Fandom Matters (Or At Least Its Dollars Do)

Curator's Note

Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) both made a lot of money for DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. By this measure, they were successful.

But all was not well within superhero fandom. While some were thrilled by Batman and Superman glaring at each other, destroying property, and killing people, others were not. “They’re so…dark,” they lamented. “Superheroes wouldn’t act like this!” they fumed. “Where’s the fun?” they wondered. It sounded like they preferred the Marvel/Disney superhero movies, with their mix of comics-esque characterizations, action, pathos, and humor. Indeed, of the top ten highest grossing superhero movies, Marvel characters’ films command eight slots, and DC’s, two (the 2008 and 2012 Batman films).

“Fanservice,” DC/Warner apparently decided, might generate more positive buzz—and more money—for their upcoming Justice League film. Beloved comics writer (and DC Entertainment President/CCO) Geoff Johns was tasked with helping to guide the production. And seventeen months before its release, the movie set was opened to journalists. Many of them had savaged Batman v Superman. But one described what he saw as a “180” from that film, “I saw more people smiling on screen watching Justice League in one day than all of Batman v Superman in its entirety.”

The director of all three films, Zach Snyder, confirmed that fans' reactions engendered the change, “I have had to...make an adjustment…because of what fans have said and how [Batman v Superman] was received by some.” Producer Deborah Snyder concurred, “We care what the fans say.” As another comics journalist summed up the set visit, “The message was clear: ‘We know. And we’re trying’.”

Amid this new optimism, the film’s trailer dropped, not with a dark Hans Zimmer score, but with upbeat rock. Not with Batman brooding alone, but chatting with the Flash. Not with Batman and Wonder Woman acting guarded and cool, but rather, united and comfortable with one another. The stinger even has Batman making an old comic fans’ joke at Aquaman’s expense. The tone is indeed lighter and more Marvel-esque. At the same time, there is still some of the washed-out color and stone-faced badassery of the first two films.

Will Justice League satisfy both those who loved the grimdark DC movies and those who expressed disappointment in them? If not, no doubt the dissatisfied fans will raise their voices, having learned that the company is listening.


What an unusual precedence for Warners/DC to set. Even in a film climate where studios are attempting to reflexively satisfy the core fanbases that contribute to their nostalgia-driven franchises, the blatant admittance by Snyder and Warners/DC that the ship is being turned to suit fan discourse plays as desperate. Consumers always say "vote with your dollar," but "vote with your tweet" or "vote with your Instagram" seems to be more effective nowadays. As one of the few fans you mention who enjoyed the intense glaring, I wonder how these sorts of overt olive branches will effect the DC product going forward. I mean, Suicide Squad was re-cut due to test audience preference, causing the film's first half to play like an extended trailer (when you hire Trailer Park, I guess that's what you get). Could we see the same for Wonder Woman? That film was wrapping its production around the time Batman v Superman released, so any reflexive alterations are going to be largely cosmetic. As you point out, since Justice League's production began only a few weeks after BvS's release, it might be the film that reacts to fan response most completely. However, late-stage course corrections have little hope of producing a unified tone. I am curious whether the forceful effort to infuse smiles and humor will leave the film with a campier veneer.

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