The recent announcement that The Joker will release on October 4, 2019, means that next year will be the biggest ever slate for DC superhero movies - with three films releasing in the same year.
2019 has long been set to be a busy year for DC Films. The studio already had two superhero movies due to release next year - the eagerly-anticipated Shazam! and Wonder Woman: 1984 - and production on Birds of Prey is scheduled to begin in January 2019, as well, proving that the studio has begun to firm out its medium-range plans.
But the 2019 release date for The Joker radically transforms the slate. It means Warner Bros. has three DC superhero films due out in a 12-month period; Shazam! in April, The Joker in October, and Wonder Woman: 1984 in November. That's the kind of slate we're now used to with rival Marvel Studios, but it's the biggest there's even been from DC Films. AT&T exec John Stankey, placed in charge of WarnerMedia after the merger, recently said DC Films was "trending in the right direction in terms of the quality of the product and how the franchise is being managed." Three films in one year is a huge statement of confidence in DC Films.
DC Films's Changing Approach
Early DCEU movies were plagued with behind-the-scenes conflict, culminating in Zack Snyder's departure from Justice League. More recent films, however, seem to have gone without a hitch; production on Aquaman and Shazam! seems to have been smooth, and Wonder Woman: 1984 sees Patty Jenkins reunite with the cast and crew who made the first film a remarkable success. It seems the studio has moved on from their production problems, so much so that they believe they can put out three films in one year.
What makes The Joker interesting, of course, is that it isn't part of the DCEU at all. It's an "Elseworlds"-esque movie disconnected from the rest of the DC slate, with a lower budget than your typical superhero film - just $55 million. The decision to greenlight this movie suggests the studio is embracing a more diverse portfolio, a mix of tentpole superhero movies and cheaper, possibly R-rated productions. That seems to have been confirmed by Margot Robbie's recent comments that Birds of Prey will also be an R-rated film with a "much smaller budget."
This would be a smart play on DC Films' part. 21st Century Fox has seen their X-Men slate flourish due to a similar approach, with the studio choosing to diversify away from tentpole superhero films and release a cheaper, more diverse slate including critical and popular hits like Logan and Deadpool. Many of DC's properties are ideally suited to a similar approach, especially those involving Batman's supporting cast and rogues' gallery.
Is This the New Norm for DC Films?
Last year saw rival Marvel Studios launch into what seems to be a new pattern of three films a year, one that they've repeated this year and will continue in 2019. It's possible that DC's 2019 slate will set a similar pattern, one where three DC movies drop every year - two tentpole superhero films, and one cheaper production that may not even be part of the DCEU. That would explain the confused account we currently have of DC Films' upcoming slate, with a large number of films expected to begin production in 2019. Such a busy schedule didn't really make sense when the studio was in the habit of only releasing one or two movies a year, but three would fit with the production schedule.
If that's the case, then Birds of Prey is presumably the R-rated production intended to drop in 2020, meaning the studio will soon greenlight two major tentpole movies for a 2020 release. The Flash director John Francis Daley has teased a 2020 release date for his film "if all goes well." According to Black Adam star Dwayne Johnson, "If things come together in the way we anticipate them coming together, [Black Adam] feels like a 2019 movie, in production.” If these are the two 2019 tentpoles, it would presumably mean Suicide Squad 2 has been pushed back - possibly due to potential scheduling issues, given Margot Robbie will be involved in both that film and Birds of Prey. It's possible further details will be revealed at the DC Films panel at SDCC on Saturday.