Just to preface this, Warner Bros. was my favorite studio growing up. Most of my favorite films came from this beloved studio which has a rich history that spans decades. Warner Bros. has given us some exceptional movies over the years. From classics to genre stuff like Harry Potter, DC, Lord of the Rings, etc., and now multiple Cinematic Universes. So, I used to be really happy seeing the WB logo in front of films. Good times. They just haven’t been the best at handling their franchises in the last 5 years or so. And the problem lies within the executives’ space.
For the last 7 years, following Marvel’s success with their Cinematic Universe, WB has been trying to build their own. In 2013, Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel was the film that was going to lay the groundwork for the DC Universe. Days before its release in June, it was reported that Zack Snyder would be returning for a sequel that was fast-tracked by WB. In July, at San Diego Comic-Con, they revealed that the sequel would include Batman in the main role and establish their own cinematic universe.
In October 2014, WB announced a slate of 10 DC films. DC’s Chief-Creative Officer at that time, Geoff Johns, explained how DC’s approach would be different from what Marvel Studios were doing.
“We look at it as a multiverse…For us, creatively, it’s about allowing everyone to make the best possible product, to tell the best story, to do the best world. Everyone has a vision and you really want to let the vision shine through…It’s just a different approach.”.
In June 2015, Warner Bros. president of creative development Greg Silverman expanded on DC’s approach to their cinematic universe, saying:
“We take these beloved characters and put them in the hands of master filmmakers and make sure they all coordinate with each other. You’ll see the difference when you see the things that we are working on.”
What Really Happened
In May 2016, following the criticism of Batman v Superman, WB established a DC Films division with Geoff Johns and Warner Bros. Executive Vice President Jon Berg as its heads. They oversaw production to create a cohesive direction for the franchise. In December of that year, Silverman was ousted from his role in Warner Bros., and Toby Emmerich was promoted to president and chief content officer. By January 2017, Johns and Berg reported to Emmerich.
Following the success of Wonder Woman in June 2017, Johns stated that moving forward, the films would focus on the heart, humor, hope, heroics, and optimism of the characters. As a result of the incredibly astounding blunder in Justice League by WB, Berg was fired in January 2018. DC also sought to deemphasize the shared nature of their films, with Diane Nelson stating:
“Our intention, certainly, moving forward is using the continuity to help make sure nothing is diverging in a way that doesn’t make sense, but there’s no insistence upon an overall storyline or interconnectivity in that universe… Moving forward, you’ll see the DC movie universe being a universe, but one that comes from the heart of the filmmaker who’s creating them.”
In January 2018, Walter Hamada was appointed the President of DC Films and co-runner of the DCEU, replacing Berg. However, Johns was fired from his executive roles at DC in June. After the success of Aquaman, Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara said the upcoming slate of DC films would be focused on individual character stories instead of interconnectivity. In March 2019, following allegations of a scandal (which were later proven to be true), Kevin Tsujihara was fired. In 2021, WarnerMedia reversed course and announced that future films would once again be interconnected.
[Adapted from DC Extended Universe on Wikipedia]
As you can see, the top executives at WB constantly kept changing due to which the vision for the DCEU has always been inconsistent and reactionary. The executives, prior to 2018, all had the shared universe approach to the DCEU. From what I have gathered over the years, the DCEU produced the best movies when Greg Silverman, Diane Nelson, Charles Roven, Deborah, and Zack Snyder were in charge of the creative decisions. In 2015, Zack Snyder had mapped out an entire plan for this universe (which Jim Lee illustrated and Geoff Johns lettered) that concluded with Justice League 3. This plan included other spinoffs like Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg, Green Lantern, Atom, etc. which would then be made with other directors.
Some characters from these spinoffs were to play big roles in the main Justice League storyline. This way the entire universe would feel like a shared cinematic universe. Although this was an approach different from the MCU, the DCEU would’ve still been a coherent universe of diverse characters with stories of massive epic scale that would last for a decade at least. After that, if they wanted to, they could have rebooted with a Flashpoint storyline. But instead, we got an abomination in Justice League, multiple projects abandoned, repurposed, or dropped, the entire shared universe in limbo, and destroyed any potential the universe had. Now we have smaller films that are disconnected, inconsistent, and underperforming.
