How 'Shazam!' Kept Its Big Twist Ending a Secret, Even From the Actors

The actors who got to play superheroes in a major DC movie didn't know what they were auditioning for, director David F. Sandberg says.

Imagine for a moment being a working actor in Hollywood in 2019, when superhero roles are among the most coveted gigs in the industry. Imagine not knowing you were auditioning to play one in a major superhero blockbuster. Well, that’s what happened for the actors were cast alongside Zachary Levi, in DC’s critically-acclaimed superhero movie Shazam!.

Spoilers for DC’s Shazam! ahead.

In the climax of Shazam!, the newest DC film currently boasting a mighty 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) shares his Shazam powers with his five foster siblings: Freddy, Mary, Eugene, Pedro, and Darla.

While the kids are played by child actors, they’re replaced by adults when they say the magic word of “Shazam” and transform into titans, just like Billy. Together, they form the modern version of the “Shazam Family,” a team of superheroes who round out Shazam’s universe just as the “Batman Family” do for Batman. They’re all based on how they appear in Geoff Johns’ New 52 reboot, where they also transformed into superheroes alongside Billy.

By now, even the movie’s Wikipedia page reveals everything, but it was a pretty well-kept secret that actors Adam Brody (Freddy), Michelle Borth (Mary), Ross Butler (Eugene), D.J. Cotrona (Pedro), and Meagan Good (Darla) were in the movie as the Shazam Family. And in the age where paparazzi photos of movie sets can reveal spoilers, director David F. Sandberg has no idea how no one outside the set found out aside from a handful of toy leaks.

“I guess we just got lucky,” Sandberg tells Inverse.

Shazam Family Movie Ending
The modern Shazam Family's first appearance together, in 'Justice League' #21. Illustrated by Gary Frank.

The secrecy over the characters began as far back as the audition process, where the actors had no idea they were trying out for superhero roles.

“It started during casting, when we were looking for people,” says Sandberg. For the auditions, Shazam! screenwriter Henry Gayden wrote separate sides, or alternate lines of dialogue that retained aspects of the characters the filmmakers were looking to cast.

“Henry wrote this standalone scene that weren’t these characters, they just had the personality of them,” the director tells Inverse. “For Darla, her scene was being at a driver’s test. It was a character that was much like her: fast-talking, innocent. So when people came in to read, they knew it was for Shazam! but they didn’t know it was for a superhero part.”

Shazam Family Ending Explained
Zachary Levi (center) as Shazam, along with the ensemble cast of 'Shazam!' who form the "Shazam Family" at the end of the movie.

As production on Shazam! continued, a handful of toy leaks more or less confirmed to fans that the Shazam Family would appear. But that didn’t make it any less of a surprise at screenings.

“General audiences don’t know about it. And even if they expected it, it still came as a bit of a shock because it works so well,” Sandberg says. “You don’t see it coming.”

Shazam! hits theaters on April 5.

Media via DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Pictures