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How Can Warners Build A DC Movie Universe?

Next year’s Man of Steel offers Warner Bros. a chance for a do-over – Not just on its Superman franchise, but its DC Comics movie franchises in general, following the disappointing box office performance of Green Lantern. But, assuming that the movie will be a success, it raises a difficult question for the studio: What do they do next?

It’s assumed that Warners will want to emulate Marvel Studios’ model of releasing solo movies for its main characters before combining them in a Justice League team movie at some point down the line, so the next step would likely be a movie featuring another member of DC’s core seven heroes – likely the Flash, who’s been rumored to have a movie in production for some time now. But… is that necessarily a good idea?

In a recent Word Balloon interview, Mark Millar – who’s now acting as creative consultant for Fox’s Marvel movies – suggested that Warners faces a difficult path trying to make the Marvel model work, if only because it’s already been done; simply doing the same thing would make the studio seem like it was a copycat, he said, and runs the risk of allowing the superhero movie genre to fade from popularity before any Justice League movie is even released. But, at the same time, not trying to compete with Marvel in terms of scope or output seems like the very opposite of what Warners would want to do with the DC properties. Is this a case of damned if they do, damned if they don’t?

An alternative suggestion is, of course, to start with the Justice League movie, and then spin characters out from there. Admittedly, it’s not a perfect plan – Man of Steel is already in the middle of production and therefore would come first, after all – and would require a lot of any JL movie (Introducing all of the team and the villain is a lot to handle for anyone, especially if you also want to have some level of plot and mindless action in there), and as such may be entirely unworkable. But there’s a third possibility, and it’s one that lifts format and structure from the comic books as much as Marvel have, but not simply following what’s been done before. Namely, have a movie crossover series.

As an audience, we’re used to having movies be part of a series, instead of one complete stories in and of themselves; think of the Lord of The Rings movies, or The Matrix trilogy. But what if Warners made the DC movies into a series of trilogy – or quadrology, or tetrology, or however many – movie series featuring different leads, but all dealing with the same threat? Essentially, using either today’s comic book crossovers, or the old Justice League of America comics where the team split up to deal with a threat – as the model, allowing for the construction of a coherent movie universe without having to follow Marvel’s lead in terms of format. It’s something that would require a little bit more confidence from the studio – Instead of committing to one movie at a time, they’d have to commit to the series – and the audience, who’d have to do the same thing, but it’s definitely doing something other than pulling a Marvel.

Would you sign on to a series of superhero movies following this scheme? Or is the Avengers model a tried-and-proven way to go for all superhero universes on the big screen from now on? Use the comments to explain how you’d like to see Warners handle the Justice League…


  • Rollo Tomassi

    Warner’s is getting in a foot race long after Marvel has already completed their first lap. They’re way behind, and no matter what “model” they use the novelty is diminished. This is because WB has never had faith in their DC properties. They could’ve easily had Flash and Wonder Woman films out, but they don’t believe in the properties. Fans would LOVE to see either stand alone films or a Justice League film or anything in between. But the vibe coming from WB is that they have no faith in these films and that’s why everyone seems to think it’s a a disaster waiting to happen.

  • Ankoma

    Why don’t they do a series of team up movies like  the World’s Finest (Superman and Batman), Green Lantern and Flash, Trinity (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman), then an Aquaman solo movie with at least an appearance of one of the main five, then a Justice League movie that would introduce Martian Manhunter.

    That way they kill two birds with one stone with each movies. Warner and DC also don’t seem to realize that most of the general public already know most of their heroes, even if they never read a comic book before, they know at least the general idea behind them. Rather than origin stories, team up movies would save time by throwing the audience into the main meat of the story and they can just go from there   

  • Bill

    This article is out of date and it just came out. It was already announced that they’ll be doing a Justice League movie, and hoping to spin other single character movies out of it, the exact opposite approach of Marvel. I think it’s a stupid move, but my point is this article starts out with wrong information.

