Superman in Starring Role as DC Studios Unveils Strategy
Superman is returning to theaters — only now, along with saving the world, he has to prove that Warner Bros. has finally, without question, it means it this time, found a winning superhero strategy.
DC Studios, a newly formed Warner division dedicated to superhero content, unveiled plans on Tuesday to reboot Superman onscreen for the first time in a generation, tentatively scheduling the yet-to-be-cast “Superman: Legacy” for release in theaters in July 2025. James Gunn, known for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” is writing the screenplay and may also direct the movie, which will focus on Superman balancing his Kryptonian heritage with his human upbringing.
“He is kindness in a world that thinks of kindness as old fashioned,” said Peter Safran, chief executive of DC Studios, a title he shares with Mr. Gunn.
Moreover, “Superman: Legacy” will begin a story that will unfold (Marvel style) across at least 10 interconnected movies and TV shows and include new versions of Batman, Robin, Supergirl, Swamp Thing and Green Lantern. Those marquee DC Comics characters will be joined by lesser-known personalities from the DC library, including Creature Commandos and Booster Gold, a time traveler. One of the shows will explore Themyscira, the mythical island home of Wonder Woman.
The 10 projects will roll out over four to five years — at which time a second batch of related films and shows will be announced, expanding the “Superman: Legacy” saga to nearly a decade and perhaps helping David Zaslav, the chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, to keep a promise to Wall Street about growth.
“Part of our strategy is drive the hell out of DC,” Mr. Zaslav said at an RBC Capital Markets event in November. Discovery took over Warner Bros. last year as part of a $43 billion merger.
If it all comes to fruition, the “Superman: Legacy” universe of projects will add to a roster of unrelated superhero movies left over from a previous Warner Bros. administration. These movies, sequels all, include “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” “The Flash,” “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” “Joker: Folie à Deux,” and “The Batman — Part II.”
Warner Bros. bought DC Comics in 1969, and has since used DC characters to make more than 40 movies and at least 30 television shows, including cartoons. But the DC library has been widely viewed on Wall Street as underexploited because a competing comics-to-screens company, the Disney-owned Marvel, has provided an example of what is possible. Over the last 10 years, Marvel has been a blockbuster machine, delivering slates of interconnected superhero movies that have collected $23 billion at the global box office. Movies based on DC characters and released by Warner Bros. have generated about $9 billion over that period.
Suffice it to say, Warner Bros., which invented the big-budget superhero movie in 1978 with “Superman,” has been under pressure to get its act together. In a restructuring in October, Mr. Zaslav ended the studio’s decentralized approach to superhero management — separate film and television divisions developed material independently, sometimes causing friction — and put Mr. Gunn and Mr. Safran in charge of superhero films, series and animated offerings.
“The stakes are massive for us, and for Warner Bros. Discovery,” Mr. Safran said.
Mr. Gunn called Warner’s old system “pretty messed up.”
“Nobody was minding the mine,” he added. “They were just giving away I.P. like they were party favors to any creator who smiled at them.”
Superhero movies remain reliably popular at the box office, but a glut of them has prompted worries that studios are wearing out the audience.
“I think it’s real,” Mr. Gunn said, referring to superhero fatigue. “You have to make the stories diverse and different. Good guy, bad guy, giant thing in the sky, good guys win — you can’t tell that story again. You need to tell stories that are more, you know, morally complex.”