Defying expectations, director James Wan's Aquaman earned praise from critics and audiences alike in 2018, on its way to a global box office of $1.1 billion. Warner Bros. was quick to build upon the highest-grossing film in its so-called DC Extended Universe, with eyes on a spinoff, focusing on the monstrous Trench, and a sequel, targeted for release on Dec. 16, 2022. However, instead of smooth sailing for the continued, Jason Momoa's sea king may be headed for choppy waters, roiled by Disney's plans for new Star Wars films.
Unveiled today as part of a six-year slate that includes not only Disney, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar but also the recently acquired Fox properties, a new Star Wars film will be released the weekend before Christmas every other year, beginning in 2022. James Cameron's Avatar sequels will occupy the same space in odd-numbered years, beginning in 2021, ensuring Disney has a lock on the holidays through -- brace yourselves -- 2027.
That will no doubt send executives at rival studios scrambling to either devise counter-programming -- holiday horror-comedy, anyone? -- or else abandon the lucrative pre-Christmas date for, say, seven years. That's the decision faced by Warner Bros. with, among other films, Aquaman 2, whose worldwide audience likely inhabits the sweet spot of a Star Wars/Avatar Venn diagram. The planned December 2022 release places the Aquaman sequel in the line of fire of Lucasfilm's new Death Star.
As unexpected as it was for DC's aquatic superhero, the butt of jokes for decades, to become an action-movie sensation, it was perhaps equally surprising that Aquaman should find success at Christmas, eclipsing such more family-oriented fare like Mary Poppins Returns and Bumblebee. However, that date proved perfect for the film's blend of action, humor and special effects, and made December 2022 the obvious choice for the sequel.
That is, until Disney staked out a territory for whatever Star Wars film follows the conclusion of the Skywalker Saga. While Aquaman more than held his own against his half-brother King Orm, to say nothing of Mary Poppins and the Transformers, DC's sea king is probably no match for the second highest-grossing film franchise of all time.
There's a lot of time between now and 2022, during which production schedules and release dates can shift, for any number of reasons. We can probably expect Aquaman 2 to be one of those, as Warner Bros. gambles that it's better for its sequel to sink or swim on another date, rather than risk it being overwhelmed by even a Skywalker-less Star Wars film.
Lucasfilm's untitled Star Wars film is set for release on Dec. 16, 2022. So is Warner Bros.' Aquaman 2, for now.