The year was 2005. Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together” was at the top of the charts, North Korea had just revealed it possessed nuclear weapons, and the second season of HBO’s Entourage shifted its focus to the world of big-budget superhero movies.
In the world of Entourage, James Cameron’s Aquaman was the film that changed lead character Vincent Chase’s life and solidified his status as an A-list power player capable of leading box office smashes. It was the kind of role that in reality today very well could make or break an actor’s career, but when Entourage delved into the plot 13 years ago, it was obvious that the show was, at least in part, poking fun at the idea that Warner Bros. would ever try to make an Aquaman film in earnest. In the time since Warner Bros. announced its plans to make an actual Aquaman film, though, Entourage’s depiction of the cultural hype cycle about the project has proven itself to be weirdly prescient on a number of levels.
While the bulk of Entourage focuses on the behind-the-scenes industry processes like meetings, negotiations, and deals that result in movies going into production, the show’s Aquaman plot also spent a fair amount of time looking at the way the public would eventually come to love the idea of the film.
Because Entourage was a relatively grounded show, it established early on that Spider-Man had already demonstrated that superhero movies could make ridiculous amounts of money. But because Aquaman simply doesn’t have the kind of brand recognition and popularity we associate with characters given their own solo films, the show treats it as something of a running gag that becomes increasingly more serious as the season progresses.
Initially, Vince is cold to the idea of doing a comic book movie, which gels with the way we thought about the genre before studios began trying to build out expansive cinematic universes with deeper, more character-driven stories. It’s only after weeks of hounding from his agent Ari Gold that the actor decides to consider taking on the movie—and when Cameron agrees that he’s the right man for the role, the show’s fictional Aquaman begins taking shape.
What Entourage got very right about Warner Bros.’ approach to making Aquaman into a Thing™ is how much work the studio had to put in to convince everyone to take the film seriously.
In addition to stressing that Cameron’s Aquaman would be a dark, grittier take on the classically cheesy character, the show also emphasized that Vince’s on-screen sex appeal was a key part of what would help sell his performance as Arthur Curry, something that’s also very true of Jason Momoa’s performance. Vince’s past relationship with his Aquaman co-star Mandy Moore—cast as Aquagirl and, strangely, not Mera—plays a role in the growing buzz about the film, and Warner Bros. makes a point of having the actors appear at San Diego Comic-Con together in order to promote it.
Rather than delving too deep into the madness that is Comic-Con, Entourage instead condenses much of the event into a single person—comics fan and entertainment reporter R.J. Spencer (Rainn Wilson)—who sits down with Vince for an interview about Aquaman. Though Spencer is depicted as being the stereotypical kind of awkward, vindictive nerd who’s too emotionally invested in comic books, his character is a fairly accurate distillation of the kind of fandom fervor that roils up at conventions and on the internet when pretty much any news (even the non-news kind) about superhero movies breaks. From the studio’s perspective, Spencer’s voice and his online presence have the potential to ensure Aquaman’s success or, conversely, to tank it before it even hits theaters. In many ways, Spencer is the voice of fandom writ large, and the studio’s willingness to jump through hoops in order to make him happy echoes the way the actual Warner Bros. has run itself ragged trying to figure out how to build its cinematic universe (with less than stellar results.)
What’s perhaps most interesting about Entourage’s vision for a world in which Aquaman becomes the most successful film in Hollywood histories is the implication that Warner Bros. is still playing catchup to other studios. While Aquaman rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office, there’s never any indication as to whether the film is actually any good, but rather it becomes enough of a phenomenon that it doesn’t exactly matter to the studio.
Despite Aquaman’s success, Vince doesn’t end up returning for the film’s sequel due to the same kind of scheduling conflicts that may or may not mean that Henry Cavill’s days of playing Superman are over. But the franchise continues to chug along (with Jake Gyllenhaal taking the lead role) on a path toward what one imagines is even more success down the line.
Obviously, Warner Bros.’ real Aquaman is going to be a drastically different film than Entourage’s fictional one, if for no other than the fact that studios take superhero franchises much more seriously today than they did 10 years or so ago. Even though the studio has struggled to bring some of its iconic characters together on screen in critically successful films, people are legitimately excited about Aquaman because it seems like it might be one of the first DCEU movies that will revel in the inherent silliness of Aquaman’s mythos.
As was the case in Entourage, the Aquaman hype is very, very real—and justifiably so. The only question now is whether the movie’s going to be able to live up to everyone’s expectations. Aquaman is set to make a big splash on December 21.