James Gunn and producer Peter Safran have been tapped to lead DC Studios, a newly formed division at Warner Bros. that will replace DC Films, the studio announced on Tuesday.
Gunn and Safran will serve as co-chairs and co-CEOs of DC Studios, allowing them to oversee all film, TV, and animation efforts. The duo will report to Warner Bros. Discovery David Zaslav rather than Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy, who will oversee the rest of WB’s feature slate.
The Hollywood Reporter broke the story, reporting that it was De Luca’s idea for Gunn and Safran to take the helm, with Gunn focusing on the creative side and Safran focusing on the business and production side of things. In addition to their executive responsibilities, which take effect on Nov. 1, Gunn and Safran will develop, direct, and produce projects for DC, which is said to have given the two of them a four-year deal, during which time, Gunn will be exclusive to Warners as a director.
Four years is more than enough time to get a new Superman off the ground — apparently with Henry Cavill, even though I think WB may have missed its window there, as I personally believe that the studio would be better off starting over and moving on completely from the Zack Snyder era. For the record, however, I do like Cavill as the Man of Steel. But I digress…
In Gunn and Safran’s new roles, they will work closely with the heads of HBO/HBO Max (Casey Bloys), Warner Bros. Television Group (Channing Dungey), WBD’s U.S Networks Group (Kathleen Finch), and Consumer Products division (Pam Lifford), as well as Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (David Haddad), which produces DC video games.
“We’re honored to be the stewards of these DC characters we’ve loved since we were children. 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. Our commitment to Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Harley Quinn, and the rest of the DC stable of characters is only equaled by our commitment to the wonder of human possibility these characters represent,” Gunn and Safran said in a joint statement.
“We’re excited to invigorate the theatrical experience around the world as we tell some of the biggest, most beautiful, and grandest stories ever told. We’re especially enthusiastic about doing all of this with Mike, Pam, Casey, Channing, and the whole Warner Bros. Discovery team, and are grateful to David Zaslav, whose bold vision for the future of the franchise we share and allows for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Most of all, we can’t wait to bring you all into the story of the DCU,” they added.
“We could not be more excited to have James Gunn and Peter Safran join the team and assume the leadership of the DC Universe. James is a brilliant filmmaker and storyteller and Peter is a tremendously successful and prolific producer and to have them both committing to work together to forge this new era for DC is a literal dream come true. We all share a very similar sensibility and passion for this universe and the stars couldn’t have aligned any better. We can’t wait to get started, dig in, and collaborate with these unmatched creative minds,” De Luca and Abdy said in a joint statement of their own.
“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. Their decades of experience in filmmaking, close ties to the creative community, and proven track record thrilling superhero fans around the globe make them uniquely qualified to develop a long-term strategy across film, TV, and animation, and take this iconic franchise to the next level of creative storytelling,” added Zaslav.
Dan Lin (It, The Lego Movie) was previously in talks for the DC Studios gig, though Deadline reports that the veteran producer pressed Zaslav for too much (his deal at Universal included a financing component as well, which might have been costly to untangle), whereas Safran was already under a first-look deal at Warners. John Rickard will continue to run the Safran Company in Safran’s absence, as the shingle just re-upped its deal at WB and it still has projects in development elsewhere, including an Idris Elba–John Cena movie titled Heads of State at Amazon.
Safran is a proven moneymaker on the Warner Bros. lot given his success with the Conjuring franchise and the Aquaman films, which arose from his relationship with another former horror helmer, James Wan (Saw). Safran is a producer on the upcoming sequels to Aquaman and Shazam! as well as The Conjuring and The Nun. Those are four of WB’s most successful franchises of late, so I’m not entirely shocked that he was entrusted with this division, though having Gunn by his side is a coup in and of itself.
Of course, Gunn has a long relationship of his own with Warner Bros., having worked with the studio on a pair of live-action Scooby-Doo movies early in his career. More recently, he directed the DC tentpole The Suicide Squad for the studio, which promptly ordered a Peacemaker spinoff for HBO Max, where it became a hit. The show has already been renewed for Season 2.
It’s wild to think that the guy who started out making Troma movies and other goofy horror comedies is now in charge of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but Gunn brings a distinct flavor to the comic book genre, which he knows well. Audiences fell for his Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and I find it no small coincidence that this huge DC Studios news was announced the very same day that Gunn unveiled a trailer for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy holiday special.
It’s almost as if the two juggernauts know that the competition is good for ratings, so to speak. For now, though, DC wins this tug-of-war.
You can read Zaslav’s internal memo to staff below:
We are thrilled to announce that two of the industry’s most talented and experienced filmmakers, James Gunn and Peter Safran, will be joining our team on November 1 in the new roles of Co-Chairmen and Chief Executive Officers of DC Studios, overseeing the overall creative direction of the DC Universe across film, TV, and animation. As we make this transition to unify the creative expression of DC under a single banner, we are grateful to Walter Hamada for his many contributions to both DC and New Line over the years.
I’ve spent the last few months talking in-depth with James and Peter about the future of the DC Universe and am more excited than ever about where the franchise is headed with them at the helm. They will report to me and will work closely with Mike De Luca and Pam Abdy as well as our other creative business executives, Channing Dungey, Casey Bloys, Kathleen Finch, Pam Lifford, and David Haddad. We now have the full leadership team in place… and the team is experienced and strong.
One of the great strengths of our company is our unmatched collection of IP that includes many of the most beloved superheroes of all time… Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and now Black Adam, to name just a few. For over 60 years, these and other DC characters have captivated and inspired generations of fans around the world… and as stewards of the iconic franchise, we feel a real responsibility to preserve and expand the DCU for the enjoyment of future generations. In many ways, we have only begun to scratch the surface. James and Peter have a broad vision for DC storytelling and how it all fits together, and they plan to create even more compelling and unforgettable experiences for DC fans worldwide, while building a sustainable growth business out of the iconic franchise.
James and Peter have extensive experience in the superhero genre having brought some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Universe’s most popular characters to life in hit films and series, including Marvel’s blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, and DC’s highest-grossing movie, Aquaman; Shazam!; The Suicide Squad, and the spin-off series for HBO Max, Peacemaker. They are highly respected by creatives and talent alike and bring their own deep love and appreciation for the characters and stories of the DCU to their new roles. As they told me, this is a passion project for them, not just a job… and that is sure to be evident in their storytelling.
When James was 10 years old, growing up in Missouri, he went to a comic book convention with his dad, and that experience, he said, changed his life forever. He would escape into his own world with comic books, and he began to draw and write his own comics and started making movies when he was just 11 years old. That set him off on his creative journey as a filmmaker and storyteller. His experience also demonstrates the real power of these characters to inspire audiences of all ages.
Peter has worked extensively in both the horror and superhero genres and has produced several hit movies and series for Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line, including the entire Conjuring universe, which is the most successful horror franchise of all time at $2B+ in worldwide box office and counting. He and James have collaborated on numerous projects over the years and have a close working relationship. In fact, they told me one of the things that appealed most to them about this opportunity was the chance to lead DC Studios together.
We could not ask for a better team to run DC and are so excited to welcome them to WBD next week. Please join me in wishing James and Peter much success!