- Warner Bros.
- Henry Cavill is reportedly out as Superman, and DC will instead focus on a Supergirl movie.
- But Cavill’s Superman wasn’t beyond saving, and DC could have learned some lessons from the early years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- Chris Hemsworth’s Thor was taken in a new direction with “Thor: Ragnarok,” and DC could have done something similar with Superman.
- Marvel replaced Edward Norton as the Hulk and hasn’t made another Hulk solo movie since 2008, but Superman has proven to be more appealing to audiences.
- The MCU relies on comic books for inspiration, and Superman has 80 years worth of source material to look at.
DC’s superhero film universe is in need of saving, but DC and Warner Bros. don’t think that’s a job for Superman.
On Wednesday, The Hollywood Reporter first reported, which was then followed by other publications like Variety and TheWrap, that Henry Cavill would not be playing the Man of Steel in future films after negotiations fell through for Cavill to cameo in next year’s “Shazam!” Instead, Warner Bros., the studio that develops all of DC’s film adaptations, will focus on a Supergirl movie about the teenage heroine who is Superman’s cousin.
A Warner Bros. spokesperson issued a statement following the reports: “While no decisions have been made regarding any upcoming Superman films, we’ve always had great respect for and a great relationship with Henry Cavill, and that remains unchanged.”
Warner Bros.’ statement was neither a denial or a confirmation, but signs indicate that Warner Bros. is indefinitely putting Superman on the backburner: Cavill was just cast in Netflix’s “The Witcher” series, and DC has been rethinking its film strategy after the poor reception to “Justice League.” Instead of a cinematic universe of connected films similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it will focus on standalone stories.
While the MCU has been a box-office and critical force to be reckoned with that no other studio has been able to compete with, it didn’t become that overnight. There are lessons from the evolution of the MCU that DC could have learned from, rather than abandoning its flagship character. Henry Cavill’s Superman wasn’t beyond saving.
It may be hard to remember at this point, after both “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” broke box-office records this year, but the MCU has had similar problems to DC’s that it managed to offset with consistently entertaining, crowd-pleasing films every year. The first two “Thor” movies are two of the worst in the MCU, and “The Incredible Hulk,” starring Edward Norton, was a dud.
Thor, even moreso than Superman, is a hard character to translate to the big screen in a convincing way. He’s an alien god that few outside of the comic book community knew or cared about before Chris Hemsworth took on the role. It wasn’t until last year’s “Thor: Ragnarok” that the character found a definitive voice in the MCU, and Hemsworth was allowed to be himself. He’s funny, and he brought that to the role.
Cavill was never allowed to embody Superman with much of his own personality, similarly to how Hemsworth didn’t in the early “Thor” movies. The Superman of 2013’s “Man of Steel” and especially 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” was a brooding figure, closer to Batman in charisma than what comic book readers, and fans of Christopher Reeve’s “Superman” films, were accustomed to. But the MCU didn’t give up on Hemsworth’s Thor, and DC shouldn’t have given up on Cavill’s Superman.
One actor the MCU did give up on was Norton, who was replaced by Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk in “The Avengers” and has been in the role since. Norton is known for being a difficult actor to work with, and reportedly clashed with Marvel Studios over the direction of “The Incredible Hulk.” That was an instance where parting ways with an actor, and never making a “Hulk” movie again, made sense.
The Hulk has proven to work in a group setting, like the “Avengers” movies, but not in solo films. Before the MCU, Ang Lee directed “Hulk” in 2003, which only made $203 million domestically (adjusted for inflation) and was panned by critics. “The Incredible Hulk,” the second movie in the MCU, didn’t fare much better. It only made $174 million domestically, and is one of the lowest-grossing and worst-reviewed films in the franchise.
Superman is a different story.
“Man of Steel” wasn’t a box-office smash, but it still made about $670 million worldwide, and raked in $129 million (adjusted) in its opening weekend, which suggested that audiences were interested in a modern Superman movie. It quickly fell at the box office, dropping 65% in its second weekend in theaters, but with stronger reviews it probably could have maintained a larger presence at the box office.
“Batman v Superman” opened to nearly $180 million (adjusted) at the box office despite horrible reviews, and like “Man of Steel,” saw a sharp drop in its following weekends in theaters. But it still made over $870 million worldwide. Apart from “Justice League,” in which Superman was absent from all marketing leading up to the movie’s release, Cavill’s time as Superman was successful enough to give him another shot, and he clearly didn’t come with the baggage that someone like Norton did. He’s active on social media about his enthusiasm for the role, regularly posting Superman-related images on his Instagram.
By abandoning Cavill’s Superman, DC is abandoning one of the most recognizable characters in pop culture whose comic book roots stretch all the way back to 1938, meaning he’s celebrating his 80th anniversary this year. That’s a lot of years worth of source material, and something the MCU has done so well is take inspiration from Marvel comic books. Comic events like “Civil War,” “Planet Hulk,” and “The Infinity Gauntlet” have been loosely adapted, and all DC had to do was look at its own rich library of decades of Superman stories if it wanted to breathe new life into the character for the big screen.
“Man of Steel” came at a time when Warner Bros. thought the answer to its Superman problem was in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” Director Zack Snyder, known for the bloody “300” and “Watchmen,” resurrected Superman with a darker mood – he kills the villain at the end after a battle that destroys an entire city.
Superman needed a makeover, but it’s become clear that audiences want their superheroes to be fun, which is what a Superman movie should be. He’s not Batman, and in most ways, he’s the antithesis of Batman: hopeful, colorful, and inspiring.
Cavill could have been those things if DC had given him a chance.