Running DC Films could be the sexiest job in Hollywood. Comic book fans were ecstatic when new Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav declared his commitment to finding a Kevin Feige-type leader to take the reins of DC, Warner Bros.’ crown jewel for big-screen franchises, with an ambitious 10-year plan. And for the right person, the job offers the chance to shape beloved characters like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman — and be as revered in fan circles as Feige has been for Marvel aficiandos worldwide.
So after several months of searching, why has no one emerged to take over for Walter Hamada, who has served as DC Films president since 2018, but is expected to leave the studio before his contract expires next year? Franchise film producer Dan Lin recently turned down the job after talks with Zaslav fell apart. Studio representatives say Lin wasn’t “the” candidate and that others are in the mix.
But so far, no other contender has emerged to lead a division that has seen three regime changes in only five years (Greg Silverman, Geoff Johns and Jon Berg, followed soon by Hamada) and a particularly turbulent, up-and-down run with both comic-book fans and general audiences. Given all the challenges at DC and its parent company, many Hollywood insiders suggest that the real question may be: Why would anyone want the job in the first place?
“It is a very narrow group of people who can run and effectively get DC films back on track while handling the creative, business and — let’s be frank — the political minefields that come with that job,” one top Hollywood producer told TheWrap.
A Warner Bros. Discovery representative declined to comment about the search.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the challenges for anybody who takes on the job.
1. An unknown future slate
After pledging to make DC into a rival of Disney’s Marvel Studios, Zaslav scrapped the nearly completed $90 million spinoff “Batgirl,” delayed the “Aquaman” sequel release by nine months to December 2023 and are currently dealing with an already-shot spinoff of “The Flash” as its star, Ezra Miller, faces multiple allegations of physical assault and even child grooming.
The new DC boss will have to deal with the hits and misses as the current DC slate rolls out over the next two years. “The Flash” is an interesting situation as the film is supposed to reset the DC timeline going forward. The new DC boss might have a plan of his own, but they will be tied by the threads created in the movie, which will dictate how the new slate will move forward.
Additionally, the film might be marketed without its troubled leading star, Miller, who was profiled recently in Vanity Fair and is currently undergoing therapy for their self-admitted “complex mental health issues.” The Vanity Fair profile paints a picture of a person who’s not only dangerous, manipulative and abusive, but also, according to their ex-fiancée, has “illusions of grandeur.”
People familiar with Lin’s decision told TheWrap he was particularly concerned about the shelving of “Batgirl,” a film in the works for years and nearly completed, in part so that Warner Bros. could take a tax write-off related to projects abandoned post-merger. But Warner Bros. Discovery CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels said that canning the movie was “blown out of proportion a little bit” and explained that the company is committed to spending more than ever on content while still taking “a more rational approach.”
2. A micromanaging CEO
David Zaslav’s hands-on management style as CEO of the newly merged Warner Bros. Discovery isn’t winning over fans, according to numerous industry insiders.
It’s widely been reported that Zaslav likes to start early and have meetings at 7 a.m. One top agent who spoke to TheWrap says 7 a.m. calls are par for the course and will be expected of anybody who takes on the job. History has shown that unwanted calls can become a huge burden.
“Random calls are what famously led to Lorenzo DiBonaventura’s departure as head of Warner Bros.,” a top agent said. DiBonaventura, who in 2002 was EVP of Worldwide Motion Pictures at the studio, clashed frequently with then boss Alan Horn. “He just got tired of it. That is the very nature of the job.”
And Zaslav isn’t the only stakeholder to keep happy. “You’re not getting them from just someone like Zaslav,” the agent said. “Talent like a James Wan, Todd Phillips, etc. would also constantly call.”
But also the intervention of Zaslav might be particularly challenging for any new DC boss since all of the candidates whose names have been floated, including Lin, have far more experience with big-screen theatrical releases than Zaslav, whose entire career has been spent in broadcast and cable TV.
“Why would Dan Lin want to take the job? DC is a huge priority for Zaslav, but who wants to come on board and lead a film division that’s already canceled a film that was ready to go. And have a micromanaging CEO?” said one producer who works with Warner Bros.
3. The Kevin Feige comparisons
Zaslav has done himself no favors in how he’s framed the position, last month telling investors on an earnings call that the company’s restructuring centered on creating a team with a 10-year plan focusing just on DC… similar to the structure that Alan Horn and Bob Iger put together very effectively with Kevin Feige at Disney,” referring to Marvel President Feige.
The problem, as one studio insider told TheWrap: “A Kevin doesn’t just appear.”
Feige’s rise is legendary. After scoring an internship with producers Richard and Lauren Shuler Donner while he was a student at USC, he rose quickly through the ranks from production assistant on films like “Volcano” and “You Got Mail” to a producing credit on Shuler Donner’s 2000 film “X-Men” — a promotion he landed due to his encyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel universe. That also impressed Avi Arad, then Marvel Entertainment CEO, who made Feige his second in command.
