Canceling ‘Batgirl’ is the Stupidest Decision Warner Bros. Has Ever Made
On August 2nd, Warner Bros., already in the midst of what has seemed to be a chaotic merger with Discovery, announced one of the most baffling decisions any studio has ever made: they were canceling the release of their upcoming, nearly-complete Batgirl movie.
The film had already cost close to $100 million and was to star Leslie Grace in the title role, alongside a supporting cast that included J.K. Simmons as Batgirl’s father, Commissioner James Gordon, Brendan Fraser as the villain Firefly, and even Michael Keaton reprising his role as the Caped Crusader for the first time since 1992’s Batman Returns. Keaton is also set to reprise the role in The Flash, due out next summer. It was directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who already had the third installment of the Bad Boys franchise, 2020’s Bad Boys for Life, as well as two episodes of Marvel’s Ms. Marvel, under their belt. The duo found out about the movie’s cancellation while in Morocco for Adil’s wedding.
In a statement posted to social media, the pair of directors said that “we are saddened and shocked by the news. We still can’t believe it. As directors, it is critical that our work be shown to audiences, and while the film was far from finished, we wish that fans all over the world would have had the opportunity to see and embrace the final film themselves.”
Initially intended for release on the HBO Max streaming platform, early buzz seemed to indicate that the studio was even considering a theatrical release because of the film’s enormous potential. Now, it seems to be the victim of corporate shenanigans and post-merger politics, perhaps destined to be one of the great “what-ifs” of movie history. Additionally, Warner Bros. had also canceled the release of a new animated Scooby Doo movie entitled Scoob! Holiday Haunt, a sequel to 2020’s Scoob! It was also intended for a release on HBO Max, and was practically in the can when the announcement came regarding its ultimate fate.
Batgirl’s cancellation is particularly shocking and upsetting as a fan of comic books and their movie adaptations. There are conflicting reports about the reason for why this happened: initial coverage from the New York Post, hardly the most reputable of newspapers, blamed negative reactions during test screenings. However, now information is coming out that seems to indicate that the film didn’t score that poorly at all, scoring about the same as fellow upcoming DC Comics adaptations like Black Adam starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, slated for release in October, and Shazam!: Fury of the Gods, a sequel to 2019’s Shazam! slated for release in December. The fact that both of these movies are still set for theatrical release while Batgirl isn’t is puzzling.
Moreover, it’s not like DC and Warner Bros. haven’t released some epic duds in the past. Suicide Squad remains one of the worst movies with the backing of a major studio behind it that I’ve ever seen and it still somehow managed to gross a blockbuster profit, and they bungled the initial release of Justice League so bad in 2017 that they had to release a subsequent version of it more aligned with the director’s original vision less than four years later. However, movies that no one could’ve predicted would become massive worldwide hits, like 2018’s Aquaman and 2019’s Joker, did just that. The movie business is a crapshoot, and the risk involved feels like it should not have been a determining factor in this decision. And if this was all for the sake of a tax write-off, as some have speculated, that just feels downright petty.
An entire team of filmmakers had put a lot of work into this movie, and it feels like a violation of their efforts that it won’t even be released. It also feels unfair to deprive people of the chance to see this movie for themselves, as good or as bad as it might be. The fact that the studio also axed a project that not only featured a female superhero, but a Latina one at that, also feels like it sends the wrong message. Additionally, it seems like it’s still full steam ahead on The Flash getting released next summer despite the mounting legal trouble and major controversies involving the movie’s headlining star, Ezra Miller. For whatever reason Batgirl’s release was canceled, it pales in comparison to the bad publicity Miller’s bad behavior has generated for the studio in recent months.
There are other recent decisions that just don’t seem to make much business sense, such as the removal of exclusive streaming movies like An American Pickle starring Seth Rogen, Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches starring Anne Hathaway, and the recently released sci-fi comedy Moonshot, among others, from the HBO Max platform. And all of this comes after the newly-merged company axed the CNN+ streaming service after just a month of existence right after the Warner Bros./Discovery merger.
As the expression goes, the fish rots from the head, and the head in this case is David Zaslav, the CEO of the newly-merged Warner Bros. Discovery corporation. Zaslav had admitted he is not a fan of scripted content, preferring unscripted content that is cheaper to make. He once famously questioned why the studio went ahead with making the Clint Eastwood vehicle Cry Macho last year, dismissing claims of Eastwood’s longtime loyalty to the studio. He has a reputation for being totally business-minded and lacking any understanding or tact regarding the creative side of the industry. Warner Bros. employees are supposedly already calling Zaslav “the butcher” over this recent string of decisions, and there is fear that his actions could affect other upcoming productions. Moreover, it disincentives creatives from working with the studio if they feel like their production could very easily end up on the chopping block.
In a message to his corporate masters on his weekly HBO show Last Week Tonight regarding the Batgirl controversy, comedian John Oliver opined “I do get the vague sense that you’re burning down my network for the insurance money,” and it’s not hard to see where he’s coming from.
HBO Max, perhaps the best streaming service currently available to consumers, will merge with Discovery’s own platform, which no one I know actually subscribes to, in about a year’s time. From now on, the prestige dramas of HBO, the timeless animation of Looney Tunes, and the hallowed collection of Turner Classic Movies will sit alongside the likes of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Dr. Pimple Popper, and other exploitative reality show dreck in Discovery’s catalogue in a move that feels like it would only serve to defile the studio’s brand and sully its reputation.
I don’t think what we’re seeing are growing pains or the typical chaos that follows a corporate merger. Rather, I think it represents a shift in culture and priorities. A slide from a corporate presentation stated that HBO Max will be male-skewed, “scripted,” “appointment viewing” and “home of ‘fandoms,’” while Discovery will skew female, be “unscripted,” “comfort viewing,” and “home of ‘genredoms.’” This was largely lampooned online and on social media, and I think does much to demonstrate how oblivious the company is about its public perception and long-term goals.
Putting aside The Bonfire of the Vanities, the cancellation of the release of Batgirl is perhaps the worst decision in the studio’s history, and relatively unprecedented in film history. Never before has such a big-budgeted movie with such a valuable intellectual property been shelved like this. The movie’s canceled release is only the most obvious example of things feeling like they are falling into shambles at the studio. To me, it feels more akin to a harbinger of doom, predicting an uncertain future for one of Hollywood’s most legendary film studios.