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Warner and DC meet to form a cunning plan

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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!

  1. I think it’s interesting Variety’s calling HULK a successful, since it’s a pricey bomb. It hasn’t even made back its production budget, much less plus advertising. It’s going to be triple dip DVD before it ends up in the black.

  2. If the Batman movie doesn’t clear $1 billion in its opening weekend, Dan DiDio will be fired by Tuesday. Everyone knows it.

  3. But let’s also give credit where it is due and remind people that WB’s D2DVD DC movies have done very well:

    SUPERMAN/DOOMSDAY
    JLA: FINAL FRONTIER
    THE NUMEROUS BATMAN D2DVDs (but notably BATMAN V. DRACULA)

    and it has a great release in BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHT.

    A sticking point with me in the above is the following:

    “Up until now, the comic properties had been undergoing a hodge-podge 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.”

    Warners should NOT be looking at DC – Warners should be looking at itself and how they’ve screwed several characters that should’ve / would’ve been cash cows —

    GREEN LANTERN – who in their right mind thought it would be good to have Jack Black in the title role?

    THE FLASH – a character who runs around in a track suit? Or that he’s somehow a religious character who gets his speed from God? (which was one of the drafts when they were developing this to death)

    Warners has shown again and again that they jettison the core concepts of what make these characters great in favor of the “trend du jour”.

    Stop it.
    Just. Stop. It.

    No need to reinvent the wheel. Polish it up and put on your car to drive.

    The animation (animated?) guys get that. They remain true to the concept and it shows in the great DVDs and television they produce.

  4. Terry,

    The producers get a sliding scale of the box office gross that starts large and decreases over the run of the film. So out of that $222M box office, the HULK may have netted $110M.

    There are people that religiously follow the box office which has led studios to keeping the budgets under wraps to avoid this kind of public shame and speculation.

    Bill

  5. @ Bill Cunningham – while I like the animated features you just listed, where any of those actually money makers? I’ve never seen any figures on what those movies cost/made.

  6. Here’s my conspiracy nut theory:

    The problem isn’t that the producers at Warners are uninspired–the problem is they’re TOO inspired. No one can try to make a big enough movie without another producer cutting their legs out from under them. Remember the Superman/Batman film? Or the J.J. Abrams Superman script? Or that JLA fiasco? Every time any production team tries to make it to the ten yard line, someone else at WB trips them up. Because that other team wants the shot at making the $500 million blockbuster, and will screw the other. Which is why only the track recordiest (and nasty fightingiest) of the producers (Silver and Peters) got their flicks to market.

    WB needs an overseer for DC material with enough power the other power players won’t mess with them. Good luck on that.

  7. Domestic DVD numbers:(per http://www.the-numbers.com)

    JLA: NEW FRONTIER – $5,425,482
    BATMAN V. DRACULA – ???
    SUPERMAN/ DOOMSDAY – $9,442,536

    (this does not include cable, TV, VoD, international or any other revenue streams)

    That’s all I could find right off the top, but I have to say that they wouldn’t be making them if they weren’t making money. We can expect WONDER WOMAN soon…

  8. Seriously, they need to think of Wonder Woman, again.
    Talk about losing the last generation that might give a damn.

    She’s Iconic and different enough from the slate of other superhero films out there. I also agree, a figure head studio to oversee WBs hero films would help clear the clutter. Currently WB is so freakin’ big it just has too many chefs in the kitchen.

  9. A few years ago, the Super Twins, Zan and Jayna, were optioned.

    This could easily be adapted to a non-superhero story, where two aliens try to fit in and help.

    Market it to tweens with enough wit and humor to keep the adults entertained.

  10. A Martian Manhunter movie would be such a cool way to fly under the radar. An adaptation of the Gerald Jones mini-series would be a great starting point. And the movie-going crowd the studios want would be very familiar with him from the Justice League cartoon series.

    I mean, a friendly alien who takes compassion on humanity and stops an invasion by evil aliens (either members of his own race or some threat like in “New Frontier”), that theme has all the markers of a Silver Surfer movie! (Only without all the moping and emo soliloquies.) I mean, that’s one of the cool things about Martian Manhunter: he’s a cross between Superman and Mr. Spock. He’s the alien protector people have been subconsciously wishing for for decades.

    And he’s waiting to be optioned.

    And resurrected.

  11. By the time DC makes any superhero movies other than the old Superman and Batman franchises, the general public will be sick to death of superhero movies.

    Hollywood can’t go back to this well forever. After Marvel cranks out another Spider-Man, another Iron Man, a Wolverine, a Captain America, a Thor, an Ant Man and an Avengers, plus whatever indie stuff gets optioned, I don’t think many families will be hankering to spend $8 on a ticket for “The Flash” or “Martian Manhunter.”