By age 33, Feige became Marvel Studios chief — a job that expanded after Disney acquired the company in 2007. Twenty-nine movies and over $27 billion in worldwide box office later, Feige would have the most unprecedented hit streak in the history of the movie business, solidifying his unicorn status.
“Looking for a Feige is silly,” another producer said. “Feige studied movies under Lauren Donner and Marvel under Avi Arad. He knew both worlds.”
4. Creative autonomy
One reason for Feige’s success is the almost unprecedented amount of creative and business autonomy he has been given by Disney over just about every aspect of Marvel’s operations in film, TV and even comic books — a broad portfolio he’s had since 2019 with authority over everything from story lines to talent to budgets.
But anyone hired for the DC role is likely to face many more constraints, both creatively and financially, at least until they can establish a track record for success.
According to insiders, Zaslav holds the greenlight power for movies, and whoever steps into the DC role won’t have the latitude that Feige has at Disney. While Zaslav “aspires” to turn DC into a vertical, one insider said, the notion that a DC boss would have any creative or financial control of the division’s content is a “pipe dream.”
“There is no ‘other Feige,’” the second producer said. “Warners will never give autonomy like that to one person.”
5. The DC job isn’t the only game in town
The other problem facing Warner is that that there are other companies which offer more latitude and are currently looking for a movie chief — including Amazon Studios, especially since MGM heads De Luca and Abdy jumped to Warner Bros. just as the online retailer completed its acquisition of MGM earlier this year.
The nature of the gig may also be a turnoff for some experienced studio execs. “Well, they’re certainly shooting for the top and the fact that the job is so limited — just DC titles — perhaps makes it less attractive for the level of executive they’re going after,” the agent said. “While at the same time, the Amazon job is open — which offers a full slate.”
Given the obstacles, Warner Bros. Discovery still has time. “The release slate keeps getting pushed back, so that allows them to take their time with this position,” the agent said.
6. Warner already has a comics expert in its stable
Until Zaslav finds his unicorn, according to the Warner insider, newly installed studio CEOs Mike De Luca and Pam Abdy will run DC as part of their purview. And De Luca has experience in the comics space: He developed the Marvel’s “Blade” franchise in the late ’90s when he was an exec at New Line and even tried to get “Iron Man” made until the studio’s option on the character lapsed.
That’s led some in Hollywood to question the need for Warner to seek out its own Feige-like executive at all. “De Luca knows comics. He knows films. They already have what they need,” the second producer said.
But according to the Warner insider, De Luca and Abdy don’t have unlimited greenlight authority on projects (which an industry insider said is “par for the course for every studio chief except for Feige”) — which limits their ability to reshape the DC film landscape without the buy-in of Zaslav.
7. It can be more lucrative to remain a free agent
The contenders for the job so far have been more traditional film producers, like Dan Lin, than seasoned executives from other studios.
But successful producers bring all sort of complications — including commitments to projects set up at rival studios. Lin’s Rideback banner has stakes in franchises ranging from MGM’s “The Pink Panther” reboot to Disney tentpoles like “Aladdin 2” and “Haunted Mansion” — as well as Warner series like the “Lego” and “It” franchises.
And often, producer fees are more lucrative than any studio job — with less of the bureaucratic hassle.
8. How much runway will the new DC boss have?
Not only will the new DC boss be saddled with rolling out a full slate of projects that they had no hand in shaping, but there are questions about Warner Bros. Discovery’s medium- and long-term viability as a standalone company.
As a result of the $43 million merger, the company has about $50 billion in debt. As a result, there have been a wave of layoffs to reduce overhead as well as a scaling back of projects, from “Batgirl” to dozens of films and series that have been pulled from the company’s streaming services, HBO Max and Discovery+.
But the stock has taken a nosedive that’s seen $20 billion of value wiped away since April — prompting talk that Warner Bros. Discovery could become an acquisition target (with Comcast regarded as a possible suitor with plans to merge WBD with NBCUniversal).
While Zaslav has shot down such speculation — on Wednesday, he said the company is “not for sale” in an employee town hall — the prospect of enduring another regime change could weigh heavily on candidates for the DC gig. The average DC movie takes three years to take from initial development to release — meaning that the soonest a DC slate under a new team would reach audiences is probably 2026.
9. A fan base of very vocal trolls
While Feige is universally beloved by Marvel fans, the revolving door of executives who have led DC over the last decade have faced a far darker, more vocal community of diehards.
The Twitter cult that called for the 2021 restoration of director Zack Snyder’s abandoned cut of the 2017 big-screen flop “Justice League” harassed Warner execs ad naseum for the filmmaker to be given creative control of the DC slate.
And they can be a relentless in their troll-like behavior, even going as far as to harass the children of execs and death threats, as outgoing DC boss Walter Hamada recently experienced, according to a recent Rolling Stone report on Snyder’s Twitter cult.