Warner Bros. Boss Admits DC Shortcomings Vs. Marvel Studios

By Russ Milheim Posted:
Warner Bros., David Zaslav

Generally, when it comes to the comic book movie landscape, Warner Bros.' DC Universe has been known to be a few steps behind Marvel Studios' MCU in regard to developing a compelling cinematic universe.

While Marvel Studios built a foundation over several years, starting with 2008's Iron Man and culminating in the MCU's first event in 2012's The Avengers, WB's DCEU skipped right past that step. The studio developed a Man of Steel film, then jumped right into Batman v Superman, and then launched Justice League.

That big team-up movie, directed by Joss Whedon, did not do so well critically or financially, to put it lightly. Ever since then, WB's overall plans regarding their DC Comics properties haven't been all too put-together.

Plenty of movies have been made since, such as Shazam!, The Batman, or, most recently, Black Adam. However, they all lack any connectedness or cohesive elements.

Now, Warner Bros. CEO David Zaslav has admitted where, in part, his company falls short of Marvel Studios.

DC's Shortcomings Compared to Marvel

Marvel vs DC
Marvel & DC

While speaking on The Price-to-Value Podcast with Southeastern Asset Management, Warner Bros. CEO David Zaslav discussed the strengths of his newly acquired company and where they fall short of competition such as Marvel Studios.

When it comes to Marvel, Zaslav admitted that "Marvel is seven, eight, nine times bigger," but that he feels like simply having icons such as "Batman" or "Superman" helps them stand on their feet:

"... When you compare DC to Marvel, Marvel is seven, eight, nine times bigger, but we have Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman. There’s a lot of opportunity there with Harry Potter. And then finally we having gaming, which is a very nice business for us. So, when I look at the businesses, the businesses themselves, I feel like, we have great assets and great businesses... I really like our hand.”

The CEO admitted that the state of things regarding WB are "significantly worse than [they] thought," but that "there's [still] a lot more opportunity:" 

“… Our job is just to build a great business. But, it was significantly worse than we thought. And it is significantly worse than we thought. Some of that is that the economy is worse, and the advertising market is worse, and the overall economy [is] worse… [there's also a lot of stuff] that happened this year between... the AT&T end-of-year numbers and when we took over; that’s the bad news. The good news is, that because it’s a lot worse... there’s a lot more opportunity than we thought." 

He feels confident that his leadership team can quickly turn around projects quicker, or "fix [things that are] either broken, or wounded:"

"There are a lot of things that we think, that I think, and as a leadership team, we think we could turn around quicker, there’s a lot more things that we can fix that’s either broken, or wounded, or that we can manage better. So I think the business is operating at a level that we need now to… and we are focused very hard on turning it around." 

When it comes to one of WB's crown jewels, HBO, Zaslav admitted that the service "is stronger than [they] thought,", particularly in terms of "creative vitality:"

"HBO is stronger than we thought. The economics of HBO are not stronger than we thought, but the creative vitality, and I think, the longterm vitality of the HBO Max asset is stronger. And Warner Bros. Television, we are the biggest, I believe we’re the biggest and I think we’re the highest quality producer and maker of content… And we have a 100 year old motion picture business that’s kind of been underperforming the last couple of years..."

The CEO went on to list the "treasure trove of IP" that the company has access to:

“... When you look at what’s at Warner, when Mike de Luca and Pam Abdy look at what’s at Warner, there’s a room that has all of the scripts of the last 25 years together with all the successful movies that we’ve had, together with Harry Potter, DC, Hanna Barbera, Looney Tunes, there’s just a treasure trove of IP. So other studios, when they wanna figure out what is a tentpole, like Fast & Furious is a tentpole. Donna Langley built that. And it’s hard to do and you gotta give her credit. But when you go over to Disney, they have the whole Pixar and kids business tentpole for them, and they have Marvel as a tentpole, and they have Star Wars."

He noted that franchises such as Game of Thrones or DC Comics don't only exist on their own merits but also that of everything that came before from the franchise as a whole—something that holds a lot of value:

"You come over to Warner, we have the same or more tentpoles [as Disney]. And the reason that that’s important is, one of the reasons that House of the Dragon was so successful is that Game of Thrones was the most successful series in the history of premium… It already existed and people loved it. And if you bring back a new Batman movie or a new Superman movie, not only do you get the value of that motion picture, but you get the whole fanbase that loves it plus as you go outside the US, Europe and Latin America have about 41 or 42% of theaters that are in the US. And they have local content. And so there’s a big competition for whether you get space outside the US. But when you launch a Batman or a Superman or an Aquaman or a Wonder Woman or an Iron Man, you get space in almost every theater in the world." 

Zaslav argued that those dedicated built-in fanbases are key to why "you can get twice the amount of economics outside of the US" with some of these properties:

"And it’s one of the reasons why very often on tentpoles, you can get twice the amount of economics outside of the US than you do in[side the US]. And so overall, what Warner Bros. has, is it has a treasure trove of historically loved characters and stories that can be remade, that can be pulled from, that can be used to attract great talent in the town together with the fact that there’s a lore around Warner Bros. and, Jack Warner, and Bob Daly that still has a mystique..."

To conclude, the CEO touted their relationship with Matt Reeves and how, on top of working on The Batman and its sequel, they can also work with the acclaimed filmmaker to expand content onto HBO.

"... but we can open a motion picture everywhere in the world under the Warner Bros. banner, and then we can put you on HBO on Sunday night, and we can say, like we did with Matt Reeves, ‘Come and do Batman with us. We’ll take Batman around the world,’ but also, the Penguin character is really interesting, so we’re gonna do an HBO series with the Penguin. So, if somebody wants Matt Reeves, who’s one of the most talented guys in the town, you know, we can give him Batman as his muse and then we can work with him on Penguin on HBO. And so I think it’s a killer combination.”

What the Future May Hold

When it comes to Warner Bros. doing a better job with its DC Comics content, newly hired heads James Gunn and Peter Safran will be instrumental in making that happen. They both seem excited about what they have planned, with Gunn even promising fans that they aim to tell “Biggest Story Ever Told.”

But will they live up to those promises? After all, fans have heard plenty of empty words from WB over the past few years.

Even just a few short weeks ago, Dwayne Johnson was touting his own DC Plans. However, with his movie not being the big hit he wanted and with new leaders in charge of the DCU, everything that the star has tried to hype up may not actually come to pass.

When it comes to seeing how everything will play out, only time will tell. Hopefully, at the very least, both Gunn and Safran can avoid another Batgirl situation.

It’s also worth noting that whenever Warner Bros. has its next big fan event, it could undoubtedly be the biggest one they’ve ever had, as they unveil all the plans currently in the works within the new leadership.

Warner Bros.' latest DC movie, Black Adam is now playing in theaters worldwide.

- About The Author: Russ Milheim
Russ Milheim is the Industry Relations Coordinator at The Direct. On top of utilizing his expertise on the many corners of today’s entertainment to cover the latest news and theories, he establishes and maintains communication and relations between the outlet and the many studio and talent representatives.