While researching yesterday’s piece on the current Power Structure At DC Entertainment, I was struck by one recurring thread. I think my findings will be intriguing for any DC fan wondering what Warner Bros’ priorities are these days, following the sad way their Phase One concluded with last year’s Justice League.
Check out the names of folks who are either helping run things at WB/DC or are directing and producing upcoming DCU projects:
David F. Sandberg
John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
What do these names have in common? They’re all folks who recently found success at New Line Cinema, a subdivision of Warner Bros. In the ten years since it got merged completely into the WB fold, it’s been used primarily for smaller budget genre fare. Aside from notable exceptions like the Hobbit Trilogy, the bulk of New Line’s films have one thing in common:
Low Budgets / High Concepts
That’s why the vast majority of their output falls into the Horror and Comedy genres; Films that don’t necessarily depend on big stars, flashy CG, or bloated blockbuster expenditures. Even their recent stab at a big, broad action tentpole, Rampage, was made for the modest-by-today’s-standards $120 Million.
Therefore the common thread with those names I listed really brings things into focus. Aside from James Wan, who’s been attached to Aquaman for a few years now, the rest of the names on that list are people who secured their jobs/promotions while Warner Bros. was trying to change the way they do business.
- David F. Sandberg officially announced he’d be directing Shazam in July of last year, presumably landing the job because New Line/WB were happy with his work on that summer’s Annabelle: Creation, while WB/DC were knee-deep in Justice League reshoots as part of an overhaul of the brand
- Toby Emmerich moved up the WB ladder later on in 2017 after nearly a decade of running New Line to great heights, securing the title of President and Chief Content Creator for Warner Bros.
- Walter Hamada gets promoted to head of DC Entertainment weeks later
- John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein start being spoken of as directors for Flashpoint/The Flash weeks after that
This all came not only as DC Entertainment was trying to shake things up, but also following a couple of years of big “event movies” that either bombed, under-performed, or were negatively received by fans and critics, for Warner Bros. Films like King Arthur: Legend of The Sword, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Blade Runner 2049, and Justice League.
That’s why, if we’re reading the tea leaves, it’s easy to deduce that Warner Bros. executives saw what their New Line division was pulling off and decided, “We want what they’re having.”
And thus began that string of key promotions and personnel decisions with regard to its DC Entertainment brand.
What these moves indicate is that the studio wants people calling the shots who know how to keep their budgets under control, how to zero in on killer concepts that are easy to market and sell (“It’s BIG Meets Superman!“), and who will help keep the risk factors low. Remember, it’s always easier to take a $90 million movie bombing or under-performing than it is for a film that cost upwards of $225 Million, and the folks from New Line have proven that they know how to get a lot from a little.
Just look at the example I cited yesterday: With the Conjuring series, James Wan and Walter Hamada were able to make four films for a total of $82 million. And those four films have grossed a combined $1.2 Billion!
With Game Night, Daley and Goldstein managed to make a film with loads of personality, a winning concept, and some great visual flair for a mere $37 Million, and it was able to triple its budget while existing in the shadow of Black Panther, which opened the previous week.
Last year, Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation raked in an insane $306 Million on a budget of only $15M.
And let’s not even talk about It: Chapter One, another Hamada/New Line production. That modestly-budgeted horror film out-grossed freakin’ Justice League!
This all signals a paradigm shift for the studio, as Warner Bros. has been developing a reputation for over-spending on movies that end up not reaping great rewards. Specifically with its DCU titles, it’s notable that the most fiscally responsible of the films released so far (Wonder Woman, which cost only $149 to make) is the one that actually made the most money domestically- doing better stateside than big team-up movies like BvS and Suicide Squad. (It’s also the movie with the least amount of studio meddling. *Ahem*)
So these New Line hires and promotions all indicate that the WB is trying to streamline things, get the budgets under control, and minimize risks moving forward. Here’s hoping this new crop of New Line alums find the same success at WB/DC as they did at their old home.
Do you think this is a wise move for Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment? Do you fear it’ll lead to a dumbed down product? Will you miss the old “Go big, or go home” way of doing things? Let me know what you think of all this in the Comments below. Thanks for reading!