  12. I agree with Lawson. If DC actually gets several movies going it will just create a glut and I think most people will be tired of superhero movies. The fanboys will love it but the real people such as Joe Sixpack and his wife will pass on them.

    Warner Bros can’t market a movie the right way to save their lives 90% of the time, is it any wonder they can’t get some of the DC heroes on the big screen without screwing them up…?

  13. Sure, people may get sick of superheroes. But unlike Marvel, DC has soooo much wonderful non-superhero creator-owned content over at Vertigo.
    The only problem is it looks like nobody outside of Warner can develop any of these properties… well, others can, but Warner has to pass on it. How often does this happen? Once?

  14. Yeah, DC/Vertigo is a rich source of material for non-superhero movies — in theory.

    In reality, “Constantine” was considered a godawful bomb (I admit, the reviews were so awful that I never saw it). What else? Well, a lot of talk about Sandman, Preacher and Y: The Last Man. But does anyone have release dates for these? Has filming started? Casting? It’s not like these are new comics. One dates back to the 1980s, the other two to the ’90s.

  15. After reading about the presumed Warners/DC movie teamup here and elsewhere, here’s a thought or four worth chewing on:

    1. There’s a common denominator among the Spandex movies that made $200 million or better at the box office: All were helmed by experienced veteran directors, aka Sam Raimi (Spidey 1,2,3), Chris Nolan (Bats Begins), Bryan Singer (X1, X2, Supey Returns), Tim Burton (Bats 1.0, Bats Return), Brett Ratner (X3), Jon Favreau (Iman).

    Excluding Ratner (the dubious Rush Hour trilogy doesn’t count), the rest of that short list had been been hugely successful at making quality films that just happened to be very financially successful ones on non-blockbuster budgets, like Elf (Favreau), Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice (Burton), Usual Suspects (Singer), Insomnia and Memento (Nolan) and Darkman, A Simple Plan, and Evil Dead (Raimi).

    2. Do DC heroes with mythic origins like S, B and WW lend themselves to the Marvel team-up treatment, ala the dead JLA and Superman Vs. Batman projects, or do they merely cancel each other out? Additionally, are there any first-class, big time directors, outside of Nolan, who really want to adapt a DC Spandex property at this moment? No, nada, nope…

    3. When it’s all said and done, will Marvel generate enough financial momentum at the box office with IM2, Ant-Man, Thor and Cap to really justify developing a live-action Avengers film? Would they want to do one, if the box office results were mixed (the IMs do great but Thor and Cap are duds)?

    4. Just to throw this one into the pot to stew on, arguably, the best superhero movie made in the past 20 years is one not based on a property published by DC or Marvel. No one’s done a more interesting take on “Superman” — at least visually — than the Wachowski Brothers did in their Matrix movies. Who would want to make another Superman movie, when the Bros. did it better?

    What do y’all think?

    Thanks,

    Wayne

  16. Hey Mr. Magoo,

    Good call on the Martian Manhunter. Just enough familiarity that many folks have heard of him, but not enough so you can’t play with the concept. I think a Doom Patrol film (the 60s cast) would be wonderful, but I wonder if the BPRD from the Hellboys mirrors that concept to better effect?

    Ditto on Green Lantern, just without Jack Black…

    Thanks,

    Wayne

  17. @Annie Social, Lawson, Scott, et al…

    JONAH HEX
    ENEMY ACE
    CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN
    VIKING PRINCE
    THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER
    SUICIDE SQUAD
    SECRET SIX
    THE LOSERS

    I don’t think any of these would contribute to what could be termed a “glut” of comic book movies. People will hear these titles and think “Wow – big Hollywood epic films” and not “comic book movies.”

    I, for one want to see an anime CREATURE COMMANDOS…

    I’m just sayin’.

  18. Say, isn’t there a Sgt. Rock movie in production? Seems like I recently saw a still photo with some celebrity actor (I forget who) playing Rock. Maybe my mind is playing tricks …

  19. Jeff,

    You’re right. It’s everybody screwing everyone else over that’s keeping more movies from being made. This is pretty much the way it is in every large corporation.

  20. Hulk will not need a triple dip DVD to be in the black. The film has almost surpassed Ang Lee’s version (in terms of box office), while still in 3000+ theaters in North America and has yet to open in numerous overseas markets. I imagine that Marvel would have liked to see Iron Man type numbers, but the main goal of the reboot was to re-establish Hulk as a brand following the critical and fan drubbing the first film received. The film is considered a success because it will wind up making money and they managed to rehabilitate the film version of the character. There is little doubt many people who didn’t see the film in theaters will catch up with it on DVD and Marvel is poised to follow up with either a sequel that they will no doubt expect bigger things from (a la X-Men and X-2) or by inserting Hulk into a follow up Iron Man or Avengers movie.

