Warner Bros. has axed the $90 million Batgirl film planned for HBO Max starring Leslie Grace.
The decision was highly unusual for such a high-priced and nearly finished movie. But the studio ultimately decided Batgirl didn't merit either a streaming debut or a cinema release, and has instead opted to entirely write off the film starring In the Heights lead 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.
This followed reports that the film went over budget by more than $40m and that it had tested poorly with audiences.
Deadline reports that El Arbi and Fallah found out about the news while in Morocco for the former’s wedding; they were expecting to continue editing the film when they returned.
Photos from El Arbi’s wedding, which was attended by Bad Boys for Life star Will Smith, were shared on Instagram one day before the news broke.
A Warner Bros Picture spokesperson said: “The decision to not release Batgirl reflects our leadership’s strategic shift as it relates to the DC universe and HBO Max. Leslie Grace is an incredibly talented actor and this decision is not a reflection of her performance.”
The spokesperson added that the studio is committed to working with the film’s directors and cast members on another project.
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. “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.”
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 cinemas 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 on Thursday.
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 reorganise and reset its DC pipeline — going bigger, not smaller with its rival Marvel. Ultimately, Batgirl didn't suit those plans.