We don’t know where filmmaker James Gunn is at the moment, but we’d like to think he is dancing real groovy-like to some a.m. radio classics based on the news that was just made public. Because the Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad director is joining producer Peter Safran to act as co-chair and co-CEO of DC Studios.
The stunning revelation, which was broken Tuesday afternoon by The Hollywood Reporter, confirms the pair will be reporting directly to Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav. They also replace former DC Films president Walter Hamada, who exited the company last week.
Not since perhaps the days of Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith founding United Artists in 1919 has an A-list director moved into the position of studio executive. Yet that’s exactly what happened with Gunn, who according to THR began discussing the prospect of teaming with Safran to lead DC’s future cinematic endeavors over the summer. At the time, they had been approached by Warners co-chair Michael De Luca, and talks apparently went relatively smoothly from there. The intention is for Gunn to maintain an eye on the creative side of DC’s film, television, and animation output while Safran maintains a hand on the more commercial aspects.
The news is a definite game-changer with Gunn perhaps having more firsthand knowledge than any other filmmaker about the ins-and-outs of how modern superhero moviemaking works. In fact, Gunn’s found success at both of the genre’s two biggest houses: Disney’s Marvel Studios and WB’s ever evolving DC division. Once the quirky and eccentric auteur behind relatively low-budget and horror-adjacent fare like Slither (2006) and Super (2011), the former Troma filmmaker got elevated to A-lister status when Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige took a chance on Gunn. The result was one of the MCU’s most popular and bizarre franchises, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
Manufactured social media controversy briefly took Gunn away from the MCU, but Feige and the Guardians of the Galaxy cast remained loyal enough to Gunn that Disney eventually lured the filmmaker back for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. In the interim, DC established what has turned out to be an exceedingly important connection with Gunn by giving him cart blanche on last year’s The Suicide Squad, which we personally would argue is the most fun a superhero movie has been in at least the last five years.
The Suicide Squad is also where Gunn reunited with Safran in the realm of blockbusters after first working together on Slither. Safran produced the 2021 supervillain project, which marked his second DC movie after producing via New Line Cinema 2019’s Shazam! Prior to that, Safran helped establish the highly lucrative The Conjuring shared universe for Warners under the New Line umbrella by producing every movie in that expanding franchise. He also goes back a long way with Gunn, having produced Gunn’s filthy comedy series on YouTube, “PG Porn,” in the 2000s, as well as producing alongside Gunn The Belko Experiment, a 2016 horror movie based on Gunn’s script.Since then Safran has continued to produce DC projects, including being an executive producer on Gunn’s Peacemaker on HBO Max.
The elevation of Gunn and Safran to the top of the DC pyramid should be interesting given Gunn’s strong and generally underrated storytelling instincts, as well as the insight he has picked up from watching Feige personally build a smooth-running machine at Marvel Studios. However, it’s safe to say Gunn’s personal sensibility is likely not going to fit all sizes of the DC universe. One assumes he knows that, but the fact will leave some fans curious about what this means for superhero projects going forward, particularly in regards to multiple actors currently playing Batman the moment and the much hyped return of Henry Cavill to the Superman role. According to THR, it still not even clear under whose purview Matt Reeves’ separate The Batman universe will fall.
Nonetheless, this is a big freaking deal for the hierarchy of the DC universe. And for those who wondered about Gunn’s remaining commitment to the Harley Quinn character, his and Safran’s official statement (which you can read below) is certainly interesting.
“We’re honored to be the stewards of these DC characters we’ve loved since we were children. We look forward to collaborating with the most talented writers, directors, and actors in the world to create an integrated, multilayered universe that still allows for the individual expression of the artists involved. Our commitment to Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Harley Quinn, and the rest of the DC stable of characters is only equaled by our commitment to the wonder of human possibility these characters represent. We’re excited to invigorate the theatrical experience around the world as we tell some of the biggest, most beautiful, and grandest stories ever told.”
We’ll be keeping an eye on what this all means in the coming days.