Thanks to massive box office hits like The Matrix Reloaded, the Harry Potter series, and the Dark Knight trilogy, Warner Bros. was one of the premiere film studios in the first part of the 21st century. However, they’ve fallen on some hard times of late. In 2015, their top earner was the Dwayne Johnson vehicle San Andreas, which brought in $155.1 million domestically and $473.7 million globally. Though that was enough to warrant a sequel, it was a far cry from the $1 billion heights WB has reached so many times in the past, and it was overshadowed by numerous commercial flops. Projects like Pan, Jupiter Ascending, and In the Heart of the Sea all underperformed and bombed.
Things looked to be on the up and up for 2016, and the studio entered the year bullish on their tentpole-heavy film slate. With works like Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them hitting theaters, the prevailing belief was that WB could become the year’s top cumulative earner. Unfortunately, things did not get off to a great start for them, and the significant drop-off during Batman V Superman‘s second weekend could have serious repercussions for the studio.
In a report from THR, the studio could be looking to retool their film department to diminish the number of releases in a calendar year. According to sources, company CEO Kevin Tsujihara wants to green light fewer “homegrown” films in order to place a larger emphasis on the studio’s various franchises. In addition to fleshing out the DC Extended Universe, WB also has multiple LEGO Movie films in the works and has scheduled two sequels for Fantastic Beasts. Though the studio denies that there’s any change in their business strategy, multiple people who have done business with Warner indicate that it’s more difficult to get an original movie approved nowadays.
Essentially, WB would be looking to replicate the Disney model of relying on substantial, moneymaking properties to generate revenue. Given their recent history, it’s not surprising this is the case. After a rough stretch (which could continue if rumors about The Legend of Tarzan prove true), refocusing production efforts is almost a necessity if the studio is to continue to thrive. In 2015, they distributed an industry-high 21 homegrown movies, very few of which found any kind of success. One insider told THR that releasing a new film every other week can become too much at a certain point. Not only do films cost millions of dollars to produce, advertising isn’t always cheap – especially for projects pegged as tentpoles. Making fewer movies is an efficient way of using resources and could be very profitable in the long run.
It’s noted that WB is not going to wipe out original programming entirely. They still intend to work with so-called “family” directors like Christopher Nolan, Ben Affleck, and Clint Eastwood – all of which have new WB films coming through the pipeline. The objective is to be more selective with what gets the green light, an obvious reaction to their string of poorly-received movies. While that may be disappointing for some who wish Hollywood would take more chances on fresh concepts, it’s called the film business for a reason, and the studio could use a strong year. With so many moviegoers excited about Wonder Woman, Batman, and The LEGO Batman Movie, it’s better to capitalize on the buzz and develop films that are all but guaranteed to break box office records.
Time will tell if this initiative will pay off. Obviously, the easiest way to ensure it does is to make quality films that wide audiences will want to see over and over again. With the DCEU dividing critics and audiences so far, the pressure is on WB to deliver a genre film that is universally beloved so enthusiasm for future installments remains high. They have assembled a talented group of actors and directors, so the odds are in their favor.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is now playing in U.S. theaters. Suicide Squad will arrive on August 5, 2016, followed by Wonder Woman on June 23, 2017; Justice League Part One on November 17, 2017; The Flash on March 16, 2018; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League Part Two on June 14, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps. on June 19, 2020.