Since August, there has been speculation about HBO Max’s future, particularly in relation to the upcoming and ongoing DC projects.
Warner Bros. Discovery made headlines over the summer after the cancelations of the nearly-completed $90 million feature film Batgirl, based on the DC character, and Scoob!: Holiday Haunt, a follow-up to 2020’s Scoob. HBO Max then continued those headlines by removing dozens of shows and movies, both quietly and not so quietly, and more cuts may be coming as the company plans to merge its two streaming services—HBO Max and Discovery+—by the summer of 2023.
WBD CEO David Zaslav made revitalizing the DC film property a top goal when Discovery and WarnerMedia merged earlier this year.
“The objective is to grow the DC brand, to grow the DC characters,” he said during the company’s earnings call in August. “But also, our job is to protect the DC brand, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Zaslav has a ten-year plan for the DCEU and is even looking for WBD’s own Kevin Feige, the famed president of Marvel Studios, in an effort to build an empire to rival Marvel.
But, “with the release of Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam on Friday, and DC Films head Walter Hamada quietly ending his tenure in the coming days, DC is charting a course into truly unknown territory,” writes Borys Kits of The Hollywood Reporter.
Several shows have been added to the list of canceled projects over the past few months, which already include a planned spinoff of Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Batman, the live-action Wonder Twins film and the planned DC anthology series Strange Adventures.
In late August, it was announced that Batman: Caped Crusader, from executive producers Bruce Timm, J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves, was one of six animated projects cut. The show was meant to build on the critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series, which aired from 1992-1995 and was co-created by Timm.
In mid-September, the streamer opted against moving forward with two more DC projects: a Constantine reboot and the standalone series Madame X, both based on DC characters. The projects were in development at the streamer and came from Abrams’ Bad Robot in association with Warner Bros. Television.
And just last week, it was revealed in a piece in THR that WBD and HBO Max scrapped their plans to release a live-action Zatanna movie, courtesy of Abrams, as the streamer was reportedly not interested in the film.
Additionally, reports circulated that Titans and Doom Patrol, both holdovers from the short-lived streamer DC Universe, could be axed following their respective fourth seasons.
Do names even matter?
The original thought was some content had a better chance than others of surviving during HBO Max’s months-long headline-making news. After all, some of the projects and shows in consideration hailed from juggernaut showrunners like Abrams and Greg Berlanti, perhaps solidifying their futures.
But that may no longer be the case. Of the recent DC projects on the chopping block, at least four of them were from Abrams.
In 2019, Abrams and his production company Bad Robot Productions signed a deal with WarnerMedia, owned by AT&T at the time. Additionally, it was announced in 2021 that he and Bad Robot Productions would produce several films and television programs based on the DC Comics superhero team Justice League Dark, in a manner similar to how Marvel initially produced individual television programs based on each member of The Defenders before releasing the team-up miniseries.
The Hollywood Reporter notes Abrams, who through his Bad Robot banner is currently working on a Superman reboot movie for Warner Bros. and DC, is still in talks with DC about other projects, but nothing is concrete as of yet.
The good news, though, is that the future of plenty of HBO Max’s DC-based content looks bright.
Showrunner James Gunn has assured fans that Season 2 of Peacemaker, a spinoff of Gunn’s 2021 Suicide Squad, is still a go, and the adult animated comedy series Harley Quinn has been renewed for Season 4.
Additionally, Season 3 of Pennyworth, retitled Pennyworth: The Origin of Batman’s Butler after its move from Epix to HBO Max, and Season 2 of the original scripted podcast Batman: The Audio Adventures both premiered in October.
As of August, the streamer’s live-action Green Lantern series from Berlanti and The Batman prequel The Penguin are both “moving along,” according to Deadline.
The future of DC
So, taken all together, what does this mean?
It seems Zaslav’s words about WBD’s commitment to DC should have come with an asterisk: With many DC TV projects being shelved, the focus moving forward seems to be on big-screen films rather than television.
THR reports Gunn and Warner Bros. are discussing a top-secret film, while Reeves wants to broaden the world of DC movies with flicks that focus on villains. Before the release of Black Adam, Johnson discussed his character potentially squaring off against Superman in a future film. And Henry Cavill, who once more suited up as Superman in the post-credit scene of Black Adam, recently teased this is just a “small taste of what’s the come,” implying we will be seeing more of the Man of Steel.
And if these DC films do come to fruition, it’s anybody’s guess when they would stream on HBO Max, as WBD is resigned to adding such blockbuster titles to the streamer whenever it suits them, dropping its previous 45-day theatrical release window.
WBD reversed course on the practice, which was common for the first half of 2022. Moving forward, the timing of releases of Warner Bros. films’ premieres on the streamer will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
During the August earnings call, Zaslav noted that streaming would be a major aspect of Warner Bros. Discovery’s strategy in the future. But with HBO Max removing dozens upon dozens of titles from its library and WBD opting to release some of its buzzier titles like the third Magic Mike film in theaters over HBO Max, that future is still unclear.