‘A pawn in Dwayne’s failed attempt to control a piece of DC‘: How Henry Cavill, The Rock and James Gunn collided

A timeline how fate entwined three of WB's biggest talents. PLUS: Cecily Strong says goodbye to 'SNL,' the first 'Barbie' trailer premieres, and is the 'Avatar' sequel a box office disappointment?

‘A pawn in Dwayne’s failed attempt to control a piece of DC‘: How Henry Cavill, The Rock and James Gunn collided
James Gunn, Henry Cavill and Dwayne Johnson. / Popculturology illustration/Gage Skidmore, Warner Bros. photos

It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s definitely not Henry Cavill playing Superman.

The actor’s decade-long connection to the iconic role appears to have been severed once and for all, with DC Studios co-chair James Gunn and Cavill both announcing last week that the British actor’s time as Superman had come to a close.

How did Cavill get to this place? Why did he wind up making just one solo Superman film? (Man of Steel, which still ranks as the fifth highest grossing film in the DCEU, or whatever we’re calling it now.) What made him think his return to the role was a done deal?

Well, there’s another player in this game: Dwayne Johnson.

The Black Adam star (“franchise Viagra” as he was once referred to on Saturday Night Live), played a key role in bringing Cavill back into the DC fold — and setting him up for an ultimate letdown.

“In the end, [Cavill] was a pawn in Dwayne’s failed attempt to control a piece of DC,” a source told The Hollywood Reporter.

Let’s take a trip through the paths that led Cavill, Johnson and Gunn to where we are today.

Nov. 2, 2007: Johnson is first connected with the role of Black Adam. He had previously been rumored to be in the running to play Shazam, the heroic adversary of Black Adam.

Henry Cavill as Superman in the first image from Man of Steel. / Warner Bros.

Jan. 30, 2011: Cavill is cast as Superman in Man of Steel.

2012: Johnson forms Seven Bucks Productions. Dany Garcia, Johnson’s ex-wife and manager, is a co-founder.

June 10, 2013: Deadline reports that Zack Snyder will return to direct a Man of Steel sequel with David S. Goyer returning as screenwriter.

June 14, 2013: Man of Steel opens, debuting with $116.6 million at the domestic box office. The film goes on to gross $668 million worldwide.

July 20, 2013: THR reports that the Man of Steel sequel will bring a new Batman into the DCEU, pitting him against Superman. Snyder would confirm the news the following day during Warner Bros.’ Comic-Con panel. This film would become Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Oct. 15, 2014: Warner Bros. announces a 10-movie slate for the DCEU, with Shazam scheduled to hit theaters in 2019. Johnson is expected to play Black Adam, the film’s villain.

March 25, 2016: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opens, debuting with $166 million at the domestic box office. The film goes on to gross $872.4 million worldwide.

April 3, 2016: Garcia announces that she is now managing Cavill.

January 2017: Black Adam is spun off into his own film instead of being the villain in a Shazam movie. “To execs, it made no sense to have a man of Johnson’s stature be just a villain and a supporting character in an expensive tentpole,” THR wrote at the time.

March 13, 2017: Matthew Vaughn is reportedly Warner Bros.’ top choice to direct a Man of Steel sequel.

Henry Cavill as Superman in Justice League. / Warner Bros.

Nov. 17, 2017: Justice League opens, debuting with $93.4 million at the domestic box office. The film goes on to gross $655.9 million worldwide.

July 20, 2018: Marvel Studios removes Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 over old tweets.

Sept. 12, 2018: THR breaks the news that Cavill is out as the DCEU’s Superman, citing a breakdown of contract talks. “Superman is like James Bond, and after a certain run you have to look at new actors,” a source tells THR.

Oct. 9, 2018: Gunn is hired by Warner Bros. to write and possibly direct a Suicide Squad sequel.

March 15, 2019: Gunn is reinstated by Marvel Studios as director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

Ryan Handley as Superman with Jack Dylan Grazer and Zachary Levi in Shazam!. / Warner Bros.

April 5, 2019: Shazam! opens, debuting with $53.5 million at the domestic box office. The film goes on to gross $363.6 million worldwide. The film features a Superman cameo, but cuts off before the character’s face is revealed. Stunt double Ryan Handley performed the role.

