The Complicated Case of Leadership and Vision at Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment

Warner BrosWarner Brothers Pictures

Another day, another director leaves one of the Warner Bros.’ DCEU movies. This time, it’s Rick Famuyiwa walking away from The Flash solo flick, making him the second director to do so, after the movie’s original screenwriter, Seth Grahame-Smith, did the same earlier this year. This, after Emmy winner Michelle MacLaren departed from the Wonder Woman movie in 2015. All of these moves happened due to, let’s say it all together now, “creative differences.” Which leads me to one, very serious, very obvious question.

What on earth is going on over there at Warner Bros.?

The FlashWarner Brothers Pictures

I mean, I know that they’ve been playing catch up to Marvel for the better part of a decade, and there’s a lot of internal insecurity and issues of self-worth and inadequacy because of it, but that doesn’t excuse some of the actions, decisions and, well, chaos that have been coming out of the Warner executive suites. It is, however, something of a surprise to learn that, despite the personnel problems plaguing some of its biggest and most important movies, nobody over there appears to be spending a lot of time hovering over the panic button.

I know someone who is familiar with the inner workings of the DC world, and he and I talk on occasion, especially when I have some particular thoughts on items like how awful Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was and how, somehow, Suicide Squad was even worse, and he usually finds this amusing and humors me and my particular brand of bratty, entitled whining about what I, as a connoisseur of all things superhero related, deserve as a consumer. But when I called him this week to ask him about this Flash thing and what the devil is going on over there, his response was a tad different.

“Sorry,” he said. “We were too busy laughing about all the money we made on Suicide Squad to worry too much about this latest turn of events with a movie that isn’t as high on our list of important projects. I mean, it’s not like it’s Aquaman.”

Suicide squadWarner Brothers Pictures

I thought he was kidding about that last part, but as we talked, I realized he was being dead serious, and for the first time, I was given an inside look at how the sausage gets made over there. For starters, they actually did make a heck ton of money on Suicide Squad, which did wonders for the company’s third quarter numbers. I don’t blame you for being surprised, because my eyes actually popped about that tidbit, too. There was a bunch of other stuff that surprised me, as well, so hang onto your hat. It’s about to get real all up in here.

First and foremost, let’s go over some things I think we all already knew. Like the fact that everybody panicked over there after BvS didn’t do the business they were hoping it would do and it got killed by critics and fans alike. That led to the promoting of Geoff Johns and Jon Berg to oversee the DCEU, as well as the hiring of Ben Affleck to executive produce and, essentially, babysit Zack Snyder on the set of the two-part Justice League movie they just finished shooting in England.

batman v supermanWarner Brothers Pictures

Now some of the stuff you might not have known. Johns was hired more for street cred than anything else, taking advantage of his status as a superstar comic book writer. Berg — who oversaw the Christopher Nolan Batman movies which, if you might recall, were slightly successful — is viewed as a brilliant guy in-house and is really the one everyone trusts to make the whole thing go the way it should. The mid-stream course correction is only unfortunate because it’s happening in public, but people are actually feeling good about things there in Burbank for the first time in a while.

Why? Because, apparently, Justice League looks dynamite. Totally different from anything Snyder has done before and, in fact, reasonably coherent as a movie. It’s a welcome change from a director who is not universally loved within the company, where many see him as, and again, I’m paraphrasing, a guy who got lucky with a popcorn movie on a couple weekends in March of 2007 and hasn’t made a single good film since. Everything he touches turns to dust (seriously, go watch Sucker Punch again, I dare you), and yet, the powers that be thought it was a good idea to give him the keys to the car, which he then just about drove into a bridge embankment.

Wonder womanWarner Brothers Pictures

Additionally, everybody is really excited about Wonder Woman, which looks amazing and is in good hands with Patty Jenkins, the director chosen to replace MacLaren, who was apparently in way over her head and not prepared to make the movie the company wanted her to make. So, they went with Jenkins who, you might recall, left Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World over something known as “creative differences.”

