Oct 9, 2022 - Economy & Business

Warner Bros. Discovery merger looms over "Black Adam"

Illustration of a theater marquee with dollar signs.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

There were few “Black Adam”-themed costumes on display at this weekend’s New York Comic Con, an always colorful parade of nerd heaven.

Why it matters: The aftermath of the Warner Bros. Discovery merger — and a series of blunders involving DC Comics intellectual property — alienated hardcore comic fans, a pivotal constituency the studio needs to generate enthusiasm for its remaining movie and TV endeavors.

  • Amid muted enthusiasm for the movie's Oct. 21 opening, there were plenty of doubts about the future viability of Warner Bros. superhero movies after a turbulent year.
  • This year has become something of an annus horribilis, with the corporate shakeup of the Warner-Discovery merger leading to mass cancellations of a slew of DC universe shows, and the ignominious mothballing of the HBO Max movie, “Batgirl.”
  • The cancellations left DC fans blindsided and dejected.
  • For its part, Warner had a strong presence at NYCC this year, promoting several of its other initiatives.

Driving the news: Warner’s conundrum is being complicated two weeks ahead of the release of “Black Adam,” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The title character is related to “Shazam,” which debuted in 2019 to a strong box office and critical acclaim.

The intrigue: The release of “Black Adam” will be a major test of Warner’s ability to convince skeptical fans to give their projects the benefit of the doubt, after more than a year of missteps, recriminations and a delayed slate of DC tentpoles.

At NYCC, fans informally polled by Axios about the impending release of "Black Adam" expressed muted excitement but tempered with doubts about the future and the movie’s commercial success.

  • Warner always suffers by comparison to the behemoth known as Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
  • Surprisingly, some NYCC attendees told Axios they didn’t think Warner needed to replicate the MCU’s “oversaturated” crop of interlocking shows and movies. They endorsed the studio’s vision of standalone stories focused on characters, rather than an expansive, connected universe.

What they’re saying: Brooklyn-based fan Michael Rueda was one of the few with “high expectations” for “Black Adam,” especially given the talent (i.e. The Rock) involved. He wasn’t concerned that the title character isn’t explicitly linked to any other DC character.

  • “The best DC movies are the ones not connected to anything,” he said, acknowledging that Marvel has “better storylines,” even though DC has stronger characters.
  • A shared DC universe “isn’t necessary, but has to be done right,” Rueda added.

Dressed as Black Adam with his wife, son and friend all bedecked in full “Shazam Family” regalia, James Boney quipped that Warner’s superhero aspirations “can only go up,” even as he confessed to Axios that he had “no sense [Warner-Discovery executives] have a strategy.”

  • However, the involvement of Johnson and Zachary Levi as Shazam gave the Port Washington resident some hope that Warner can finally “right this ship.”

The bottom line: Only time will tell if Warner-Discovery can recapture some of the magic that pushed “Joker” and “Aquaman” over $1 billion at the box office, and helped 2017 “Wonder Woman” and 2022’s “The Batman” to outperform early expectations.

  • But Rueda summed it up best: “If you make a movie that’s timeless, it’ll make money for the rest of time.”
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