How does James Gunn's arrival at DC Films affect JJ Abrams?

JJ Abrams
JJ Abrams

With Marvel’s James Gunn now helping to oversee DC Comics’ movie and TV slate for Warner Bros., big changes are likely in store for the studio that Batman and Superman call home.

Warner Bros. was in an enviable position when, in 2019 the studio closed a $250 million deal with J.J. Abrams and his successful production company, Bad Robot. It made sense for a filmmaker whose tentpole history includes two Star Wars films and two Star Trek movies to align with a studio that’s home to multiple high-profile franchises, many in need of revitalization. But after recent seismic changes at the top of both Warners Bros. and DC, questions are emerging about the future of Bad Robot’s slate of DC projects.

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With Gunn and his producing partner, Peter Safran, tapped this week as co-CEOs and co-chairs of newly formed DC Studios, where they will oversee film, TV, and animation efforts involving DC Comics’ deep bench of characters, Hollywood insiders are trying to decipher how these new hires will impact the studio’s existing business arrangements.

A shuffling of deals and priorities is likely with new regime, especially when it comes to two of Bad Robot’s DC films: the first Superman movie to feature a Black actor as the Man of Steel, written by prolific author Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Justice League Dark.

Robert Pattinson in The Batman
Robert Pattinson in The Batman

Although Warner Bros. isn’t talking, sources close to both projects tell The A.V. Club that the Justice League Dark and Black Superman movies are unlikely to get a green light anytime soon under the new regime. Especially when that regime—which reports directly to Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav—recently prioritized bringing Henry Cavill’s Superman back into the mix.

Both WBD and DC probably want to avoid simultaneous live-action Superman projects, particularly since the studio already has three Batmans jockeying for screen time: Robert Pattinson’s Dark Knight from Matt Reeves’ The Batman, and Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton’s Caped Crusaders, who will appear in 2023’s Flash movie. And Justice League Dark, a Bad Robot project developed with HBO Max in mind, will reportedly be shopped to other streamers.

Bad Robot’s deal included access to DC’s deep bench of supernatural and magical characters, which is why Abrams has an executive producer credit on the upcoming Constantine sequel starring Keanu Reeves. Those characters, along with the rest of DC’s considerable roster, could now be up for grabs.

Gunn “can pretty much do whatever he wants,” one source tells The A.V. Club. Clearly, Zaslav wants Gunn to steady WBD’s flagship following a long stretch of leadership and creative challenges, including the recent departure of DC Films’ Walter Hamada, the closely tracked search for his successor, and the disturbing legal troubles and allegations surrounding Flash star Ezra Miller.

Gunn’s hiring puts an even brighter spotlight on DC Studios for both fans and shareholders. Hits are needed, though at a cost that fits the new CEO’s fiscal goals. But if anyone can figure out how to give DC the kind of success that Marvel has enjoyed for over a decade, it could be Gunn, the filmmaker responsible for turning a talking tree and a sentient raccoon into household names.

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