In the comic book movie industry, Marvel Comics had dominated the 2010s with their popular and well-established Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and is currently staying strong in the 2020’s as they move on to their fifth phase of the cinematic universe with Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania coming out later this February. Meanwhile, the other major comic book studio, DC Comics, has not had the best track record in terms of entertainment. Their cinematic universe was unfortunately shut down by the higher ups at Warner Brothers Pictures while also making inconsistent decisions on what projects would stay and/or leave. In other words, DC was in a dumpster fire at that point of time and in need of a saviour to lift them from their struggles.
Thankfully, by late 2022, there was a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Warner Brothers Discovery decided to hire Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn and longtime executive Peter Safran to run the content associated with the DC Universe under what is now known as DC Studios.
There was both hype and speculation with this hiring as Gunn has been known for creating some of the most unique superhero films in the last 5-10 years but it was questioned whether he could run an entire franchise. After announcing actors such as the beloved Henry Cavill would no longer play Superman, fans were divided on whether the decisions made by Gunn would lead to success.
On January 31st, 2023, Gunn and Safran shocked the comic book world with their announcement of their new slate of DC projects that would compose of the first portion of their new DC cinematic universe. He called it Chapter 1: Gods and Monsters which will consist of several movies and TV shows that will shape the new universe. This includes things such as Superman: A New Legacy, a movie that will have writing credits by Gunn and is set to release on July 11, 2025. Other major projects announced include a new Batman and Robin movie, (called Brave and the Bold) a Green Lantern TV show, (Lanterns), a prequel show that goes into the detail of Wonder Woman’s homeworld, (called Paradise Lost) and so much more.
James also made it very clear that there is a chance certain characters played by specific actors could return in their respective roles in the new universe such as Blue Beetle (played by rising actor Xolo Maridueña) and Aquaman (played by veteran actor Jason Momoa). Furthermore, there is also another separate slate of films called DC Elseworlds, where projects not connected to the main universe can be made with more creative freedom. This includes upcoming movies such as Matt Reeves’ The Batman 2, which is projected to be released by October 3, 2025 and Joker: Folie à Deux, releasing on October 4, 2024.
With this new slate of content being planned for DC, there is hope to believe that DC can climb out of their dark past and get their franchise running in the direction. In fact, one can say that they have the potential to surpass even Marvel as the biggest comic book company at the movie box office in the mid-to-late 2020s and going further. This is as long as they play their cards correctly, and there are some reasons as to why DC can surpass Marvel in the near future.
Reason 1: DC Finally Has a Clear Vision
The DC films in the past were run by a former head known as Walter Hamada, who was criticized for making unorthodox decisions involving the lackluster films being released while also screwing over potential projects, such as the cancelled Batgirl movie. In comparison, Gunn and Safran both seem to have a clear vision of what they want DC to be. This is evident based on their track record with film in general.
As stated previously, Gunn has created a lot of unique, successful comic-book films in the past decade such as the Guardians of the Galaxy films (which includes the holiday special and the third installment of the franchise coming out later this year) and The Suicide Squad. Being a film-maker at heart, it seems as if he will be able to connect more with the idea of director-driven films rather than a perspective of a bland corporation style approach that appeals to a massive audience which has hindered several movie studios before. He is also proving to be effective in communication with fans of DC on social media, replying to tweets about what to potentially expect while also posting numerous pictures of DC characters that people want to see on the big screen.
Alongside James is Peter Safran, who has been a producer for multiple films connected to that of Warner Brothers or New Line Cinemas which were either huge at the box office or had a creative vision towards it. This includes movies such as Aquaman (which made over a billion dollars at the box office) and The Conjuring films. What this indicates is that both Gunn and Safran have a good eye in terms of signing on to innovative, unique projects that seem different compared to the constant factory of movies being pumped out from other studios.
Reason 2: DC’s Numerous Catalogue of Characters To Explore
One problem that many people have complained about for DC is that they do not seem to use their large catalogue of characters to their advantage. From a regular movie goer, it appears as if Batman, Superman, and the Joker are the only characters that make up DC and everything else is just kept on a shelf. Despite the improvement in the past few years to introduce characters such as Wonder Woman, Shazam, and the Flash to the big screen, it did not always translate properly due to different factors such as a good story or accurate representation of the character.
Now that Gunn is at the helm, there is more hope than ever that the vast selection of heroes and villains in DC will be released to the public at some point. From his work as a director, he has experience in making unknown comic-book characters into household names such as Rocket Raccoon and Groot from the Guardians films or Peacemaker and Polka-Dot Man from The Suicide Squad.
