The Flash has been a big disappointment at the box office. The long-awaited film finally arrived in theaters and performed well below expectations and opened less in its opening weekend than lesser-known films based on competitors Marvel like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals, which both also opened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Combine that with the box office bomb that was Shazam! Fury of the Gods and The Flash, it seems like audiences just are not invested in the DCEU and that the reboot of the DCU announced by James Gunn might be what the franchise needs.
Updated October 1, 2023: With more information coming out about James Gunn’s new DCU, as well as the recent release of Blue Beetle and the trailer for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, this article has been updated with additional information by Jack Deegan.
The Flash was meant to be the end of the DCEU, a fitting farewell, but it has now gone off with a whimper. Blue Beetle hit theaters in August 2023, and while it did better with critics and fans, it did not light up the box office and is seen as a disappointment. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is the final film from the original DCEU slate, and everyone is watching to see if it lives up to the box office expectations of the previous film or if the DC brand is so hurt that it bombs at the box office. There is a chance the new plans being announced killed any buzz for the remaining films. Do audiences care about these movies if they know that new plans are in place?
Did the DCEU Movies Matter?
The DCEU has been on a rough footing since it launched in 2013 with Man of Steel. Under the vision of Zack Snyder, the director gave a dark and gritty version of the DC heroes. 2016’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad were box office hits but were hated by critics, and audiences also turned on them quickly after opening weekend. While 2017’s Wonder Woman was both a critical and box office hit, by the time 2017’s Justice League hit theaters, audiences were already skeptical of the brand, and the movie drastically underperformed.
Justice League was also riddled with behind-the-scenes production issues, much of it resulting from the backlash to Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Warner Bros. becoming reactionary. Behind the scenes, conflicts and struggles became the default narrative for DC. All of it has, in some ways, culminated in The Flash, a movie so beleaguered by Ezra Miller issues that its auxiliary stars had to carry the press tour. Warner Bros. never really gave many words about why they were backing the Ezra Miller project after the various allegations, but we can be sure it started with mo- and ended with -ney. There was too much of it already spent, too much hype in the machine, and cheap cameos. They wanted to generate the same excitement a Marvel movie gets without putting in the work.
The Flash gave the DCEU a send-off, but is it really over? The movie and the filmmakers themselves have been unclear about the future of the DCEU and the various characters that are going into the new DCU. It is clear there will be a new Batman and Superman, but nobody has answered what happens to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman or Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn.
James Gunn Prepares
Now that the E is gone, the DCU can live. James Gunn has already thrown down his gauntlet of new projects, and they look like a return to form. The characters will no longer follow the gritty/grey formula but will have life and light. The big, blue boy scout of Superman will be back in the air for truth and justice. Batman will be brooding but will have the entire Bat-family to contend with (including a son), and characters like Green Lantern, Swamp Thing, and Booster Gold will get their moment.
Gunn has said that his DCU will have none of the Marvel everything-in-New-York mentality. Instead, he is offering a brand-new world. He will follow comic book storylines, tie in a variety of media, including film, TV, and even animation, and display this colorful pastiche to all the haters who say that “the formula” has led to superhero fatigue. For James Gunn and the DCU, there is no such thing as fatigue if you present things in a new and refreshing form. And Gunn is the one to present it in just that manner.
The producer, writer, and director was once hailed as the savior of the Marvel universe. He brought the Guardians of the Galaxy, a ragtag group of misfits, to the forefront and made them household names. His take on the humor-mixed-with-violence genre gave him carte-blanche to devote time and energy to characters that nobody had ever heard of. Then Warner Bros. came along, offered him a shot at The Suicide Squad, a story of a ragtag group of misfits, and he knocked it clear out of the park. If it was an audition, he wasn’t out the door before they were fitting him for his leading-man costume. Now he is standing in front of a library of comic books, tapping his index finger to his lips and wondering which characters will get top billing in his new DCU.
What Happens To The Remaining Films?
