Geoff Johns, the longtime chief creative officer at DC Entertainment, is stepping down. He will move into a Warner Bros first-look producing deal where he will write movie vehicles to produce for Mad Ghost Productions. Johns will continue to work on existing DC films.
The move isn’t entirely a surprise, given that Johns’ wingman Jon Berg moved out to become a lot-based producer for Warner Bros., and DC chief and 25-year Warner Bros vet Diane Nelson announced her retirement following a months-long sabbatical. Johns and Nelson clashed loudly, sources said. This follows a subpar record for DC feature films, one that has reminded everyone it has been a long time since Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
Johns had his hooks not only movies but also television and comics. DC has been more successful in crowd-pleasing fare in the TV space, with hit-making show runners like Greg Berlanti.
Finding the right creative imprimatur on the movie side has been elusive for DC, especially given the inevitable comparisons to Marvel, where Kevin Feige has managed to generate one crowd-pleasing global blockbuster after another with no sign of hitting the wall. DC’s films put up large global grosses, but they cost a lot and, like the most recent efforts Justice League and Batman V Superman, have been black as pitch and more obligatory than pleasurable. The notable exception was Wonder Woman, with Gal Gadot starring and Patty Jenkins directing.
The studio just announced that DC Entertainment Publisher Jim Lee will expand his role to include the Chief Creative Officer title and responsibilities, and will continue to act as Publisher together with Dan DiDio as they have since 2010. Thomas Gewecke, Chief Digital Officer and EVP Strategy and Business Development, who is serving as DC’s interim head.
But Hollywood will be asking this question: What the hell does a comic book editor and a digital strategy executive know about making tentpole superhero movies?
Many believe Warner Bros and DC counted too much on director Zack Snyder, not known for his sense of humor and who set a tone so dark that it became a joke in Deadpool 2, when that superhero character told a humorless nemesis he was dark enough to be a DC universe character. There is an opportunity for Toby Emmerich to really reshuffle the executive deck on the feature side and turn DC into something more formidable than it is right now, even as a James Wan-directed Aquaman is coming and Wonder Woman 2 is in production, with Matt Reeves rebooting Batman for a new standalone franchise, likely with a new actor to play the Caped Crusader after Ben Affleck’s stints in Batman V Superman and Justice League.
Emmerich’s longtime genre guy at New Line, Walter Hamada, also continues at DC.
Feige is in a league all his own in terms of setting the tone for a franchise: Following the misfire of Lucasfilm’s Han Solo movie after Kathleen Kennedy fired Lego filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller — just the latest instance where up and coming filmmakers were replaced — there have been rumors about how long Kennedy will continue. Even as a hot rumor that Feige might take oversight on Lucasfilm fare was roundly denied. The only division heads that rival Feige’s success are in animation, where Chris Meledandri generates one hit after another for Universal-based Illumination, and where John Lasseter did the same for Pixar until he was put on sabbatical for misconduct and removed last week permanently.
Here is the happy boilerplate from Warner Bros on Johns:
His first film projects will be Warner Bros. Pictures’ Green Lantern Corps, based on his New York Times bestselling series that saw an impressive nine-year run, spawning additional spin-off titles and comic book events. Johns will write and be a producer on the film. Additionally, he co-wrote and executive produced Aquaman, which releases worldwide December 21, and is writing and executive producing the second installment of the Wonder Woman franchise with director Patty Jenkins, releasing in November 2019. New Line’s Shazam!, slated for an April 2019 release, is based on his original graphic novel.
On the television side, Johns co-developed and is executive producer and writer on the first original series for the upcoming DC Universe digital service, Titans, with Akiva Goldsman and Greg Berlanti. Johns also wrote the Titans episode Doom Patrol that is spinning off into its own 13-episode original series for the digital service. He is executive producing alongside Berlanti, Sarah Schechter and Jeremy Carver. He has also been crucial in helping build the DC television empire and co-developed The CW’s most successful superhero show, The Flash. Alongside Peter Roth and WBTV, he has helped launch over a dozen additional hit television series such as Arrow, Gotham, iZombie, Supergirl and Black Lightning, among others.
His publishing projects will include a new pop-up slate of comic books under the banner of The Killing Zone focusing on new and lesser known DC characters and titles. Johns will also be writing a Shazam! comic book series scheduled to be out in the fall. In addition, he will continue to write the commercial and critical hit “Doomsday Clock,” a comic book series illustrated by Gary Frank that collides the DC universe with the Watchmen universe, as well as the upcoming “Three Jokers,” illustrated by Jason Fabok.
“Geoff is a super talented writer and truly embedded in the DC Universe and its characters,” said Toby Emmerich, Chairman, Warner Bros. Pictures Group. “We’re thrilled that he’s returning to his passion and his roots as a writer and producer. And, it’s even better that he’s staying in our Warner Bros. family. We look forward to working with him on ‘Green Lantern’ and other projects going forward.”