Why Warner Bros. Discovery’s Gunn Grab Is Crucial for DC

James Gunn
Illustration: VIP+; Gunn: Getty Images

Among the many questions facing the newly combined Warner Bros. Discovery’s 2022 was how best to improve strategy at DC Entertainment, the company’s resident superhero brand.

That put a target on the back of Walter Hamada, who finally stepped down from the top job at DC on Oct. 19. New studio chiefs Pam Abdy and Michael De Luca have selected filmmaker James Gunn and longtime DC Extended Universe producer Peter Safran to lead the brand under newly created unit DC Studios.

Given his highly eccentric and edgy output, alongside his own films for Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, Gunn may come across as an off-kilter choice for an executive role. Likewise, his sole film for the DCEU, “The Suicide Squad,” was a dud at the box office.

Gunn’s DCEU film was subject to the prior strategy of WarnerMedia that saw every Warner Bros. film in 2021 stream simultaneously on HBO Max, giving nervous theatergoers a way to watch “The Suicide Squad” without cramming into packed rooms. Under the new auspices of WBD CEO David Zaslav, the prior admin’s streaming-first strategy has been greatly reversed, for better and worse.

“The Batman” and more recent DCEU film “Black Adam,” which is currently seeing decent turnout at theaters, have already proven that big superhero tentpoles from DC are best served in theaters. But Zaslav’s decision to shelve completed HBO Max film “Batgirl” for a tax write-down was poorly received by the industry at large after longtime Warner Bros. partners like Christopher Nolan already went to rival studios due to frustration with the prior HBO Max strategy.

Placing their bets on Gunn to right these wrongs is a smart move from WBD leadership, in addition to being a clearly symbolic gesture toward admitting the flaws of prior DC and theatrical strategy before and during the pandemic.

Now that the studio is holding firm in moving away from simply copying what Disney has done with the MCU, the pairing of Gunn and Safran is a nod toward setting a clear creative tone for the brand with respect to his work on the superhero format in both PG-13 and R-rated films. While he remains the sole director of Marvel’s “Guarians of the Galaxy” franchise, he hs already worked with DC on the film side and in TV via “Suicide Squad” spinoff “Peacemaker,” which is still part of HBO Max’s strategy going forward.

He will be tasked with building on the success of “The Batman” in 2022, a film separate from the DCEU that has since been selected to spearhead an entirely different universe of content for DC.

It’s also important to remember that besides Sony, Warner Bros. is the only traditional major-studio Hollywood player that publishes its own video games. The DC brand plays an important role here alongside the likes of “Harry Potter” and “Mortal Kombat,” but could use some help. 

Released the same weekend as “Black Adam,” Warner Bros. Games’ “Gotham Knights” wasn’t received very well by critics or players after a stressful development cycle that saw WB Games choose to cancel PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game in order to prioritize current consoles.

While WB Games can work to improve the game experience post-launch for players, this puts a lot more pressure on 2023’s “Hogwarts Legacy” and the next DC game, “Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League,” to deliver hits for the gaming unit. While David Haddad is the exec presiding over WB Games and its related DC titles, Gunn’s experience and familiarity with the brand will prove useful in ensuring better gaming experiences for DC fans if Haddad elects to consult him.

It’s been a difficult first year for WBD, but if there is any decision that is likely to prove sound in the long-term, it’s going with Gunn.