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Last month, Warner Bros.' DCEU had its biggest success ever with the $1 billion Aquaman. The film, which received generally positive reviews, largely stood apart from the shared universe the studio had been establishing since Man of Steel, and it sounds like Warner is taking a lesson from that. According to Warner Bros. Pictures Group Chairman Toby Emmerich, the studio is shying away from the shared universe and focusing on director-driven stories.
We all feel like we've turned a corner now. We're playing by the DC playbook, which is very different than the Marvel playbook. We are far less focused on a shared universe. We take it one movie at a time. Each movie is its own equation and own creative entity. If you had to say one thing about us, it's that it always has to be about the directors.
Ever since Marvel changed the game with the massive success of The Avengers and its Marvel Cinematic Universe, studios have been trying to replicate the format. That includes Warner Bros. and DC, but its DC Extended Universe hit some notable bumps. It all culminated in the release of 2017's Justice League, which only managed to score $657.9 million worldwide.
That's by and large a disappointment, but then Aquaman kicked the door down and became a massive victory for Warner. Thanks to the vision of director James Wan -- who wanted to make a cheesy, earnest, and weird superhero movie -- Aquaman became one of the biggest hits of the year. This hasn't gone unnoticed by Warner Bros.
Toby Emmerich told The Hollywood Reporter that they aren't playing by the "Marvel handbook" and that they would be focusing less on the shared universe. They'll just take it one movie at a time and make sure each one is unique and creative.
Now, it's worth noting that Warner has sung this "director-driven" approach song before, and we can ask Zack Snyder, David Ayer, Joss Whedon, and two directors of The Flash how that turned out for them. But there's no question that the best and most successful movies in the DCEU are Wonder Woman and Aquaman, two standalone films that feel separated from the DCEU.
All in all, it sounds like the best lesson to take from Aquaman. Audiences clearly responded to it and part of that success goes to Warner Bros. letting James Wan do his own thing. Shazam! and Wonder Woman 1984 look to forge their own paths as well, and I'm very curious to see how those films perform in the near future.
That being said, I don't think Warner should stop trying to make the "shared" part of its universe work, but slow and steady is probably best. No one has been able to figure the cinematic universe out like Marvel, so why not move at your own pace?
We'll see how this plan works out for Warner Bros. in the coming years. You can find all the DC movies coming down the pipeline in our handy guide.