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Nowadays, fans and critics alike are used to talking about the DC Extended Universe. But where did the term come from? Surprisingly, we've just learned that the phrase never originated with Warner Bros. In fact, insiders at DC Film never use it at all. That remarkable revelation has sent one journalist on a quest to learn the history of an expression that's become common currency among superhero fans.
The Hilarious Origin of the DCEU
Abraham Riesman, a journalist at Vulture, has just published a must-read deep dive article into the history of DC Entertainment. During his time with Warner Bros., he was shocked to learn that "DCEU" wasn't the official term, and that insiders had no idea where it originated. Needless to say, a mystery like that is far too tantalizing for any journalist, so he put in the hours tracking down the first usage of the phrase.
And here's the irony: It turned out it was meant to be a joke!
Back in July 2015, Entertainment Weekly published a double-sized special issue in honor of #SDCC. The front-page feature was a stunning image of the stars of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and journalist Keith Staskiewicz apparently wrote a mildly sardonic piece in honor of what he called Hollywood's "preoccupation both with superheroes and universe-building." He focused at length on DC's future plans, and how Batman v Superman laid the foundations for them. And along the way, he faced a challenge; how would he refer to this nascent universe?
Riesman contacted Staskiewicz, who admitted he made up the term on the spot. "It was my own phrasing when I used it in the story," he explained. "Just seemed like the kind of thing they'd call it!" Staskiewicz reportedly even added a trademark symbol, which he intended to signpost the humor inherent in the term, but which everybody else seems to have taken to mean this was official. It's not really a surprise, given the same piece was filled with behind-the-scenes details and exclusive interview quotes. As he concluded to Riesman: "Whoops."
A DC Film Universe by Any Other Name Would Be...Weird, Right?
DC Film, for their part, have never seemed too concerned about what we should call their shared universe. They have yet to issue a correction about the popular term, and even now the public doesn't know what the in-house equivalent is (if they even have one). In fact, in spite of the fact this phrase is now so strongly associated with their movies, I have a hunch that Warner Bros. may have never even bothered to trademark "DCEU" or "DC Extended Universe." At time of writing, a quick search for the trademarked terms shows they're free and — here's the kicker — you can purchase each of those trademarks for $199 each. A bargain!
In reality, "DCEU" has never seemed a particularly logical term. After all, what are these films an extension of? These movies are completely independent of the comics, albeit inspired by them, so they don't "extend" anything. The phrase also initially caused confusion for superhero fans who also love Star Wars, who struggled to remember the difference between "DC Extended Universe" and the old "Star Wars Expanded Universe." Two years on, we've all become used to it, so we no longer struggle.
"DCEU" may be an inexplicable term, but you can understand why it would be preferred to the rival one that was in common currency back in 2015. If you recall, the other popular phrase back then was "DC Cinematic Universe," clearly inspired by the rival "Marvel Cinematic Universe," and that might have been seen as a little too on-the-nose.
Ultimately, the truth is that we've had the phrase "DCEU" for two years now, and it's become firmly established in the fan community. Originally intended as a joke, it's now here to stay. For #DC's part, you really don't get the sense they care what we call their movies, so long as we go to watch them. That may need to change as DC is intending to diversify their films and create "Elseworlds" movies that aren't set in the shared universe. They may well come to need both a term and a logo in order to clearly differentiate between these different ranges for the average viewer. Will they ultimately go with "DCEU?" Or will they introduce a whole new term? We'll have to wait and see.