Warner Bros and the search for a new franchise

Feature Simon Brew

Batman is gone. The Hangover is ending. The Titans may just have fallen. Are the days of Warner Bros and big franchises coming to an end?

For the best part of three decades now, Warner Bros – arguably more than any other of the Hollywood majors – has been a franchise studio. Not exclusively so, but the studio’s always had its summer tentpole franchises that provide the room to try a mixture of other films.

So, for instance, we had the Lethal Weapons, the Supermans, the Police Academy movies, the Matrix trilogy, the Batmans, and a host of other attempts to launch major franchises.

But the studio might just be about to find itself at an interesting crossroads. Last year, the most lucrative movie franchise of all time, the Harry Potter series, came to an end. In the same summer, an expensive attempt to launch a new franchise, Green Lantern, struggled both critically and commercially.

Fast-forward to the end of the year, and the performance of Happy Feet Two appears to have ended any chance of a Happy Feet Three. Similarly, Wrath Of The Titans has fallen, commercially, a long way short of Clash Of The Titans. Titans do not look like they’ll be clashing or wrathing again any time soon.

So what else does Warner Bros have in the locker? Well, it’s just lost, for the time being, its second biggest franchise, as Christopher Nolan has brought his Batman saga to an end with The Dark Knight Rises. Then, next year will mark the end of the extraordinarily lucrative Hangover series of films, which have been relatively cheap to make, and enormously profitable for the studio.

Where, then, does Warner Bros look next for its new franchises? Well, it does appear to be taking some risks, but first…


There’s been a very mixed reaction, perhaps understandably, to the decision to split The Hobbit now into three separate movies. It gives Warner Bros, through its New Line subsidiary, a brand new trilogy of films, and will keep the studio pipeline stuffed with big films until at least 2014.

Importantly, the split appears to be filmmaker rather than studio-driven, with director Peter Jackson and his team keen to dig into unfilmed appendices for material for The Hobbit Part III. It is, as things stand, the only sure-fire hit that Warner Bros currently has, and also solves Warner Bros’ immediate lack of new franchises. 


While we’re talking The Hobbit, it’s worth also touching on the other New Line properties that Warner Bros may resurrect. A Dumb And Dumber sequel fell apart earlier this year, but there’s a decent chance that an Austin Powers revival may yet be on the cards. Furthermore, New Line is also looking into National Lampoon’s Vacation and Police Academy reboots, which should give the studio cheap, profitable movies for the time being. 

Also, New Line has yet to commit to a sixth Final Destination film, but for bottom line profit, the saga has been hard to beat in recent years. The last movie struggled, but the fourth, The Final Destination, did surprisingly strong numbers.


Warner Bros does have an active franchise that’s gradually escalating with each chapter. Earlier this year, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island proved to be a fun little family diversion, and one that equalled the take of its 3D showcasing predecessor, Journey To The Center Of The Earth (a 3D movie in pre-Avatar times). Journey 3 has already been greenlit, and the studio seems able to bank on a reasonable box office take with each subsequent release.


Batman may have come to an end in his current guise, but Warner Bros’ long-term franchise future surely lies with its DC properties. Main production is over on next summer’s Superman reboot, Man Of Steel, for which the studio has high hopes. It’s a gamble it needs to win, too, given that Bryan Singer’s last attempt to breathe fresh life into the Superman saga, Superman Returns, failed to really win people over.

Outside of Superman, it’s going to be a testing few years. Warner Bros will want to get Batman back on the big screen as quickly as possible, but the general feeling is that it’ll wait for a Justice League movie to reintroduce the character, before starting a new chapter in the Dark Knight’s cinematic history.

Warner has come in for much criticism for pressing ahead with a Justice League screenplay, but you can see its strategy. It’s got a tough job, since it’ll have to introduce several heroes at once without the backdrop of several hit movies leading into it (the strategy that Marvel deployed with The Avengers to stunning success). But Warner Bros knows that if it gets a Justice League movie right, then it will spark several franchises in one go. The likes of Aquaman, The Flash, Wonder Woman and a new Batman are the least we’d expect should the studio win its Justice League gamble. 

If it fails? Then it’s back in Green Lantern territory, spending big on a new film every year or two, and wagering its chips on single characters until one of them breaks through. Lobo, for instance, has been in development for some time already.


Its US gross may have fallen below that of the first film, but the worldwide box office takings of Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows ensured that the second movie ultimately outgrossed the first. And that’s just with cinematic takings taken into account. Throw in the many, many other sources of income for a modern day movie, and Warner Bros is in comfortable profit here.

Sherlock Holmes 3, then? Well, it won’t be cheap to make, with talent costs escalating with each instalment. But, unsurprisingly, Warner Bros commissioned a third screenplay as early as last October, and the clear intention is for a thus-far unannounced third chapter.