Blue Beetle and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom were the two final DCEU films that followed The Flash in 2023. Audiences might write these movies off the bat as they don’t think they will matter in the larger story. Even if neither film is part of an ongoing story, they can still have value on their own terms. Superhero movies are not just chapters for the next piece. Back in the 2000s, superhero movies could be stand-alone films, and an audience saw them because the character or concept looked cool. A movie’s value is not in if it is part of a larger franchise. Nobody would say Top Gun: Maverick does not count if they know Top Gun 3 isn’t going to happen because what matters is the movie.
If any film in the DCEU is successful, elements will likely be brought over into the DCU. So, what matters is what connects with the audience. Outside of a few heroes like Wonder Woman and Aquaman, the DCEU never got general audiences invested in their franchise. They had a rough start, and by the time they recovered, audience goodwill had gone down, and the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which threw everything into disarray.
Who Stays and Who Goes?
Ever since James Gunn announced the slate for the new DCU in January 2023, people have been wondering just how much of the old DCEU will carry over into the new universe. Despite how most of the slate in “Gods and Monsters” had been laid out, the future of the universe was still uncertain. Shows like Waller confirmed that Viola Davis would return in the starring role, but then there would be Superman: Legacy, which would recast the Man of Steel and act as the jumping-off point for the DCU. It’s been a point of confusion for people, but thankfully, Gunn has recently come out and confirmed what to expect in the DCU’s canon.
With so many people asking him over the last few months, Gunn took to this Threads account to set the record straight and say that:
“Nothing is canon until Creature Commandos next year – a sort of aperitif to the DCU – & then a deeper dive into the universe with Superman: Legacy after that. It’s a very human drive to want to understand everything all the time, but I think its okay to be confused on what’s happening in the DCU since no one has seen anything from the DCU yet. And, yes, some actors will be playing characters they’ve played in other stories & some plot points might be consistent with plot points from the dozens of films, shows & animated projects that have come from DC in the past. But nothing is canon until CC and Legacy. 🧜♂️”
What this means is that the new DCU is starting with a blank slate of canon. Anything that happened in the old universe, from Man of Steel to the upcoming Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, will not affect the current timeline of movies, shows, and video games. The first project that will have anything to do with the DCU’s continuity is the animated series Creature Commandos.
From his wording, it seems like that series will just be a tease of what to expect in the DCU before Superman: Legacy opens the whole universe up. Gunn also notes that some plot points may be consistent with that of the old DCEU, but it’s up to the new universe to decide what they want to do. This leaves a world of potential for the DCU to say what is and isn’t canon, and we’ll only learn that when Chapter 1 officially kicks off next year. All that being said, what does this mean for the confirmed actors returning to this new universe?
With the release of Blue Beetle, Gunn confirmed that Xolo Maridueña would continue to play Jaime Reyes in the new universe. The events of the film may not be canon in the universe until said otherwise, but he will carry over. Along with Xolo and Viola, the other confirmed cast members joining the new universe will be John Cena’s Peacemaker and Freddie Stroma’s Vigilante. A second season of Peacemaker is on the way, so that’s most likely when those two will pop up. In all of these cases, it’s the same actor playing the same character, but things are only canon when the story mentions it. It’s a soft reboot for those carrying over with a hard reboot on everything else.
Why the DCEU Must Stay Dead
After ten years, the DCEU is finally at a close. It certainly has its fans, and if the recent array of legacy sequels has shown, it is never too late for these characters and concepts to return. In five to ten years, there is a chance Affleck and Cavill could return in some multiverse crossover with the new Batman and Superman. Yet it is apparent after so many box office bombs, DC needs to rethink its strategy. A clean slate might be what gets everyone back on board.
The Flash should be a reminder that too many universes spoil the pot. If Gunn and the DCU are going to succeed, they need to take their toys and start a brand-new game of make-believe. Same toys, different sandbox. We even have our first look at the DCU, as Blue Beetle will be the first character of the new universe. It looks fun, it looks colorful, and its small-scale action reminds viewers of how the MCU got its start with a small-scale robotic superhero.
The DCEU is dead. Long live the DCU.