The hierarchy of the DC Universe has officially changed. Walter Hamada has stepped down from his position as President of DC Films and director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Suicide Squad) and producer Peter Safran (Aquaman, Shazam!) will be co-CEOs of newly dubbed DC Studios.
This is a major step forward for media conglomerate Warner Bros. Discovery and its CEO David Zaslav. After gaining full control in April of this year, Zaslav has been trying to cut costs (such as scrapping Leslie Grace's Batgirl) and put DC's biggest character to the forefront (Henry Cavill appearing in Black Adam).
The job hunt was described as DC looking for its "Kevin Feige" — an executive in charge of a cinematic universe. WB's search led them to Gunn, an MCU veteran with over eight years of working with Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige.
While there are a lot of similarities between Gunn's new DC position (under a four-year contract) and Feige's day-to-day at the MCU, it is not an exact replica. Here are the key differences between the leaders of DC and Marvel Studios:
1.) Gunn Stays Behind the Camera
Kevin Feige was a successful producer before the MCU ever began, but has never helmed a movie behind the camera. James Gunn has mainly used his skillset in the roles of writer and director during his time in Hollywood. Wisely, Warner Bros. Discovery is not stripping him of what got him here.
Gunn will continue to direct films for DC Studios, even though nothing is yet confirmed. He may expand, but the clear favorite is The Suicide Squad 2 or the second season of Peacemaker.
In the position of the lead-creative executive of the newly formed studio, it's unclear who Gunn will report to about his own movies. Unlike his work at Marvel, where he would pitch ideas to its executive creative team (including Feige), Gunn could sign off on his own ideas. In reality, he may collaborate with Warner Bros. Pictures Group co-chairs and CEOs Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy.
Gunn still working as a director reinforces his character and world-building efforts for the future of DC, leaving the business to his producer counterpart.
2.) Story First, Box Office Second
Peter Safran has been making Warner Bros. money for a decade. He produced the incredibly profitable Conjuring franchise ($2 billion total global gross) and has been involved recently with the DCU. He worked as a producer on both Aquaman films (The Lost Kingdon releases on Christmas 2023), The Suicide Squad, Peacemaker, and both Shazam! films (Fury of the Gods releases on March 17, 2023).
Gunn's focus isn't primarily on making money, it's all about creating a universe that connects in creative ways while producing quality individual films. A formula that Kevin Feige has mastered over the past 14 years.
Marvel executive Louis D'Esposito would be the closest comparison to DC Studios' Safran, but it's not a perfect match. Feige's power and control are unmatched at Marvel. In 2019 he became the Chief Creative Officer of Marvel Comics, Television, and animation.
While D'Esposito does focus mainly on the business side of producing, Feige's role has no boundaries at Marvel. David Zaslav is hoping to get the most out of his executives, honing Gunn's talents in on storytelling, while Safran locks into the bottom line and turns the biggest profit.
3.) Full Control... Sort Of
Two of the most successful DC films released in the last few years are Todd Phillips' Joker and Matt Reeves' The Batman. Both take place outside of the DCEU in their own unique universes. R-Rated Joker (starring Joaquin Phoenix), initially set to be a one-off for the studio, grossed over $1 billion. That's more than Man of Steel, Batman vs Superman, or Justice League. A sequel is now on its way starring Phoenix and new addition Lady Gaga.
Fixing what isn't broken is not James Gunn's job. In other words, Phillips will likely report to Abdy and De Luca, not Safran or Gunn. The same is probably true for Reeves and his growing Batman universe (including an upcoming Penguin HBO Max series starring Colin Ferrell).
This compartmentalized universe-building is very unlike anything at Marvel Studios and is a major difference between the two comic book movie studios.
One of the most famous characters of all time, Batman, is been spread thin. Robert Pattinson, Ben Affleck, and Michael Keaton may all be featured in future DC films. The latter two reportedly appear in 2023's The Flash and other DCU projects, while the former grows within the Gotham City Matt Reeves expertly crafted in The Batman.
Considering Warner Bros.' commitment and confidence in Reeves, Gunn is unlikely to have much say over what happens in those films or series. However, having James Gunn just a call away as someone to collaborate with is another possible advantage DC Studios has moving forward.
4.) Re-Directing a Universe
Gunn's greatest challenge is having to take over a cinematic universe that has four 2023 theatrical releases he had nothing to do with. In 2008, there was an idea, Kevin Feige hoped to truly bring comics to the big screen with a cinematic universe culminating in Avengers feature films.
Warner Bros.' efforts with DC Films didn't pan out nearly as well as Disney and Marvel Studios. There's no question, Gunn just took over an incredibly difficult job that other filmmakers didn't want (ahem, Dan Lin). On paper, being paid millions of dollars to navigate some of the biggest superhero IPs in the world sounds like a dream as a creator. However, the formerly known DCEU is in shambles and is in need of a savior.
Zaslav and co. hope that Gunn is the guy to turn the ship around and truly compete with Marvel on the big screen. The pressure is on and there's a lot of reason to be hopeful given Gunn's comic book movie track record. Anticipation is high to see what films and characters will be green-lit under this new regime.
Warner Bros. is reportedly hearing pitches and reading scripts for a new Superman film starring Henry Cavill. A new rumor supports the idea that the Man of Steel could be one of the first films starting production for DC Studios.
It may take years to attain a clear vision visible to fans, especially with Supergirl premiere in Andy Muchestti's The Flash, and Ta-Nehisi Coates' Black Superman movie is still slated to go into production for WBD.
Confusing and complicated, yet critical for the future of Warner Bros. Pictures and (arguably) its IP with the most untapped potential.