A Brief Overview of DC’s Extended Universe
It would not be bold to state that superheroes have become ingrained in modern-day popular culture, with seemingly new superhero movies and shows released regularly. Personally, I am ecstatic over this, as I have always been regaled by superhero tales of fighting the villain and saving the day. It brings me joy to check out new content and join in on the buzz, whether it be centered on Marvel’s Avengers or Spider-Man, or on the DC Universe’s films starring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and so on. That said, I must admit I am partial to one side of the superhero-spectrum. While I love Marvel, the DC characters and the world they populate have always been my preference.
The DC Extended Universe is DC Comics’ equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, serving as a series of superhero films based on DC Comics’ characters and world, placed within a shared continuity, allowing for characters to crossover and plotlines to carry and play out through different movies. Previous DC films, like the original Superman (1978) or Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, were stand alone stories that, while succeeded by the usual sequel, would not branch into expanding their worlds with other characters the way the MCU and the DCEU later would. The DCEU instead began when Warner Bros. released Man of Steel in 2013 and has consisted of Batman v Superman (2016), Suicide Squad (2016), Wonder Woman (2017), Justice League (2017), Aquaman (2018), Shazam! (2019), Birds of Prey (2020), Wonder Woman 1984 (2020), Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021), and The Suicide Squad (2021).
The plan was that Man of Steel, the Superman reboot, would lay the groundwork for the DCEU by being the first of a five-part saga of films directed by Zack Snyder. The saga would be the center focus of the franchise, with coinciding films directing attention to the expanded aspects of the universe and the characters introduced in the core films, while coordinating with Snyder’s vision to maintain a connected universe. However, problems began to arise when the series’ second installment, Batman v Superman, garnered a negative critical reception, prompting Warner Bros. to adjust their direction for the franchise. Further issues that followed, including Zack Snyder’s personal tragedy of his daughter’s death, the troublesome production of Justice League (1) (2017), and behind-the-scenes drama ultimately brought an end to this vision.
Although the franchise had been met with troubles, they did find financial and critical success with Wonder Woman (2017), encouraging them to continue moving forward with the franchise, despite Justice League’s failure that same year. By then, a connected universe was no longer the priority. Instead, DC wanted to allow different filmmakers to explore individual characters and concepts with their own tone and style. Such a path has led DCEU to put out a wide range of films from James Wan´s (2) action packed and over-the-top Aquaman (2018) to the bloody and vulgar rendition of The Suicide Squad (2021) delivered by James Gunn (3), both produced with the respective filmmaker’s passion and unique direction. With past struggles of studio interference and uniform style finally absent, the DCEU received some degree of success. Yet, an inconsistency in their films’ performances is still a matter to consider, and it speaks to the fact that the DCEU simply does not have the following other franchises like the MCU has. Understandably so, as having films loosely connected without an overarching story, does not necessitate viewers check out all of these films, but simply pick and choose from those they find interest in, a choice narrowed by how stylized DC films can be. As of 2021, WarnerMedia Studios CEO, Ann Sarnoff, has confirmed that the DCEU will once again try to maintain an interconnectivity between its films, while still allowing for the diversity of styles that different DC filmmakers have brought and will continue to bring to the table.
With the current strategy in mind, the DCEU has plenty of projects slated for theatrical release. Its next venture, Black Adam (2022), is a passion project produced by and starring Dwayne Johnson, a dream of his since 2007 (4). Afterwards, December will bring Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2022), sequel to the critically successful Shazam! for the Christmas season. From there, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023) will hit theaters in March 2023, as the sequel to the $1.1 billion dollar film, Aquaman (2018), currently the highest grossing DCEU film. The summer season then begins with The Flash (2023) in June, marking Ezra Miller’s first solo outing as the scarlet speedster after his appearances in past DCEU films. Following with Blue Beetle (2023), introducing the eponymous character, played by Cobra Kai star Xolo Maridueño, to the DCEU. This trend of adding new heroes to the DCEU extends to greenlit projects, Batgirl, Zatanna, and Static Shock, currently in development and slated for sometime between 2022 to 2023. The DCEU is not only exploring theaters as an avenue for releasing these films, but has confirmed they will be releasing movies straight to WarnerMedia’s streaming service, HBO Max (5), with Batgirl and Static Shock intended to be the first. Finally, HBO Max has begun releasing television serieses, as well. James Gunn’s Peacemaker, spinning off from The Suicide Squad (2021), having debut on January 2022 as the first. This slate of films is ever growing, from confirmation of a third Wonder Woman film to to a Superman (Val-Zod) series.
The DCEU has had an interesting history and development to say the least, and there is much on the cards for its future. Despite an inconsistent track record, their future strategy has potential. Allowing creators to express unique passions for this world while connecting their films may be the key to the DCEU’s success. Warner Bros. is certainly confident with it, and I am thrilled for the future. The plan may not be what it once was, but the DC Universe is vast and the possibilities infinite. For any fellow superhero fans out there, I would recommend you to keep an eye out for future projects. Even if you are not knowledgeable about DC nor care for their past films, the DCEU could deliver something to you.
(1) Mid-way through production, Zack Snyder stepped down from the project and was replaced by Joss Whedon, with several workers and stars coming out about allegations and awful experience on set, Gajewski, Ryan. “Ben Affleck Says Shooting 'Justice League' Was the ‘Worst Experience.’” The Hollywood Reporter, The Hollywood Reporter, 8 Jan. 2022, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-news/ben-affleck-batman-justice-league-worst-experience-1235071732/.
(2) James Wan is the director of Aquaman (2018), Kroll, Justin. “James Wan to Direct 'Aquaman' for Warner Bros..” Variety, Variety, 4 June 2015, https://variety.com/2015/film/news/aquaman-james-wan-directing-1201511748/.
(3) James Gunn is the director of The Suicide Squad (2021), Cecchini, Mike. “James Gunn Confirmed to Write and Direct Suicide Squad 2.” Den of Geek, 12 Oct. 2018, https://www.denofgeek.com/movies/james-gunn-confirmed-to-write-and-direct-suicide-squad-2/.
(4) Billington, Alex. “Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson Will Play Black Adam in Shazam.” FirstShowing.net, 2 Nov. 2007, https://www.firstshowing.net/2007/dwayne-the-rock-johnson-will-play-black-adam-in-shazam/.
(5) Barnes, Brooks. “Managing Movie Superheroes Is About to Get a Lot More Complicated.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 27 Dec. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/27/business/media/dc-superheroes-movies.html.
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