What Happened to James Wan’s ‘Aquaman’ Spinoff ‘The Trench’?

The Big Picture

  • Warner Bros. announced
    The Trench
    as a spinoff to Aquaman without revealing the actual storyline to audiences.
  • The Trench
    was supposed to follow Black Manta’s journey after facing Aquaman in the first movie.
  • Due to leadership changes in the DCEU, ‘The Trench’ spinoff was eventually scrapped, focusing on new directions.

With the release of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, it’s time to take a look at what Warner Bros. was up to when the first Aquaman movie unexpectedly became a success. To the surprise of everyone around the world, Arthur Curry’s (Jason Momoa) solo adventure earned over $1 billion at the worldwide box office in 2018, and the studio wanted to return to Atlantis as quickly as possible. That’s when a horror spinoff titled The Trench was announced but, due to a variety of circumstances, the movie was never made. What was The Trench supposed to be about? And what kept it from swimming towards the big screen?

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Arthur must enlist the help of his half-brother Orm in order to protect Atlantis against Black Manta, who has unleashed a devastating weapon in his obsessive quest to avenge his father’s death.

Release Date
December 22, 2023

James Wan

124 minutes

What Was James Wan’s ‘The Trench’ About?

While the logical step after a successful superhero adventure is to announce a direct sequel, Aquaman belonged to the DC Extended Universe, meaning that Warner Bros. had to worry about getting other films made before focusing on a sequel to Aquaman. The solution the studio came up with was announcing The Trench with James Wan attached to the project, in the hopes of working on the spinoff while space was cleared out on the schedule for Aquaman to return. And when the film was announced, they wanted to hide the actual premise of the story from audiences.

During the first Aquaman movie, Arthur and Mera (Amber Heard) got close to the Trench while looking for Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman). The dark territory hidden below the sea hosts scary creatures and unpredictable threats, with the entire community of Atlantis actively avoiding the region. When The Trench was announced, the studio only talked about exploring the mysterious place, but when it became clear that the spinoff wouldn’t see the light of day, Wan revealed what the movie was actually going to deal with, and it all came down to the antagonist of the Aquaman sequel.

After a long time passed and development on the project never moved along, Wan revealed the spinoff was actually going to be about Black Manta’s (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) journey after facing Aquaman for the first time during the 2018 blockbuster. The project was eventually scrapped but, fortunately, the character was brought back as the main antagonist of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, with the villain going after a legendary weapon known as the Black Trident. Even if he didn’t get to explore the darkness of the Trench, Black Manta still has a chance of avenging his defeat against the King of Atlantis.

Why Was This Black Manta Story Canceled?

Despite Aquaman being successful upon release, any attempts to expand the franchise would’ve been complicated to pull off due to the DCEU’s divisive leadership. It wasn’t a secret how Warner Bros. always planned the next step of their franchise depending on the immediate reaction to the previous one, and Arthur Curry’s journey wasn’t the exception. The King of Atlantis’ adventures weren’t the only stories the studio was working on, with multiple heroes preparing their future on the big screen, setting the stage for the final years of the series.

Since Zack Snyder left the DCEU during the production of Justice League, Warner Bros. wanted to move away from the darker tone presented in projects such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Man of Steel. The result was how Aquaman featured more comedy than its DCEU predecessors, and how it was immediately followed by Shazam!. With the heavily dramatic tone out of the way, Warner Bros. decided to focus on more standalone projects that could be lighthearted, making the production of a horror Aquaman spinoff less likely to happen by the minute.


‘Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’ Review: The Best and Worst of the DCEU

James Wan ends with DCEU not with a wet fart, but a reminder of what this universe did well and what it did poorly.

Only movies such as Wonder Woman 1984 and The Suicide Squad were discussed over at Warner Bros. after the release of Aquaman, and it would take the studio five years to release a direct sequel to the adventure that grossed over $1 billion at the global box office. Considering how it took so long to continue what was a surprising smash hit, it was clear that the franchise needed a new direction, and that is exactly what Warner Bros. is aiming for when it comes to the future of their superhero universe. Perhaps Aquaman will have better luck with his rule over Atlantis in the next iteration.

Could ‘The Trench’ Happen in James Gunn’s DC Universe?

Image via Warner Bros. 

After the release of Black Adam showed how the DCEU was in trouble, Warner Bros. decided to hire James Gunn and Peter Safran to work on a new version of the DC Universe that could spawn connected films, television series, and even video games. During the time the duo has been at the helm of the studio in charge of DC, it’s been established that almost every role in the DCEU would be recast for the new franchise, including the main crew from Atlantis. This could mean that The Trench has fewer chances of becoming a reality now.

Jason Momoa knows that he likely won’t be able to return to the role of Aquaman once the new universe starts with the Creature Commandos animated series on television and with Superman: Legacy on the big screen. But the actor could portray another DC character in the new franchise, even if his rule over Atlantis comes to an end with the release of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. A new beginning for the performer would put The Trench in the rearview mirror, considering how Gunn and Safran may want to introduce their own version of Atlantis in their universe.

The truth behind the mystery of The Trench is that the studio didn’t have confident leadership at the time, resulting in them staring at a billion-dollar franchise in the face and them not knowing what to do with it. While it’s hard to coordinate a franchise made up of multiple projects, after people couldn’t get enough of Atlantis in 2018, Arthur Curry and the world around him should’ve become a priority for the company. For now, their franchise ends with a sequel to their only billion-dollar hit, five years after it made headlines.

Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom is now available to stream on Max in the U.S.

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