The Warner Bros. division will use a multiverse approach to release up to six superhero movies a year across various platforms — but will fans embrace the creative chaos?

By James Hibberd
December 28, 2020 at 03:21 PM EST
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DC Films is revealing an ambitious plan to try to catch up to Marvel Studios.

The company's president, Walter Hamada, told The New York Times on Sunday that the Warner Bros. division plans to release "up to four" superhero titles per year in theaters starting in 2022, and another two feature films annually for the HBO Max streaming service.

By noting that "the most expensive" movies will be released in theaters and the less costly titles will go to HBO Max, the announcement suggests the company is backing away from its recently announced controversial 2021 strategy of releasing movies in theaters and on HBO Max at the same time. Last week, Wonder Woman 1984 became the first major title to get the hybrid treatment when it debuted on the service on Christmas Day. Numbers are not available as to how the sequel performed on the service, but the film has grossed $85 million at the box office, largely overseas.

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

HBO Max will still be a major consideration moving forward, with Hamada saying, "With every movie that we're looking at now, we are thinking, 'What's the potential Max spin-off?'" TV spin-offs based on the upcoming films The Batman (2022) and The Suicide Squad (2021) are already in the works.

The plan also put in perhaps the clearest terms yet the company's intention to employ a storytelling multiverse in order to generate a higher volume of diverse content. The multiverse premise will be introduced on the big screen in the upcoming The Flash (2022), starring Ezra Miller (who also made an appearance in the CW's recent superhero crossover event). The storytelling loophole serves as a way to permit different actors to play the same character in various franchises at the same time without violating canon (such as Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton both reprising the role of Batman in different upcoming films).

The multiverse strategy is considered a somewhat precarious move, as it risks turning DC Films' increasingly disparate story lines into a universe that's even more confusing and chaotic. The CW has dabbled in the multiverse already, and while it has resulted in many fun moments, it also got pretty messy — even with dozens of hours per season and five shows to sort it all out. DC will be double downing on taking independent creative approaches to its material, even as Marvel's careful planning has helped grow the MCU into a massively successful empire (grossing more than $22 billion worldwide), and its organized effort has proven to be a winning formula. DC's move could alienate the genre's most devout fans who like a sense of cohesion to their superhero storytelling, and it could leave its films feeling less consequential — what does it matter what happens to a beloved character if there's always another version of that character in a multiverse to switch over to, as if they're all in a gonzo episode of Rick and Morty?

On the other hand, Marvel is dipping a toe into the multiverse approach as well (e.g., with its upcoming Loki miniseries for Disney+ and its Doctor Strange sequel). And DC's approach could be creatively liberating, especially when compared to Marvel's regimented sameness. Using a multiverse, it would be easier for Warner Bros. to justify more titles like 2019's acclaimed drama Joker, which is an utterly distinct entry from all the other Batman-universe films and was an R-rated box office success. Also, given the company's struggles to find its footing, DC's approach might be what it needs to find the right voice and tone to rally around in a more consolidated way — a smash-hit franchise-starter might not emerge on DC's Earth 1 or Earth 2… but perhaps on Earth 3 or Earth 4? Somewhere in the multiverse is a place where DC Films is the studio on top.

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