Just two days after Warner Bros. Discovery made the stunning move to cancel the HBO Max film Batgirl, an unapologetic CEO David Zaslav sought to reassure Wall Street there is a cohesive plan for the future of DC.
“You look at Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman — these are brands that are known everywhere in the world,” Zaslav said during an earnings call Thursday. “We have done a reset. We’ve restructured the business where we are going to focus, where there is going to be a team with a 10-year plan focusing just on DC. We believe we can build a much more sustainable business.”
DC has long wished to emulate the success of the Disney-owned Marvel Studios, which Kevin Feige has built into the highest-grossing film franchise in history. Zaslav recently brought Feige’s former boss, retired Disney film chief Alan Horn, on as an adviser. During the earnings call, Zaslav suggested DC would try to emulate the Marvel playbook.
“It’s very similar to the structure Alan Horn, [former Disney CEO] Bob Iger and Kevin Feige put together very effectively at Disney. We think we can build a much stronger, sustainable growth business out of DC,” said Zaslav. “As part of that, we are going to focus on quality. We are not going to release any film before it’s ready. … DC is something we can make better.”
DC has proceeded in stops and starts following the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s defining Dark Knight trilogy concluded a decade ago. The studio initially tapped Zack Snyder to oversee its planned universe, which the filmmaker launched in 2013 with Man of Steel. However, Snyder lost the confidence of studio executives after the divisive 2016 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and some of the films in an ambitious 10-project slate announced in 2014 never came to fruition, including Justice League 2. Executive Walter Hamada took the reins of DC Films in 2018 and has been plotting out a number of films — including several for HBO Max to meet the mandate of then-WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar. Now those plans are changing once again.
Zaslav touted a number of DC films coming up, including Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods, and addressed rumors that some of those films could shift dates without confirming or denying any specifics.
“We are very excited about them. We’ve seen them. We think they are terrific, and we think we can make them even better,” Zaslav said in terms of marketing and distributing the upcoming films, which also include The Flash, starring controversial actor Ezra Miller.
Miller was accused of choking a fan in Iceland in April 2020, and Business Insider published a report Thursday featuring a lengthy interview with the parents of an 18-year-old who say the actor had groomed their child since they were 12. Warners’ plans for The Flash, which has a June 2023 release date, have been closely watched.
The executive also revealed that while he is focused on theatrical releases, “a number of movies will be released with shorter windows … and with different marketing campaigns. But we’ll always be agile, and the focus will be on theatrical.”
Before the pandemic, theater owners could demand an exclusive theatrical window of 74 days to 90 days. Now, a film opening to $50 million or less domestically can be made available in the home as soon as two to three weeks after its theatrical release (Universal was the first major Hollywood studio to strike such terms.).
Zaslav’s comments come at a fraught time for DC. On Tuesday, Warners announced the news that it was shelving its $90 million Batgirl movie, which was deep into postproduction ahead of a planned HBO Max release. Multiple sources noted that Warner Media Discovery was opting to use losses from the film as a tax write-down rather than release it. The move has sparked jitters that other films could follow, with Blue Beetle filmmaker Angel Manuel Soto liking tweets asking Warners to protect his DC film, which was initially developed for HBO Max before being upgraded to theatrical.
Zaslav said that expensive films for streaming did not make economic sense.
“The objective is to grow the DC brand. To grow the DC characters. But also, our job is to protect the DC brand, and that’s what we’re going to do.”