For years now fans have called Warner Brothers’ rival superhero movie universe to Disney’s MCU the DC Extended Universe.
But, it may surprise many that that name initially began as a joke.
With so much discourse pitting the Marvel Cinematic Universe against the shared stories of Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Superman, articles and online discussions alike were increasingly using the terms “DCEU” and “MCU” to compare the two.
However, in 2017, Vulture’s Abraham Riesman decided to ask some insiders at DC and Warner Brothers about the origins of this name. And perhaps to the shock of many, the answer was that no one internally ever referred to their shared universe by that name. That is, the industry insiders here not only confirmed that “DCEU” is not the official name for their epic shared universe featuring Batman, but also that they had no idea where the name even came from. In truth, they admitted, their shared universe still did not have an official name.
So, where did this incredibly popular name come from?
With the answer not readily known, Riesman got to work and did some more digging. And ultimately that research uncovered that the first use of the term comes not from any official source from the studio, but rather a 2015 Entertainment Weekly article about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice written by journalist Keith Staskiewicz. While noting how many characters were going to make cameos in this movie, Staskiewicz made a point on the film’s clear franchise building intent by saying:
“After all, this isn’t just a single movie, it’s a waystation to the upcoming Justice League double-fister, not to mention a whole slew of other attractions on the DC Extended Universe™ road map.”
And the “™” there is not noting official status of this name. Rather, it is very clearly a joke, emphasizing the perhaps overwhelming ambition of this one film to jump start an entire story universe. Indeed Staskiewicz went on to later tell Riesman that he just made this name up, as a joke, noting “it was my own phrasing when I used it in the story. Just seemed like the kind of thing they’d call it!”
However, oddly, from here the name stuck and refused to leave.
As stated above, from this point forward both fans and journalists alike have been printing the term “DCEU” in pages on pages of discussion, analysis, and reporting. But throughout most of that time Warner Brothers did not make any official moves to either correct or accept the term and its use.
But that changed in 2020. First DC Comics’ Jim Lee called the film franchise the DCEU during a panel. And then, finally, Warner Brothers indeed made the name official by creating a dedicated section on HBO Max to view all the content in this shared universe, and labeled it, of course, the DC Extended Universe.
The odd and winding story around this name becomes now especially relevant with what we know of the future of the DC movie franchise. Of course, James Gunn and Peter Safran have now been announced as the Co-CEOs of Warner Brothers’ new DC Studios. And with this new power, the duo and those working with them seem to be drastically rewriting the plans for what these movies will look like. While we don’t yet have the full picture, announcements so far have walked back Henry Cavill’s return as Superman, put a pause on a Wonder Woman sequel, and halted further talks of a Black Adam follow up.
But what is most interesting, after the long saga of this name, is that with James Gunn’s wonderfully active twitter presence, we find that he keeps calling his new shared universe not the DCEU, but the DCU. This would be, simply, the DC Universe.
If the plan is to finally declare an official name, this one seems a strong option for many reasons. DC Extended Universe, for all its popularity, never made much sense because it was never clear what exactly was being extended. DCCU, while using Marvel’s model more directly, becomes a bit cumbersome to say. DCU, in comparison, feels simple and clean, and leaves open the possibility that this shared universe can tie in things beyond just the films.
Of course, what we call a shared universe really is not the core of something like this succeeding. Success in a mega franchise like this will depend, first and foremost, on telling strong stories and making audiences care for the people they’re told about. And with James Gunn’s recent track record there, fans should have much to be excited for in the future of this franchise.
Whatever we end up calling it.
The latest entry in what is commonly known as the DCEU is Black Adam, which is now streaming on HBO Max. The film stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Pierce Brosnan, and Noah Centineo.
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