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In a surprising development, Warner Bros. will no longer be releasing Batgirl, the DC film that already completed shooting and was expected to arrive on HBO Max this year. The unusual move comes after a change in leadership at Warners, with newly installed Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav prioritizing cost-cutting measures and refocusing Warners on creating theatrical films rather than projects for streaming, as had been a priority for former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar.
Batgirl was budgeted at around $80 million, with costs rising to nearly $90 million due to COVID-19 protocols. It’s a hefty sum, but significantly lower than DC theatrical releases, thus the film is said not to have the spectacle that audiences have come to expect from DC fare. (The Batman, released in March, had a budget of $185 million, before marketing costs.) Warners has also decided to shelve animated feature Scoob!: Holiday Haunt, which had a budget in the $40 million range.
Batgirl stars In the Heights breakout Leslie Grace as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl — the first Latina to play the role — and hails from Bad Boys for Life filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. Its cast also includes Michael Keaton, back as Batman, J.K. Simmons as Barbara’s father, Commissioner James Gordon, and Brendan Fraser as the villain Firefly. The New York Post first reported Batgirl would be scrapped.
“The decision to not release Batgirl reflects our leadership’s strategic shift as it relates to the DC universe and HBO Max,” said a Warner Bros. spokesperson in a statement. “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 Scoob! Holiday Haunt and their respective casts and we hope to collaborate with everyone again in the near future.”
Insiders say that big-budget films made directly for streaming no longer make financial sense under the company’s new strategy. In June, Zaslav tapped MGM’s Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy to run Warners, replacing Toby Emmerich.
Warner Bros. Discovery leadership had been looking to find $3 billion in cost savings after the merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery closed in April. Major cuts along the way for the conglomerate have included streaming service CNN+, which cost $300 million before the plug was pulled a month after launch, and J.J. Abrams’ pricey HBO original Demimonde, which aimed to have a $200 million-plus budget.
Meanwhile, HBO Max has pared down its programming focus area for originals, cutting The Gordita Chronicles after a single season as part of a strategy shift away from live-action kids and family programming. Linear networks under the Warner Bros. Discovery umbrella like TNT and TBS have also had originals cut in recent months.
Under Kilar, Warners shattered the theatrical window, sending its 2021 slate day-and-date to HBO Max in a one-year experiment. Now, Zaslav appears to be engineering a total about-face in emphasizing the importance of theatrical over streaming in terms of original movies.
Batgirl has traveled a winding road up to this point. Joss Whedon initially signed on to write and direct in 2017, then dropped out a year later. Batgirl’s directors, who work under the name Adil & Bilall, boarded in 2021 as they were hot off of revitalizing the Bad Boys franchise.
In January of this year, Grace shared the first-look photo of herself in costume, along with a quote from the comic book Batgirl: Year One: “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.”
Aug. 2, 8:28 p.m. Updated to include statement from Warner Bros.
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David O. Russell