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The hierarchy of power in the DC universe really is changing.
In a stunning turn of events, filmmaker James Gunn and producer Peter Safran have been tapped to lead DC’s film, TV and animation efforts as co-chairs and co-CEOs of DC Studios, a newly formed division at Warner Bros. that will replace DC Films.
The unprecedented move, in which a top director will assume a top executive post, marks the end of a months-long search by Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav to replace DC Films boss Walter Hamada, who departed the studio last week. That search had all of Hollywood guessing and playing executive bingo for who would land one of the most coveted — and challenging — jobs in town.
In recent weeks, Gunn and Safran were spotted on the Warner Bros. lot, meeting with Warners film co-chair Michael De Luca about future projects. And according to sources, the initial overture to Safran and Gunn came from De Luca over the summer, even as the studio was in shaky talks with producer Dan Lin to take the job.
Gunn will focus on the creative side of things, while Safran will focus on the business and production side. Both are expected to continue to direct and produce projects, respectively. They will report directly to Zaslav and work closely with Warners film bosses De Luca and Pamela Abdy. Sources say the deal runs four years and Gunn will be exclusive to DC. The goal is for them not just to be producers, but to truly function as executives even as Gunn will occasionally hone a movie.
Unlike Marvel Studios, DC has multiple films set in separate creative universes, and according to sources, Joker filmmaker Todd Phillips’ work on the upcoming sequel, which goes into production later this year, will not fall under Gunn and Safran’s purview and instead will be overseen by De Luca and Abdy. Matt Reeves, who worked under Hamada, has a budding universe based on his The Batman movie. It is unclear under whose purview Reeves’ future projects would fall, but everything else moving forward would be under Gunn and Safran’s.
“DC has among the most entertaining, powerful, and iconic characters in the world and I am thrilled to have the singular and complementary talents of James and Peter joining our world-class team and overseeing the creative direction of the storied DC Universe,” said Zaslav in a statement. “Their decades of experience in filmmaking, close ties to the creative community, and proven track record thrilling superhero fans around the globe make them uniquely qualified to develop a long-term strategy across film, TV, and animation, and take this iconic franchise to the next level of creative storytelling.”
Gunn is one of the more respected minds in the world of comic book filmmaking. He came up in the indie film space and became an A-list director in 2014 with Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy and its 2017 sequel. He jumped to DC in 2018 to develop The Suicide Squad after rival Marvel fired him as director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. (The studio later reinstated him, and that project is due out in May 2023.) His DC foray The Suicide Squad was critically adored and spawned the hit HBO Max spinoff Peacemaker, starring John Cena. Gunn is currently working on a second season.
Safran came up as a manager, where Gunn was among his clients, and is fully enmeshed in the world of DC as producer of the $1 billion-grossing Aquaman and its upcoming sequel, as well as Squad, Peacemaker and Shazam! and its sequel. His relationship with Warners extends back 10 years and includes the $2 billion Conjuring horror franchise. The Safran Company recently re-upped its production deal with Warners.
Gunn and Safran will work with top execs at WBD, including TV boss Channing Dungey; HBO and HBO Max’s Casey Bloys; US Networks Group chair and chief content officer Kathleen Finch; consumer products chief Pam Lifford; and Warner Interactive Entertainment’s David Haddad. DC Studios will share resources across the company.
“We’re honored to be the stewards of these DC characters we’ve loved since we were children,” Gunn and Safran said in a statement. “We look forward to collaborating with the most talented writers, directors, and actors in the world to create an integrated, multilayered universe that still allows for the individual expression of the artists involved. Our commitment to Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Harley Quinn, and the rest of the DC stable of characters is only equaled by our commitment to the wonder of human possibility these characters represent. We’re excited to invigorate the theatrical experience around the world as we tell some of the biggest, most beautiful, and grandest stories ever told.”
The move comes at a seismic moment for the DC, which for the past four years has been led by Hamada under the DC Films banner. The executive departed amid friction with new Warners leadership under Zaslav, who made the controversial decision to axe HBO Max-bound film Batgirl in August and has vowed to reshape DC with a 10-year plan as it seeks to compete with rival Marvel Studios. Even though Zaslav talked about finding a Kevin Feige-style executive, over the summer the team started looking at emulating the Pixar model, in which you have producers and filmmakers working as executives. That has never been tried in the live-action space.
DC released Black Adam over the weekend, which stars Dwayne Johnson and featured Superman actor Henry Cavill’s return to the DC universe, and next up has Shazam! Fury of the Gods, out in March.
As for Gunn’s future at Marvel, there has been talk that he could continue on in some form after the conclusion of his Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy. However, today’s news, which comes hours after Marvel touted its upcoming Gunn-directed Guardians holiday special, seems to have closed the door on his chapter in the MCU.
The hiring is effective Nov. 1, and comes as De Luca and Abdy have been making creative decisions and overseeing postproduction on everything from The Flash to Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom since taking over their posts in early July.
“We could not be more excited to have James Gunn and Peter Safran join the team and assume the leadership of the DC Universe,” De Luca and Abdy said in a statement. “James is a brilliant filmmaker and storyteller and Peter is a tremendously successful and prolific producer and to have them both committing to work together to forge this new era for DC is a literal dream come true. We all share a very similar sensibility and passion for this universe and the stars couldn’t have aligned any better. We can’t wait to get started, dig in, and collaborate with these unmatched creative minds.”
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