(Also, and this is important, these types of things are not isolated to Warner Bros. and the DC movies, as you might recall that Marvel also cut ties with Edgar Wright over Ant-Man after he’d been working on it for years, and Fox and Tim Miller just recently parted ways over the Deadpool sequel when he couldn’t agree on certain casting and story issues with star Ryan Reynolds and the writing team of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, and now the first film’s composer, Tom Holkenborg has split, too, in solidarity with his director. Additionally, there’s the revolving door of directors on Channing Tatum’s Gambit flick that might never even happen, the series of directors who attached themselves, then detached themselves from Bruce Willis’ Death Wish remake before Eli Roth finally agreed to do it, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt walking away from the Sandman movie he had spent years developing for something else I have heard referred to as “creative differences.” These things happen, and they happen all the time, it just seems like they happen more often with Warner Bros.’ DC Comics movies.)

On top of all that, and with all due respect and apologies, it’s not like Rick Famuyiwa or Seth Grahame-Smith is James Wan. If Wan, whose movies have grossed over $2.5 billion worldwide, walked away from Aquaman, then there would be panic in the aisles and a good, old-fashioned, all around freakout. He’s the heavyweight filmmaker the company needs for industry gravitas, and the buzz about star Jason Momoa is so good, there is already some consideration to rotate The Flash out of its March 2018 release slot and move Aquaman up from that July to take its place. Wonder Woman and Justice League both need to work, or else, unlike The Flash, which doesn’t carry the same weight and is, by the way, already huge on television. Aquaman is seen as a groundbreaker and keenly important as well and has everyone in something of a tizzy.

Aqua manWarner Brothers Pictures

Which means that Warner is actually feeling pretty good about all of this and isn’t terribly worked up about what the press or the fanboys or anyone else is saying, because they know more than you do and are perfectly happy to let the chips fall where they may, and whoever doesn’t like it can go ahead and lump it.

Now, that is all well and good, but it doesn’t change the fact that the company didn’t really dig in for the proper due diligence on any of the three directors it’s lost over the last year and a half. The fact that they weren’t a good fit — Grahame-Smith is the biggest thinker, seeing as how he wrote the screenplay and was going to make his directorial debut on what would be a tentpole with a budget well into the nine figures — probably should have been decided before any of them were hired in the first place. That it wasn’t, and that it has happened repeatedly, should be a cause for concern, because there’s no denying that they look a little silly because of it.

The kick of it, though, is that there is concern. Lots of it. It’s just not coming from Warner Bros.


ProfilePic adjusted 2 is a filmmaker and journalist who has spent close to two decades working in and writing about Hollywood. Feel free to send him a tweet at @neilturitz. He’ll more than likely respond.

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7 Responses to The Complicated Case of Leadership and Vision at Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment

  1. 300, watchmen , mos and sucker punch are all great movies

    • 300 was great. MOS, was good. SUCKER PUNCH, dude, is HORRIBLE. This should’ve been a big sign for WB that Mr. Snyder should not be given full control of any film.

  2. So basically we can expect more mediocrity with the DCEU. I’m sorry but Justice League–as far as I’m concerned– is DOA, Dead on Arrival. Zack Snyder is incapable of creating a good movie that well be universally accepted by the public at large, film critics/media, the industry, and fanboys. He has his fans, and they will cry foul when JL is rotten on RT but the book has been written on him. I think JL is going to make less money than BvS. I really do. You got more competition in November. JL comes out after Thor 3 (which I’m sure will have stellar reviews), then Pixar’s Day of the Dead movie comes out ere days after JL (which will have good reviews and probably galvanize the Latino audience), that Kenneth Brangnaugh movie on the Agatha Christie novel will approach, and of course Star Wars 8 weeks later.

    Wonder Woman, who knows how that movie will turn out. Trailers are great, but so were SS, and BvS, and MOS. MOS trailer is one of the best superhero trailers of all time IMO. Look how that turned out. IF WW is bad it could/will get swallowed by Transformers 5 (internationally), the Mummy and Kingsmen 2. If you thought 2016 was bad for DC movies wait till 2017. If those movies go under there’s no point in continuing this universe IMO. Reboot it.

    • I doubt they even reboot it. If JL and WW fail WB won’t be making a Dceu for another 30-40 years.

  3. I consider Sucker Punch to be one of the best movies ever! I have seen it four times. I wonder if you have watched it seriously more than once and analysed it from a perspective of a film expert and not a casual popcorn-munching movie goer.

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