The slate of films and TV shows introduced for the new DC universe included lesser known teams such as The Authority and Creature Commandos. At first glance, they seem like nobodies. But with the right visionary, they can be as popular as the big-name comic book characters.
There are many different groups of heroes and villains that fans want to properly see done correctly in a movie or TV show. Whether that is the fun, youthful Teen Titans with members such as Robin, Raven, and Beast Boy. (which is hopefully not in a dark, grimy tone as the show Titans) There is the mysterious Justice League Dark with supernatural-based characters such as John Constantine, Zatanna, and Swamp Thing. And there is even the world of Green Lantern in which there are several lantern corporations each defined as a unique colour and trait that motivates their power. (willpower, fear, rage, etc.) In general, there are a lot of outstanding comics to work with in this new cinematic universe that Gunn and company will most likely not squander.
Reason 3: Diverse Content to Explore in Numerous Media Sources
As mentioned before, the DC Studios will have a connected universe (called the DCU) associated with a load of different media sources. This will include not just movies and TV shows but it will also involve the upcoming video games for DC being released such that they are connected within the cinematic universe as well. This is a unique strategy that has not been seen for a specific superhero franchise, and it will be interesting to see if they can keep this idea running for years to come.
But the main reason as to why DC could dominate Marvel in the near future (and this is a bold claim by the way) is Gunn’s vocality of developing strong screenplays and creating unique films through the directors and not simply through executives at a board meeting.
To look into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it has been very successful in making audiences care about the characters through their well-crafted stories while also making them very entertaining through their comedy and action. However, a major weakness that people have criticized about Marvel is that they do not have a lot of director “personality” in their films. In other words, most of their films do not look visually pleasant based on the colour grading and there seems to be not much work associated with camera angles or visual imagery.
This is a weakness of Marvel that DC can immediately capitalize on. By allowing their directors to put their own spin on superhero films, it would each movie and/or TV show into a new experience tonally and visually, which can compete with Marvel’s similar-looking movies. It almost feels like a gigantic amusement park trying out all of the unique rides and attractions in one day ranging from lazy rivers to haunted houses. As Gunn has stated before:
“It’s not the Gunnverse, it’s not,” Gunn said. “It’s got to be all these different feels from all these different stories. That’s what makes it so fun. The stories are completely different, and each has the individual expression of the writers and the director that are making those projects.
Now with all this said, there are some concerns about this entire plan. To begin, people are questioning DC Studio’s decision to make the universe a soft reboot of the original DC cinematic universe from previous management. It would mean that certain actors/actresses could return in their respective roles from the old DC universe into the new universe.
There is a major flag in this, such that actors such as the one who played the Flash, Ezra Miller, has been arrested numerous times for heinous activities that they have done in the past year. Many have expressed fear that if they return in the new cinematic universe, then a horde of angry fans will come to the way to DC as an individual like them would have not received major consequences for their terrible actions.
However, James Gunn has mentioned that if individuals have done morally comprehensible actions, then they will take that into account in terms of getting actors/actresses for the new cinematic universe they are making. Hence, there is a very good chance that people who have done terrible actions will not be included in the DCU moving forward.
Another worry is whether a connected universe will work across numerous forms of media. DC has not had the best track record with just movies in general. Now, they are planning to have this universe across that along with TV shows and video games. However, one can argue that the greatest risks and the greatest rewards. It’s an idea that can either fall apart quickly or can become one of the most successful things the company has done in a while. James has had a first-hand understanding of what it takes to make a great film in today’s current time. And filmmakers such as him may take unique chances on their projects that could make the movie stand out in a special way. By spreading the universe into different media, it can widen the reach of different demographics to be immersed in the cinematic universe they are building which thus can potentially increase the popularity of DC.
To sum up, this is an extraordinary opportunity that James and Peter have been provided to change the reputation of DC from a laughing stock a few years ago to a real competitor for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A lot is at stake for this slate of films, but there is a lot of optimism that it can do wonders for both comic-book fans and film brains as well. To once again quote Gunn,
This is not only a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it’s a once opportunity. It’s me, now. No one has ever gotten to do this before. And how could I say no to that?
B. Kit, “DC Slate unveiled: New Batman, Supergirl movies, a Green Lantern TV show, and more from James Gunn, Peter Safran,” The Hollywood Reporter, 03-Feb-2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-features/james-gunn-unveils-dc-slate-batman-superman-1235314176/. [Accessed: 08-Feb-2023].
C. Mann, DC Characters. DC Comics, 2018.