David Zaslav Acknowledges WB Film Studio Has ‘Really Been Underperforming,’ Hypes ‘Superman’ Reboot

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On Friday’s earnings call, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO and president David Zaslav both touted recent progress on the film side while fully acknowledging that the studio’s film slate has been something of a letdown (outside, of course, of “Barbie”).

“Our commitment to the motion picture business is something that’s there’s a real sense of in the town, and it’s one of the reasons why we’re getting some of the very best people coming on board with us,” Zaslav began. “I’m pretty excited about what we have this year and what you’ll see pulling out in the year ahead. Bottom line, the studio has really been underperforming, including the end of the year where we had some real struggle, but we’re very optimistic about this year and it has given us a chance to have a lot of upside in the next two years. I mean, it was really a struggle.”

The “struggle” Zaslav is referring to was the one-two punch of both the musical version of “The Color Purple,” which was positioned as a potential box office juggernaut and a leading Oscar contender (it was neither) and “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” the long-awaited follow-up to Warner Bros. and DC’s most popular superhero movie ever, “Aquaman,” which underperformed critically and commercially.

“The Color Purple” grossed just $68 million against a budget near $100 million, while the “Aquaman” sequel managed just $433 million worldwide against a budget near $215 million — a far cry from the first film’s $1 billion performance.

Zaslav continued: “A real strategic advantage we have as a company, and I’ve talked about it often, is the strength and depth of our franchises, which I believe will be a meaningful driver of asset value and growth for us. We intend to deliver on our commitment to reinvigorate the best of them. And as I’ve said, major franchises have been underused and underleveraged. We are hard at work to begin to get full value.”

He then turned to “Superman: Legacy,” the upcoming reboot written and directed by James Gunn, who is now overseeing Warner Bros.’ DC slate with producing partner Peter Safran.

“We haven’t made a ‘Superman’ movie in over a decade,” Zaslav said, presumably meaning “Man of Steel” in 2013, although it did get a sequel in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” in 2016. “James Gunn’s ‘Superman’ starts filming next week. I’ve had a glimpse into what James and Peter are doing, and it really does serve as an exciting indicator of where the new DC is headed under their leadership.”

Gunnar Wiedenfels, chief financial officer of Warner Bros. Discovery, added: “On the film side, obviously this is going to continue to be a hit-driven business. And, you know, just last year was a great example with the greatest success in the film studios history and some real challenges across the industry on the on the superhero side.”

Wiedenfels is, of course, referencing the so-called “superhero fatigue” that settled in last year. While this was definitely felt at DC’s chief competitor Marvel Studios, with the underperformance of both “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and “The Marvels” (“Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3,” written and directed by Gunn, was the lone hit), it was also a moment of self-reflection.

Last year Warner Bros. released three DC-based superhero movies, which all floundered, led by “The Flash,” which Zaslav touted as one of the greatest comic book movies of all time and significantly under-performed last summer (it grossed $271 million worldwide). “The Flash” was followed by “Blue Beetle” at the end of the summer (it topped out at $131 million), and the aforementioned “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” at Christmas.

“Superman: Legacy” will mark the beginning of a new era of superheroes at Warner Bros., and the company is very excited about the film, which will star David Corenswet and Rachel Brosnahan as Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane. It is scheduled to hit theaters on July 11, 2025, to be followed by projects like “The Authority,” “The Brave and the Bold,” “Supergirl” and “Swamp Thing.”

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