Warner Bros. axes $90 million ‘Batgirl’ movie. Directors ‘saddened and shocked’

Ryan Faughnder
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Warner Bros. has scrapped plans to release a nearly finished “Batgirl” movie that was planned for the streaming service HBO Max, according to two people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak publicly.

The Burbank movie studio had finished shooting the DC superhero spinoff, which cost an estimated $90 million to make. The movie was in postproduction.

But the project fell short of what the company wanted for its key comic book franchise and no longer fit with the studio’s film strategy, the sources said.

“Batgirl” was originally commissioned as a straight-to-streaming film, as part of a broader plan to use the DC franchise to boost subscriber numbers for HBO Max.

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At the time, Warner Bros. was part of AT&T-owned WarnerMedia, run by Jason Kilar, who wanted multiple original films made specifically for the direct-to-consumer platform. Kilar left the media company ahead of its combination with Discovery Inc. in a $43 billion deal that closed this year.

Now, Warner Bros. has a different corporate mandate as part of the new Warner Bros. Discovery whose chief executive, David Zaslav, has been open about his view that big movies perform better on streaming when they first premiere exclusively in movie theaters.

With a production budget of tens of millions of dollars, releasing “Batgirl” direct to streaming made little sense financially, one person close to the company said. But the movie, as scripted and produced, also wasn’t a big enough of a spectacle to merit a full-blown theatrical release.

The film, which cast “In the Heights” star Leslie Grace in the title role, was conceived with the small screen in mind. And while $90 million is hardly chump change, it’s far less than the $150 million to $200 million studios typically spend to produce big superhero movies before marketing costs.

Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” had an estimated budget of $185 million and was released in theaters for 45 days before it debuted for streaming. The movie grossed $770 million in global ticket sales.

“Batgirl” was directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who had previously worked on the acclaimed Disney+ superhero series “Ms. Marvel” and the box office hit “Bad Boys for Life” for Sony Pictures. Alongside Grace, the cast included J.K. Simmons, Michael Keaton and Brendan Fraser.

Actor Leslie Grace on the set of the "Batgirl" movie on Jan. 13, 2022, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images/TNS)

The decision to kill the movie stunned Hollywood insiders. Axing a movie after shooting is completed, especially one with such a high profile, is highly unusual. Choosing to not release a film of that size means the company will have to eat substantial costs.

A cut of the film tested poorly with audiences, another person familiar with the matter said. Test screenings are typically used as a tool to gauge audience reaction and determine what needs to be fixed. But rather than spend additional money on a theatrical campaign, the company decided to shelve the project. Mothballing “Batgirl” will probably allow the company to take a tax write-off, people familiar with the matter said.

El Arbi and Fallah, in a Wednesday statement, said they were “saddened and shocked” by the decision.

“We still can’t believe it,” the directors said. “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.”

Representatives for Warner Bros. and Warner Bros. Discovery declined to comment.

The decision, first reported by the New York Post, comes as Warner Bros. Discovery prepared to report quarterly earnings this week. Zaslav has promised Wall Street $3 billion in cost savings from the merger, but one of the people close to the company said that scrapping “Batgirl” was not a money-saving measure. The company has also shelved a “Scoob!” sequel that was planned for HBO Max.

HBO and HBO Max reported a combined 76.8 million subscribers at the end of the first quarter of 2022, making it one of the more formidable competitors to Netflix and Disney+. HBO Max is the streaming home of a broad array of DC content, including the “Dark Knight” trilogy, “Peacemaker” and the animated “Harley Quinn” series.

“As huge fans of Batman since we were little kids, it was a privilege and an honor to have been a part of the (DC Extended Universe), even if it was for a brief moment,” the “Batgirl” directors said. “Batgirl For Life.”