Why James Gunn is the right guy to save DC movies

James Gunn at The Suicide Squad premiere
(Image credit: Getty Images)

James Gunn, the director of 2021’s The Suicide Squad and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, is taking on a new challenge as co-chair and co-CEO of DC Studios – a new production arm of Warner Bros. dedicated to putting out TV and film programming from DC’s vast roster. He’ll be running the show with producer Peter Safran, and helping DC move ahead into a new era of programming. The news was confirmed by Gunn himself on his Twitter account.

It’s a validating appointment for Gunn, who was unceremoniously dropped by Marvel from directing duties for Guardians of the Galaxy 3, after old tweets of his resurfaced featuring inappropriate jokes. He was brought back onto the project eventually (and also developed the Guardians' Holiday Special with its festive kidnapping plot), but it does look like that schism helped pave the way for a more pally relationship with Marvel’s competitor.

DC has had a troubled reputation for a while now. While Marvel was able to expand operations at great speed, putting out ever more family-friendly, joke-heavy, but action-packed superhero flicks, DC was floundering after putting its entire creative vision in the hands of Zack Snyder – a competent director whose work nonetheless felt too serious, too grayscale, and too monotone to compete on the big screen the way that Marvel’s output could.

That reputation is slowly changing – and a huge amount of that is due to Gunn’s involvement over the past few years.

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The Guardians director has been a recognisable face at both Marvel and DC for some time. 

Earlier in his career, he worked on horror properties such as Dawn of the Dead (with Zack Snyder, coincidentally), and more comedy-action variants such as the live-action Scooby Doo films, but it was his 2010 superhero parody Super that acted as an audition for helming the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie for Marvel – and he’s continued steering the franchise throughout the expanding MCU.

He started flirting with DC with 2019’s Brightburn, which reimagines a Superman-mimicking origin story as a horror movie – and then 2021’s The Suicide Squad, a fun and rambunctious anti-hero adventure designed to course-correct after DC’s underbaked attempt at bringing the property to cinemas in 2016.

It’s fitting that a director so known for his superhero movies is the one to swoop in and save the day – and Gunn’s oversight of DC’s cinematic expansion feels like absolutely the right call. He’s been at the heart of DC’s improving image for superhero fans, and his involvement with Marvel ensures he has some understanding of what DC’s biggest competitor is doing right.

He certainly already has the reputation of a fixer for DC. His involvement in The Suicide Squad came about when DC needed someone to rewrite the screenplay, after all – and it clearly went well enough that he was able to take more creative control over the film. He even got to lead a spin-off TV show – Peacemaker – that's one of the best HBO Max shows of recent times.

It’s important to acknowledge the headway that other key creatives have made in reforming what a DC movie or TV show looks like. Despite a small box office return, 2020’s Birds of Prey marked a big departure for DC Films and was part of the studio’s redemption of the poor Suicide Squad movie, letting its strongest character (Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn) take the lead for a new venture, which was largely positively received by critics. And Todd Philips’ 2019 Joker movie, an unusual stylistic departure for DC, charting the central character’s descent into violence and mental illness,  became the highest-grossing R-rated movie ever made.

We are far from the days of nondescript Superman movies, or the last-minute sticking plasters on DC flicks to try and make them funnier, lighter, more Marvel-esque content. By allowing for more varied stories, DC is finding its feet – and it finally seems confident in the people it has at the steering wheel.

Now, let's talk about what the next Superman movie with Henry Cavill should be

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.