Since the departure of Zack Snyder (due to a personal tragedy) in March 2017, WB has not had any sort of plan for their universe and has been making random movies as they go. To this day, they have been unsuccessful in reviving the DCEU back to its potential. With the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League (the Snyder Cut) in March, fans, critics, and general audiences have expressed their renewed enthusiasm in the DCEU and a large portion of them have specifically stated that this movie has got them back into the DCEU, as they felt a sense of an overarching plan for the shared universe.
Ann Sarnoff After Snyder Cut Release
Shortly after the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Ann Sarnoff of WarnerMedia/WB has expressed the studio’s desire to move past the social media campaign to hand back control of the DC film universe to Zack Snyder. Of course, she is talking about the #RestoreTheSnyderVerse campaign, which, after that article came out, trended with more than 1.5 Million tweets worldwide. This was a huge undertaking as it broke the previous record held by Avengers: Endgame and it was even bigger than #ReleaseTheSnyderCut in November 2019 which was boosted by cast members like Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, and the director himself.
Now, #RestoreTheSnyderVerse does not mean that fans want Zack Snyder to take back control of the DC film universe. It simply means that fans want them to let Zack Snyder finish his vision as intended which does not necessarily have to be connected to their current DCEU plans. WB has referred to Zack Snyder’s Justice League as a story-telling cul-de-sac. Zack has also referred to his Snyderverse as an else-world story now. So it really shouldn’t be an issue for WarnerMedia, and it makes complete business sense to let Zack finish his story as they have been preaching Multiverse since DC FanDome in August 2020 where everything can co-exist without being inter-connected. It feels like they don’t understand what that word means. Unless they have ulterior motives.
In that interview, Ann Sarnoff expresses her disappointment when asked about toxic fandom saying
“I’m very disappointed in the fans that have chosen to go to that negative place with regard to DC, with regard to some of our executives. It’s just disappointing because we want this to be a safe place to be. We want DC to be a fandom that feels safe and inclusive. We want people to be able to speak up for the things they love, but we don’t want it to be a culture of canceling things that any small faction isn’t happy with. We are not about that. We are about positivity and celebration.”
Although there are a few bad apples online in this fandom, as are in every single fandom due to them being individuals, and I do not condone that behavior, I feel it is very disingenuous to keep blaming fans or bringing up a few people’s actions for bad decisions they have been making since years. They are a major film studio that is constantly at war with fans online, who just want to see their favorite characters in great movies. Gaslighting the entire fanbase of millions of people by calling them toxic, due to the actions of a few, is not good for business. This is just a way to lose your customers.
Imagine Marvel calling their fans toxic for wanting to see more Avengers movies after Avengers 1, or calling the #ReleaseTheZemoCut fans toxic for asking for a longer cut of Zemo dancing, or Universal calling the #JusticeForHan fans toxic for just wanting to see their favorite character back, or Star Wars calling their fans toxic for wanting to see more Star Wars movies. It is counter-productive and makes zero business sense.
Before you say “That is not why they called Snyder fans toxic”, let me clarify that I understand the difference between having toxicity within a fanbase and an entire fanbase being labeled toxic. Once again, I do not condone toxic behavior, regardless of whether I share the same fandom with them. These are individuals who cannot be controlled and would not listen (and believe me, I have tried). That is the unfortunate truth. The vast majority of people I see in the fandom are good people who just want to do the right thing, who also do not like or are victims to said toxicity. Like I said, few bad apples.
7 Years Later, Still No Plan
Ann Sarnoff says that she wants DC not to be a negative place but fails to realize that they have conducted everything so poorly so far that the customer base has every right to be disappointed in them. She also says she wants DC to be a safe place and be inclusive when all they’re doing is excluding Zack Snyder, his stories, his wide range of diverse characters that were cut out of his movie, and his plan in 2017. It took the fans to come together and fight for the release of the Snyder Cut of Justice League to finally have the film that Zack originally made that was inclusive of POC characters, a film that was promised to us by WB.
