Warner Bros. taps filmmaker James Gunn, producer Peter Safran to run DC Universe

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Filmmaker James Gunn arrives for “The Suicide Squad” Premiere in Westwood, on August 02, 2021. Photo by Shutterstock.

Warner Bros. Discovery announces filmmaker James Gunn and his producing partner, Peter Safran to run the DC Universe - its film, TV, and animation division. What does this unpredictable move mean for the company? Kim Masters and Matt Belloni look into it. 

The quest to find a Kevin Feige for DC

Kim: We have talked, more than once, about the DC Comics’ quest, David Zaslav, head of Warner Bros. Discovery, to find his own Kevin Feige, which is words he put in his own mouth. There's only one Kevin Feige, and he runs Marvel. He has a team around him, but there's a vision and it's his and he is the architect and the contractor and he built it his way. There is no other Kevin Feige for DC. 

Contrary to what I was predicting, I thought they would default to Mike De Luca and Pam Abdy, the heads of the Warner Bros. Film studio, who initially they weren't going to give the DC properties to, but then they're just having a terrible time finding anybody. 

Warner Bros. surprised everyone

Kim: They announced James Gunn, the filmmaker and his producing partner, Peter Safran to run DC. I don't know [if] that is totally clear because sometimes we're very skeptical, and I admit I am reflexively, to some degree, and not just reflexively skeptical. 

Why not put a creative person in charge?

Kim: [Gunn] is a creative. He is respected and well regarded. He's had a lot of success. He obviously did “Guardians of the Galaxy.” He did “The Suicide Squad.” He's immersed in this world, and has a lot of fans. So, you could say, “Why not put a creative in charge?” 

Read more: Filmmaker James Gunn Makes a Videogame.

Matt: And it's not just a creative. It's a creative team with Peter Safran, who is an experienced producer and executive. 

I think what Warner Bros. Discovery is doing here is, they are signaling to the community that this is [a] DC job, which has been a thankless [one] because it's always compared to Marvel. They are putting in a creative that is going to have credibility with the fans. The fans are loving this, if you look at social media, they are liking this choice. And there's going to be a so-called adult in the room to make the trains run on time as well, and to chart a strategic and business plan for this division. 

A coordinated, supercharged plan across all DC platforms

Matt: Remember, this is not just movies. They want DC to have a coordinated plan across all platforms, which, to a certain extent, it already has had under Walter Hamada, who just left, but they want that supercharged. 

They want to try to compete with Marvel for real and that means shows on HBO Max. It means shows on their linear networks. It means movies. It means games. It means consumer products. All of it with a creative vision from James Gunn, and with a business vision from Peter Safran.

DC has been too fractured

Kim: One of the reasons that DC can't be Marvel is because it's gone through too many iterations already, without having someone like a Feige type at the head. So you have the Zack Snyder version, which had its own very dedicated fans. And now, you have Matt Reeves doing the Batman stuff. And you have Todd Phillips, who got into Joker. (I don't think he wants to expand into a broader DC Universe, but he's got that corner with a sequel coming. Huge hit, Oscar winner for Joaquin Phoenix.) So you have all of that. You have JJ Abrams out there, maybe, or maybe not doing something. 

It's been too fractured, and you have these big deal filmmakers already in the mix. We talked about that recently. 

“I'm sorry, what did you say?”

Kim: I'm trying to visualize the calls when they were told that a person who they may [have] liked and respected, his skills, and, “James Gunn is now in charge of this thing.” There must have been these moments of saying, “I'm sorry, what did you say?” 

Matt: That's gonna be the challenge here, exerting some level of control over these filmmakers who may not want to get notes from someone they consider a peer. But that's a surmountable challenge, and obviously, they have the full weight of the Warner studio behind them, and presumably people can coexist to a certain degree. 

DC movies are already on the runway

Matt: The bigger question is, it takes a couple of years to really effectuate change at the movie studio because they've got the next two years of DC movies already on the runway. They are ready to go. 

They have “The Flash” for next summer, which has its own problems with Ezra Miller. They have “The Aquaman” sequel, which is a sequel to a huge hit, but will it be able to replicate that? 

And then beyond that, they're going to have to figure out, okay, Henry Cavill just announced himself as doing another Superman movie, “What does that mean?” There's no script. They have to figure that out. 

Black Superman may still happen

Matt: The J.J. Abrams' project, where there's going to be a Black Superman written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, that’s another one.

Kim: I don’t expect that one to happen, honestly. I’m sorry to say.

Matt:  It may still happen. Who knows?

Kim: Who knows? I'm not advocating, but I'm just looking into the world to what we've seen with Zaslav.




Kim Masters


Joshua Farnham