The DC Comics superheroes Black Adam, Superman, and Shazam were always meant to clash, but not quite this way. Turns out, Dwayne Johnson, also known as “The Rock,” reportedly pressured DC Studios on creative decisions when he made his long-awaited debut in the dominant comic-book-movie genre, TheWrap reported Tuesday.
First, some comics background: Zachary Levi has played Shazam, the quirky yet powerful superhero in the eponymous movie, which was a modest hit film in 2019. But Shazam is the traditional rival to Johnson’s Black Adam character, whose own film bombed in 2022 and which curiously didn’t feature Levi at all. Now Levi’s second run at the character, in Shazam! Fury Of The Gods, debuted last week and underperformed at the box office, with disastrous reviews—and no sign of the original Black Adam.
Johnson’s plan of becoming the apex of the DC universe backfired in a matter of months when both he and the past decade’s Superman, Henry Cavill, were unceremoniously sacked last December by DC Studios. Now, the latest offering from DC bombed so badly that some critics thought it didn’t make a mark. The movie only made an estimated $30.5 million in the opening weekend—far below $53.5 million earned by the first installment in the series in its first week. It seems like The Rock had a little to do with that, too.
Johnson reportedly turned down the idea of sharing screen space with Levi in a post-credits scene, typically a short yet important snippet at the end of most superhero movies that teases an upcoming movie in the franchise. When promoting Black Adam, Johnson promoted his face-off with Superman, played by Cavill, undermining “Shazam” in the public eye. And Levi has seemed to confirm the bad blood on social media, reposting a story to his Instagram about TheWrap’s report on Johnson’s refusal to work with him.
“Dwayne tries to sell himself as bigger than the movie,” a Hollywood executive told TheWrap under anonymity. “Instead of making a movie, he wants to extend his brand and make a brand centered on himself.”
Even when DC first began working on the movie about Shazam’s origin story, Black Adam was meant to co-star in it. But Johnson wanted his own movie for the evil superhero, and that’s ultimately what happened. Part of why that’s unsettling is because the characters of Shazam and Black Adam went head-to-head multiple times in DC’s comics. They are both connected by their superpowers, which come from Greek and Egyptian gods, respectively. Black Adam and Superman have a history, too. So it was naturally expected that when Black Adam finally debuted in 2022, he would clash with Shazam and Superman at some point in the future.
But now, the fate of two of those three characters is still undecided (or at least unannounced to the public).
And despite The Rock’s best efforts to make himself the new titan of the DC Universe who could take on the “Man of Steel,” Black Adam failed to meet expectations.
To be sure, there have been several changes to DC’s superhero universe that were unconnected to Johnson, but rather a part of a larger soul-searching mission by the studio. Since James Gunn and Peter Safran took on the leadership of DC’s film, TV and animation segments last October (just days after Black Adam’s release), they have changed the line-up of movies that they plan for the coming years.
The reorganization affected a number of planned movies. Wonder Woman 3, starring Gal Gadot, was canceled, leaving many loose ends for her character in the franchise. Safran also called the widely-awaited Batgirl movie, which was scrapped before the new heads took over, “unreleasable,” supporting the earlier management’s decision to shelf it. Sequels to Flash and Aquaman are slated to release later this year, while new Superman and Batman movies would come out in 2025.
Representatives at DC Studios did not immediately return Fortune’s request for comment.
It’s a tricky time for Hollywood, which is seeing a wide shake-up in power dynamics. Screen writers have threatened to strike if they aren’t paid better, but companies are refusing to budge. A potential strike could lead to massive disturbances in the volume of new movies and TV shows, which has spiked in recent years following the growth of streaming platforms.
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