On Thursday, Warner Bros. reshuffled the hierarchy of its DC-based films once again on the back of Justice League‘s disastrous failure. Toby Emmerich, President and Chief Content Officer of Warner Bros. Pictures Group, announced yesterday that Walter Hamada would take over as president of the DC Films production unit. Hamada has spent the last decade with the WB-owned New Line Cinema division. After overseeing the unexpectedly successful Conjuring franchise and its lucrative low-risk, high-reward spinoffs as well as executive producing It to record-breaking box office totals, there’s every possibility that Hamada can heal the potentially mortal wounds of the DC Extended Universe and beyond. Unfortunately, the studio’s recent trackrecord suggests this is just one more example in Warner Bros.’ reactionary behavior that has yet to produce consistent results.
In 2013, WB wanted in on all of that sweet, sweet comic book money that Marvel Studios was raking in and that they had left behind with the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. So in an effort to launch its own interconnected cinematic superhero universe to match Marvel, WB released the first Superman movie in seven years with Man of Steel. While profitable ($668 million worldwide off a $225 million budget, per Box Office Mojo), the movie reportedly failed to meet internal box office expectations and proved divisive among fans and critics for its sulking portrayal of Superman.
In 2016, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice‘s grim and gritty tone failed to unite the movie going public and similarly underperformed box office expectations. This led to the creation of DC Films, headed by then executive VP John Berg and DC’s chief content officer Geoff Johns. The hope here was to pair an experienced studio executive with a comic book guy in much the same way Marvel Studios has operated under Kevin Feige. But following the disappointment of Justice League, Berg segued out of the role in December and while Johns will remain at DC in his current role, he may not have as much say in its big screen operations.
“It’s not chaos,” DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson told Vulture back in September when asked about all the behind-the-scenes changes. “It’s intentional.” Whatever it is, it seems to be short-lived. Berg and Johns were given a little less than two years before this latest restructuring. Now, Warner Bros. is trotting out many of the same PR-friendly superlatives fans have become overly familiar with. Just because it’s draped in flowery comments doesn’t mean it isn’t chaos.
“Walter is creative, resourceful, and committed to excellence, and will bring those qualities to his oversight of our superhero films,” Emmerich said in the company’s announcement. “He’s a terrific production executive and served as an executive producer on two of the summer’s most popular films, New Line’s IT and Annabelle: Creation. I’m confident Walter and Geoff, working with our filmmaking partners, will deliver films that will resonate with both broad global audiences as well as DC fanboys and fangirls. Walter’s a great addition to the Warner Bros. Pictures team, and I look forward to working with him in his new post.”
Warner Bros. declined Observer’s request for further comment.
Should Berg and Johns have been given more time to enact their vision? Had Warner Bros. stood still, fans would crucify them for inaction. But the pair really only oversaw two films during their official partnership: Wonder Woman, the DCEU’s only unqualified success and Justice League, which suffered from a host of issues, some of which were out of their control. There’s an argument to be made that they have unfairly been assigned the lion’s share of the blame.
Then again, Johns’ comic book background has always been better suited for television. He was an instrumental force in launching The CW’s popular Arrow-verse and his big screen producing credits (Green Lantern, BvS, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman and Justice League) aren’t exactly a murderer’s row. Berg has a couple winners on his resume like Elf and Edge of Tomorrow, but had yet to really dive into the DCEU. Is Hamada really all that different from either? As any pro sports can can attest, stability at the leadership positions and a clear overarching vision is key to sustained success in a franchise. Inserting Hamada, who does admittedly have a solid background, disrupts the hierarchy and alters the vision yet again. It undermines the rebuilding process by reverting back to square one.
The most expensive film on Hamada’s resume is The Conjuring 2 with a budget of $45 million. Justice League‘s budget was rumored to have ballooned to $300 million on its own. The horror genre has quietly become Hollywood’s most reliably bankable revenue stream, but it doesn’t carry the same pressures and expectations as blockbuster tentpoles. It’s fair to question whether or not Hamada can handle such an upswing and the challenges that accompany it. Anyone on Twitter knows that superhero fandom can be rabid, volatile and unforgiving.
If there’s one immediate positive fans can hope for under Hamada’s tenure, it’s the new direction Nelson discussed back in September.
“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 story line or interconnectivity in that universe,” she told Vulture. Hamada has proven adept at building out franchises with a common link that doesn’t weigh down and overshadow the central story with the great bang-for-your-buck Conjuring and Annabelle series.
Ultimately, we have no idea if Berg and Johns were the right team for the job and we don’t know what the right move is for the studio. But we do know they weren’t given a ton of time in their official positions before this decision. Upcoming DC releases on Warner Bros.’ schedule such as Aquaman, Wonder Woman 2 and Shazam are all but guaranteed to see the big screen. But after that, it’s anyone’s guess.
Here’s to hoping Hamada can build something better—whether that be through a Flashpoint-assisted soft reboot or not—so that the DC Extended Universe can finally boast some semblance of stability. Hollywood is in a better position as a whole when its biggest genre enjoys consistent success across multiple studios. But there’s no denying that this latest move feels like another reactionary short-term measure that may backfire in the long-term.