Batgirl May Just Be the First Major Casualty in the Warner Bros/Discovery Shake-Up
With more ways for films to be released than ever before, it’s become relatively rare for a completed movie to truly get banished with no avenue for release. But, per Variety, that’s precisely what Warner Bros. is doing with Batgirl, the Leslie Grace-led superhero film helmed by Bad Boys for Life directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah.
Variety’s sources said that the decision to shelve the movie was not based on the quality of the film itself, but because its more modest scale and budget doesn’t jibe with plans for future DC Comics movies, which are intended to be zeitgeist-dominating event pictures. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the studio’s current content strategy doesn’t involve spending large sums on direct-to-streaming features. Before the end of 2022, DC is slated to release Black Adam, which stars Dwyane Johnson, as well as Shazam! Fury of the Gods, a sequel to 2019’s surprise hit.
The Shazam! franchise offers an intriguing comparison point to Batgirl. The 2019 movie had a budget estimated to be between $80 million and $100 million, which is quite low for a superhero film released in theaters. According to Variety, Batgirl was initially budgeted at $75 million, but wound up coming in closer to $90 million by the time it reached post-production—which would seem to put it right in the Shazam! Zone.
In an Instagram post, the directors express their disappointment in the film being shelved. “As directors, it is critical that our work be shown to audiences, and while the film was far from finished, we wished that fans all over the world would have had the opportunity to see and embrace the final film themselves,” they wrote.
Despite a relatively manageable budget and streaming release, Batgirl was poised to be a big-deal release in its own right. The supporting cast included J.K. Simmons reprising his role as Commissioner Gordon, the internet’s champion Brendan Fraser playing the villain, and the biggest Big Deal: the return of Michael Keaton as Batman, his first time reprising the role in 30 years. Keaton is also slated to appear in The Flash, which has its own complicating factors:. that $200 million superhero epic stars controversial actor Ezra Miller, whose pervasive legal trouble has dominated headlines in 2022.
The Batgirl news comes during a period of change and upheaval at Warner. As part of a looming merger with Discovery, several high-profile executives including CEO Jason Kilar, and HBO Max head Andy Forssell are leaving the company. In 2021, Warner experimented with releasing major movies like Dune and Godzilla vs. Kong simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, but discontinued that for 2022, with Kilar admitting that the strategy was not well executed. As noted in Deadline, the Batgirl decision reflects Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, Kilar’s successor, wanting to distance the company from Kilar’s regime, and also taking advantage of what’s called a “purchase accounting” move only available for short window of time. In recent weeks, Warner Bros. has removed several streaming-exclusive features from HBO Max, a possible signal of the studio’s future plans, amid mounting rumors that the service will abandon HBO Max originals altogether.
These headline-grabbing moves echo the turmoil around streaming cinema that has been a consistent theme in 2022. In June, The Hollywood Reporter published an article saying that Netflix company was changing its approach and would be greenlighting fewer big budget projects from name-brand filmmakers, such as Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. The embattled streamer’s stock value has dropped this year, Peacock reportedly did not add any paid subscribers in the second quarter of 2022, while Disney+ has experienced expectation-shattering growth, but its Ms. Marvel series isn’t reaching the same lofty viewership heights as previous programs.