James Gunn, Peter Safran appointed new heads of Warner Bros.’ DC Studios

James Gunn and Peter Safran will be the next co-leaders of Warner Bros. Discovery‘s film and television division of DC Comics, the company announced on Tuesday. Their appointments are effective November 1.

The news comes during a turbulent time for newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery. CEO David Zaslav has attempted to reshape WarnerMedia following its merger with Discovery in April, including through layoffs and the removal of content from streaming service HBO Max.

Zaslav has been looking for someone to steady the ship in the DC film department, home of superheroes like Wonder Woman and Superman, as Warner Bros. Discovery aims to capture the kind of enduring success they enjoy Disney‘s Marvel Studios.

Both Gunn and Safran have experience in the superhero genre, having 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 one of the most entertaining, powerful and iconic characters alive and I am thrilled to have the unique and complementary talents of James and Peter join our world-class team and oversee the creative direction of the storied DC Universe,” Zaslav said in a Statement Tuesday.

The couple will be responsible for the franchise’s creative direction across film, television and animation.

Warner Bros. Discovery has been looking for a new head of this studio for months, but has had little luck finding an executive for the post.

The Lego Movie producer Dan Lin was seen by many as a prime candidate for the job, but it became clear in September that he wouldn’t take the role. Eventually, contract negotiations ran into trouble because Lin owned Rideback and how Warner Bros. Discovery would compensate him for it.

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 didn’t take the job.

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

Black Adam currently has a 39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 227 reviews, the lowest ratings for a DCEU film since 2017’s Justice League, which also sits at 39%.

Over the weekend, the film grossed $67 million at the domestic box office, the highest-ever debut for star Dwayne Johnson as a leading actor. The opening is a solid start for the film, on par with other films featuring lesser-known heroes from the DC Extended Universe, but significantly lower than those from the rival Marvel Cinematic Universe. The last time an MCU film opened under $70 million was in 2015 with the release of Ant-Man.

Warner Bros. recently pushed back its sequel Aquaman, which was originally scheduled for release in March 2023, to December 2023. Also slated for release next year, The Flash has faced controversy over several allegations, including child grooming, because of its star Ezra Miller. Zaslav pulled the almost-completed “Batgirl” off his HBO Max release slate, allowing the company to take a tax write-off.

Zaslav recently spoke about his desire to build a “long-term, much stronger, sustainable growth company out of DC” that focuses on quality. The executive is planning a reboot of the DC movie universe that would set out a 10-year roadmap for the franchise.

Zaslav hired Hollywood producer Alan Horn in July to serve in an advisory role to help the CEO steer the film business. A distinguished executive and Disney veteran, Horn was with The Walt Disney Company when it began creating its Marvel Cinematic Universe and relaunching the Star Wars film series.

He also helped bring the Hobbit films to the big screen for Warner Bros., as well as the eight-film Harry Potter film series 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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