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In fact, without a permanent leader to guide the stable containing some of the biggest and best known characters in the world, DC is currently the scene of a secret, but dramatic, IP land grab among some of the biggest players in Hollywood.
Johnson is publicly touting his vision for a future Black Adam versus Superman movie, with his words stoking fan desires to see Henry Cavill return as the red-caped hero. Matt Reeves is plotting an expansion of his The Batman universe, while J.J. Abrams remains in the mix as well with his own plans.
And The Hollywood Reporter can exclusively report that James Gunn, the filmmaker behind Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies as well as Warners’ DC-based The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker, is angling for his own new DC project (or two).
Sources tell THR that Gunn and producer Peter Safran are in talks with Warners for a mystery movie, possibly more, that Gunn would tackle. (Safran is already in the DC business, being a producer on Shazam! and its upcoming sequel, as well as Aquaman and that movie’s sequel.)
Warners had no comment, but as one insider observes, a carving of the comic company’s intellectual assets is happening. “DC is definitely in play,” says this person. How much play may depend on your perspective from inside or outside the studio.
While it isn’t clear what hero or teams Gunn is targeting, and the writer-director would focus on a second season of Peacemaker first, the studio’s eyes are very much on Superman. Under Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav and Warner Bros. Pictures heads Michael De Luca and Pam Abdy, Warners has an intense desire to reprise the Cavill iteration of the hero. The project that would essentially be Man of Steel 2 is being produced by Charles Roven and is currently searching for writers. (There is a wishlist, of course. And Christopher McQuarrie, the hand that guides the Mission: Impossible movies was on it. McQuarrie worked with Cavill on the 2018 installment, Fallout, but sources say no official outreach has been made nor may it be feasible, as the director is working on the next back-to-back M:I installments.)
Johnson, however, has Superman plans of his own, and has been very vocal about his desire to make a Black Adam versus Superman movie, a desire he has only reiterated more frequently in the lead-up to Adam’s release. This comes as he talks up the “surprise” cameo at the end of Adam, with the actor all but stating that Cavill will appear. Insiders are wondering if Johnson’s comments are intended to goose the movie’s opening weekend box office numbers or to maneuver Superman onto his own chessboard, or perhaps both.
Whatever the case, Johnson is definitely at the center of Cavill’s return to DC, which was not without some drama of its own. Johnson’s manager is Dany Garcia, his former wife who is also his producing partner at Seven Bucks Entertainment. Garcia also happens to represent Cavill.
Superman, as well as Cavill, were not in the initial plans for Black Adam. The idea was hatched during a round of reshoots for the movie earlier this year, but the cameo was nixed by Hamada, the executive who for the last four years had tried hard to move DC beyond the era where one filmmaker, in this case Zack Snyder, had an inordinate amount of influence and could command an entire slate for years. Hamada had his own Superman plans, one of them being to introduce a Black Superman with a multidecade-spanning story by writer Ta-Nehisi Coates.
After Hamada said no, Johnson went around the executive, turning to De Luca and Abdy, who gave it the thumbs-up. A furious round of negotiating occurred before Labor Day, a deadline insisted on by Warners, with the scene shot in mid-September.
Meanwhile, in Gotham City, filmmaker Reeves is quietly making his own expansion plans. Reeves is developing a sequel to his The Batman, which grossed a respectable $770.8 million worldwide when it was released in March. Already, a series spinoff focusing on Colin Farrell’s Penguin is on its way to filming next year. But Reeves is plotting more. The filmmaker is meeting with writers and directors to build out movies — yes movies, not just series — focused on Batman rogue’s gallery, both established and more obscure, with characters ranging from the Scarecrow to Clayface to Professor Pyg. All those projects are in the very early stages of gestation.
It is unclear where the Superman moves leave Abrams, who is still on track to produce Coates’ movie centered on the last son of Krypton. That feature would exist outside any larger DC movie continuity, much like Todd Phillips’ Joker movies. The megaproducer had a few setbacks when some of his DC shows — based in the supernatural corners of DC and featuring characters such as Constantine and Zatanna — were scrapped at WBD’s HBO Max streaming service. (They are now being shopped to other streamers.) But he is not out of the game and is yet another Hollywood power in the mix vying for a piece of the DC pie.
All of this takes place as Hamada, who did not attend the Adam premiere in New York on Oct. 12, packs up the final personal effects from his Burbank office ahead of his last day some time this week. The executive is not even taking a producing deal with the studio, a traditional move among execs who are being let go but given a soft landing and a courteous “thank you for your service.” To many, that action speaks volumes about how rough the transition from the AT&T era to Discovery under Zaslav has been, including the controversial cancellation of the Batgirl movie in August.
And it takes place in the shadow of the utter failure in the search for a new leader. After months of searching, Zaslav came close to hiring executive-turned-producer Dan Lin for the role of DC chief, but talks fell through. Part of Zaslav’s intent for Lin was to act as the overseer of all things DC, both film and series, and he would have acted partly as a traffic cop among the IP.
For now, De Luca, who is known for his fanboy roots and displays a deep knowledge of esoteric comic lore, remains firmly in charge of DC. He greenlit Joker 2, has been making decisions on Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and The Flash, and has been meeting with filmmakers. Rumors abound that his role could evolve into one with a more permanent and even exclusive oversight of DC. As for Johnson, last week he publicly expressed interest in helping guide the search for a DC boss.
“The best position that I could be for DC is one as an advisor, where I can help. I love DC. It’s in my blood,” Johnson told Variety on the Adam red carpet. “In the spirit of growing up with the DC Universe. I’m here to help in any way I can, including looking for and finding that right leader or leaders.”
That search marches on even as IP continues to be taken off the board by power players.
“Right now it’s the Wild West,” says one insider. “Everyone is trying to grab as much as they can. And this is exactly what happens in a leadership vacuum.”
One Warners insider disputes the idea of a leadership vacuum, saying the studio is not standing still and is moving ahead on several fronts, focusing on some of its A-list characters while planning and developing the wave beyond that. A script for Wonder Woman 3 by Patty Jenkins is expected imminently and a script for a Flash sequel is already written — by Aquaman scribe David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick — in case that movie, to be released June 23, 2023, does well. (The film stars controversial actor Ezra Miller, who in August met with Warners leadership after a string of arrests and bad headlines, and today pled not guilty to a felony burglary charge.) With Superman back on the active block, plus Reeves’ The Batman sequel moving forward, it puts the company’s big stars in the big-screen rotation.
De Luca and Abdy are said to want to more things in development, and more things on the runway ready to go, an opposite ethos from Hamada, who took a more targeted approach.
Johnson, for one, is keen on moving beyond DC’s A-list.
As he told The New York Times for a profile published Monday: “It’s the safer bet to continue to invest in the I.P. that the world knows. The Justice League — Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman. I understand that. But it took convincing to get the studio to look past the Justice League into the DC universe, and there’s some really cool characters there. You’ve just got to give it a shot and trust the investment.”
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