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HBO Max is betting everything on DC Comics

DC Comics hub on the HBO Max streaming service interface
The central hub.
  • Adam Epstein
By Adam Epstein

Entertainment reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

AT&T chose the respected HBO brand to represent its new streaming service, HBO Max. But it’s really banking on a different part of its WarnerMedia content library to lure subscribers: superheroes.

HBO Max, which launched in the US in May and will be rolled out to other countries next year, is looking more like the inside of a comic book with each passing day. WarnerMedia announced last month that all original TV series on its standalone superhero streaming platform, DC Universe, will now move to HBO Max. That adds several shows to an already deep reserve of DC Comics content on HBO Max, including films like Aquaman and Justice League. DC Universe, meanwhile, will be converted into a digital comics service.

WarnerMedia has owned DC Comics since 1989,  and thus controls the film and TV rights to most of the publisher’s famous heroes, like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. HBO Max marks the culmination of that acquisition, as the company can now consolidate all of its intellectual property under one streaming roof and expand it from there.

And expanding, it is. Yesterday, WarnerMedia announced it’s developing a TV series for HBO Max based on the obscure DC Comics character Peacemaker. Wrestler-turned-actor John Cena will reprise his role as the titular hero from the upcoming movie The Suicide Squad, which is scheduled to hit theaters in 2021. HBO Max has at least six other DC series in the works—many of which have direct tie-ins to movies Warner Bros. intends to release in theaters.

Much like how Disney is placing its Marvel and Star Wars content universes at the center of its streaming service, Disney+, AT&T is making DC Comics the foundation of its global growth strategy, through HBO Max.

It’s a major gamble, because DC characters’ track record in filmed entertainment is spotty at best. Several big-budget movies like Green Lantern and Batman v Superman either disappointed at the box office or failed to impress critics. WarnerMedia has changed its DC movie strategy multiple times in an effort to compete with Disney and Marvel.

But its DC content has markedly improved in recent years, thanks to films like 2017’s Wonder Woman and TV series with a lighter tone like Arrow and The Flash, which air on the network CW. (Existing CW shows already have streaming deals with Netflix, but all new DC-based shows on the CW will now stream on HBO Max.) The recent success has been enough to convince WarnerMedia that DC should be at the core of its future plans—and that it must invest in comic adaptations accordingly.

According to entertainment site The Wrap, WarnerMedia is spending $70 million just on reshoots for the mythical “Snyder Cut” of the Justice League movie—a new version of the 2017 superhero film that will be released exclusively on HBO Max in 2021. That is a massive figure for a film that won’t be able to recoup its cost at the box office. WarnerMedia hopes the film will instead drive a wave of new subscribers to HBO Max.

As of July, HBO Max had about 4 million subscribers. The majority of HBO customers—who get access to HBO Max at no additional charge—have still not made the switch to the new app. (That HBO Max still isn’t available on Roku has likely hurt the service’s initial subscriber numbers.) If all HBO subscribers switch over, HBO Max would have closer to 40 million subscribers just in the US, before expanding into other markets. WarnerMedia thinks a deluge of superheroes is what will get them, and everyone else who hasn’t yet subscribed, to make the leap.

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