While we like HELLBOY, it’s clear that DARK KNIGHT is the summer superhero movie that has generated the most fanboy drool. It’s currently at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, is getting rave reviews everywhere, and has inspired 6 am screenings at some theaters. It’s this summer’s buzz movie, and we expect it to join FIGHT CLUB and BATMAN BEGINS in the 20-something Guy’s Hall of Movie Fame. But despite that success, all is not well in Warner Superhero land.
One of comics’ most quoted truisms — that DC Comics will always be around as a feeder for the studio — is brought home by two separate stories in the trades reporting that a joint DC/Warner “Summit” is taking place to get DC’s superhero movie slate on track:
In the course of the past couple of weeks, Warner Bros. Pictures Group president Jeff Robinov and Warner Bros. Pictures president Kevin McCormick have been meeting with DC Comics executives as well some of DC’s top talents, like Jim Lee, to discuss a new direction for film adaptations. Up until now, the comic properties had been undergoing a hodgepodge development process. With the recent success of Marvel Studios’ “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” and that company’s plan to develop its many characters linked strategically together, Warners has been forced to take a close second look at its sister company.
On the one hand, this is obviously a response to Marvel’s success as its own studio. It’s got to be a little humiliating that Marvel, the first studio startup in a long time, and one that was in bankruptcy a scant decade ago, is now a player on the scene, while the WB titan can barely get a Superman sequel going. Variety’s story has more background:
Five years ago, WB was getting ready to hire someone to kickstart its development on the DC characters (Variety, July 14-20, 2003). WB said then that it was aware it could lose an entire generation of fans if it didn’t get its characters into the movies. “We’re not going to let that happen,” said a senior VP.
Warners has long been the only studio home for DC heroes. It must pass on any DC character before it can be licensed to another studio, and Warners almost never passes. It keeps the characters in development. (One exception: Summit recently acquired rights to DC/Wildstorm’s “Red” — not one of the classic titles fans have been clamoring for.)
The Variety piece points out that Warner has had more success in the TV realm with SMALLVILLE, for instance.
DC Kremlinologists will doubtless be combing these stories for clues for a while. It’s significant that Warner felt it important enough to make a statement about a summit to both trades — clearly no matter what comes out of these meetings, there’s the perception that something is being done about DC’s stop-and-go superhero development slate.
Industry watcher attribute some of DC’s problems in Hollywood to Warner’s first look deal — basically everything DC, Vertigo, or Wildstorm puts out, Warner has right of first refusal. And when they don’t want to do anything with it, the property just sits there, as the Variety story mentions. While it’s unlikely a studio would voluntarily give up properties developed in-house, maybe loosening things up just for a little bit would inspire more people within Warner.
Expect rumors about this summit and its outcome to be a hot topic at the big show in a couple of weeks!