The cancellation of Warner Bros’ highly-anticipated ‘Batgirl‘ film, starring Leslie Grace in the titular role, has sent shock waves through Hollywood this week.
The film, which was estimated to have cost between $70 – 90 million USD, was said to have severely ‘underperformed’ in a test screening, and thus will no longer be making a theatrical release nor will it be available on Warner Bros. affiliate streaming platform, HBO MAX.
The cancellation of Batgirl is an unprecedented occurrence in the history of Hollywood film, with the film now ranking among the most expensive cancelled cinematic projects ever.
A minute after this story posted got a call from a rival studio exec who was floored by move. "Worked in this town for three decades and this is some unprecedented shit right here." https://t.co/A3aBLPulWz
— Justin Kroll (@krolljvar) August 2, 2022
The news comes as a shock to the cast, crew, fans and critics around the world. While few have questioned whether the performances of the cast were to blame for the film’s cancellation – which included Leslie Grace as Batgirl (aka Barbara Gordon), Michael Keaton returning as Batman for the first time in 30 years, J.K. Simmons as Commissioner James Gordon, and Brendan Fraser as the villain Firefly – Warner Bros. said via a statement that it was rather a “strategic shift” needed to be made in how Warner Bros. (and thus the DC Universe) will approach its world of superheroes.
“The decision to not release Batgirl reflects our leadership’s strategic shift as it relates to the DC universe and HBO Max,” Warner Bros. said.
“Leslie Grace is an incredibly talented actor and this decision is not a reflection of her performance. We are incredibly grateful to the filmmakers of Batgirl and their respective casts and we hope to collaborate with everyone again in the near future.”
“I use their expectations against them. That will be their weakness. Not mine. Let them all underestimate me…
And when their guard is down, and their pride is rising, let me kick their butts.”
– Batgirl, Year One
— Leslie Grace (@lesliegrace) January 15, 2022
While the initial test screening (with unfinished effects) of Batgirl was said to have faired poorly with Warner Bros. execs (but would have been passable as an eventual film – other accounts claim Batgirl to have been a ‘superhero origin story with style and strong performances’), the real reason behind the cancellation, as suggested by an unidentified source close to the production, is said to have been Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s determination that the film would “recoup more of its budget as a tax write-down than as a theatrical or HBO Max release.” This has yet to be officially corroborated by Warner Bros.
Zaslav, who took over as CEO when Warner Bros merged with Discovery in May 2021., is reportedly prioritising cost-cutting and refocusing the studio on theatrical films over streaming projects.
It seems fanciful that a film with as much going for it as Batgirl – an Afro-Latina-led movie, directed by filmmakers of Moroccan descent, and starring a transgender Asian woman (Ivory Aquino), not to mention one that brings back Keaton’s Batman, arguably the greatest iteration of the Dark Knight – would have fallen prey to an impending box-office flop, as only predicated by the men at the helm of its production. Even if its release was not an initial financial success, its introduction does so much for the overarching DC Universe and the stories that world is able to tell.
Above all, the commitment to diversity this film was leading would have generated a ton of positive buzz regardless of its success or failure at the box office, assuring audiences that Warner Bros. is committed to diversity – not fuelling the Hollywood myth that films led by women and people of colour won’t make any money.
Batgirl’s filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah – the duo behind the acclaimed Disney + series “Ms. Marvel” – issued a joint statement expressing their disappointment in the news of the film’s axing.
“We are saddened and shocked by the news. We still can’t believe it,” the statement read.
“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.”
Sadly, the cancellation of Batgirl is just another cross on the long list of DC failures. It’s obvious that Warner Bros. wants its catalogue to rival that of Marvel Studios so badly, but the difference with Marvel is that it has taken the time – over a decade – to slowly but surely establish the foundations of its characters, both main and supporting. DC has done little to invest in the diverse characters that audiences will want to care about, like Batgirl, rather focusing haphazardly on its marquee characters, but never really doing justice to their storylines, or origin stories, either (‘Joker’ and ‘Aquaman’ being the only two exceptions within the last five years).
This financially-driven approach will continue to hinder any success garnered or desired by the DC Universe – and in turn, Warner Bros. – should it continue to operate with a ‘get rich quick’ scheme.
At the end of the day, as Richard Newby concluded in his insightful opinion piece in THR, the cast and crew of Batgirl “deserve better. Audiences deserve better.”
If the rumors about Batgirl’s cancelled release are true, there is absolutely no excuse for that.
Leslie Grace deserves better. Brendan Fraser deserves better. Michael Keaton deserves better. The fans deserve better.
Batgirl deserves better! pic.twitter.com/9YL8xtyXrN
— Michael Patterson (@michaelp93) August 2, 2022
In other DC-related news, Lady Gaga is confirmed to star alongside Joaquin Phoenix in the sequel to Todd Phillips’ 2019 psycho-thriller, ‘Joker’.