James Gunn, Peter Safran named new heads of Warner Bros.’ DC studios

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Peter Safran, left, and James Gunn
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James Gunn and Peter Safran will be the next co-heads of Warner Bros. Discovery‘s DC Comics film and TV unit, the company announced Tuesday. Their appointments will be effective Nov. 1.

The news comes during a tumultuous time for the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery. CEO David Zaslav has been attempting to remake WarnerMedia after merging it with Discovery in April, including through layoffs and content elimination from streaming service HBO Max. 

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Zaslav has been looking for someone to steady the ship at the DC film division, home to superheroes such as Wonder Woman and Superman, as Warner Bros. Discovery aims to capture the kind of consistent success enjoyed by Disney‘s Marvel Studios.

Both Gunn and Safran have experience with the superhero genre and have brought heroes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Universe to the big and small screens, including “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Suicide Squad” and “Peacemaker.”

“DC has among the most entertaining, powerful, and iconic characters in the world and I am thrilled to have the singular and complementary talents of James and Peter joining our world-class team and overseeing the creative direction of the storied DC Universe,” Zaslav said in a statement Tuesday.

The pair will be responsible for the creative direction of the franchise across film, television and animation.

“We’re honored to be the stewards of these DC characters we’ve loved since we were children,” Gunn and Safran said in a joint statement. “We look forward to collaborating with the most talented writers, directors, and actors in the world to create an integrated, multilayered universe that still allows for the individual expression of the artists involved.”

Warner Bros. Discovery has been searching for a new head of this studio for months, but had little luck getting an executive to take the post.

“The Lego Movie” producer Dan Lin was at one point considered for the job, but ultimately, contract discussions ran into complications because of Lin’s ownership of production company Rideback and how Warner Bros. Discovery would compensate him for that.

Another possible candidate was Emma Watts, a former top film executive at 20th Century Studios and Paramount, who was rumored to have been approached to take the mantle last April, but did not take the job.

Gunn and Safran take the helm at a time when the DCEU is on shaky ground. While the franchise has an ardent fan base, critical reception for films have been poor and the overall direction of its films and television shows have been called into question.

“Black Adam” currently holds at 39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 227 reviews, the lowest ratings of a DCEU film since 2017’s “Justice League,” which also stands at 39%.

Over the weekend, the film generated $67 million at the domestic box office, the highest debut for star Dwayne Johnson as a leading man. The opening is a solid start for the film, on par with other flicks featuring less known heroes set in the DC Extended Universe, but significantly lower than those from the rival Marvel Cinematic Universe. The last time a MCU film opened below $70 million was in 2015 with the release of “Ant-Man.”

Warner Bros. recently moved its “Aquaman” sequel, which was set for a March 2023 release, to December 2023. “The Flash,” also set for release next year, is under a cloud of controversy due to its star, Ezra Miller, facing several allegations, including child grooming. Zaslav pulled the nearly complete “Batgirl” from its HBO Max release slate, allowing the company to take a tax writeoff.

Zaslav has recently discussed his desire to build a “long-term, much stronger, sustainable growth business out of DC” that focuses on quality. The executive is eyeing a reset of the DC cinematic universe that would set up a 10-year plan for the franchise.

Zaslav tapped Hollywood producer Alan Horn in July to act in a consultant role to help the CEO navigate the film business. Horn, a well-respected executive and Disney veteran, was with the Walt Disney Company when it began shaping its Marvel Cinematic Universe and the relaunch of the Star Wars film franchise.

He also helped bring the “Hobbit” films to the big screen for Warner Bros., as well as the eight-film Harry Potter film franchise and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes.

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