  • Tophman

    I think Rollo hit it on the head when he said that “WB never had faith in their DC properties”. You could also say that they keep wanting to dump a ton of money into it in the hopes of getting tons of money back.

    Why do Wonder Woman or Flash movies need to be big-budget summer blockbuster films? Personally, I’d like them spending a smaller amount of money ($30-50M) on these movies (rather than $100++M budgets) and concentrate on a good product (better story, less flash/boom/bang). Introduce the characters w/o the world-ending super villain angle they keep shoving down our throats. Then you can release more movies in a year (4-5 small movies vs 1 big one). This way, you get a pulse of which take on the character movie going fans resonate with. In a couple of years, having this demographic data, you can make a bigger summer movie with the characters that earned the studio the most in the forefront.

  • JAV

    If I were WB I would make the first movie Epic; “Crisis on Infinite Earths.”

    Right off you have a solid explanation why there are so many different Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman tv & movie universes. Its your Earth 1, Earth 2, Earth 3, etc….

    It would also make clear sense to the audience that each tv & movie universe is a different reality, and why they don’t crossover with one another.

    Then “Crisis …” would allow WB to make a Justice League and not worry about not using the actors from Nolan’s Batman Universe or Synder’s Superman Universe.

    Now we get to the story of “Crisis …”, it really is a wow type of story and sure to blow everyone away how epic it really is.

    And now your done. WB is free to continue having a multiverse of tv & movie universes and never have to worry about not using any existing or established universes or actors.

    The WB Movieverse can be something more. Pre-Crisis, Post-Crisis, DC52, New52, Elseworlds, Wildstorm, Vertigo, Fawcett, Charlton, etc…

    The DC audience will understand that sometimes a movie will share a universe and sometimes it will be a standalone universe after watching “Crisis …” and the fans will love them for it and everything that comes after “Crisis …” Plus the audience will never have to question a reboot again. “Crisis …” will explain the reboots as alternate universes. 

  • Jim H.

    Starting out wrong is kind of something this writer is known for…

  • Gevian Dargan

    The best DC could do at this point is World’s Finest with Supes and Bats.  If they try to duplicate the Marvel Movie Model, they’ll look like also-rans and Marvel will look even more brilliant than they already do.  It really is a case of damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

    I tip my hat to Marvel for their huge accomplishment.  It took a lot of courage and faith to do what they did, and it paid off magnificently.  As someone else said, DC had no faith in its properties.

  • Gevian Dargan

    Besides, is anyone really jonesing for a Justice League movie?  Who cares? I want Avengers 2!!!

  • Brodie

    I just want well writen, well acted, well directed movies. Is that too much to ask?

  • Patrick

    Warner Brothers should emulate what Marvel did but on a larger scale.  If it is bigger than Marvels effort it won’t be seen as a copy but an improvement.  So how would they do that?…by using a tiered approach and multiple media venues for setting up the Justice League movies.  It has partially been done with the Matrix movies (Animatrx) and with Chronicles of  Riddick (Escape from Butchers Bay).  WB should think even bigger..Not only animated tie ins but special edition comic books, novels and solo films that all set up the Justice League. 

  • Alex Holt

    I really think that perhaps one of the best choices is to have Bruce Timm and co heavily involved, sure live action may not be their “thing”, but out of all the versions of the DC Universe, its their ones that show consistantly the best grasp of the characters, the best balance between the light/camp and dark/gritty polar ends of the spectrum.

    On a similar note, I’d kind of follow their lead from Justice League a bit and as no on seemed to like Green Lantern, avoid turning people off from a repeat by having Jon Stewart as the Green Lantern, thereby avoiding being a follow up to a critically panned film and injecting some diversity into the cast.

