Warner Bros. finally pulled the plug on Wonder Woman 1984, After weeks of rumors non stop announcing that the film will simultaneously debut in theaters and stream on HBO Max on Dec. 25. It’s an unprecedented move that could have major repercussions on the film industry at large and the streaming game. If the film does well and substantially increases HBO Max’s subscribing base, it could lead WarnerMedia and other companies to reconsider which films get the theatrical treatment and for how long. If it fails and only brings in a handful of longtime new subscribers, it could confirm fears that Hollywood rushed too fast into the streaming wars.
It can be easy to get lost in the streaming predictions and apocalyptic prophecies of movie theaters’ end. But there is a smaller game at play here as well. A sequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman 1984 is one of the final breaths of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) as we know it. With the critical failures of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, Warner Bros. was forced to abandon its initial plan (which would have seen Justice League Part 2, Cyborg and Green Lantern all in theaters by this point), leaving its two most popular characters — Batman and Superman —in flux, with no major DCEU plans for them in the near future.
While recent films like Shazam! and Birds of Prey exist in the shared universe, they were not box office smashes or movies that captured the attention of the zeitgeist like Wonder Woman or Suicide Squad, and they did little to build out the cinematic universe. That means that DC has not really had an impactful film in terms of box office and legacy since 2018’s Aquaman, which barley references the events of Zack Snyder’s team-up film. Yes, Ezra Miller’s The Flash is expected to reset the DCEU timeline, serving as the swan song for Ben Affleck’s Batman while welcoming in Michael Keaton’s Caped Crusader, but that is not due out until 2022 (assuming COVID-19 does not delay it further).
All in all, the DCEU is kind of a mess at this point from a public relations standpoint, and this is not even including the confusion that films like Joker and The Batman, which exist outside the DCEU (or at least its main canon), bring on. For many casual film fans, the term “DC Extended Universe” means nothing to them. And even for those that do know what it is, it lacks the excitement that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) garners.
This places a lot of pressure on Wonder Woman 1984, which not only faces the task of debuting on HBO Max, but must also remind its viewers that the DCEU still exists. However, in an odd twist of fate, it is the former that may end up solving the latter.