WB Discovery merger strikes down “nearly finished” live-action Batgirl film
In response to mounting reports and rumors, the creative teams behind the upcoming straight-to-HBO-Max films Batgirl and Scoob 2: Holiday Haunt confirmed this week that both had been canceled and locked away to apparently never be released in any way, shape, or form.
The bizarre news began unfolding on Tuesday thanks to a report from the New York Post, which alleged that Batgirl, a feature-length, live-action reimagining of the DC Comics superhero that began production last year, would be outright shelved and hidden away in the wake of test screenings. The nearly complete film, which had a budget exceeding $70 million and co-starred Michael Keaton as the character of Batman for the first time in nearly 30 years, was reportedly “unspeakable” on a quality basis.
Two inevitabilities: Death (of possibly decent DC films) and taxes
Shortly after that report went live, well-placed industry rags blamed Batgirl‘s cancellation on a different issue: accounting and taxes. Deadline pointed to a limited-time opportunity for new WB corporate owners Discovery, which initiated its $108 billion acquisition of Warner in May 2021, to write off both Batgirl and the CGI animation feature Scoob 2: Holiday Haunt as a “purchase accounting maneuver.” The outright cancellation would have to happen by “mid-August,” according to Deadline; any other attempt to commercially release either film in any way (streaming, theatrical runs, VOD sales) would nix the accounting move.
A similar report from Variety indicates that Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has been on a public tear to reassure potential filmmakers that the new company would reverse course on HBO Max’s pandemic strategy of releasing films day-and-date on the same day as their theatrical runs. That public strategy, according to Variety, aligned with the new leadership’s private belief that potential tentpole films, particularly those starring DC Comics characters, should either launch in theaters or not at all. And Deadline refutes the NY Post’s assessment of Batgirl‘s quality, suggesting that its sole test screening “wasn’t that bad.”
Should those reports be accurate, the films may truly never see the light of day, since there’s zero way for either production, each rich with Warner-owned IP, to easily be licensed or sold off to an outside distribution company. Official responses from the affected films’ crews imply just as much.
“Maybe one day they will insha’Allah”
“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,” co-directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah wrote on social media on Wednesday. “Maybe one day they will insha’Allah [God willing].” The post went on to laud the film’s cast and crew, particularly star Leslie Grace (In the Heights) and supporting cast members Brendan Fraser and JK Simmons. (You may recognize the co-directors’ names from their fantastic work on recent Disney+ exclusive Ms. Marvel, along with the 2020 action film Bad Boys for Life.)
Scoob 2: Haunted Holiday hadn’t racked up as much hype, but this sequel to a well-reviewed HBO Max exclusive was slated to feature a number of notable voice performances, including Mark Hamill, Ming Na-Wen, Patrick Warburton, and JB Smoove. The resulting film was reportedly sitting pretty as far as test screenings were concerned.
“Why cancel a 95% finished holiday movie this close to Fall, when you’re guaranteed kids watching it from right after Halloween until at least New Years?” Scoob 2 co-writer Paul Dini posted on Twitter on Tuesday. “Makes no business sense, especially as both kids & parents dug the WIP [work-in-progress] screening.”
Warner Bros. Discovery representatives distributed a statement on Tuesday suggesting that Batgirl‘s cancellation was due to “a strategic shift as it relates to the DC universe and HBO Max.” The statement acknowledged Scoob 2: Holiday Haunt‘s cancellation, as well, but did not offer any reason as to why that film got the ax—and it didn’t clarify whether those strategic shifts will affect the fraught production of upcoming film The Flash, still scheduled to launch in June 2023.
The Tuesday statement also breezed over the company’s strange decision to quietly delist six HBO Max-exclusive films from that platform on Wednesday morning. These included space-colonization rom-com Moonshot, the Truman Show-like dystopia of Superintelligence, and a number of star-studded films that never quite lit up HBO Max’s streaming charts.
This week’s combination of cancellations and delistings has us wondering what Warner Bros. Discovery’s quarterly financial results meeting, scheduled for Thursday, August 4, will have in store. In particular, we wonder whether these moves are required steps for the company ahead of an effort to combine its existing pair of streaming services: Discovery+ and HBO Max. In one report, sources suggest an HBO Max staffing cutdown as severe as 70 percent could begin unfolding this week.