Can you smell what's been cooking over at DC? Even more behind-the-scenes drama.
The box office failure of DC's latest superhero film, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, has sparked a new round of finger-pointing, with star Zachary Levi sharing an article arguing that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson should shoulder some of the blame. It all has to do with the way Johnson crashed the DC universe with his movie Black Adam and allegedly tried to restructure the franchise around himself, rubbing some the wrong way.
Hierarchy of power
The Rock made his superhero debut in 2022's Black Adam, playing the titular antihero. In the DC comics, Black Adam and Shazam are closely connected. The two characters get their powers in a similar way and even both undergo transformations after saying the word "shazam." But Johnson has said he convinced DC not to introduce Black Adam in the first Shazam! movie starring Zachary Levi and instead give the character his own film first.
The idea seemed to be to set up Shazam and Black Adam separately so they're both fully fleshed out when they eventually meet and face off, and the first Shazam! subtly teased Johnson's Black Adam. So fans were confused when Black Adam and a Shazam! sequel, Fury of the Gods, were released within months of each other yet did not connect in any meaningful way that would indicate the characters are related.
Days after Fury of the Gods had one of the worst opening weekends for DC, The Wrap reported that Johnson "kneecapped" the Shazam! sequel. This piece revealed Johnson allegedly vetoed a planned post-credits scene of Black Adam that would have featured Levi's Shazam being recruited into the Justice Society of America, a prominent group in Black Adam. Considering Black Adam's opening weekend haul was more than twice as big as Fury of the Gods, a teaser for the latter in the former could have potentially helped boost ticket sales.
Additionally, The Wrap said that Johnson didn't allow Black Adam characters to appear in Fury of the Gods, suggesting the lack of connection between the films was his doing, and he also reportedly turned down a cameo in the movie. By "refusing to integrate with other established characters," Johnson "systematically crippled two franchises, and has harmed DC in the process," a Hollywood insider told The Wrap. The outlet previously quoted an insider who alleged Johnson has a "thinly veiled disdain" for the Shazam! franchise.
The Wrap's report also argued Johnson undermined Shazam! in another way: by spending virtually his entire Black Adam press tour hyping a potential showdown between Black Adam and Superman, rather than between Black Adam and Shazam. In fact, while Black Adam did not tease anything related to Shazam, it did feature a credits scene in which Henry Cavill returned as Superman, a character he had not played in five years. The scene implied Cavill was now back as DC's official Superman and that he would fight Black Adam in the near future.
But The Hollywood Reporter later revealed that Cavill didn't have a deal in place to return as Superman when this cameo was shot and that Johnson masterminded the whole thing. Walter Hamada, then the head of DC Films, originally nixed the idea for a Cavill cameo, the Reporter said, noting that Hamada "had his own Superman plans." A new version of Superman played by a Black actor was expected to be introduced, for example. Cavill's Superman was also closely associated with the Zack Snyder era of DC, which the studio was looking to move away from. Despite all of this, the Reporter said Johnson "went around" Hamada and got the Cavill cameo approved by Warner Bros. Pictures heads Michael De Luca and Pam Abdy.
So the perception was that Johnson wasn't satisfied to be the villain of a more low-level, comedic character like Shazam and instead was working behind the scenes to reorganize the DC universe in a way that gave himself a more significant role as the archnemesis of Superman. In the process, though, he may have helped make the Shazam! franchise seem less significant to the broader DC picture. "Instead of making a movie, he wants to extend his brand and make a brand centered on himself," a Hollywood executive told The Wrap. Johnson's maneuvering, which included pitching Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav directly on a Black Adam vs. Superman showdown, "ruffled feathers internally," Variety reported, with a source telling the outlet, "Dwayne went around everyone, which didn't sit well."
His plans blew up after Black Adam disappointed at the box office and James Gunn was hired as the new co-CEO of DC. Gunn has since confirmed that he's taking the franchise in a new direction and plans to recast Superman. "In the end, [Cavill] was a pawn in Dwayne's failed attempt to control a piece of DC," an insider told The Hollywood Reporter. Johnson has also confirmed Gunn isn't bringing him back as Black Adam anytime soon, if ever.
Shazam! star Zachary Levi, too, appears unlikely to return thanks to Fury of the Gods' weak performance. On Instagram, Levi shared The Wrap's allegations about Johnson and wrote, "The truth shall set you free." He later took to Instagram Live to insist he hasn't "blamed anybody" for the failure of Fury of the Gods and only shared the article "because I do not want to be blamed for things that are not on me." But he also confirmed that plans for a credits scene tying into Black Adam were "thwarted."
Levi previously told ET Canada he hasn't even seen Black Adam and sounded in no rush to do so. "I've got a whole full plate of other things that I need to get to in life," he said. Who would have thought fans might see Black Adam and Shazam do more fighting in real life than in the movies?