James Gunn’s DCU faces challenges as it transitions into a new era, with box office struggles and superhero fatigue threatening its success. The success of DC Studios’ upcoming film “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” at the box office is uncertain, as post-strike Fall and Winter releases have underwhelmed. The DC Universe aims to replicate the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by creating a shared universe of superhero stories, but may need to do things differently from the competition.

Despite getting a jump on the modern superhero movie 45 years ago, the DC Universe on the big and small screen is in transition. The landscape of the entertainment marketplace is changing. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been the superhero and cinematic franchise gold-standard for 15 years. As James Gunn is about to launch the all-new, all-different DCU in 2025, box office struggles, “superhero fatigue” and DC Studios’ past fumbles threaten its success before he even truly begins.

The next box-office stumble for DC Studios will be yet another film from the “dead” side of the franchise. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom may underwhelm at the box office, as most post-strike Fall and Winter feature releases have. Right now, all eyes are on Marvel Studios as The Marvels became the lowest-grossing film for the MCU in 15 years. Ever since Warner Bros. decided to launch a shared universe off the back of Man of Steel, the distinguished competition seems to be snipping at Marvel’s heels. It seems the studio wants what Kevin Feige has: a successful shared universe of superhero stories that rake in billions and billions of dollars for the studio. It’s likely a big reason why Warner Bros. Discovery tapped MCU-alum James Gunn in the first place. Only now it seems the studio set him up to fail because the so-called “Marvel experiment” is failing. Or is it?

Is Excitement for the MCU Dying and Are Superheroes Over?


Fox Failed Halle Berry’s Storm – But the MCU Can Make Things Right

Fox made a massive mistake with Storm during production on X-Men: The Last Stand. The MCU now has the chance to smooth things over.

Even before Marvel’s fledgling studio debuted Iron Man, the notion that audiences were done with superheroes abounded. The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer likely didn’t turn a profit in theaters. Spider-Man 3 was expensive, but it almost certainly turned a profit. Still, critics and the most vocal fans hated it. The third X-Men movie from 20th Century Fox and Superman Returns also disappointed. Today, the old criticism is back. But if there is any superhero fatigue, it’s likely economical and has little to do with the substance of the stories.

Since the pandemic lockdown, Marvel Studios has released no fewer than six new projects with a grand total of ten in 2021. While the amount of MCU lore viewers need to know to be able to enjoy a show or film is relative, the idea is that audiences need to know everything that happens in all of them to understand the larger story. One reason fans may not have rushed out to the movies in order to see The Marvels is because they’ve still not caught up with Ms. Marvel or WandaVision or any other previous release they assumed was relevant to the story.

Both Disney and then-WarnerMedia wanted their studio-owned streaming services to be the hubs for their superhero universe. It worked. Audiences trying to balance multiple streaming subscriptions may not spend $18 per person (not counting snacks) to see the latest release in theaters. They’ll catch up on them in a weekend or two on streaming when they have the time. The interest in these stories, especially for younger audiences, hasn’t really waned. They just don’t have the urgency the MCU’s fans did during its record-breaking run in the 2010s.

James Gunn’s Biggest Financial Hurdle Is DC Movie Budgets Not Grosses


The Flash’s Budget Was Bigger Than We Originally Thought

A new report reveals that the budget for DC Studios’ The Flash, starring Ezra Miller and Michael Keaton, was bigger than originally reported.

Audiences of a certain age remember a time when a $200 million box office gross for a movie like The Marvels was a massive success. The reason it’s not, of course, is in large part due to preventative pandemic protocols. The Marvels also had a $250 million budget before marketing. This means it would’ve had to earn $600-plus million to get into truly profitable territory. What made the MCU such a phenomenon was how their films routinely met and surpassed those lofty targets.

With new releases showing up on streaming two months after release for a fraction of a single ticket, those days may be over for good. The box office is robust. It is continuing to grow after the pandemic and a few zeitgeist-y films soared close to the billion-dollar gross benchmark. Yet, this is no longer the norm. James Gunn (or more likely Peter Safran) will need to reign in film and television budgets. If anyone is in a position to do this, however, it’s the guy who made Slither.