May 30, 2019: Vaughn confirms that he’s not directing a Man of Steel sequel.

Sept. 23, 2020: HBO Max orders Peacemaker straight to series. Gunn will write and direct all episodes of the Suicide Squad spinoff.

March 18, 2021: Zack Snyder’s Justice League is released.

Aug. 5, 2021: The Suicide Squad opens, debuting with $26.2 million at the domestic box office. The film goes on to gross $167.1 million worldwide. The Suicide Squad was simultaneously released on HBO Max.

A Superman stand-in joins members of the Justice League during the Peacemaker Season 1 finale. / HBO Max

Feb. 17, 2022: The first season of Peacemaker airs its finale. Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Flash have cameos, but Superman and Wonder Woman are portrayed by stand-ins.

April 8, 2022: Warner Bros. Discovery is formed when WarnerMedia and Discovery, Inc. merge. David Zaslav becomes president and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery.

October 2022: Johnson begins teasing a Superman cameo in Black Adam.

Oct. 17, 2022: THR reports that without a guiding vision in for the DC superheroes, there is a “secret, but dramatic, IP land grab among some of the biggest players in Hollywood” at Warner Bros. “Sources tell THR that Gunn and producer Peter Safran are in talks with Warners for a mystery movie, possibly more, that Gunn would tackle.” There is talk of a Man of Steel sequel, with Warner Bros. wanting Mission: Impossible mastermind Christopher McQuarrie to direct. THR also reports that Johnson is “definitely at the center of Cavill’s return to DC” with his goal being to pit Black Adam against Superman in a film.

Dwayne Johnson in Black Adam. / Warner Bros.

Oct. 21, 2022: Black Adam opens, debuting with $67 million at the domestic box office. Black Adam has so far grossed $390 million worldwide. Cavill appears as Superman in the film’s credits scene.

Oct. 24, 2022: Cavill announces he “is back as Superman.”

Oct. 25, 2022: Gunn and Safran are announced as the co-chairs and co-CEOs of DC Studios.

Oct. 29, 2022: Cavill announces that he is leaving The Witcher. Liam Hemsworth will take his place beginning with the show’s fourth season.

Nov. 23, 2022: Johnson reveals that he and his production company wouldn’t “take no for an answer” when it came to bringing Cavill back as Superman in Black Adam.

Dec. 5, 2022: Variety reports that Black Adam will possibly lose $50 million to $100 million.

Dec. 7, 2022: Citing squishy math that includes things like merchandising, Deadline reports that Black Adam isn’t going to lose money. Deadline later removes mentions of Black Adam sequels and spinoffs, which are projects Seven Bucks Productions is planning, from its article.

Dec. 7, 2022: Saying he was waiting to “confirm with financiers,” Johnson tweets the Deadline story and boasts about Black Adam’s box office numbers being on par with Captain America: The First Avenger. (A film that released in 2011 and currently ranks No. 29 among all Marvel Cinematic Universe films in terms of worldwide box office numbers. There are thirty MCU films.)

Dec. 9, 2022: Heat Vision reports that DC Films had a “long-range plan” to bring Superman and Cavill back into the fold. “Johnson, however, had his own plans and muscled his own Cavill return.”

James Gunn with Margot Robbie on the set of The Suicide Squad. / Warner Bros.

Dec. 14, 2022: Gunn announces that Cavill will not play Superman in the project he is writing.

Dec. 14, 2022: Cavill confirms that he is done playing Superman. “After being told by the studio to announce my return back in October, prior to their hire, this news isn’t the easiest, but that’s life,” Cavill wrote.

Dec. 15, 2022: TheWrap’s Umberto Gonzalez tweets that Johnson passed on doing a cameo in Shazam! Fury of the Gods.

Dec. 16, 2022: THR reports that Cavill and Gal Gadot’s cameos have been cut from The Flash.

Dec. 16, 2022: Johnson allegedly unfollows the Twitter accounts for Black Adam and Warner Bros. Discovery.

