appeared in the July 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
As DC Entertainment's president, Diane Nelson occupies a rarefied position in the geek universe. But Nelson is no comic geek, and despite being an eight-time Comic-Con veteran -- thanks to her former roles as brand manager of Harry Potter and president of direct-to-home video division Warner Premiere -- she has a love-hate relationship with the gathering in San Diego, taking place this year from July 17 to 21.
"Wednesday and Thursday can be nice because you can walk," she notes. "But the crush of people is just crazy." Some of them will be attending DC's 20-some-odd panels, while a lucky few will hit its invite-only party on Friday, July 19. (Warner Bros. won't confirm that it will announce Man of Steel 2, but with director Zack Snyder and star Henry Cavill slated to attend, anything's possible.)
When the Syracuse University graduate took over DC in 2009, superhero movies already were big business, but the comics industry was in a free fall. During the early 1990s, a best-selling monthly comic could sell upward of 1 million copies, but in less than 20 years, sales had eroded to the point where even Batman couldn't move more than 55,000 issues. (Today, Batman sales are about 150,000 an issue.) But DC's relaunch of its entire comic book universe -- overseen by Nelson, 46, and carried out by DC's co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan Didio -- drew big media attention and a spike in sales.
DC is even more valuable as a warehouse of intellectual property, with thousands of characters in its stable. Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy brought in $2.4 billion for Warners, with June's Man of Steel adding $592 million to date and Arrow getting a second season on The CW. Kevin Tsujihara, the new Warner Bros. CEO, to whom Nelson reports, will look toward the DC library for more Dark Knights and Man of Steels and fewer Green Lanterns and Jonah Hexes.
Sitting down with THR in her Burbank office from which she oversees 2,200 staffers, the Newport, R.I., native -- who lives in Brentwood with her husband, children's author Peter Nelson, and two kids and is active with charities, including DC's We Can Be Heroes, which has raised more than $2 million for African relief -- spilled on how her job will change with the ouster of Warners movie honcho Jeff Robinov, the ways DC's movie plan differs from Marvel's and Harry Potter comics.
The Hollywood Reporter: Tsujihara is the new boss, and Robinov is no longer at Warner Bros. How does that affect your job?
Diane Nelson: I can't comment on Jeff Robinov not being here, but I can say it is the most optimistic time for me professionally, and for the company, DC and Warner Bros., in the 17 years since I've been here. I say that for a number of reasons. One is Kevin. He is someone I've worked closely with for the whole time I've been at the studio. Kevin has known as much about what we've done with DC as anyone in the studio, and he's actively worked to support us. So now that I'm working solely for him, reporting to him, I think it's just the greatest time ever. DC is one of his biggest priorities. I think you're going to see the growth potential for the studio being very much rooted in what we do with DC. We have the potential to do an even more aggressive job on the film slate, but not just in relation to the Justice League characters; not just for film but for television.
THR: Why have things been so slow for DC movies? Especially compared to Marvel.
Nelson: I don't know that they've been so slow. I think there's been a very concerted strategy that was led by Jeff about working with the best filmmakers in the business to execute their vision of the right movies for the right properties. That may mean that we're a little more focused or particular about which characters come on the screen as opposed to what Marvel's done so brilliantly. And I do give them tremendous credit with what they're doing with their slate, but our strategy has been different from that. I think more "precise" is the word. It's a specific vision from a specific filmmaker rather than a full slate.
THR: Why did Man of Steel work?
Nelson: I think Chris [Nolan] and Zack really did give fans what they felt on some level they didn't get at least partially in the last Superman film. People wanted to see Superman kicking ass. And he does in this movie. He does a lot of other great things -- Henry [Cavill] brings the character to life so beautifully, and the dynamic between Clark and Lois is there, but people wanted to see Superman being Superman.