  21. I think Lawson’s got a point about a glut of superhero movies, but my spin might be that people might be turned away if they’re all of the same tenor and look. I for one might welcome a Flash movie that allows the Flash to… wait for this… be friendly and smile! A lot of superhero movies share the drama and angst feel where the hero doesn’t smile. It’s kind of telling when Chris Reeve’s smiling Superman is replaced by Brandon Routh’s mopey Man of Steel; Superman might have something in common with Julia Roberts where it’s been said that Julia Roberts’ movies which prominently feature her smiling seem to do much better at the box office.

    But that said, one other point I’d like to make about the Flash is that the second Flash, Barry Allen, is one of us: he was a fan! His whole idea for putting on the red and gold suit was because he likened his powers to those of the first Flash, Jay Garrick. One of the ideas the movie could explore is how Barry Allen develops his own powers by trying to copy some of the moves described in Jay Garrick’s adventures. Then he’d meet Jay Garrick and they’d compare notes on what worked and what didn’t.

    In this way Barry’d be a bit like the Po character from “Kung Fu Panda” in that Po followed the adventures of the Furious Five and his knowledge showed up in his training. Not that I’m suggesting that Barry Allen be played by Jack Black, but that kind of fun aspect is something missing in the live-action/CGI superhero movies coming out lately.

    Also wayne’s are pretty thought-provoking as well.

  22. Jesus, they are talking to Jim Lee? What kind of substantive input would he provide? Seems like DC and Warner have a long way to go if they are soliciting help from that guy.

  23. Another edgy movie idea might be the old “Tailgunner Jo” series from Peter Gillis and Tom Artis.

    Also, I’d love to see a “Blue Devil” movie with more of a fun Spidey vibe than a spooky Hellboy one.

  24. They should do the Legion of Superheroes with the muppets, although I’m not sure I could afford all the dope I’d want to smoke before seeing it 10,000 time.

  25. Kermit = Lightning Lad
    Miss Piggy = Saturn Girl
    Gonzo = Cosmic Boy
    Rowlf = Bouncing Boy
    Rizzo the Rat = Chameleon Boy
    Fozzy Bear = Colossal Boy
    Animal = Timber Wolf
    Janice = Dawnstar
    Sam the Eagle = Mon-El
    Dr. Bunsen Honeydew = Brainiac 5
    Statler and Waldorf = Co-Presidents of the United Planets
    Charles Grodin = Mordru

  26. “# Sphinx Magoo Says:
    07/12/08 at 12:25 pm

    But who plays Superboy?
    # Tom Spurgeon Says:
    07/12/08 at 12:56 pm

    Elmo”

    Blasphemy! Grover is the only sane choice. Don’t deny the brilliance that was SuperGrover!

  27. Most of us will be dead by the time Warner gets around to actually putting out enough movies to ‘glut’ the market though it should be noted that while adults may get sick of too many ‘super-hero’ movies, kids never will.

    Superhero films have been around since the dawn of celluloid and kids never, ever get sick of them, even during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s when they ran to theatres every single week just to watch the latest installment of Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers or whoever.

    Getting another ‘Superhero’ movie outside of Superman and Batman, now that’s another story although I have confidence that Green Lantern is going to turn a LOT of heads at the WB. It’s a built in merchandise machine for kids (and people like me who spend more money on this than comics these days), what with the power ring, lantern, etc. What kid wouldn’t want one?

    For those comparing WB Pictures to WB/DC Animation, there’s no comparison. Even though they are owned by the same parent company, they operate as completely different entities and often, aren’t too in touch with the market or its potential.

    Example?

    When WB/DC Animation first annouced their decision to go ahead and make their own direct to dvd movies to combat Marvel’s huge success in THAT area, the first ones announced were Superman/Doomsday, Justice League New Frontier and NEW TEEN TITANS: JUDAS CONTRACT.

    WB Animation decided to put NTT on hold because they did NOT believe Teen Titans was popular enough to support their own direct to dvd movie.

    This, AFTER the success of the Teen Titans cartoon, popular enough to support 5 season dvd releases of that show, which introduced the Wolfman / Perez characters to an entire new generation of kids.

    The reason for their deduction was simple: WB Animation and Cartoon Network (also owned by, you guessed it, the same parent company) also function as two separate entities and the left hand is not always aware of what’s going on with the right.

