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SYFY WIRE Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Surprise! James Wan reveals Aquaman spinoff 'The Trench' was a secret Black Manta movie

Turns out we almost got a Black Manta spinoff after all.

By Matthew Jackson
Black Manta Aquaman

Back in early 2019, just months removed from the holiday season success of Aquaman, Warner Bros. Pictures gave the greenlight to a sequel for the DC Comics aquatic hero, along with another surprise project: The Trench, a horror-driven spinoff film that would be set in the monster-ridden deep sea kingdom of the same name. Though the project seemed to come out of nowhere, it made sense coming from director James Wan, who built his reputation on horror films like Saw and The Conjuring before making the leap to blockbuster action films. 

But it turns out The Trench was actually something more than an unexpected dark spinoff from one of DC's brightest superhero adventures. In a recent Instagram post, Wan teased the upcoming Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom with a series of photos highlighting the costume design work that went into Black Manta, the villainous character played in the first film and its sequel by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. When a fan replied and asked if there might be a Black Manta offshoot story somewhere down the line, perhaps in the form of a series, Wan dropped a surprising bit of news about the now-cancelled Trench film: It was actually a secret Black Manta movie. 

"I'll let you in on a secret, the cancelled Trench spin-off movie was really going to be a secret Black Manta movie," Wan wrote. 

In the first Aquaman film, Black Manta appears as a somewhat secondary villain, giving Jason Momoa's title character someone to prove his mettle against while also setting up future confrontations. At the end of the film, after Aquaman has defeated Ocean Master (Patrick Wilson), we get a tease that Black Manta has survived the film and is preparing to hunt down Aquaman and Atlantis itself, setting the stage for his own journey into the depths.

That could have led into the terrors of The Trench quite seamlessly, particularly if Black Manta was trying to hunt for allies in his fight against Aquaman and happened to stumble into the darkest of the undersea kingdoms. Sadly, Wan didn't elaborate on exactly what the film would have been, why it's not happening, or how much of that idea has survived in Black Manta's ongoing arc. 

Still, we do know for sure that we haven't seen the last of the character. Abdul-Mateen will reprise his role in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom when it hits theaters this December, and beyond that, who knows? Maybe The Trench will resurface in some form down the line. If nothing else, James Gunn's Peacemaker spinoff from The Suicide Squad at HBO Max shows Warner Bros. has options if there are characters and stories they want to explore in different mediums.