Warner Bros. has axed the $90 million “Batgirl” film planned for HBO Max, according to a person connected with the film who was not authorized to speak publicly about it.
The decision was highly unusual for such a high-priced movie in the final stages of completion. But the studio ultimately decided “Batgirl” didn’t merit either a streaming debut or a theatrical release, and has instead opted to entirely write off the film starring “In the Heights” star Leslie Grace as Batgirl and co-starring Michael Keaton (returning as Batman), J.K. Simmons and Brendan Fraser. It was directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. Production wrapped in April.
Warner Bros.’ decision, one without any obvious parallel in Hollywood history, sent shockwaves through the industry. When a big-budget movie doesn’t meet a studio’s expectations, it’s typically sold off or dumped quietly with little fanfare. “Batgirl,” greenlit before WarnerMedia’s merger with Discovery Inc., will instead simply not see the light of day after reportedly poor test screenings.
“We are saddened and shocked by the news. We still can’t believe it,” El Arbi and Fallah said in a statement Wednesday. “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. Maybe one day they will insha’Allah (if God wills).”
The directors signed their statement, posted on Instagram, “Batgirl For Life.”
Warner strategy shift
Under new Warner Bros. Discovery chief executive David Zaslav, Warner Bros. is shifting its strategy on film releases and trimming costs. Under previous chief executive Jason Kilar and partly as a pandemic response, the studio implemented day-and-date releases in 2021, opening films simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. Other films, like “Batgirl,” were produced solely for HBO Max.
This year, Warner Bros. has returned to exclusive theatrical windows for at least 45 days before sending movies to HBO Max. While “Batgirl” isn’t as pricey as many superhero films, which typically cost $150-200 million to make, it’s a bigger budget movie for an HBO Max title. Zaslav has maintained larger budgeted movies 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 set to report second-quarter earnings Thursday.
Representatives for Warner Bros. and Warner Bros. Discovery declined to comment. The “Batgirl” plans were first reported by the New York Post.
Warner Bros. also shelved “Scoob!: Holiday Haunt,” an almost-completed sequel to 2020’s “Scoob!” Producer and writer Tony Cervone confirmed in an Instagram post Tuesday that the “Scoob!” film was canned.
“Yes I am afraid this is true,” wrote Cervone. “The movie is practically finished and turned out beautifully. I am beyond heartbroken.”
The “Batgirl” cancellation 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 by controversy. “The Flash,” scheduled for release next June, stars Ezra Miller who has been arrested twice this year in Hawaii, in a disorderly conduct case and on suspicion of assault.
Warner Bros. is hoping to reorganize and reset its DC pipeline — going bigger, not smaller with its rival Marvel. Ultimately, “Batgirl” didn’t suit those plans.