I can’t remember another example of a major studio burying a big-budget IP-specific franchise movie. That precedent appears to have been shattered yesterday with the news that Warner Bros. Discovery cancels post-production on upper/lower $80 million bat girl and put the film on the shelves. The HBO Max film, starring Leslie Grace as Barbara Gordon, will not currently be released in theaters, on HBO Max, or on DVD. The same goes for the animation’s $40 million sequel. Scoob! bat girl is a bigger deal due to the size of the film and the overall importance of the DC brand. It makes financial sense, but it also creates a gruesome optic while further blurring the line between movies and TV pilots.
bat girl was an unusually diverse superhero film.
WBD has shelved a decent-budget DC Comics movie starring an Afro-Latina actress as the title superhero and co-starring Filipino-American transgender actress Ivory Aquino as the roommate/ Barbara’s friend. It comes from a screenplay of Bumblebee and Birds of prey writer Christina Hodson. The directors are Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, Moroccan filmmakers who made the surprisingly good bad boys for life and the first and last episodes of Ms. Marvel. It is not fair that such optics automatically take this into account. Yet they do. This never happens for movies, although it does quite often with television. Plus, the previous AT&T regime spent $70 million to let Zack Snyder do an alternate cut of Justice League.
This decision, along with the death of CNN+, shows that Zaslav is not a fan of the sunk cost fallacy. Even so, if the film is almost finished. So why not post it once complete on HBO Max and derive some value or revenue from its existence? Yes, screening tests would have gone wrong, but putting a bad movie on a streaming platform, especially one you don’t hold in as high regard as your predecessor, honors the implied deals and keeps the talent happy. Tax deductions for burying the film aside, throwing it away sends a grim message that WB is a safe studio for filmmakers and performers. It does not matter Elvis just surpassed $130 million domestic and $235 million global.
The shelving of bat girl and Scoob 2 further harms Warner Bros.’ reputation as a filmmaker-friendly studio.
They took heat for micromanagement suicide squad and Justice League. The post office-Justice League DC Films’ slate was relatively uneventful, while nearly every other WB film was made with minimal public melodrama. However, Covid and demand for new HBO Max content has brought Snyder’s fanbase back to the center of DC’s narrative. Meanwhile, AT&T used WB’s 2021 theatrical slot as loss leader for HBO Max. To be fair, save for Wonder Woman 1984; there were few certain commercial things in this theatrical programming. In addition, Godzilla vs. Kong and Dunes performed about as well theatrically as they otherwise would have. Nevertheless, Chris Nolan took Oppenheimer at Universal, and the “WB hates filmmakers” narrative got a boost.
While Jason Kilar was all-in on HBO Max, David Zaslav is not. The new boss wants to end over-budgeted HBO Max Originals. Those streaming-specific movies, even great and low-budget ones like No sudden movement and The consequences, attract fewer viewers than cinema films. He also has wants DC Films to be WBD’s premier film brandwhich means big budgets and blockbuster production value. bat girl was greenlit under the Kilar regime as an HBO Max movie. It’s probably relatively light on the show. That probably sounds a lot cheaper than an $80-110 million theatrical superhero movie like Venom, Deadpool 2 Where Shazam! Streaming movies usually don’t have backend deals or box office bonuses, so everyone gets paid up front. A lesser part of the budget is devoted to the value of the production.
bat girl was apparently not big enough for theaters and not good enough for HBO Max.
That’s partly why some big-budget Netflix Originals like red notice Where The gray man look and play smaller than High-speed train Where John Wick: Chapter 3. That’s why Shawn Levy and Ryan Reynolds’ $115 million The Adam Project feels smaller than Shawn Levy and Ryan Reynolds’ $115 million free guy. That’s part of why season four of stranger things costs $30 million per episode. bat girl could have been ugly, lacked compensatory action spectacle, and felt less like a big movie and more like a “cheap” TV pilot. I enjoyed the Mantis TV movie in 1994, but it would miss alongside batman forever. Steel and Jonah Hex could also have been buried under the new normal.
Seems terrible to cancel this relatively diverse/inclusive female-led DC superhero film as Ezra Miller star the flash (also featuring Michael Keaton as Batman) looks set for a worldwide theatrical release. It looks terrible alongside Warner Bros.’ recent struggles. I hope that Zsaslov will start releasing 20-25 theaters, some of which, by default, will not be tent poles. But it remains a pity that bat girl and Scoob 2: The Holiday Haunt will be buried because they were done as requested by the previous regime to be deemed unworthy due to changing corporate priorities.
When everything is contained, nothing is certain.
I’m okay with keeping DC Comics for the first theatrical properties and not oversaturating the brand with TV spinoffs and streaming movies. This goes for most major brands, although periodic anime shows like Star Wars: Rebels, Harley Quinn and Camp Cretaceous are a different conversation. However, the $90 million bat girl film is now no different from the countless TV pilots ever to air. This sets a chilling precedent: everything is contained, and a seemingly important streaming movie can be thrown away for a tax deduction. I’m glad Warner Bros. Discovery seems to be emphasizing theater rather than streaming. Still, I’m pretty tired of Warner Bros., the studio, being treated like a pinata by the corporate conglomerate that owns it this week.