Constantine 2 signals new life for DC movies — but at what cost?
17 years after it came and went, Constantine is undergoing resurrection. What does it mean for the rest of the DC franchise?
John Constantine never stays down forever. While a sequel to the 2005 cult classic Constantine with Keanu Reeves — call it a resurrection — spells the end for J.J. Abrams’ HBO Max series, it heralds a new beginning for the kind of DC movies fans can come to expect in the future.
On September 16, Deadline announced that Warner Bros. Discovery is pursuing a sequel to Constantine. Both Reeves and director Francis Lawrence, who told Inverse in 2018 he “wouldn’t do” a sequel, are attached to the project. A release date has not yet been announced.
Based on the DC Comics series Hellblazer (published by adult-oriented imprint Vertigo), the movie starred Keanu Reeves as John Constantine, an occult expert and freelance exorcist. Release almost 20 years ago, the film received lukewarm reviews and opened to a middling box office, placing second behind the Will Smith rom-com Hitch.
Comic book fans weren’t in love with it either and took issue with the movie’s depiction of an American Constantine who brandished a shotgun rather than the source material’s punk-blond Brit from Liverpool. (The original character was inspired by Sting, and his philosophy and attitudes were defined by Thatcher-era counterculture. By contrast, Reeves was a dark hero in the shadow of 9/11.)
Despite the movie’s underwhelming box office performance, appreciation has grown over the years. Editorials from Rotten Tomatoes, GQ, and even us at Inverse call it an “underrated gem,” especially in contrast to the modern superhero era. With millennial revisionist buzz behind Constantine — not to mention the zen-like public image Reeves has cultivated — a post-merger Warner Bros. apparently sees dollar signs in giving the people what they think they want: More Constantine. (And more Keanu.)
Since his ascension as CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, David Zaslav has made controversial decisions with the end goal of tightening the company’s spending. This includes the infamous decision to cancel Batgirl’s planned theatrical release and to opt-out of putting it on HBO Max either — even though the movie was already in post-production.
Overall, Zaslav has turned the volume down on Warner’s streaming, believing theatrical releases are more lucrative and worthwhile. “Strategically, we've looked hard at the direct-to-streaming business,” Zaslav said at a Q2 earnings call in August. “Our conclusion is that expensive direct-to-streaming movies ... is no comparison to what happens when you launch a film in the theaters.”
The greenlighting of a Constantine sequel also means an unofficial end to J.J. Abrams’ Constantine television series, titled Hellblazer, which the Star Wars director was developing for HBO Max. The project was being developed alongside another series, Madame X, and was part of an overall deal between Abrams and Warner. Variety reports Hellblazer and Madame X are still in the works and are being shopped to other platforms. (Same goes for Abrams’ noir cartoon Batman: Caped Crusader.)
Such is the future DC fans may soon find themselves in. While Zaslav has verbalized commitment to the DC brand, the CEO’s patterns make it clear theatrical is the primary focus for the studio. This means more Batman and Wonder Woman movies almost exclusively, and an uncertain future for streaming hits like Doom Patrol and Peacemaker based on more minor characters. If Constantine is the start of anything, maybe there will be sequels to other cult DC movies, too. Over/under on sequels to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? The Losers? Jonah Hex? Steel?
A theatrical Constantine sequel is still a tall order when you consider how much Constantine isn’t a household name outside of nerd fandom. Nor do his dark settings scream mainstream appeal. (At least not enough to gross capital-B billions.) In another, perhaps better reality, a sequel to Constantine sounds like the perfect thing for HBO Max.
There are no doubt a lot of questions about the Constantine sequel, from its story to its prospects of building out its own shared universe. There’s also going to be a lot of work for Warner making sure audiences can tell which Constantine is which when there’s also a TV Constantine (played by Matt Ryan), a Netflix Constantine (in The Sandman, played by Jenna Coleman), and maybe another TV Constantine if J.J. Abrams’ Hellblazer survives.
But there’s really no more fitting scenario for Constantine as a character than the recent movie sequel announcement; canonically, he is always escaping damnation by the skin of his teeth. Even when it takes 17 years, Constantine finds a way out.