What if The Dark Knight had started the DC Extended Universe instead of Man of Steel? It's over five years since DC's answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe started, during which time there have been five movies (with many more on the horizon) with a total worldwide box office of $3.7 billion. From the outside, that would be a sure-fire signal of success (it's a similar box office to Marvel's first half-decade with one less film), yet the real story is considerably more complex.
So far, the DCEU's fortunes in terms of reception have been mixed to say the least. The films, especially those overseen by Snyder, have proven divisive with general audiences and critics alike (although have gained strong fanbases), while Warner Bros. meddling with in-development projects has led to the likes of Suicide Squad and especially Justice League being confused muddles. Things are finally looking to gain a sense of direction, with Aquaman, Shazam! and Wonder Woman 1984 shaping up as many of the other in-development projects are becoming clear, but it's been a long and pained road.
Read More: All Upcoming & In-Development DC Films
But we're going to imagine how different things would have been if all this started a little earlier? Zack Snyder's Superman reimagining was coming hot on the heels of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy, a series of films that rejuvenated its central character, reached new heights of financial success for the superhero genre, and gave comic book movies a new level of respect. Man of Steel's story came from The Dark Knight's architects, Nolan and David S. Goyer, before becoming what we know of the DCEU. How different would things have been if Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne, not Henry Cavill's Clark Kent, had been the Iron Man of the DCEU?
- This Page: Snyder Shows WB Could Have Turned Nolan's Vision Into A Shared Universe
- Page 2: What A Dark Knight-Led DC Universe Could Look Like
- Page 3: How The Justice League & Franchise Tone Would Be Different
- Page 4: Would This Alternate DCEU Be More Successful?
Snyder Shows WB Could Have Turned Nolan's Vision Into A Shared Universe
Before we properly begin the thought experiment, it's worth providing some justification for this line of thinking and lay down some parameters. After all, there's a major aspect of a Dark Knight shared universe to get past: Christopher Nolan. Starting at Batman Begins and only increasing through the later entries, The Dark Knight Trilogy was fully Christopher Nolan's directorial vision. He pitched a Bruce Wayne who existed in a realistic world, having every piece of Batman ephemera meticulously grounded and the villains imagined as representations of modern crisis like the War on Terror and the financial crash.
Above all, he gave his series an ending. The Dark Knight Rises may have stopped short of killing Bruce Wayne, but its finale nevertheless gave a sense of finality to the original Batman's journey and closed the book on its discussion of the symbol. This was something only a filmmaker of Nolan's stature could demand, and is emblematic of his desire to have the series stand alone. With that in mind - and the fact that alongside The Dark Knight Trilogy Warner Bros. attempted to get George Miller's Justice League Mortal off the ground - it would seem unlikely that a shared universe could be built from it; how could such a vision be reversed?
However, we can still imagine a retrofit because that steamrolling of initial vision is exactly what happened to the DCEU. By all accounts, Zack Snyder's plan for his Superman series was to tell a five-movie arc, starting with Man of Steel and expanding into the Justice League by way of Batman v Superman. This was less a shared universe and more a multi-film narrative - very similar to what Nolan achieved except using a wider range of characters. Changes to the plan began almost immediately - WB wanted to expand the scope following the success of The Avengers, which Snyder worked into his plan (Wonder Woman, Aquaman and others would get their own solo movies and character arcs outside of his series) - but gradually the vision was altered and became what we now have.
Regardless of your feelings on Snyder's films before or after directional changes were made, there's no denying that his original, auteur vision was altered to fit into the new shared universe model. While Nolan is a filmmaker of greater clout, it's not out of the question that his intention could have been altered and another movie made with or without his blessing, especially given the immensely strong critical and financial success of the trilogy. A fourth Christian Bale Batman would have been a win, but using the popular series as the grounding for a whole mega-franchise would be delirious.
Had the idea to move the DCEU in this direction come a few years earlier (Man of Steel was mostly standalone, with the hints of a greater mythos not really coming until Batman v Superman's development), then we could have seen something very different take shape.
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
- Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020