What Aquaman's Success (Or Failure) Means For The DCEU

Aquaman in the DCEU with Joker and Superman

The success or failure of Aquaman is going to define the DCEU going forward. The shared universe built around DC comics has had a rocky road thus far, with the reaction to Zack Snyder's initial Superman saga mixed-at-best and his Justice League subsequently bastardized by movie-ruining reshoots and re-edits. Just over a year after that movie bombed at the box office, James Wan's film is hoping to signal new era.

So far, things are looking promising for Aquaman. It made over $100 million on opening weekend in China and its domestic predictions are rising faster than an Arthur Curry-powered submarine, while reviews are skewing positive in a way the DCEU hasn't seen aside from Wonder Woman. In many ways, James Wan delivering his unimpeded vision is a victory in and of itself. However, the real test comes when it hits US screens. How will audiences - from casual cinemagoers to die-hard DC fans - react to Aquaman, and where will its final box office totals land?

Related: All 30 Upcoming & In-Development DC Films

Of course, the short-term future of DC Films after Aquaman is set - Shazam! and Joker in 2019, Birds of Prey and Wonder Woman 1984 in 2020 - and evidently already sees some pivot away from the Justice League past. But how those movies build on what came before and what the so-called DC Extended Universe even is hinges on Aquaman. Here's what happens either way.

Worst Case Scenario: Aquaman Bombs, DC Films Continues To Reboot

First, let's look at the negative outcome: Aquaman struggles at the box office or the critical reaction slides to become more mixed and in-line with the likes of Man of Steel. That would be a major knock for Warner Bros., suggesting that the rot of Justice League has impacted the brand as it stands.

If things end up really that bad and there's little audience connection to Arthur Curry, then we could end up seeing a semi-reboot of the entire DCEU that discards almost everything from the Snyder-era. The only aspect of the DCEU as he defined that's really won audiences over is Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, thanks to Patty Jenkins 2017 smash-hit, and so Warner Bros. may way to reset everything else bar Diana Prince and essentially start from scratch.

We're already getting this pivot in some form: Shazam! may idolize the heroes of the Justice League, but its tone is a stark departure; Joker is set in a totally different universe; Birds of Prey is the Harley Quinn spinoff devoid of other Suicide Squad ephemera; and, most importantly, Wonder Woman 1984's period setting keeps links to Batman v Superman and Justice League to a minimum. Beyond that, Matt Reeves' The Batman will likely cast a new, younger Bruce Wayne, Superman is on ice possibly in favor of a Supergirl movie, and Flash's film is still locked in its long development. Aquaman struggling would see one last connection to Snyder's vision removed, no doubt leading to even further distance.

Related: How The DCEU Is Already Rebooting In 2019

If Aquaman Underperforms, Expect A Less-Connected DC Shared Universe

Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker

Of course, the Chinese box office and reviews certainly make something so drastic now seem rather unlikely: right now, at worst Aquaman will have mixed reviews and mid-range box office. With that in mind, the risk is more about Aquaman not taking DC to new heights: it not matching Wonder Woman is hardly a disappointment, but is still a negative trend; substantially less would indicate that the DCEU has really failed at launching a shared universe.

Already, we're seeing that DC movies are becoming less interconnected, with each project appearing to exist more standalone; not just Joker's Elseworlds label, but in making each release unconcerned with the wide whole. An Aquaman underperformance would embolden this choice, leading to a more randomized set of DC films chosen for immediacy rather than some MCU-style narrative. That's hardly bad, but it does limit some of the storytelling potential.

Page 2: What Happens If Aquaman Is A Success

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