NEW YORK — In a highly unusual move that rocked Hollywood, Warner Bros. has scrapped the slated “Batgirl” movie for HBO Max, opting to shelve the $90 million film as the revamped studio revamps its approach to streaming and DC Comics movies.
The studio ultimately decided that the nearly completed “Batgirl” didn’t deserve a first streaming or theatrical release. Warner Bros. instead chooses to cancel the film entirely with “In the Heights” star Leslie Grace as Batgirl and starring Michael Keaton (back in Batman), JK Simmons and Brendan Fraser. It was directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. Production completed in April.
Warner Bros.’ decision, with no obvious parallel in recent Hollywood history, has sent shockwaves through the industry. When a film fails to meet a studio’s expectations, it is usually sold or quietly discarded without much fanfare. “Batgirl,” greenlit before WarnerMedia’s merger with Discovery Inc., simply won’t see the light of day.
“The decision not to release Batgirl reflects the strategic shift in our leadership as it relates to the DC Universe and HBO Max,” a Warner Bros. spokesperson said. in a statement, adding that Grace is “an incredibly talented actor and this decision is not a reflection of his performance.”
The filmmakers learned of the studio’s decision shortly before the story broke on Tuesday night. A first cut of “Batgirl” had recently undergone a drug test. And while its scores weren’t great, poor test scores weren’t uncommon for Warner Bros. releases. DC nor for post-production dramas. Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” was recut and remade by Joss Whedon before a fan campaign led to the eventual release of an HBO Max edit by Snyder. 2016’s poorly received “Suicide Squad” was followed by James Gunn’s 2021 revival titled “The Suicide Squad”.
“We are saddened and shocked by the news. We still cannot believe it,” El Arbi and Fallah said in a statement Wednesday. “As directors, it is essential that our work is shown to the public, and although the film is far from finished, we wish that fans around the world had the opportunity to see and embrace themselves- same the final film. Maybe one day they insha’Allah (God willing).”
The directors signed their statement, posted on Instagram“Batgirl for life.”
Late Wednesday, Grace posted on Instagram that she was proud of the work done in “Batgirl”.
“I feel blessed to have worked among some great absolutes and forged lifelong relationships in the process!” writes Grace. “To all Batgirl fans – THANK YOU for the love and faith that allowed me to take the course and become, as Babs said best, ‘my own hero!'”
Under the direction of the new chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, David Zaslav, Warner Bros. changes its strategy for film releases and cost reduction. Under former chief executive Jason Kilar and partly in response to the pandemic, the studio implemented day-and-date releases in 2021, opening films simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. Other movies, like “Batgirl,” were produced just for HBO Max.
This year, Warner Bros. returned to exclusive movie windows for at least 45 days before sending movies to HBO Max. Although “Batgirl” isn’t as expensive as many superhero movies, which typically cost between $150 million and $200 million, it’s a bigger-budget film for an HBO Max title. Zaslav maintained that big budget films are best served by a theatrical rollout. But marketing a movie like “Batgirl” for that kind of release would require tens of millions more. Warner Bros. Discovery is expected to release its second-quarter results on Thursday.
Warner Bros. also shelved “Scoob!: Holiday Haunt,” a nearly completed sequel to “Scoob!” of 2020. Producer and screenwriter Tony Cervone confirmed in an Instagram post that “the movie is pretty much done and turned out wonderfully. I’m heartbroken.”
The cancellation of “Batgirl” comes as Warner Bros. is trying to revamp its DC Films operations. While “The Batman” earlier this year performed well with $770.8 million in ticket sales, Warners’ DC releases have been erratic and plagued with controversy. “The Flash,” slated for release next June, features Ezra Miller, who was arrested twice this year in Hawaii for disorderly conduct and charged with assault.
Warner Bros. hopes to revamp and reset its DC pipeline – by getting bigger, not smaller with rival Marvel. The more modest-scale, streaming-only “Batgirl” didn’t fit those plans.
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