Filmmaker James Gunn, producer Peter Safran to head DC Universe

Hosted by and

James Gunn attends the premiere of his film “The Suicide Squad” in Los Angeles, on August 2, 2021. Photo by DFree/Shutterstock.

David Zaslav, head of Warner Bros. Discovery has tapped filmmaker James Gunn and producer Peter Safran to lead DC’s Film, TV and Animation Division. Kim Masters and Matt Belloni look into what this unusual move means for the DC Universe and its competitor, Marvel.

Big surprise for the DC Universe

Kim: Big excitement in the comic movie world, and a big surprise actually from Warner Bros. Discovery. 

We've talked in the past about how David Zaslav wanted to hire his own Kevin Feige, the head of the Marvel Universe to run the DC Universe. It didn't look too good that he couldn’t find an executive who even wanted this job, and they couldn't come to terms, but they have surprised everyone by hiring filmmaker James Gunn and his producing partner Peter Safran to run the DC Universe. 

James Gunn did “Guardians of the Galaxy” and now [he rivals] Marvel, because Marvel has always done it bigger, better than DC. 

An unusual set up

Kim: [Gunn] has been in the DC world before. He did “The Suicide Squad” movie, and he has a show “Peacemaker.” Of course, he does have his producing partner – who you would call a suit – he does have him in the mix, but a creative running something like this. DC has a lot of creatives in the mix: Matt Reeves is doing the Batman trilogy. Todd Phillips doing Joker and now the Joker sequel. So it's an unusual setup.

Dealing with the awkwardness 

Matt: You can imagine some awkwardness when someone like James Gunn, in a position of power now, has to give notes to someone that was previously a peer of his and maybe that person might not be exactly excited to get notes from his peer.

Kim: I can say with great certainty that while they may like James Gunn fine, I would love to see the reaction video when somebody called them and said, “Guess what?”

Matt: Or this storyline that [Gunn says], “I don't like it. I think we should cut it and what I think is going to matter.” Those are the issues that they're gonna have to resolve.

Walking into a fishbowl

Matt: Overall, I think this is a pretty interesting strategy here because whoever took this job knew they were walking into just an absolute fishbowl where everybody is looking at what you're doing. And you know you're going to be criticized whatever you do. 

This DC job has been a thankless job over the years. 

Bringing a respected creative into the mix

Matt: Peter Safran, smartly said, “You know what? If I'm going to do this, I want to bring in someone to do it with me, who is a respected creative, not just as a film director, but this guy has credibility in the Comics universe.” 

[Gunn] has written for video games and he's someone that could have a creative vision for all of DC.” While Peter Safran is the type that makes the trains run on time.

It’s a tremendous risk

Kim: I just don't really see a world where James Gunn sits down with Matt Reeves and says, “I don't like this.” I think it's a tremendous risk, is really what it is. 

You have a strange thing where they're saying that Mike De Luca and Pam Abdy, who run the Warner Bros. Film studio, are also going to be sort of involved, but James Gunn and Peter Safran report to David Zaslav, the head of the company – not the clearest line of reporting. I think it's going to be a big swing and a big risk.

Matt: You have these filmmakers that are already off doing things that have been greenlit or at least encouraged by the previous regime. Is the new leadership going to step in and tell someone like Matt Reeves, “Oh, you know, I know you're working on that script for the second Batman movie, but what about this?” 

Irreverent humor is not the DC way

Matt: The thing about James Gunn is he has sort of a wacky sensibility. Those “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies worked because he wasn't afraid to have talking animals and irreverent humor, and that typically is not the DC way. 

The DC movies have been more serious and more filmmaker-driven and darker than the Marvel movies, and I know David Zaslav, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, really likes the Marvel model, and maybe the movies will start looking and feeling a little bit more like the Marvel movies.

Kim: I think we can be confident that there's not going to be some unified voice at the DC [Universe], like there is at Marvel. It's a different model.



Joshua Farnham