Films like Superman: Legacy will still be monstrously expensive, but a film like The Brave and the Bold doesn’t have to be. Even though Gunn seems to dismiss the Arrowverse, Arrow showed how a story about a “dark knight” type can be done on a modest budget. The math will eventually work out. A $50 million movie with Batman-related characters could net a high enough box office to subsidize the lower profit margins that might come with a Superman or DC character team-up picture.

Gunn Could Copy One Thing from Another Popular Franchise


James Gunn Names a Major MCU Mistake the DCU Will Avoid

DC Studios co-president and co-CEO James Gunn reveals the DC Universe will try to steer clear of a major problem the Marvel Cinematic Universe has.

While Warner Bros. Discovery wants him to copy the MCU, James Gunn is taking inspiration from Star Warsinstead. He should perhaps look to the other “Star” franchise instead. While mostly centered on television, Star Trek created the model for a successful “shared universe” during its second wave in the 1990s. The setting was connected. Captain Benjamin Sisko knew Captain Picard, and they all knew who Captain Kirk was. With what amounted to mere Easter eggs referring to other Star Trek iterations, Gene Roddenberry’s universe felt completely connected.

Characters would cross over to other shows or to the movies on rare occasions, usually just one or two for a self-contained story or scene. It was all connected, but none of it was required viewing. Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige is also a Star Trek fan and looks to one of the saga’s least-loved movies for a vital MCU ingredient. In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the movie begins and ends with the Big Three from the Enterprise (Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy) on a camping trip together. Feige wants each MCU story to have a moment like that showing the characters as human beings and, most importantly, as friends.

If Gunn follows Feige’s advice about including “a campfire scene,” a one-off team-up or cameo can create the feeling of an entire shared universe. Audiences would understand why these heroes were friends. But they wouldn’t feel the need to see every film or show with them to enjoy that particular story. Both the DCU and the MCU need to ensure there are plenty of “on-ramps” for new audiences for their continuing voyages, boldly going to where the box office was before.

The Biggest Variable for the New DCU Is the Audience


Superman: Legacy’s James Gunn Reveals if DC Games Will Be DCU Canon

Despite the DCU allegedly expanding into video games at some point, future DC games don’t have to share the same universe as the films.

Telling stories that can meet the high expectations Superman and Batman fans have is difficult on its own. However, the DCU under James Gunn has daunting problems outside of the substance of the films and shows. Audiences watch things differently in 2023 than they did just four years ago. The way to attract as many as possible is to serve something for everyone. The trick isn’t to make Peacemaker Season 2 integral to the plot of Superman: Legacy. Rather, Gunn and company must create standalone stories around characters they simply want to see more of.

Similarly, Gunn’s DCU should significantly lower the stakes in films. Instead of threatening the planet, what if it’s just Superman’s friends who are in danger? Rather than stopping the destruction of Gotham City, maybe Batman could just save a handful of people? This wouldn’t require the need for the third-act visual effects extravaganza that audiences have seen again and again. With the right characters and story, a DCU film or series could feel sufficiently epic even if the conflict is more personal. There’s still time for world-ending threats but save those for the big Justice League team-ups like the comics used to do.

By telling discrete stories with minimal character overlap, Gunn’s DCU can be all things to all fans. Those not interested in big, epic continuities can enjoy individual films and series without feeling lost. Similarly, DC fans can be rewarded with individual stories that work together but aren’t dependent on one another. Done with reasonable budgets, Warner Bros. Discovery could become the new superhero shared universe success story. Naturally, the most important part of the process is a well-told story. Yet, unfortunately, that may not be enough for James Gunn and the DCU to have the kind of profit-making success Warner Bros. wants.

Superman: Legacy will fly into theaters on July 11, 2025.

Superman: Legacy

Follows the titular superhero as he reconciles his heritage with his human upbringing. He is the embodiment of truth, justice and the American way in a world that views kindness as old-fashioned.

 With the MCU is facing struggles at the box office and on streaming, will James Gunn’s new DC Universe be doomed to fail before it ever really begins?  Read More