They would then go on to have their own solo films (Cyborg, Atom, etc.) and expand the shared universe. The executives constantly fail to realize that what they have has immense potential if they stop interfering in the creative process and let the filmmakers do what they were hired to do. It wouldn’t have been as big an issue if they had a new or alternate plan for the DCEU but instead, all they had was random forgettable movies, more misses than hits. Even the hit Joker movie wasn’t as profitable because they didn’t fully finance it. That’s another bad decision they made with another potential big hit that they didn’t believe in. For 3 years, the executives have acted like headless chickens, always reactionary, not knowing what to do with their universe. This has divided the fanbase and everyone else and no one fully loves or supports the DCEU or knows what is going on. On being asked about the plans going forward for DC, Ann Sarnoff responded:
“We’ve got an incredible group of creators — television series creators, Max series creators, feature film creators — who are basically broadening the base of the talent that we work with on DC because we’re so excited about the potential to build out the DC multiverse. It’s one of the reasons why I was hired almost two years ago. The before-and-after was it was a very siloed organization with no connectivity between the businesses. DC was being developed, but in a kind of monolithic way in each division. My mantra coming in was to make it bigger and broader and we really want to surprise and delight the fans with more connective tissue across the various media and platforms. I’m talking movies, HBO Max, television, and our games division.”
Now, if you remember from earlier in the article, this is almost the exact statement that Geoff Johns made in 2014. 7 years later, they are still clueless.
Who Really Is Toxic?
The Ray Fisher allegations of abuse and racism against the execs on the JL set to this day haunt WarnerMedia/Warner Bros. Multiple cast members are speaking out about what they experienced. Some of them have left the company. They constantly make bad decisions, try to cover up their mistakes, gaslight fans and cast/crew members, and then go on to call the fans toxic? One must ask who really is being toxic here.
Restore The Snyderverse On HBO Max
Toby Emmerich, Walter Hamada, and Ann Sarnoff are extremely incompetent in running the DCEU and need to be replaced. AT&T head John Stankey and WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar must take action immediately if they want the future of the DCEU to be in good and capable hands. I suggest re-hiring Greg Silverman, promoting Charles Roven, and giving more creative control to Jim Lee. But if that is too big a change at this point and because from the looks of it, they’re adamant in their stance of having nothing to do with Snyder’s vision, I’d suggest at least #RestoreTheSnyderVerse on HBO Max as a separate, self-contained universe under Stone Quarry productions. This franchise is too big to just halt and be forgotten. HBO Max can easily make bank on this franchise as they are in need of their next massive Game Of Thrones-like pop culture phenomenon. With Game Of Thrones spinoffs, the upcoming Harry Potter project, the new Raised By Wolves show, potential Monsterverse spinoffs, and some other DC projects coming on the platform already, the Snyderverse could be another franchise that can exist in this space. This is a huge franchise that can put HBO Max way ahead of all other streaming platforms in this massively competitive space.
Future Of DC Films
Zack Snyder’s Justice League has been a real gift that could be used to propel the Snyderverse into the future. I think Zack Snyder’s Justice League was the first DC project since 2016 that really got people hyped for a “shared cinematic universe” than anything they have done since 2016 or even will do for the next 3 years. Sure The Suicide Squad, The Batman, Black Adam, The Flash, Aquaman 2, Shazam 2, etc. are potential wins, but can any hero they introduce be bigger than Superman & Batman? Can any villain be bigger than Darkseid or Joker? The DCEU has been lagging behind the MCU forever mainly because of not believing in decisions that are ultimately proven to be good but are made very late. This time the DCEU has an else-world approach, an alternate timeline with alternate designs of characters (the Knightmare timeline from ZSJL), something currently not being done in the MCU, who might approach it in the future. And then it would’ve, once again, been too late for DC. If the Justice League storyline is abandoned now, this approach to storytelling with alternate timelines and characters will never happen again. We would lose something bold, interesting, amazing, unique, and cool concept and would probably just get traditional formulaic Justice League movies in the future, maybe a decade from now.
Stop Chasing Marvel
When will the DC executives stop chasing Marvel and do their own thing? The sad part is that they keep saying that they are taking a Marvel-like or Disney-like approach but they aren’t even doing the wrong thing correctly. It is baffling!
I think it is time they sit back, look at past mistakes and learn from them. Moving forward, they should always ask themselves “Is this the best this particular film can be?”. Their duty is to make the films that are best for their business. As Michael Corleone from The Godfather would say:
“It’s not personal, it’s strictly business.”
Zack Snyder has been extremely appreciative of the response to Zack Snyder’s Justice League and is happy with the #RestoreTheSnyderVerse campaign. He reiterated that these fans have helped raise money for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and literally saved lives. He says he fails to see the downside to that, as do I.
On being asked about sequels for Zack Snyder’s Justice League, he said, and I would like to end my article here quoting his response:
“Warner Bros has no interest in making a sequel with me but is it more likely that a sequel to this movie would’ve been made than what happened (release of the Snyder Cut)? The answer to that is Yes.”
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