More behind-the-scenes info about how all this went down is sure to leak out over the next few weeks and months. One of the next big stories will be if DC Studios announces the fate of the Black Adam franchise and Johnson’s involvement with the character.

Update: Puck reports (via The Direct) that Cavill fired Garcia as his manager “a few months” before the latest Superman drama went down.

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Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña in Avatar: The Way of the Water. / 20th Century Studios

Weekend of Dec. 16-18, 2022

Avatar: The Way of Water (N)
Weekend gross: $134M / Total domestic gross: $134M / Percent drop: NA

It’s strange to debate whether a film that opens with $134 million domestically and outgrosses its predecessor’s debut by $57 million is a disappointment or not, but that’s where we find ourselves with The Way of Water. James Cameron’s long-in-the-works sequel to 2009’s Avatar was predicting to open in the $150 million to $175 million range, making The Way of Water’s opening weekend short by somewhere between $16 million to $41 million. The original Avatar had an unprecedented staying power in theaters, staying at the top of the domestic box office for seven weekends and then staying in the top ten for an additional seven weeks after that, racking up $736.9 million by the time that period was done. I doubt The Way of Water has that level of staying power.

  1. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (1)
    Weekend gross: $5.4M / Total domestic gross: $419M / Percent drop: -52
  2. Violent Night (2)
    Weekend gross: $5M / Total domestic gross: $35M / Percent drop: -43
  3. Strange World (3)
    Weekend gross: $2.2M / Total domestic gross: $33.8M / Percent drop: -42
  4. The Menu (4)
    Weekend gross: $1.7M / Total domestic gross: $32.1M / Percent drop: -39

Donald Glover in Spider-Man: Homecoming. / Sony Pictures

Donald Glover finally gets a Spider-Man movie …

While Marvel Studios cruises along with its 100-year plan and DC Studios is set to wipe its slate clean, Sony continues to bop along with its Spider-Man cinematic universe, greenlighting whichever odd project comes its way and without any care for how it connects with the MCU.

The latest in this trend is the news that Donald Glover will star in a movie focused on Hypno-Hustler, an obscure Spider-Man villain.

Hypno-Hustler is not considered one of Spider-Man’s top villains — in fact, he regularly shows up on worst supervillains lists — but sources say Glover sparked to the musical aspect of the character and the fact that he has less Marvel canon baggage, freeing him to greater interpretations. The project could be anything from a disco period piece to a re-imagined modern hip-hop version or even a cyberpunk future play. Adding to the spark was [writer Myles Murphy’s] take, whose details are being kept below the bass clef.

Glover already exists in the MCU, playing Aaron Davis, the uncle of Miles Morales and alter ego of Prowler. (Mahershala Ali voiced this character in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.) Sony’s already double-casted Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who played Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron, as the lead in a Kraven the Hunter movie.

Rian Johnson still hopes to make another Star Wars movie

It seems like a lifetime ago when Lucasfilm announced that Rian Johnson would follow up his work on Star Wars: The Last Jedi with a trilogy all of his own. While Lucasfilm has never announced that project is dead, there haven’t been any really updates on it since the announcement.

While talking with Insider about Glass Onion, Johnson was asked if his plans to make another Star Wars movie or three were dead.

“It wouldn;t be the end of the world for anyone, I think,” Johnson told Insider. “But I would be sad. I love the world. I love the people. I love Star Wars fans. I love the passion of how they engage in it, there's nothing like telling a story in this world and then experiencing people truly connecting to it and letting you know that. It’s extraordinary. So I’m hoping I get to do it again, but nothing is the end of the world until the end of the world actually happens, which, what day of the week is it?”

The fifth anniversary of The Last Jedi’s release just passed, and it’s a shame that movie (and Kelly Marie Tran) — arguably the best of the entire Skywalker Saga — was treated so poorly by JJ Abrams and his team when they put together Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Tim Allen, Jim O’Heir and David Krumholtz in The Santa Clauses. / Disney+

The Santa Clauses renewed for a second season

OK, I don’t actually care about this show or that it got a second season. I just need to make sure everyone knows how wild of a concept The Santa Clauses is, especially considering that the original Santa Clause movie was just about a guy who became Santa.

