Warner Bros. Chief Dismisses Superhero Fatigue: ‘Everything Looks Different’

CEO Kevin Tsujihara also says DC movies are a bit 'edgier' than Marvel's comicbook pics

Nearly every major Hollywood studio has jumped on the comic book movie bandwagon, but despite the coming flood of Fantastic Four, Avengers and Batman films, Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Kevin Tsujihara thinks that moviegoers still have a big appetite for caped crusaders.

He dismissed any assertions that the business is suffering from superhero fatigue at Wednesday’s Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference.

“The key thing is that the movies and the television shows and the games, everything looks very different …you have to be able to take advantage of the diversity of these characters,” said Tsujihara.

Not everyone seems to agree. The comic book movie pile-up was the subject of numerous jokes at this year’s Oscar ceremony, and the eventual best picture winner, “Birdman,” is a satire of the craze for superhero films.

However, Warner Bros. is making a big bet that the comic book phenomenon won’t fizzle out just as the craze for disaster movies, biblical epics and other once-hot genres cooled off. The studio is using sister company DC Comics’ stable of masked vigilantes and villains to make roughly two superhero movies a year beginning in 2016 with the release of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad.” Other films include bigscreen adaptations of “The Flash,” “Aquaman” and “Shazam.”

The idea is to create a connected cinematic universe in which characters from one film interact with those from another, partnering, warring and creating super-teams such as the Justice League, DC’s answer to Marvel’s “The Avengers.” It’s a strategy that owes a lot to Marvel, but Warner Bros. chief Tsujihara stressed that characters like Batman and Deadshot are very different from that company’s signature Iron Man, Spider-Man and Captain America brands.

“The worlds of DC are very different,” he said. “They’re steeped in realism, and they’re a little bit edgier than Marvel’s movies.”

Part of the appeal of comic book movies is that the film business has become increasingly global in nature, with roughly 70% of box office coming from abroad on many major films. Characters like Superman arrive in China, Russia and other far-flung locales with built-in awareness, making the marketing campaigns easier.

“The big franchises are becoming more and more valuable,” said Tsujihara. “You don’t have to explain to the consumer what a ‘Batman v Superman’ is.”

No bigger issue dominated entertainment business news last year than the cyber-attack on Sony. The studio’s security breach resulted in the leak of company emails, budget details and other internal documents. It cost millions of dollars and strained relationships with top talent, who found themselves bluntly discussed in the correspondence of Sony leaders like recently ousted studio chief Amy Pascal.

Thoughts of cyber-security are clearly weighing heavily on Warner Bros., but Tsujihara said while the company is working to respond more quickly to any threats, he could not promise that hackers would never access the studio’s systems.

“We’re seeing more attempts to get into our system than ever before,” Tsujihara said.

The Warner Bros. chief was one of the only rival studio leaders who publicly said that the Hollywood community should have done more to rally to Sony’s defense when it was in the midst of a media frenzy surrounding the attack.

The hacking at Sony isn’t the only evidence of a new and sometimes threatening digital world. Amazon, Netflix and other new-media players are moving more aggressively into the movie business, but they are choosing to ignore standard release patterns. Netflix, for instance, will debut “Beasts of No Nation,” the Cary Fukunaga drama about child soldiers in Africa that it bought last week for $12 million, simultaneously in select theaters and on its streaming platform.

“The notion of guys like Netflix and Amazon creating movies is not a new one,” said Tsujihara. “HBO’s done big-budget movies for a long time. …Netflix has been a little more in your face to the theater owners than HBO was.”

Although major studios have tried at various points to pressure theater chains into shortening the window from when a film hits theaters to when it debuts on home entertainment platforms, Tsujihara didn’t seem eager to go to the mats with exhibitors again.

“Theatrical does set up a lot of the value for these movies,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified Deadshot, a DC Comics character, as Deadpool, a character from Marvel Comics.

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