Warner Bros. Shifts DC Strategy Amid Executive Change-Up

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Two Joker movies and a 'Back to the Future'-style 'Flash' are among the new initiatives as the studio plots an Affleck-less Batman and stops dating movies far in advance.

How many Joker movies are too many? That's one question that Walter Hamada, named president of DC Entertainment-based film production at Warner Bros. in January, needs to figure out.

With the recent departures at DC — the studio said June 6 that Diane Nelson, who's been on leave, is not returning as president, and The Hollywood Reporter revealed June 11 that top exec Geoff Johns is moving into a producing pact — Hamada is even more firmly in charge of the film reins.

The exec, who successfully oversaw the Conjuring movies at New Line, inherited a slate in disarray and has quietly spent months sorting through projects. "He walked into a shitshow, and he's trying to clean it up," says one insider familiar with the scene.

In the wake of Wonder Woman's surprise $821.8 million worldwide gross and Justice League's disappointing $657.9 million last year, Warners' DC plans needed a reset. According to insiders, Hamada has spent months going over the projects in development, culling certain ones, elevating others, keeping an eye on the big marquee heroes while also developing lesser-known characters that could pop big. This year, there's only one DC movie on the schedule — Aquaman, James Wan's take on the hero that stars Jason Momoa and opens Dec. 21.

Next year there will be two: Shazam!, starring Zachary Levi, and Wonder Woman 2, which begins shooting June 13. Then there are two potential Joker features — one to star Jared Leto, who played the character in 2016's Suicide Squad, and another, starring Joaquin Phoenix, that Todd Phillips will direct. Phillips' movie, expected to begin shooting in the fall, is budgeted at about $55 million, a fraction of most superhero pics, and may be launched under a new label that could be branded with a name like "DC Dark" or "DC Black."

But the other DC movies are leaving behind the dark and brooding palette. The Flash, which will finally begin production in early 2019 with Ezra Miller starring, has abandoned the somber themes it had been expected to tackle. The film now has the Game Night team of John Francis Daly and Jonathan Goldstein on board, and it's looking to Back to the Future as a touchstone. Margot Robbie, who brought a manic energy to Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, figures in the female-centric Birds of Prey, a Quinn spinoff film that is moving along with Sundance filmmaker Cathy Yan attached to direct. Meanwhile, a Batgirl movie, which had been in development with Joss Whedon before losing the director in February, is currently on track with Bumblebee screenwriter Christina Hodson penning a script.

The big question mark going forward is the future of Batman. Writer-director Matt Reeves turned in the first act of a new screenplay during the Memorial Day weekend. It's said to focus on a young caped crusader, and while the studio would not comment, it's unlikely that Ben Affleck, who has played Batman in three features, will again don the cowl.

Whatever Hamada does, the upcoming plans come as a federal judge on Tuesday approved AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, the parent company of both Warner Bros. and DC. One thing the exec will not be doing is convening a writers room, say insiders. Certain studios have taken that tack, such as Paramount and Hasbro with their toy-based properties, Universal with its monster universe, and Legendary with its creature features. 

“Walter is philosophically opposed to that approach," says one insider.

Hamada and his boss Toby Emmerich, sources say, also are not looking to date upcoming titles in advance, something they're convinced has bedeviled the DC movies since 2013's Man of Steel. "Walter has a specific design for the universe," says one insider familiar with his thinking. "He has a plan."

A version of this story first appeared in the June 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.