How DC Films & The DCEU Really Works

Wonder Woman Superman and Batman

From The Dark Knight to Aquaman, movies based on DC Comics are some of the biggest blockbusters in the world - so we're taking a look at the history of DC movies, and how they get made. Unlike Marvel Comics, whose movie rights are more scattered, all DC movies are produced by Warner Bros. Pictures, and Warner's connection to DC goes back decades.

Currently, DC movies are going through something of a transition period. While Warner Bros. had previously planned for a more rigid structure of releases based around the central property of the Justice League, with individual Justice League members each getting their own solo movies, the studio has since shifted focus. Building a tightly connected DC Extended Universe is now less of a priority than simply trying to make a series of individual hits, which has brought forth oddities like Todd Phillips' upcoming Joker movie.

Related: How Marvel Studios Really Works

While recent DC movies have taken some hits from fans and critics alike, the pages of DC Comics have been the inspiration behind some of the most interesting and powerful superhero movies of the 21st century. With that in mind, here's our handy guide to who owns DC's superheroes, and how DC movies and TV shows get made.

Warner Bros. Owns All Things DC

Warner Bros. Studio Structure

Warner Bros. owns the intellectual property of all DC Comics characters, as DC Comics is a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Entertainment. Warner Bros. itself is a subsidiary of the company formerly known as Time Warner, which - as of a recent merger - is now called WarnerMedia and is a subsidiary of AT&T.

The most high-profile corner of Warner Bros.' DC Comics-based output are the big-budget live action movies, which became a renewed priority for the studio in the wake of Christopher Nolan's critically-acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy. In 2009, all things DC were placed under the newly-minted division DC Entertainment, and in 2016 Warner Bros. created the DC Films label to specifically handle the direction of live-action DC movies.

All of the live-action DC TV shows, from Gotham on FOX to the Arrowverse shows on The CW, are produced and distributed by Warner Bros. Television. Over on the Cartoon Network, Teen Titans Go! is made by Warner Bros. Animation, which also produces all the animated feature DC movies (like Teen Titans Go! To The Movies and The Lego Batman Movie), as well as an extensive collection of direct-to-video animated movies, such as this year's The Death of Superman and Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay.

Related: All the DC Movies and TV Shows Streaming on DC Universe

DC and Warner's History Goes Back 50 Years

Unlike the relationship between Marvel Studios and Disney, which began with Disney's acquisition of Marvel Entertainment in 2009, the connection between Warner Bros. and DC goes back almost half a century. DC Comics was originally called Detective Comics (that's what the "DC" stands for) and the official company name was National Comics Publications. That company was acquired in 1967 by Kinney National Company, which at the time was best known for services like cleaning contractors and parking lots. In 1969, Kinney National Company also acquired the film production company Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, which was then in financial straits. In 1972, Kinney's non-entertainment assets were spun off into a new company and the Kinney National Company was rebranded as Warner Communications.

DC Comics and Warner Bros. Pictures were now under the same umbrella, and the first DC movie distributed by Warner Bros, Pictures was Richard Donner's Superman, starring Christopher Reeve in the title role and released in 1978. The success of Superman resulted in a slew of other DC movies from Warner Bros. over the next couple of decades, including three Superman sequels and a series of Batman movies, beginning with Tim Burton's Batman in 1989.

In 1990, Warner Communications merged with Time Inc. to form Time Warner. In 2016, AT&T announced plans to acquire Time Warner for $108.7 billion - plans that were met with an antitrust lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department. AT&T ultimately won the lawsuit, and the merger was confirmed in June 2018. With Time Inc. having been spun off into a separate company in 2014, the merger was used as an opportunity to rebrand Time Warner as WarnerMedia.

Page 2: DC Movies Before the DCEU

Key Release Dates
  • Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
  • Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
  • Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
  • Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) release date: Feb 07, 2020
  • Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
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