Over the years, we’ve seen the rise and fall, and sins, of many film studios, but few have proved to be as enduring – or as iconic – as Warner Bros. The legendary studio has produced some of the most memorable cinematic pieces in its century of business, but you’d never believe that if your only reference were the studio’s more recent decisions.
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From unexplained cancellations to questionable business practices, the Warner Bros. we know today looks nothing like it did half a century ago. As we take a look back at some of the most questionable choices made by the studio in recent memory, we can’t help but wonder how much will this media giant stumble – and if we will eventually witness its fall.
We’ve compiled a list of the most egregious “sins” Warner Bros. has committed in recent years, as we look at how this studio’s centennial legacy has changed over the years.
1. Simultaneous Releases
While the practice of releasing a movie on streaming services close to its release in theaters is nothing new, Warner Bros. tried to make the best out of the pandemic by releasing some of its high-profile films on HBO Max at the same time they hit theaters. The result was a devastating box office performance for the flicks involved in the debacle, which included The Matrix Resurrections and Wonder Woman 1984.
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While both films were not received favorably by critics, the decision to release them digitally at the same time as they did so in theaters was seen as a low move by some fans. 2021 was a harsh year for theaters – that’s undeniable – but Warner Bros. only made it worse for the entertainment industry by choosing to downplay its own releases in this manner.
2. Batgirl’s Mysterious Cancellation
The DCEU might be Warner Bros.’s favorite pet project of the past decade, but that doesn’t mean the whole affair wasn’t abysmally mismanaged. In fact, we’ll be seeing a lot of the DCEU on this list – but right now, we’d like to focus our attention on a film that never actually saw the light of day: Batgirl.
In a move that still baffles many fans of the studio, Batgirl got canned close to release. All we got were some excuses about how the movie didn’t reflect WB’s vision of the DCEU moving forward, coupled with some insider info that proclaimed that the studio lacked confidence in the project as a whole.
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Considering Warner Bros.’s track record when it comes to the DCEU, Batgirl certainly couldn’t have been that bad for them to decide not to release it. After all, this is the same studio that decided Birds of Prey was a movie real people would enjoy.
3. Matching the Tone of the MCU
One thing fans loved about the DCEU is how unique it felt compared to its direct competitor, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Marvel’s heroes were all quippy jokesters who couldn’t keep a straight face for more than five minutes straight, the DCEU offered comic book fans a more nuanced and perhaps even melodramatic take on the superhero genre.
However, at some point during the Justice League film, Warner Bros. decided they wanted their movies to compete on the same level as Marvel. That’s how we ended with a mismatch of comedy and colorful designs that don’t really blend well with the rest of the cinematic universe.
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Perhaps the worst example of this trend is the original Suicide Squad. The movie was so hideously butchered on the executive level that no amount of creative editing couldn’t salvage the footage that was left. The result is easily one of the worst films in the DCEU and one that somehow still manages to be the one with a chronology that seems to remain unchanged as we move into James Gunn’s DCU.
4. Letting Joss Whedon Take the Reins After Zack Snyder
In the same vein as what we discussed before, Warner Bros. brought Joss Whedon aboard once Zack Snyder was forced to leave his role in the Justice League film. While fans wanted some more of Snyder’s characteristic somber tone in the franchise’s first proper team-up event, what we got was an “Avengers lite” sort of deal that felt diametrically opposed to what the rest of the DCEU stood for.
The worst part is that you could tell which parts were directed by Whedon and which were crafted by Snyder with just a cursory glance. Whedon’s tone and humor are an ill-fit for Snyder’s universe – and it shows. Seeing characters like Ben Affleck’s Batman suddenly cracking jokes about being rich, or how Superman was just a mere accessory to the plot, felt like a complete betrayal to every piece of lore created by Snyder.
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Once we finally got the Snyder Cut, we could finally see what the movie was meant to be – and, oh boy, was it clear that WB dropped the ball when they chose Whedon as a replacement. If only the Snyder Cut was the version we got in cinemas, the DCEU might have had a fighting chance against the increasingly outlandish MCU.
5. No Clear Plans for the DCEU
While what Zack Snyder and Patty Jenkins did for the DCEU is nothing short of admirable, there was a general sense of aimlessness surrounding the entire franchise that fans just couldn’t help but notice. Most decisions regarding this core franchise just felt random at times, almost like the studio was throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks.
The MCU was busy building overarching plots and long-standing villains that spanned multiple films – all the while the DCEU was still struggling to release a proper sequel. Characters like Batfleck felt criminally underused in this saga, with him only being introduced as a complement to the narrative in Batman v Superman.
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What the studio needed was to properly flesh out these characters – to make the audience fall in love with them so it would be even more painful when it came the time to potentially say goodbye to any of them. Everything just feels rushed in the DCEU, making the franchise seem like an effort to make a cinematic universe that tries to mimic the MCU as closely as humanly possible.
6. Keeping Controversial Actors on the Payroll
The Internet has become a powerful instrument to gauge a movie’s potential box office performance long before it releases in theaters – and, if there’s a movie that was violently reviled online, that has to be The Flash. There’s a reason why the movie got so much backlash, however: Ezra Miller’s crazy Hawaiian antics.
From assaulting the locals to being part of a weird cult/sect, Ezra Miller has done it all. Of course, this amount of bad publicity on the star of a major flick is something that no film studio wants – but Warner Bros. is not like most film studios, apparently. Instead of replacing Miller or canceling the movie as they did with Batgirl, the studio doubled down on Miller’s casting, with the picture’s production designer even saying that The Flash is so good people would forget all of Miller’s controversies. They did not.
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Another personality who has somehow evaded the boot is Amber Heard as Mera in Aquaman 2. Heard has been in the public crosshairs for a while, mainly because of her legal battle with Johnny Depp. Unlike her ex-husband, however, Heard’s career has evaded most of the flak. She’s still slated to appear in Aquaman 2 – a movie that, at this point, barely has any reason to exist at all.
7. Sidelining the Man of Steel
What could be one of the most baffling decisions ever made by Warner Bros. has to be how it treated Superman in the DCEU. Considering the Man of Steel was the one who kick-started this whole cinematic universe, we’d expect to see him a bit more in the following films. That said, Man of Steel was the only solo Superman movie in the whole saga, leaving Henry Cavill’s tenure as the Last Son of Krypton feel largely unfinished.
For some reason, WB seemed to be making the conscious decision to avoid Superman as much as possible in their films. From Shazam‘s unremarkable cameo to Peacemaker‘s changing Henry Cavill for a double in what would have been Supes’ last scene in the DCEU, it seems as if Warner Bros. was actively avoiding using Superman as much as possible.
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On that same note, keeping Henry Cavill away from the character has to be one of the worst choices the studio has ever made. If we had to endure Jared Leto as the Joker in more than one movie, I think seeing someone who was born to play the Man of Steel would have been more than enjoyable for fans of the franchise. That, and perhaps we could have seen a conclusion to some of the mysteries left unsolved by Man of Steel.
What other sins do you think Warner Bros. has committed?