I stumbled upon the Wikipedia page for The Santa Clauses the other day, and excerpt after excerpt blew my mind.

[Scott Calvin] is revealed to be the first human to take up the mantle of Santa Claus after the army of previous Santa Clauses determined that the world needed someone who would be familiar with the development of technology and given the nature of Santa Claus that Calvin had naturally within.

OK, so there was an army of previous Santas …

Sandra enjoys living in at the North Pole, and is hesitant to move away when her father decides to retire. At the confusion of her parents, she often develops close friendships with animals. Over the course of the series, it's revealed that she has magical abilities that she inherited from Santa Claus and the spirit of Christmas.

Tim Allen’s been raising his kids at the North Pole and now they have magical powers?

Prior to his new role, Choski is a game inventor, product developer, and single father with aspirations to become the equivalent of “the next Jeff Bezos” in the technology world. When he is appointed as the next Santa Claus, he views the efficiency at the North Pole as an opportunity to realize his unsuccessful business aspirations. Leading in his new role forcefully, Simon determines that every day will be Christmas, providing the world with instant gratification through a combination of his business technology and the North Pole's magic.

Oh, man, this couldn’t get any weirder …

Peyton Manning as himself, a potential candidate for a replacement Santa.


Jim O’Heir as Santa Claus XVII: Calvin's predecessor and the seventeenth successor to Saint Nicholas, referred to amongst the various previous holders of the Santa Clause mantle as number “17.”

Jerry Gergich was Santa all along?




How do you top all of this in a second season?

Minari director Lee Isaac Chung in talks to direct Twister sequel

Oh, did you miss the news that there’s a Twister sequel in the works? Everyone gets a sequel now. It’ll probably be super serious and focus on honoring the prestigious characters from the original.

Deadline reports that Minari director Lee Isaac Chung will be the person leading this sequel.

Best known for his Oscar-nominated work on the A24 drama Minari, this project marks Chung’s first venture into the big-budget tentpole genre. He grew up on a farm in rural Arkansas and has his fair share of experience with taking cover in storm cellars when a tornado would hit land. This personal connection hit with execs, and after one last in-person last week, Chung became the top choice to land the job.

I hope the Twister sequel is about the daughter of the tornado from the original film looking to avenge her father’s death. (The original Twister killed off the main tornado, right?)

Wanna send me your comments, questions or recommendations? Write to Popculturology at popculturology@gmail.com, and I might run your mail in a future edition of the newsletter.


Is Barbie the most anticipated film of 2023? This movie looks insane. The paparazzi shots while it was in production made it seem like it was going to be a wild one, and this trailer — despite being super short — backs that up.

Barbie opens on July 21, 2023.


Oh man, Oppenheimer going up against Barbie? How much has the theatrical release climate changed if a Christopher Nolan film isn’t the favorite on its opening weekend?

I am interested in seeing how Nolan pulled off recreating the first nuclear explosion without any CGI. Who gave the director his own nuke?

Oppenheimer opens on July 21, 2023.

Michael Che and Cecily Strong during this weekend’s edition of Saturday Night Live. / NBC
Deep ‘SNL’ Thoughts: It’s a ‘Blue Christmas’ as Cecily Strong says goodbye
Hello, new Popculturology readers! Welcome to this week’s edition of Deep SNL Thoughts. It’s impossible to talk about this weekend’s episode without beginning with the surprise departure of Cecily Strong. Saturday Night Live revealed that this epis…

A scene from the Bob’s Burgers episode “The Plight Before Christmas.” / Fox

Bob’s Burgers

“You love your family …”

Aw, Louise and Tina. Bob’s Burgers knows how to do holiday episodes.

We had our own family Christmas at our house on Sunday since we’re going to be out of town on the actual holiday. Our daughter is about to celebrate her first birthday, so this was her first Christmas. I’ll let you guess if the scene in this episode of the Belcher kids on Christmas morning made me emotional.

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Behind the Sketch: Kenan & Kelly

I love that Keke Palmer proposed this one and Thompson just went with it. I’m glad that Devon Walker’s Kel Mitchell impression was still able to make the short after he filled in for Mitchell during the table reads.

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