The numbers for Wrath Of The Titans weren’t in when Warner Bros decided to formally press ahead with a 300 prequel. Perhaps if they had been, it might have altered its thinking. Nonetheless, the 300 prequel, going by the name 300: The Battle Of Artemisia is the follow-up of sorts to the surprise smash hit of 2006. Noam Murro is directing, and Warner Bros will be hoping that he can kickstart the franchise enough to get at least one more film out of it.


The pleasant end result for the movie purist is that Warner Bros is also actively pursuing new properties. That its future isn’t just tied to finding franchises and sequels to make has to be a good thing, and some of its films for next year prove that. Warner is gambling big on Guillermo del Toro’s stunning-looking Pacific Rim, for instance, and that’s going to be one of its major tentpole pictures for 2013.

Look, too, towards Bryan Singer’s delayed Jack The Giant Killer. After an initial trailer was released, the film was moved from June 2012 to March 2013, and that doesn’t inspire too much confidence. But it might yet be a success for the studio, and it might encourage it to take more chances on similar one-off projects.

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New Line ballsed up His Dark Materials badly, but The Golden Compass still did gangbusters everywhere but the bible belt. Probably too late to do The Subtle Knife without recasting the kids, but this was a franchise that could have worked if they had stuck to the story, and probably made it a bit cheaper, or all in one go.

I think WB can easily look to the Nolan created Batman Universe to rebirth a new franchise. I thought JGL was excellent as Robin 'John' Blake and perfect to launch a potential NIGHTWING movie franchise. It would give WB a whole new cast of villians and characters to work with (son of Lucius Fox maybe?) and because NIGHTWING is less known to the general public, they can start with a more intimate, lower budget intro movie but still keep the bells and whistles from Nolan's Universe, maybe even bringing him in as producer / consultant. U could build NIGHTWING up if successful or have him cross-over into other DC characters movies. Would he be out of place in a GREEN ARROW film? I think u would be hard pushed to reimagine BATMAN for quite some time but setting NIGHTWING in the future Gotham would allow a greater nod to the fantastical, which ideally suits bringing in other DC properties. There's alot of 'advanced' tech in Nolan's BATMAN Universe. Can we imagine a future Gotham where that falls into the wrong hands maybe? Plenty for WB to explore i think and JGL deserves to become centre stage. Great actor. One of the highlights of TDKR.

Dr Who

willy2fly does the word spoilers mean nothing to you?

Any attempt to continue the Nolan Batman films would just seem desperate and I think without the original creative team would ultimately be just as difficult as a full on relaunch.

I want a Batman and Robin film that isn't camp. Something following the tone of Grant Morrison's Batman run or the Arkham City game. Something where there is a Batman and a Robin and some of the villains already exist. I'm getting kind of sick of seeing origin stories. Most films don't do an origin story for all the characters, and they don't even have the character recognition a lot of comic properties do.

Indiana Jones and Han Solo prove that you don't need to see a characters origin if you include enough character moments in the event of the film (I know Indiana Jones origin was subsequently filmed, but when Raiders came out he was already there as Indy). Trust the audience.

Oh, and they should use Man of Steel as the jumping off point for any Justice League film. Make a Batman film where he's in that world. Do Wonder Woman and make a Trinity film. Or a Justice League film without Aquaman.

Sorry to Aquaman fans but he is rubbish.

No no no no no No No No! NO!


@ topstars12 What do u mean pal? If ur refering to me spoiling TDKR then i doubt many people who post on here would not have seen the film by now. The site is called Den of Geek and u wouldnt be much of a geek if u hadnt seen TDKR already! Lol!

Well there wasn't much there to set the pulse racing was there? To include the hobbit a franchise is possibly stretching the term a little...

The next Holmes movie needs to be better written, the second instalment looked rushed and too focused on action over dialogue or plot. A poor third would probably end that franchise for a while.

Batman spin offs would have the feel of a desperate act and I still can't get excited about Superman or any of the other DC heroes. They're all just a bit cheesy.

Police Academy has an inevitable feel to it. A half decent first film would see at least 2 sequels, all borish, sexist, lowest common denominator humour.

An Austin Powers 4 would have to very good to do well I'd imagine. It's been years since 3 in which time Myers has made one of his worst films to date. The AP films were getting slightly dumber each time, with easier, less funny jokes. Loved the first one, but by 3 it got old and a 4th would need something very new and different to do anything over average I'd bet.

New stuff is always much more welcome. There are many interesting and exciting novels out there to draw from for good films. Loads of Sci-Fi and Fantasy sagas all selling big numbers, yet studios play it so safe they don't dare touch them.

And not sold out by taming the script.