    As for the rest, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman are presumably givens, Flash I’d again go with Wally (I bet they go with Barry, but can’t be helped) and Jonn really could be a standout character if done well.  But really after the big five there is a big open playing field for any further members…

  • Dkharris74

    It’s funny that Warner Bros is clueless on what to do and doesn’t have faith in their properties. They’ve owned DC for almost 30 years and they bought them for the expressed purpose of the intellectual property aspect.  To me it doesn’t matter how they go about this but they should first not be ashamed of the “comic booky” aspects for the characters and universe. Marvel embraced them. Also you don’t have to do hard reboots on these characters. Just do a soft reboot, get a write and directer with a unique vision and use the money you pour into the movie creatively.

  • Lyle

    I liked the one person’s comment about doing minor team ups before hand, like World’s Finest (Batman and Superman), Trinity (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman) and Brave and Bold (Green Lantern and Flash). Still, there is no reason that it could not start with the Justice League movie, since many of the characters are well known to a mainstream audience. Superman and Batman’s origins are known by everyone. Everyone has a pretty good idea who Wonder Woman and Aquaman  are (though Aquaman is kind of a joke with the mainstream audience). Green Lantern, though not a success (though it made 250 million dollars, meaning a lot of people did see it), introduced the concept to mainstream audiences. Flash is relatively easy to explain (chemicals spill on CSI guy and he gets super speed). Really, Martian Manhunter is the toughest to explain. I wonder if it is not in Warner Brothers’ bet interest to not follow Marvel, and not seem like a copy.

  • Lewis4510

    It all hinges on the success of Man of Steel. If it bombs there’s really no point in a JLA movie. DC could have built on the success of the Batman films the way Marvel did with Ironman. But, they didn’t.

  • mumbles

    Avengers was a big big hit – Iron Man was a big big hit … but the other Marvel movies leading up to Avengers…not so much.  I sat on a plane with a Marvel Studios bigwig and he said that Thor didn’t make the money people think it did and Captain America was a disappointment.  And of course the Hulk movies — the less said.  The difference was the commitment Marvel made to the “plan”.  

  • chaind

    No budget, then you have Smallville!… Boring!

  • Demoncat4

    besides having to use the marvel formula a little for dc but also making sure they do things their way and style or short of having nolan do what he did with the bat films or steal joss wheadon from marvel to work his magic on the dcu warners has their work cut out for them espically since the execs have proven they do not know what to do with the dc characters .

  • sunstorm

    I thought I read somewhere that the JLA movie would be completely self contained.  NO characters or storylines crossing over to any other movie or vice-versa.

  • Brandon

    What an amazingly terrible idea. I am a comic book fan and I completely lost interest in your idea halfway through your post. No way would a non comic book audience buy into this, or even care.

    Audiences understand rebooted movies. They don’t need an explanation. This would only complicate things.

    Leave the ideas to people with good ones.

  • Ian

    I have to admit, WB has no faith in DC properties and I forsee a disaster with the JL movie, meanwhile cannot wait for Avengers 2!

  • Ian

    I liked Captain America, it’s my favorite of the solo films.  It actually stars a POSITIVE hero who isn’t a creep or alpha male jerk.  The only thing bad about C.A. was it seemed kinda clear that Hugo Weaving was just phoning his performance in, so good riddance as he doesn’t want to come back to the franchise.

  • Ian

    Oh for…..This was supposed to be a reply to a comment towards the bottom but for some reason it was bumped up to the top.  So annoying when that happens. Even MORE rich, my reply to my own comment is now itself bumped to it’s own. This site is clearly having issues.

  • Michael J


  • Jsandoval1967

    I always liked superman, batman and robin, wonderwoman, and flash. They always been my super heroes. I think that I am going to enjoy this movie a lot when it comes out in the theaters.

  • Eddie Jennings

    have the justice league movie based after man of steel have it so batman is already a few years into being batman,based after the last green lantern movie and just bring in wonder woman and martian manhunter ……dont even need flash or dare i say aqua man…

  • Mikesteinberg