The Future of DC Films: Two Batman Stories, Six Movies Per Year Split Between Theaters and HBO Max

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DC Films is proving essential to the growth of WarnerMedia’s streaming service HBO Max thanks to the Christmas debut of “Wonder Woman 1984” and the expected March launch of Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” director’s cut. In news that should surprise no one, these two comic book films are just the start of DC Films’ massive push into streaming. A profile of DC Films president Walter Hamada published by The New York Times confirms the studio’s plan for splitting its slate among theatrical projects and HBO Max projects.

According to Hamada, the most expensive DC movies will be designed for movie theaters just as they always have been (think Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” films, James Wan’s “Aquaman” sequel, Dwayne Johnson’s “Black Adam” film, the long-in-development Flash movie). The goal is to begin releasing four of these tentpoles in theaters a year beginning in 2022. Smaller, riskier comic book films will head straight to HBO Max. While not confirmed, The Times suggests projects such as Batgirl and Static Shock movies are examples of the films DC Films will send straight to HBO Max. The goal is for DC Films to release two HBO Max comic book films a year.

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HBO Max will also be the home to spinoff series that branch out from the theatrical comic book movies. As Hamada told The Times, “With every movie that we’re looking at now, we are thinking, ‘What’s the potential Max spinoff?’” Warner Bros. and HBO Max have already set spinoff streaming series for “The Batman” (showrunner Terrence Winter recently left the project) and “The Suicide Squad,” the latter of which is being developed by James Gunn and is set to headline John Cena’s Peacemaker in the lead role.

DC Films is also diving head first into the multiverse in order to maintain its DC Extended Universe timeline (Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, Ezra Miller’s Flash, etc.) while also developing more standalone-minded projects (think “Joker” and Robert Pattinson’s “The Batman”). To summarize: Robert Pattinson’s Caped Crusader does not exist in the DC Extended Universe, but he does exist in the DC Films multiverse.

As reported by The Times: “To make all the story lines work, DC Films will introduce movie audiences to a comics concept known as the multiverse: parallel worlds where different versions of the same character exist simultaneously. Coming up, for instance, Warner Bros. will have two different film sagas involving Batman — played by two different actors — running at the same time.”

“Boiled down, it means that some characters (Wonder Woman as portrayed by Ms. Gadot, for instance) will continue their adventures on Earth 1, while new incarnations (Mr. Pattinson as ‘The Batman’) will populate Earth 2,” The Times continues. “‘The Flash,’ a film set for release in theaters in 2022, will link the two universes and feature two Batmans, with Mr. Affleck returning as one and Michael Keaton returning as the other. Mr. Keaton played Batman in 1989 and 1992.”

The reveal that Warner Bros. “will have two different film sagas involving Batman — played by two different actors — running at the same time” is sure to pique fan interest. Pattinson is behind one of the franchises, while it’s rumored “The Flash” movie will set up the future of the Dark Knight in the DC Extended Universe. Affleck played Bruce Wayne/Batman in two DCEU entries before exiting the role, but his “Flash” appearance has many assuming he’ll be handing over the baton to a new DCEU Batman.

“I don’t think anyone else has ever attempted this,” Hamada said about the multiverse expansion. “But audiences are sophisticated enough to understand it. If we make good movies, they will go with it.”

As for Snyder’s “Justice League” director’s cut, studio executives for DC Films told The Times the HBO Max event is “a storytelling cul-de-sac — a street that leads nowhere.” In other words, the Snyder cut is not part of the DC Films blueprint that’s been discussed here.

Head over to The New York Times’ website to read more from Hamada’s profile.

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