– by Joseph Jammer Medina

[This Was Originally Posted On May 6. It’s The First In A Multi-Part Series That Lead Editor Mario-Francisco Robles Has Been Working On. He’s Finally Prepared To Finish The Series. We’ll Be Reposting The Previous Entries In Order To Catch You Up For Both The Finale And The Eventual Book]

Welcome to a special ongoing look at Warner Bros. and how it’s handled its DC Comics properties. It’s going to be a weekly, ongoing miniseries here at LRM. This first entry will offer a bit of history, as we build towards what’s happening in the present day DCEU. We’ll explore all of the interesting parallels and forks in the road that brought us to where the DCEU is today.


Humble Beginnings…

Long before comic book movies dominated Hollywood; Long before comic books were looked upon as anything other than campy, youth-oriented entertainment; Long before Hollywood titans like Disney and 20th Century got into the business of building worlds out of superhero titles, a struggling film company merged with another conglomerate in a seemingly innocuous merger transaction. 

Warner Bros., which had begun its life in 1923 and would become one of the most important studios in Hollywood, was in an extremely vulnerable place in the mid-1960s. The once mighty studio was sold by its founder, Jack Warner, in 1966. Warner sold the studio to Seven Arts Productions, which gave way to Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. In 1967, Kinney National Company- comprised of a parking and cleaning company- bought both National Periodical Publications and the fledgling Warner Bros.-Seven Arts.

National Periodical Company happened to be the parent company of DC Comics.

Three years later, in 1970, Warner Bros. rose from the ashes of all of those mergers and consolidations thanks to the successes of films like BONNIE AND CLYDE and THE WILD BUNCH. Separately, a producer named Ilya Salkind would have a bright idea in 1973, thinking that the DC character SUPERMAN would make for one hell of a movie. It was a somewhat unprecedented idea since- until that point- characters like Superman and Batman had been used for either campy TV shows, cartoons, or serials. Salkind had something far more grand in mind.

It took over a year, and Warner Bros. was so uncommitted to the idea that they only gave Salkind and his partners a Negative Pickup Deal- which, essentially says that they have to do all of the work and Warner Bros. would just write them a check and distribute it at the end of the process- but Salkind finally got the go-ahead. This meant that in 1974, SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE officially entered development. The producers, for their part, put together quite a package for the film. They hired THE GODFATHER writer Mario Puzo to write the screenplay, and got Hollywood icons Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando to sign on. Remember, this was the mid-1970s. Long before folks like Christopher Nolan, Bryan Singer, or Zack Snyder could put together all-star teams to create superhero flicks.

The film went into a prolonged state of development and production, as the project would evolve into a back-to-back simultaneous production for two SUPERMAN films. Director Richard Donner and his creative consultant Tom Manciewicz went back and forth with the producers, and a contentious relationship was formed between them that would eventually see Donner getting dumped from SUPERMAN II, but the fruits of their joint labors all proved to be worth it. SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, to this day, is still the #1 domestic-grosser based on the character when adjusted for inflation. Yes, it tops BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE by around $170 million as of this writing. 

Christopher Reeve in "SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE" (1978)

Christopher Reeve in “SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE” (1978)

Suddenly, making a big budget superhero movie, and getting A-list talent to attach itself to it, wasn’t that crazy of an idea anymore.

While the Man of Steel would follow up its initial triumph with a rollercoaster ride of sequels for the nextnine years, Warner Bros. would next turn its sights on Batman. In 1989, the studio produced a dark, gritty film based on DC’s caped crusader that was directed by Tim Burton. To this day, that film has been topped only by Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT. It was a massive success that gave way to three sequels but, much like Superman, it petered out after a dismal fourth installment.

Michael Keaton in "BATMAN" (1989).

Michael Keaton in “BATMAN” (1989).

In 1997, exactly 10 years after the last Superman film landed with a thud, and with BATMAN & ROBIN coming out and becoming a nippled laughing stock for Warner Bros., the studio came to a crossroads:

What could be done to breathe life, and bring dignity, back to these iconic characters? 

Join me next week, when we explore the long dramatic road- decades in the making- that brought us to BATMAN V SUPERMAN.

Thanks For Your Time,

Mario-Francisco Robles

As with my letter to Zack Snyder, if you feel compelled to have this conversation with your friends and get them involved on this hot topic, share this. Share it everywhere.

Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.