Since 2013’s Man of Steel, no single entity in entertainment has been more beleaguered and polarizing than Warner Bros.’ DC Universe. The shared cinematic continuity populated by Hall of Fame heroes such as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman has been the source of endless online debate, occasionally toxic fan culture, divisive critical reactions and inconsistent box office performance.
And none of it has really been worth the headache for WB. Why? Because the studio doesn’t necessarily need DC Films to succeed.
On Wednesday, it was reported that the studio has set release dates for multiple future blockbuster superhero movies, including Suicide Squad 2 and Matt Reeves’ long-gestating The Batman, which will bid adieu to Ben Affleck’s Caped Crusader. Under DC Films head Walter Hamada, who was installed as president in January 2018, the comic book label has been righting the ship that was left wrecked in the wake of the disastrous Justice League.
But’s here’s the thing: WB is really only required to churn out superhero flicks due to pressure from shareholders that want to see the IP leveraged in the current genre boom. And given the smashing success of last year’s Aquaman—it is the highest-grossing DC movie ever, with earnings of nearly $1.1 billion worldwide—it would be madness for the studio not to placate them. But DC Films isn’t the only valuable brand under WB.
The studio was firmly entrenched among the top three in domestic box office gross before Aquaman even hit theaters. How? Instead of home runs—Aquaman is its only film in the top 10 in North America—the studio consistently belted out a handful of singles and doubles that also possessed sequel potential.
A Star Is Born (which pulled in $206.6 million) is a critically praised Oscars contender that ranked 12th for earnings in 2018; Crazy Rich Asians ($174.5 million) emerged as a touchstone of representation, and a follow-up is already in development; The Meg ($145.5 million) outperformed all expectations, and thanks to major interest in China, a sequel for that is also in the works. Additionally, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald ($159.1 million), the female-led Ocean’s 8 ($140.2 million) and Ready Player One ($137.6 million) all broke out as mini-blockbusters with the potential for new chapters.
Moving forward, WB is justified to have confidence in other big-budget franchises such as the Godzilla-King Kong MonsterVerse, LEGO series, Wizarding World of Harry Potter and POKÉMON (a sequel to May’s Detective Pikachu is already being written months before the film has even hit theaters). It’s no puzzle why we made a strong case for J.J. Abrams to choose WB as his new home as he closes in on a record-breaking mega-deal. It now has a deep library of existing high-upside brand-name properties to play with aside from its beloved superheroes.
Beyond the cold hard cash it brings in, Warner Bros. has always been known as a filmmaker-friendly outfit with a nose for prestige pictures; there’s a reason Christopher Nolan has stuck with it throughout his 10-film career. Only two studios have racked up more Best Picture Academy Award nominations than WB since 1990, per Statista. The studio has won two of those statues this decade, and A Star Is Born would make it three. Dating back to its fledgling years, the company has empowered creative storytellers to craft their visions as they see fit. As such, WB has always been an attractive destination for marquee names like Nolan and Clint Eastwood.
Thanks to its passionate fan base and the cultural craze surrounding superheroes, DC Films elicits the greatest speculation, debate, fallout and hyperbole. But in the grand scheme of things, it is just one moving part in this studio’s vast, lucrative complex. WB is more than just its capes and cowls.