    But this incident with WB TV / WB Animation / WB Film is proof that its a long, tough battle with them. Marvel could have made the same assumption with IRON MAN, that IM doesn’t have enough of a built in audience and despite that, the Direct to DVD was successful and we don’t have to touch on the IM film now, do we?

    If people think a) the success of Marvel’s films or b) a summit is going to get the WB off their butts, they’ve got another thing coming.

    You have to believe in the marketability of your properties to launch a successful endeavor and as we’ve seen with even their decision about a New Teen Titans direct to dvd movie, one of DC Comics most successful comics from the past 25 years (the WP version, with the cartoon proof of that), they’re not always on the money with their beliefs.

    Of course, this goes back to the same problem WB has always had. They are a gargantuan company, so big, one division not only doesn’t communicate with the other & they aren’t always on the same page either.

    Proof that bigger, isn’t always better

  28. So anyway, the point is…

    when you can convince WB that MARV WOLFMAN and GEORGE PEREZ’s NEW TEEN TITANS originally scheduled direct to dvd movie WILL be a success (Marv Wolfman, you know, the guy who created the MARVEL BLADE character which launched that film francise), a property successful on WB’s CARTOON NETWORK with 5 SEASONS selling nicely on dvd already, then talk to WB about bringing the rest of DC Comics Properties to film.

    After all, its much cheaper to manufacture an animated film than it is a live action one and if they can’t even get that one off the ground because they don’t believe it will be successful when it already is, then you have proof of what you’re dealing with with the Time Warner monster.

    Someone needs to remind WB that Wolfman’s New Teen Titans put DC back on the map 30 years ago and is a property worthy of, at the very least, the direct to dvd movie originally promised to audiences over 3-4 years ago. If they need proof of its potential success, tell them to buzz their sister division of what Teen Titans cartoons sell on dvd currently.

  29. Which all goes back to reinforcing my point that it isn’t Warners who should be looking at DC, it’s DC who should be looking at Warners and saying, “What they hell do you guys THINK you’re doing, because seriously you are screwing the pooch here.”

  30. Wasn’t there a Krypto cartoon and dvd just released?

    Woof!

    Seriously, again, its all in dealing with the Time Warner machine, and its one monster of a beast to deal with.

    Paul Levitz probably had many summits with them during the past 3 decades but even as a president and publisher, there’s only so much he can do because the problem isn’t with DC, its with the corporate structure of Time Warner and logic doesn’t always enter into their equations.

    Again, a prime example of the complete lack of sense and logic at the great WB was the misstep in putting the Titans Judas Contract animated dvd on hold.

    The fact that their own Cartoon Network already has a successful show based on those same characters, their own home video division already sells lots of dvds based on the show, well, duh, shouldn’t that have occured to them before stating there’s no market for Teen Titans?

    Yes it should have but no, the current successes of Teen Titans at the very same company didn’t occur to them… and remember, it’s far more difficult and expensive getting a live action feature produced than it is animated feature.

  31. BTW, for anyone who even attempts to claim maybe there ‘isn’t’ a market for Teen Titans as WB animated direct to dvd claims?

    Well, Warner Home Video just released Teen Titans Season 5 last week. I believe the season where the Judas Contract occured in the animated series was either two or three and if it wasn’t successful, they never would have released dvds up to Season 5.

    But they still claim there’s no market for the already scripted Teen Titans Judas Contract Movie. Someone may want to communicate that little bit of info to the currently in development Teen Titans live action feature we heard about a few months back.

    Go figure.

  32. Perhaps the issue with the Teen Titans Judas Contract DVD is one of the following:

    a) It doesn’t follow the look of the Teen Titans cartoon. The show’s identity is kind of locked into that stylized look. If it suddenly looks like Bruce Timm’s version of the Teen Titans, how do they market that to fans of the show?

    b) It follows the look of the show. But the show has already covered the events of The Judas Contract, so what would be the point of retelling something they’ve already done?

    c) It follows the original story pretty closely. Which might include the post-coital scene with 15-year old Terra and old man Deathstroke. Ick! Maybe the hold is to do some “Batman Beyond” like re-editing.

    d) The recent release of the fifth season DVD of Teen Titans. Perhaps someone felt it was too much at one time which might affect sales.

    e) Maybe there’s a planned revival of the Teen Titans series. DVD sales of the original series might be used as a barometer for interest. Throwing the Judas Contract DVD out there might confuse the general public.

    I’m just guessing. I don’t know the real reasons. But for me and my family, Teen Titans is the TV series. The series already covered most of the points of the Judas Contract so I really wouldn’t be interested in picking this up.

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