Warner Bros. kicked off its cinematic superhero world, the DC Extended Universe, with a soft launch in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel in 2013. Then in 2014, the studio released a tentative plan for their extensive shared universe, announcing DCEU release dates for Justice League, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, Shazam, Cyborg, and Green Lantern. The announcement came before most of these characters had appeared on screen – and in some cases, even been cast – let alone directors or screenwriters were nailed down for all the projects.
Last year, Snyder’s Man of Steel follow up, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, acted as the DCEU’s hard launch, introducing a number of these comic book characters to the world already inhabited by Clark Kent aka Superman (Henry Cavill). The likes of Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Ben Affleck), Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Barry Allen aka The Flash (Ezra Miller) were all introduced – with some appearing in the DCEU’s second 2016 entry, Suicide Squad. Now, while Warner Bros. is on track to debut both Wonder Woman and Justice League in (or around) their original 2017 release dates, the rest of the studio’s tentative slate has been more in flux.
In terms of 2018, The Flash has been indefinitely delayed, while Aquaman was moved from July to October. Most recently, Warner Bros. delayed Aquaman’s 2018 release date once more, pushing it back two months to December. Stars Momoa and Amber Heard, who plays Queen Mera, as well as director James Wan have been gearing up to start filming on Aquaman, which has a reported production start date in May, but no immediate reason was offered by WB for the film’s two-month delay. So, here are our theories of why Warner Bros.’ Aquaman was delayed.
The date that Aquaman now occupies – December 21, 2018 – is in the prime pre-holiday release window, one that has been dominated for the past two years (and will continue to be in 2017) by Disney and Lucasfilm’s Star Wars releases. Both Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opened in mid-to-late December, while Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi has a similar date this year.
Given the massive box office returns of both The Force Awakens and Rogue One – the former of which was blamed by Lionsgate for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 earning less than expected in its own theatrical run – other big blockbusters have been hesitant to challenge the Star Wars movies. However, 2018 is, as of now, the first year that a Star Wars film won’t open in December; Lucasfilm’s second standalone entry in their cinematic universe, the untitled Han Solo prequel project, will debut in May of that year instead.
Still, December is an incredibly blockbuster-friendly month, hence why it’s favored by Disney/Lucasfilm. Some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters have debuted in the same mid-to-late December window, including all three of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, as well as the director’s entire Hobbit Trilogy, and James Cameron’s Avatar. However, this particular release window isn’t necessarily a guarantee of success, even for franchises with built-in audiences. Though Tron: Legacy and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader were sequels to successful films/series – albeit released quite a bit after their predecessors – neither were hits with critics nor at the box office.
All this is to say, Warner Bros. shifting the release of Aquaman from early October to late December gives the film more of an advantage in terms of its positioning. October isn’t well known for action/adventure blockbusters, tending more toward dramas kicking off the Oscar contender season, like Gone Girl and The Birth of a Nation, or horror films. December, on the other hand, is great positioning for Aquaman to be a massive success.
It Shows Confidence
Since December is such a popular time to release movies, especially blockbusters, Aquaman’s new date also indicates the film will undoubtedly have more competition than if it had stayed in October. As of now, Aquaman is only set to go up against Sony’s animated Spider-Man movie – indicating Warner Bros. believes Wan’s film will be different enough that competition with another superhero feature (albeit one that’s animated) won’t affect their movie’s box office.
That said, there’s still plenty of time for the December 2018 release schedule to fill out, and not just the particular Friday when Aquaman will debut, the month is prime for mid-week releases as well. Already, Aquaman will debut a week after Peter Jackson’s Mortal Engines, based on Philip Reeves’ young adult sci-fi novel. Plus, Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns is set to open just a few days after Aquaman. Additionally, there have been rumors that Disney/Lucasfilm will move Han Solo to December 2018, though it remains to be seen whether the studio will make that change.
Even if Disney doesn’t move their Han Solo project to December, Aquaman will likely have stiffer competition in its new release date than in its October slot. As such, Warner Bros.’ decision to move the film may indicate they have complete confidence in Wan’s take on the King of the Seas as a near surefire bet for the competitive release window. Of course, it may be that WB is simply trying to project confidence in Aquaman. The DCEU’s 2016 entries were plagued by divisive responses from critics and fans alike, despite respectable box office earnings.
Though some may believe WB’s decision to slate Aquaman in one of the most competitive release windows of the year could be a move of false confidence, the studio has a much better idea of Wan’s vision than anyone else. Aquaman hasn’t begun filming just yet, but it’s possible that what the studio has seen from Wan and screenwriter Will Beall (Gangster Squad) has been impressive enough to warrant WB’s confidence in signing off on the release date change.
Allows More Time for Post-Production
It’s difficult to ignore that Warner Bros.’ announcement of Aquaman’s release change arrives a few weeks after Snyder teased VFX footage of Aquaman from Justice League. Before Justice League, Arthur Curry’s only appearance in the DCEU was a short cameo in Batman V Superman, so this is the first time filmmakers have had to render full underwater scenes using visual effects – and it’s possible it took them longer to perfect than they may have anticipated. (Remember, Warcraft had a post-production period of nearly two years in order to get its VFX polished.)
We still don’t know much about the official plot of Aquaman aside from the broad strokes of a story following the Leader of Atlantis as he prevents the creatures of the sea from rising up against the surface world. Considering underwater creatures will play such a big part in the conflict, a great deal of the film will no doubt take place in the sea – which will likely require plenty of VFX. So, since Aquaman hasn’t reportedly pushed back its production, the extra time allotted by the release date change will likely be padded into post-production, giving the filmmakers and VFX team more time to perfect the movie’s look.
Of course, it’s also possible the VFX timeline didn’t factor into WB’s decision at all. Studios often commission multiple VFX companies to work on the same film in order to get the job done, especially projects as big as Aquaman. Still, the extra two months Wan and his team have now been given to craft Aquaman will give them extra time to get the movie right, no matter where that time is allotted.
It’s unlikely that Warner Bros. will ever give an official reason for the Aquaman release date change since studios generally don’t offer such explanations very often (if ever). And, while fans may be dismayed by another change to the upcoming DCEU slate, it’s more likely the move is for good reason. Warner Bros. would never set a movie up to fail, so they likely have confidence Aquaman will hold its own in a competitive release window. Of course, it will still go up against other box office heavy hitters in its December 2018 release date, but fans shouldn’t be too worried by the delay – though they may be a little disappointed the DCEU solo Aquaman entry is now two months farther away.