When it comes to filmmaking, having a unified team with the right chemistry makes all the difference — not unlike a good group of superfriends.
Unfortunately for Justice League, Warner Bros. had almost none of that as it tried to assemble one of the most eagerly anticipated blockbusters of the year, at least according to a new report from The Wrap that digs into the behind the scenes drama surrounding the DCEU's most ambitious project to date. Over the past two weeks, Justice League has not only underwhelmed critics, but also failed to power up at the box office.
Released Nov. 17, the film raked in a disappointing $93 million on opening weekend and has earned just $176 million in the U.S. (worldwide it's faring a little better at $311 million). That debut is a huge comedown from the $166 million opening weekend tally of predecessor Batman v Superman. Not to mention the glowing reviews and strong overall performance of Wonder Woman, which had a far lower production budget and opened to $103 million on its way to $412 million domestically (total worldwide haul $821 million).
According to The Wrap, Justice League's poor showing can be chalked up mainly to the fact that the movie had two directors after tragedy struck, which in turn, pushed Warners to rush production with reshoots that produced competing visions. And, as one studio insider put it, what resulted was "a Frankenstein" of a movie.
With the success of 2013's Man of Steel, Warner Bros. reportedly gave director Zack Snyder carte blanche creative freedom as he began the process of booting up the Justice League for the big screen – even though some purists disliked his dark, edgier take on Superman.
But when Snyder continued his bleak streak by killing off Superman at the end of Batman v Superman, leading to criticisms that the DC Universe was just too dystopian, the studio was less inclined to give him the same control the next time around. But per one studio insider, it couldn't well remove him either because it would give the production a black eye and a reputation for being troubled.
"They were already deep in prep on Justice League and it would have cost a fortune. There's a stickiness to a director because there's so much cost to unstick him," the insider reportedly said. "Warners is a studio that almost to a fault always wants to project strength."
In a bid to lighten up the franchise along the successful lines of Wonder Woman and what Marvel was doing in the MCU, Warner Bros. hired Avengers helmer Joss Whedon to add more humor and fun to the script and Snyder embraced the move. But when tragedy struck and his daughter died unexpectedly of a suicide in the spring, Snyder stepped away from the project to focus on his family and passed the baton to Whedon.
Despite the shake-up, Warner Bros. refused to postpone the release date, which was just months away, reportedly causing major headaches for Whedon who, in honing his lighter vision, is said to have rewritten and reshot much of the film and hired composer Danny Elfman at the last minute to rework the score Junkie XL put together for Snyder.
The ticking clock
Even further complicating matters, Paramount allowed Superman actor Henry Cavill to take a break from filming Mission: Impossible 6 to participate in the reshoots, but on one condition – he couldn't shave the mustache he grew M:I6. As a result, Whedon was forced to digitally erase Cavill's mustache. As a result, many moviegoers subsequently found Superman's uncanny valley CGI face off-putting, leaving some to criticize the studio for failing to push back the release.
Making matters worse, with Justice League's 40 percent "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, over 132,000 fans (though those numbers have been called into question) have since signed a petition calling on Warners to release Snyder's "director's cut" on home video. But at this point, it's not even known whether the filmmaker was far enough along to actually have a workable cut in the first place.
Last but not least, insiders say because of AT&T's merger with Warner Bros., studio head Kevin Tsujihara and newly installed president Toby Emmerich were reluctant to delay Justice League out of fear of projecting weakness at a critical point in the negotiations. That and their worry that "if they pushed the movie, then their bonuses would have been pushed to the following year and they might not still be at the studio."
Though the insider did note that bonuses are "awarded for making good decisions," which could have included, in hindsight, possibly pushing back Justice League and giving Whedon more time.
With the film just two weeks old and still in full rotation at cineplexes worldwide, this is most likely just the first of many reports about the behind-the-scenes drama that stalled what should have been one of the biggest movies of the year.