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After stumbling with one film universe, DC is trying for two

Prepare for the DCEU, the DC Films multiverse, and HBO Max

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There are about to be way, way, way more DC movies — and some will be released as HBO Max exclusives.

Following the release of Wonder Woman 1984 last week, DC Films president Walter Hamada sat down with The New York Times to talk about the studio’s more aggressive release strategy. Starting in 2022, DC Films plans to release up to four films theatrically every year, with one or two extra as HBO Max exclusives.

Currently, DC releases about one or two movies a year, and has seen mixed success. Birds of Prey and Shazam! failed to perform well, while Aquaman and Wonder Woman saw impressive box office returns. In 2019, Warner Bros. also saw tremendous success with Joker — a movie not tied into the greater DC universe that nonetheless became an unexpected hit.

Under the new strategy, there will be two cinematic universes under the DC banner: the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and the DC Films multiverse. Films like Joker and The Batman will exist as part of DC Films’ multiverse, which will be comprised of individual stories based on DC characters that do not tie into a bigger narrative arc.

Movies like Wonder Woman, Shazam!, Aquaman, Flash, and likely future Superman and Green Lantern movies will fall under the DCEU. Wonder Woman and the gang will have their own stories and then come together in some kind of Justice League setting again. This means there can be two different Batmans (Batmen?) around the same time: Robert Pattinson can have his own adventure in Matt Reeves’ The Batman and Ben Affleck or a new actor can play Bruce Wayne in the DCEU.

It’s a familiar concept in comic books, where standalone series like Superman: Red Son can offer a new take on a popular character without affecting overall continuity. And of course, different universes can cross over whenever DC wants, like how Affleck’s Batman might encounter Michael Keaton’s Batman in the upcoming Flash movie in 2022.

If you’re confused, it’s understandable. In comics, multiverses play out over several issues and series, so there’s more room to get used to the idea. They also tend to work better on TV because the medium allows for longer-form storytelling that can navigate the intricacies of multiverse mechanics. As Hamada told the Times, no one “else has ever attempted this.”

“But audiences are sophisticated enough to understand it,” Hamada said. “If we make good movies, they will go with it.”

DC Films also plans to release one or two movies directly onto HBO Max. These are considered to be riskier projects, which may not generate the necessary revenue needed to justify a $200 million production budget and another $100 million on marketing. They will, however, help bolster HBO Max subscribers if they work as intended. The Times notes that Batgirl or Static Shock are possible candidates for the straight-to-streaming treatment, but those aren’t confirmed yet.

The studio will also use theatrical releases to launch spinoff TV shows, which will stream on HBO Max. GCPD will stem from The Batman, while Peacemaker is a John Cena-led spinoff based on his character of the same name in James Gunn’s Suicide Squad. “With every movie that we’re looking at now, we are thinking, ‘What’s the potential Max spinoff?’” Hamada told the Times.

“What’s the potential Max spinoff?” is a fun sentence to read about a film studio’s development plans for the next decade, and Hamada isn’t the only studio executive with that line of thinking. Studio heads Kevin Feige and Kathleen Kennedy are employing the strategy with their respective studios, Marvel and Lucasfilm, over on Disney Plus.

It’s an ouroboros strategy: a neverending cycle of content based on popular characters and IP company executives think can drive people to theaters, then streaming services, and back again to theaters. Think of Marvel’s strategy: Doctor Strange as a character ties into WandaVision, which ties back into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The same for Yelena in Black Widow (theatrical release) appearing in Hawkeye (Disney Plus show).

There are a lot of questions about how this will all work. What about Greg Berlanti’s Arrowverse, for example? And all those other DC shows on the CW? Will they just continue existing in their own space the same way DC Universe’s original series (Titans, Doom Patrol, Harley Quinn) do on HBO Max? What if DC Films decides it wants to make a Batgirl spinoff — do two Batgirl TV shows just co-exist alongside each other? Remember when Jeph Loeb created an entire Marvel universe on Netflix, Hulu, and ABC — and then Marvel Studios effectively scrapped all of it?

All we know for certain is there are going to be way more DC films and TV shows than what we currently have. Include Marvel’s ramped-up production on Disney Plus series alongside its film slate, and fans will be facing a sea of superhero titles practically every month.