Warner Bros. is expected to announce plans to release Ben Affleck’s standalone superhero movie The Batman in 2018, ahead of that year’s October release of Aquaman starring Jason Momoa. Production of the Caped Crusader’s solo outing commences in March/April of next year, although early stages — including casting and final rewrites to the screenplay — are already underway. Aquaman’s opening weekend shifted from the expected Summer 2018 date to October, to give director James Wan additional time for the complicated effects-heavy production and to make room for The Batman in the summer.

Source: Warner Bros.

These changes come ahead of a delay in production of Flash, which appears headed for removal from the DCU’s 2018 plans after two directors — Seth Grahame-Smith and Rick Famuyiwa — walked away from that project due to creative differences with the studio. Originally slated for a March 2018 release date, the film doesn’t have a new helmer lined up yet, and is on the verge of being crowded out of the 2018 calendar as Warner fast-tracks Harley Quinn’s spinoff all-female team-up movie Gotham City Sirens for a possible 2018 release alongside The Batman and Aquaman. A Suicide Squad sequel is still in the works as well, and will probably be added to the 2019 schedule (I’m going on record now with my prediction that Suicide Squad 2 will be a head-to-head battle in which Deadshot leads a new squad to capture/kill Harley and her band of female villains from Gotham City Sirens). If it winds up pushed back as expected, Flash could still theoretically meet a Summer 2018 release date if it manages to secure a new director soon, but is more likely to be moved to 2019.

In the aftermath of Batman v Superman getting hammered by critics and underperforming to the tune of $873 million at the box office (a sum most studios can only hope represents their worst-case underperformance), the DCU breathed a sigh of relief when Suicide Squad exceeded expectations (especially in light of the negative reviews) for a $745 million run. With that breathing room, Warner Bros. sought a course-correction by retooling DC Entertainment’s leadership structure and approach to the DCU planning, including Geoff Johns taking on a much larger role and helping do substantial rewrites on the upcoming superhero team-up Justice League. Wonder Woman was already receiving rewrites and rethinking in the aftermath of Batman v Superman, and looks to be in good shape for its release in June 2017, ahead of Justice League’s November opening.

Source: Warner Bros.

But amid lingering concerns over the DCU’s fate hinging on the performance of Wonder Woman and (especially) Justice League — the latter representing the largest investment for what is supposed to be the big payoff from all of this multi-movie world-building — Warner is moving quickly on key projects with the most promise to ensure the deck is stacked more favorably for the DCU in 2018 and 2019. Gotham City Sirens, Suicide Squad 2, and The Batman are at the forefront of the studio’s planning for their superhero productions, as well as Aquaman, so that even an only-moderate or underperformance by either Wonder Woman or Justice League will be mitigated by the safety of Batman’s solo track record and Suicide Squad’s obvious potential for recurring success. Aquaman sports a top director helming a fantasy film with strong international appeal, so it too is perceived as a less risky venture.

The Batman will have a wide window of roughly 65-70 weeks in which to complete production and marketing in time for a Summer 2018 release. The exacting timing depends on whether production kicks off in March or April, and whether it’s closer to 65 weeks or 70 weeks, but generally speaking that window points toward a July opening (Aquaman was tentatively slated for a July 2018 release before being pushed to October, remember). Even if the production winds up being bigger and taking longer than expected, a March 2017 production start means it would still have at least a 16 month window until the end of July 2018.

After several weeks of press reports suggesting Affleck was walking back expectations for a 2018 release of The Batman, the filmmaker confirmed to Variety this week that production would indeed commence in Spring of next year — exactly as sources have consistently told us, and as I (as well as some other media writers) kept telling you despite the handwringing by the entertainment press. This followed actors Joe Manganiello (who plays the villainuos Deathstroke in The Batman) and Jeremy Irons (portraying Bruce Wayne’s butler and partner-in-crime-fighting, Alfred) both saying publicly that production would get underway in early-2017.

Likewise, we had three bits of news pointing toward a likely 2018 release for The Batman despite Affleck’s attempts to slow down the rumor mill and get the press to stop harping on it during his press appearances for other projects like The Accountant and Live By Night. First came news of Aquaman vacating the July 2018 release date in favor of an October opening. Then we got word that Zack Snyder’s next project will be The Last Photograph, and that planning for any Justice League sequel is being delayed in order to allow the studio to focus on getting The Batman released sooner rather than later.

Source: Warner Bros.

But then came a big confirmation directly from the studio itself yesterday, when President of Creative Development and Worldwide Production Greg Silverman announced his departure from the studio. In a statement that included a rundown of Warner films set for release over the next two years, Silverman mentioned The Batman (although he called it simply Batman) as among the 2018 offerings. Toby Emmerich, currently the President and COO at New Line Cinema, will replace Silverman.

So yes, despite repeated reports of "not so fast!" and "Batman movie delayed" by some press outlets, The Batman is on track to begin production in March/April, leaving plenty of room for a planned 2018 release.

Meanwhile, the fast-tracking of Gotham City Sirens means that project should get underway in early/mid-2017 as well, with a shot at a 2018 release that could deliver more bat-centric cinema to audiences by way of Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and a likely appearance by the Joker — not to mention the potential for a cameo by Batman himself, especially since Affleck will already be suiting up in the cowl for his own picture and could easily films a few scenes for Gotham City Sirens as well (either dropping in on director David Ayer’s set, or perhaps just filming himself on his own Batman movie set). Since Aquaman staked out October, we might expect a repeat of Suicide Squad’s August slotting, which in turn would suggest The Batman coming in sometime in early July rather than later that month, to provide ample breathing room between the two while allowing enough proximity for Caped Crusader’s coattails to give Harley and company a bat-boost.

SUICIDE SQUAD

While July 2018 isn’t entirely devoid of box office contenders, it seems to be the perfect place for Warner to stake out a DCU claim. Ant-Man and the Wasp has a July 6 release, but Batman is a big enough property to sit confidently in that window and let other studios decide whether to risk opening against the Dark Knight. A late-July spot might be even more suited for The Batman, in light of that frame’s history of delivering record-breaking box office to the franchise in the past. However, a later positioning reduces the distance between The Batman and a hypothetical early-August 2018 release for Gotham City Sirens, and too much overlap could mitigate the coattail effect by causing the two projects to compete for the same target demographics too soon in their respective runs. One solution to that is possibly a July 13 release for The Batman and an August 10 release for Gotham City Sirens. It’s hard to imagine Warner giving up the lucrative first weekend in July, though, so I still think we might see a DC vs Marvel fight shaping up for that weekend. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out in the coming months.