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DC Shake-Up in the Works After ‘Justice League’ Stumbles (EXCLUSIVE)

Warner Bros. is planning a shake-up and restructuring of its DC Films operation following the box office disappointment of “Justice League,” Variety has learned.

Jon Berg will be leaving his current job running the comic book’s film production division, according to several sources with knowledge of the studio’s plans. A search is underway for his replacement. Berg will instead become a production partner with Roy Lee, the producer of “The Lego Movie” and “It,” who has a deal on the lot.

“This is something that Jon approached me about six months ago, and he expressed his goal was to ultimately be a producer at the studio,” Warner Bros. Picture Group President Toby Emmerich said in a statement to Variety. “I first met Jon when, as a producer, he brought ‘Elf’ to New Line, which remains one of the best and most evergreen titles in the library. We’re thrilled that Jon is partnering with Roy and anticipate their company being a valuable source of movies for Warner Bros. and New Line.”

Warners is expected to name a new person to run point on DC’s films. Geoff Johns, who has partnered with Berg on much of the creative direction of the movies, is expected to continue serving as DC Entertainment’s chief creative officer. Johns, who reports to DC president Diane Nelson, works in areas such as television (and has written various episodes for DC-inspired shows), publishing, and consumer products, in addition to his contributions to the films. Going forward, his work on the films may evolve, and could be more advisory in nature.

These people also say that Emmerich is weighing the idea of further integrating DC’s film operations into the studio’s main movie arm. That would entail putting the divisions under the same roof rather than having DC remain in a separate building on the lot, sources say. Marvel, which is owned by Disney, does operate its comic book film division autonomously, but other studios, such as Fox and Sony, produce their superhero films under the studio’s banner.

The DC overhaul is expected to happen by January.

Warner Bros.’ corporate leaders at Time Warner support the moves and are said to be unhappy with the financial performance of “Justice League.” The film was intended to be DC’s answer to Marvel’s “Avengers,” uniting the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman under the banner of a team of world-saving superheroes. With a budget reported to be as high as $300 million, it represents an expensive bet. After three weeks of release, it has managed to gross $570.3 million worldwide. In contrast, the first “Avengers” film racked up $1.5 billion. The studio did have a number of successes this year with “Wonder Woman,” “Dunkirk,” and “It,” which has helped offset the disappointment of “Justice League.”

Berg and Johns were intimately involved in the production. Berg essentially decamped for the film’s London set, and both men have full producer credits on the picture, which would likely not be the case on future movies. “Justice League” suffered from a difficult birth. An early version, directed by Zack Snyder, alarmed studio executives with its dark tone. That had been the knock on Snyder’s two previous DC films, “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” After his daughter committed suicide, Snyder eventually left the production before it underwent costly re-shoots. Joss Whedon, who had been brought on the punch up the dialogue, took over directing, but studio brass recognized that so much footage had been shot already that there were limits to what could be done to improve the picture. Studio executives realized early on that Snyder’s decision to have Steppenwolf, a god-like, all-CGI creation, as the principal antagonist was faulty. In fact, many reviews were particularly harsh about Steppenwolf, criticizing the character for being one-note and the product of unconvincing visual effects.

There are no immediate plans for Snyder to direct another DC movie, though he is producing or executive producing several, including “Wonder Woman 2” and “Aquaman.” Warner Bros. continues to have a production deal with Snyder, so it’s possible he could direct additional films for the studio. Time Warner is said to be frustrated that Warner Bros. leaders continue to bring the director back, especially after “Batman v Superman” was excoriated by critics even though it made money. They are also upset that each new DC film seems to be making less money than its predecessor. Only “Wonder Woman,” with its optimistic heroine, managed to be both a critical and commercial success.

While Ben Affleck is expected to appear as Batman in a standalone Flash movie, it is highly unlikely he will don the cape and cowl in Matt Reeves’ planned standalone Batman movie. The director is said to want to cast the role with fresh talent, according to sources.

Warner Bros. believes that “Justice League” succeeded in one importantly respect: it effectively introduced Flash (a quippy speedster played by Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (the king of Atlantis, portrayed by Jason Momoa). A solo “Aquaman” is due out in 2018 and Warners is still developing a standalone Flash adventure. Going forward, Warner Bros. is planning a sequel to “Wonder Woman” that’s believed to be set in the Cold War, and New Line has greenlit a “Shazam” feature.

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