I would disagree that Batman spin offs would have the feel of a desperate act. I think the 'heightened reality' Nolan created for Batman is arguably the greatest imagining of a superhero from any comic book canon so it would be ludacris not to extend or enhance that world further. I would like to see a 'future' Gotham that keeps the heightened reality and sense of internal logic that Nolan created. As i've mentioned earlier on this thread, NIGHTWING fighting crime in a 'future' Gotham that tips the cap to Nolan's universe but brings in it's own sense of visual style and flair would be very interesting to see. U could make a 2 or 3 part movie series based on that, crossing over characters from other DC comic lines and even introduce a new actor as Batman when NIGHTWING hangs up his gloves. The possibilities following that arc are massive i think.

Like it or not, a David Yates Doctor is happening, seems obvious that a Yates enamoured Warner would pick it up.

Not necessarily. No further news has been forthcoming since the initial confused news, which was confirmed, then retracted, then semi-confirmed, then both parties said opposite things. The film will never happen as long as the series is doing so well - UNLESS it's with the current (at the time) BBC Doctor; in which circumstance, I would support it.

I'd love to see something based on Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking series, but 9/10 studios would balls it up. Oh well.

Artemis Fowl and Skulduggery Pleasant are the ones to look out for.

I've heard that Lionsgate - same guys who did Hunger Games - have acquired the rights for the series. I was pleasantly surprised by the Hunger Games adaptation but Chaos Walking is a whole other beast - if they do somehow manage to pull it off, it would be simply incredible: imagine Noise on a movie screen, the Spackle, that War - and I would love to see who they cast to play Prentiss...

Definitely - both have huge potential for a hit franchise!


Yeah, I just don't see Justice League working in the same continuity as Nolan's Batman.

Yeah, poisonous and insidious atheistic agitprop aimed at kiddies, that's the way to go with a new franchise, REALLY dude, and '...Compass' didn't do well across North America as a whole, not just the bible belt, get your facts straight.

On the other hand, the 'Narnia' films all did pretty well because they had universal themes of forgiveness and redemption, 'The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe' even beat Peter Jackson's 'King Kong' remake by around $200m worldwide... there's a lesson in there somewhere for studios wanting to kick off a potential new franchise.

If WB want to make if not a whole new Batman franchise but a single great Batman movie, then adapt the superb 1980's graphic novel 'Gotham by Gaslight' - which sees a 19th century Batman tackling Jack the Ripper in Gotham City - into a movie, it would be visually sumptuous and highly atmospheric...and you could even go with a cool reveal at the end with Jack the Ripper turning out to be an 1800's variation of the Joker, just a thought.

Imma let you finish, but Aslan was a selfish git. There's got to be another way to teach other than through guilt.

Skulduggery Pleasant's definitely got my vote. Great books.

Yeah it was funny - they watered down the anti-religion stuff in the script, but the folks they were worried about offending got offended anyway, and the fans of the books were put offside too. It was lose/lose.

My facts are fine. Pretty much all of North America is the bible belt these days. The religious right have dug their claws in good and proper. Narnia's fine too, but His Dark Materials is more than just agitprop for kids, and $300m from the rest of the world for a film that compromised suggests that there was a decent market for it from, you know, us open minded types who believe in evolution and what not.

Just another thought, but didn't Peter Jackson buy the rights to the 'Temeraire' series of books. Dragons in the Napoleonic war could be cool in the right hands, and there are a bunch of decent books in the series to choose from.

bring on LOBO! thats gotta be moneyspinner

If you think the WHOLE of North America - Canada included - is the bible belt, then you're not only far from being open-minded, you're just an ill-informed fool... guess that explains why you like the works of Philip Pullman, birds of a feather and all that.

And that comment about the 'religious right' and evolution... LOL, stop it dude, my aching sides...

Batman hasn't gone, what are you talking about?

Warner Bros needs its own original Space franchise

would also love to see an artificial life humanoid/android franchise. Something in the vein of Chobits would be just as successful and dare I say more successful than the Twilight films.

This was a big type up for nothing really. Warner Bros. isn't going ANYWHERE. You don't make this much money and just disappear. You have any idea how many "franchises" or just ideas period you could make movies out of. Look at all the sci-fi books written from the 60's till now. Now, we have the special FX to make those sci-fi movies from those sci-fi books. There's GAZILLIONS of writers out there with book/movie ideas that ARE marketable. If they did it RIGHT. I'd love to see a Flash (DC Comics) trilogy. Or a Firestorm (DC Comics) trilogy.

OMG dude! That's my fave anime and they BETTER not mess that up haha

lol I doubt we'll ever see a big screen adaptation of Chobits - but it would be a huge hit if done right

Who's suggesting that Nolan's Batman would fit in?

Would Captain Marvel (Shazam) have a good franchise? It could stem off of a Justice League movie. It would have to be pretty well done though...

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