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Why Dwayne Johnson's DC Takeover Failed

"The hierarchy of power in the DC Universe is about to change," crowed Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the days leading up to the release of "Black Adam," his DC Films debut as an ancient, superpowered antihero. Since then, those words have become meme fodder as the film failed to live up to expectations both critical and financial, and as Johnson's plans for a future with Warner Bros Discovery crumbled to the mat.

As the fall of 2022 drew on, Johnson seemed to be positioning himself not only as DC's latest star but also as one of its prime architects. He muscled a cameo from Henry Cavill as Superman into "Black Adam." He flooded his social media with videos of himself in "Black Adam" board room meetings that had the air of serious people humoring a self-serious star. But when the film finally arrived, it wasn't the beginning of a glorious new era in DC. Rather, it was a misfire that toppled Johnson and his associates like a WWE backbreaker.

In a bombshell report, new details surrounding Johnson's planned takeover of the DC Universe have come to light, painting a picture of clumsy, Machiavellian backroom dealings, ruffled feathers inside the studio, and ultimately an explosion that even Superman couldn't prevent.

The Rock's DC heel turn ended poorly

"You come at the king, you best not miss," Michael K. Williams famously says on "The Wire." It's advice Dwayne Johnson would have done well to heed.

According to a bombshell report from Variety, Johnson and his associates, including producers Beau Flynn and Hiram Garcia, the A-lister's former brother-in-law, made a play to put themselves at the center of future plans for DC Films. Johnson directly pitched new Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav on a "Black Adam" franchise, which "The Rock" envisioned as a series of movies leading to a showdown between Adam and Henry Cavill as Superman.

The move reportedly came as former DC studio head Walter Hamada and WB exec Toby Emmerich were on their way out on the heels of post-merger restructuring, the timing of which did little to ingratiate Johnson with others in the company. Variety quotes one source as saying, "Dwayne went around everyone, which didn't sit well." Still, incoming film chiefs Michael De Luca and Pam Abdy rubberstamped a Superman cameo by Cavill in "Black Adam," creating another issue: Cavill had already been transitioned out of the red cape by Emmerich in 2018.

Nonetheless, Johnson's gambit might have succeeded had "Black Adam" been the success he promised. But its initial budget of $195 million ballooned with $40 million in reshoots, to say nothing of marketing and other associated costs, and when it bagged only $391 million at the worldwide box office, the possibility of a sequel evaporated.

Meanwhile, those inside Warner Bros. Discovery were growing tired of Johnson, whose demands were reportedly becoming increasingly intolerable.

Johnson hawked his tequila brand while projects cratered

Variety reported that as 2022 went on, Dwayne Johnson made unusual demands. He allegedly insisted on being given a producer credit for "DC League of Super-Pets," an animated film in which Johnson voices Krypto the Super-Dog. However, he failed to throw his marketing weight behind the movie with anything close to the zeal he reserved for "Black Adam," leaving it to languish with a $23 million opening weekend. And when "Black Adam" arrived, he demanded a bar featuring his personal Teremana brand of tequila at the New York premiere, something that may not have been unusual at an event for an R-rated film but was out of the norm for a PG-13 project like "Black Adam."

With his projects failing to live up to promises, demands such as those became increasingly intolerable for Warner Bros Discovery and DC Films. As one source put it to Variety, "His demands increased, and the returns just weren't there." And with a household name like Johnson attached, the studio couldn't buttress the costs to make the math work, since budgets must be proportional to talent. Johnson was quickly becoming a liability the studio couldn't stomach.

Under the Gunn

Perhaps the most publicly embarrassing situation resulting from Johnson's attempted studio coup came when Henry Cavill returned as Superman in "Black Adam," only to be unceremoniously fired two months later. Cavill's Superman cameo in the "Black Adam" post-credits scene is allegedly the result of Johnson's backroom dealings with Zaslav. But by the time the film premiered on October 26, 2022, James Gunn and Peter Safran had entered the building, taking on the joint role of DC Films head less than a week prior.

Gunn and Safran planned for a soft reset of the DC Films franchise, and "Black Adam" bombing only confirmed to them that neither Cavill nor Johnson would continue in their respective roles from that movie. Backed by WB's top players, the pair had extensive decision-making power to do with the franchise as they pleased. In December, they cut Cavill loose in a decision that roiled fans and splattered egg on the faces of Johnson and his constituency.

The future still looks murky for DC Films, though Gunn and Safran seem to have mostly cleared the board of unwanted pieces, leaving them free to build a new strategy. "Black Adam," however, will not be a part of it.