“Wonder Woman” saved the DC Extended Universe from a very dark place.
After the gloominess of “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” a team of DC executives and creatives looked for a new guiding philosophy. DC Entertainment president Geoff Johns told TheWrap they looked to the DC legacy and the qualities that first made people fall in love with superheroes.
“Get to the essence of the character and make the movies fun. Just make sure that the characters are the characters with heart, humor, hope, heroics, and optimism at the base,” said Johns.
Those five words — heart, humor, hope, heroics and optimism — are what superheroes were about when Superman debuted in 1938.
“Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins brought those ideals to life on-screen, and producer Chuck Roven led the charge behind the scenes, in a film with more hope than its often-dark predecessors, “Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad.”
Johns and studio veteran Jon Berg, who has a close relationship with new Batman Ben Affleck, plan to carry the more positive tone forward into the upcoming DC films, including this year’s “Justice League.”
The change came last May, after the disappointing fall-off of “Batman v Superman” following a strong opening. Three executives — Kevin Tsujihara, chairman of Warner Bros. Entertainment, Greg Silverman, the former president of Creative Development and Worldwide Production and Diane Nelson, president of DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Consumer Products — decided to give oversight of the DC film projects to the dynamic duo of Johns and Berg.
Silverman soon stepped down, but Toby Emmerich, the new president and chief content officer of Warner Bros. Pictures, helped complete the formation of the new DC film team. (Johns reports to Nelson and Berg reports to Emmerich.)
Berg is a studio insider whose work includes “American Sniper,” “Argo,” “Sherlock Holmes” and “Edge of Tomorrow.” Johns, a DC Comics exec celebrated for his writing on “The Flash,” “Teen Titans,” “Green Lantern” and “Superman,” among other titles, provided the fanboy cred.
In fact, Johns’ experience in DC Comics paralleled the changes to DC films.
In 2011, DC cancelled all of its existing titles and debuted 52 new series under the banner “The New 52.” Like “Man of Steel,” which debuted in theaters two years later, the “New 52 titles were supposed to gently relaunch the DC Universe, making concessions to the modern-era and resetting storylines for new readers.
But in May 2016, DC decided to re-embrace its past. Johns unveiled “DC Universe: Rebirth” No. 1 — an 80-page one-shot that re-lays the groundwork for DC while celebrating its legacy and present. Johns’ compass was a sense of optimism.
“It’s beyond the back-to-basics approach,” he told CBR. It’s not just going back to square one. It’s much, much more than something that simplistic. We all need to do our best to get this right and everyone has come together to create a cohesive universe and terrific stories that work individually as well as together.”
Warner Bros. Worldwide Publicity teams worked hard to make Wonder Woman accessible to anyone who loves a heroic, hopeful story — not just people fascinated by the complex, often-evolving mythology of comic books.
“There’s intense scrutiny on everything we do, particularly in this world, in the DC superhero universe,” said Sue Kroll, president of worldwide marketing and distribution for Warner Bros. in an interview Vanity Fair. “The trick for us was to broaden out this movie beyond the core audience of superhero fans. The balance we were trying to find was [to market] a superhero film that transcended the genre, that worked both for males and females, and never denigrated the proposition. That didn’t play into any of the baggage, the cliches.”
Warner Bros. opened its doors with confidence, inviting fans (full disclosure: I was one of them) to a special screening of “Wonder Woman” on the studio lot. It was followed by a meet-and-great at the DC Museum with Jenkins, Johns and Roven.
Word about “Wonder Woman” spread. For the first time since the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman films, DC had a movie with overwhelmingly positive social media reactions. It played them up in its promotion of the film, which so far has earned $206 million domestically and $436 million internationally. It also held onto a higher percentage of its first week take in its second week than “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad” — a testament to its strong word of mouth. And it became the first-ever film by a female director to earn more than $100 million in its first weekend.
DC’s compass is still pointed toward optimism: Joby Harold recently delivered a script on “The Flash,” with Robert Zemeckis the frontrunner to direct, a sequel to “Wonder Woman” is in the works, Matt Reeves starts working on “The Batman” after his new film “War for the Planet of the Apes,” and additional photography for “Justice League” is being prepped under the direction of Joss Whedon in time for the film’s Nov. 17 release.
Other Warner Bros. executives declined to comment for this story.