The DCEU has had its fair share of development problems, but it next could be something completely out of its hands. If the Writer’s Guild of America can’t reach a deal with Hollywood studios about the payment of of its screenwriters, then on May 7th we’ll be in the midst of another Writer’s Strike. The previous major walkout ran for three months from November 2007 to early February 2008 and damn near crippled the film and TV industries – shows were forced to cut their seasons short and an entire summer of movies (think Quantum of Solace, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Terminator Salvation) were shot without finished scripts.
The WGA Strike 2017 is specifically concerned with the TV side of the industry – season lengths and thus the number of episodes to write have fallen in the quality rise of Peak TV, but payment hasn’t moved to reflect that – and thus is primed to mostly affect the small screen, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be felt at the cinema, especially when it comes to blockbuster hopefuls with a set tentpole release.
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige recently confirmed that the strike wouldn’t have any immediate impact on the MCU – the 2017 and 2018 releases are all set and due to shifting deadlines the movies beyond look OK too (which is far enough ahead to adjust after the strike). But what of the other big superhero shared universe in town? We’ve not heard anything directly from Warner Bros. about the DC Extended Universe, but here’s what we think may happen.
What Movies Could Be Affected?
The 2017 DCEU movies are locked – Wonder Woman is a little over a month away from release and Justice League is in post – which immediately takes us to 2018. The only set movie this year is Aquaman in December which is in the middle of shooting now and after a sizeable pre-production will have a well-refined script. There have been rumors the studio is trying to push a second movie in there as well – one of Gotham City Sirens, The Flash, Green Lantern, Suicide Squad 2 or Dark Universe – with scripts being fast-tracked on the proviso if they’re not ready then they’ll stick with just Aquaman. Given how Marvel and Fox both have three superhero movies apiece in 2018, WB are going to want another to keep DC front-and-centre (rather than a coda on the year), so it’s likely they’ll really push for that. Whatever film it is, its script will have to be set before the strike (should it happen) which adds an extra layer of pressure ahead of fitting a full production and edit in before a Summer release.
The movies where development will be actively stalled, then, will be later. Because that slate DC unveiled back in 2014 is now woefully out of date (2019 was supposed to see Shazam! and Justice League Part Two), it’s not clear what exactly is going to be coming out. One recent rumor suggested there’d be four Batman-related movies to tie into the character’s 80th Anniversary, but that’s been carefully denied by those involved. Whichever of the myriad of films in production end up being released, they’re going to have a truncated schedule in some form in the event of a strike – either a rushed script or tight production deadline. It’s hard to say which, but we know that the previous five movies eyeing a 2018 date, as well as Nightwing and Batgirl are all being written now, so regardless of release date they’ll all be impacted in some form.
One movie that may avoid the whole thing is The Batman. The film’s exact script status is a mystery (the last word was that it was being rewritten from scratch for the new director), but we do know Matt Reeves isn’t set to start work on the project until after the July release and press tour of his previous film, War for the Planet of the Apes, which is over three months on from the proposed start of the strike – the same length of the 2007/8 one. There’ll of course be a scripting delay, but while other movies will have to stop-start or rush, this troubled pre-production may actually allow it to sidestep the issues, making it one of the strongest contenders for 2019. Of course, similar scheduling factors may alter the case for other films too, but those aren’t made clear.
What Problems Could Arise?
The Hollywood machine changed after the WGA Strike 2007/8, intentionally or not; a few months later Iron Man kickstarted the MCU and studios started seriously planning franchises sometimes dozens of movies ahead at a time. This obviously helps build a coherent shared universe that will bring audiences back again and again, but it also means it’s easier to course-correct should an issue like a strike come along.
So while in 2008 the strike directly led to issues with the likes of George Miller’s Justice League Mortal, which was pegged concretely for 2009, here it just means a bit of reshuffling before continuing as normal. This may even be part of the reason why DC haven’t been too open about their plans – something will inevitably give. That’s not to say there won’t be collateral damage though.
The main problem is that it’ll see them rushing certain films. If DC are trying to finish a 2018 release before the strike, that could lead to a project with an unrefined script that goes into production without a writer on set to make any changes. As this film would come out before Aquaman, that’s a risky gambit for a franchise that already has a string of bad reviews to its name. This is something Marvel will also have to contend with due to those stated deadline shifts, but in their case the projects have been in a more harmonious development for longer (and when they’ve had major production shifts previously, such as Edgar Wright departing Ant-Man, they don’t roundly cripple the film).
Conversely, coming out the other side presents a limited timescale for the 2019 films that may present similar issues. DCEU films so far have had a range of production lengths – Suicide Squad had a six week scripting process and turbulent edit, while Batman v Superman was almost three years in the making – but what it really needs work on is planning; ensuring everything about a film’s story and creative drive is nailed down before the cameras roll. Regardless of finished product, this has evidently not been the case given the amount of studio meddling, something a brisk pre-production (the inevitable casualty of a truncated schedule) will exacerbate.
Many of the potential issues caused by the WGA Strike for the DCEU are similar to the rest of Hollywood’s tentpole franchises, but for this series in particular it comes at a central point of uncertainty. 2017 is a changeover year intended to give DC Entertainment a rebirth, and for its following year to be potentially hampered by external concerns is a worry. That said, because of the shared universe model, there’s a freedom offered that wasn’t there at the previous 2007/8 strike. If the DCEU does fail in the future, it won’t just be the WGA’s fault.