What happened to Batgirl?

Maybe you saw this yesterday. Warner Bros. has decided not to release the film “Batgirl” to theaters. That’s probably not as big a surprise as it used to be. After all, they own HBO Max and last year all of the studio’s big films were released there, even Dune. The idea at the time was to bring in subscribers by offering all of the best content on the streaming service.

In fact, Batgirl was originally intended as a direct-to-streaming film for HBO Max with a budget around $70 million, which is substantially below the kind of money Marvel spends on their big theatrical releases. In other words, this was never meant to compete with Black Panther and the Avengers. It was meant to compete with Marvel TV shows like Moon Knight and Hawkeye.

But now the company isn’t going to be releasing Batgirl to HBO Max either. Nor will they sell the film to anyone else. In fact, Variety reports the plan is to bury the film forever as a tax write-off, meaning it won’t ever see the light of day.

Releasing the movie on HBO Max would seem to be the most obvious solution. Instead, the company has shelved “Batgirl” — along with the “Scoob!” sequel — and several sources say it will almost certainly take a tax write-down on both films, seen internally as the most financially sound way to recoup the costs (at least, on an accountant’s ledger). It could justify that by chalking it up to a post-merger change of strategy.

Doing so, however, would mean that Warner Bros. cannot monetize either movie — no HBO Max debut, no sale to another studio.

The directors of the film released a statement on Instagram saying they were “saddened and shocked” by the decision.

 

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So what’s really going on here? Why would a studio spend $70 million and then ditch a nearly completed project? Well there seem to be two answers to that. The first is that the film’s budget didn’t stay at $70 million.

The Hollywood Reporter said Batgirl’s budget was a factor in the decision, having risen to nearly $90m (£74.1m, A$130m) due to costs relating to it being shot during the Covid-19 pandemic. While the budget is lower than the average DC superhero film, it was reportedly decided that it did not have the “spectacle that audiences have come to expect from DC fare” and would not recoup its losses from being released.

And even the $90 million figure is in dispute. The NY Post‘s source claimed the budget had ballooned to $100 million. So at that point, the studio considered doubling down and trying to expand the scope of the film so that it could compete as a theatrical release but that would have meant spending an untold number of millions for rewrites and reshoots. And then the studio would need to spend another $30-$50 million on advertising the release in theaters. So you could wind up with a budget approaching $200 million for something that started out as the streaming equivalent of a TV movie. And since the studio only recoups about half the ticket price (the theater keeps the rest), it would need to be a pretty big hit to break even.

And that brings us to the last problem According to the NY Post, the movie just wasn’t performing well in test screenings.

Those tests were said to be so poorly received by moviegoers that the studio decided to cut its losses and run, for the sake of the brand’s future. It’s a DC disaster.

“They think an unspeakable ‘Batgirl’ is going to be irredeemable,” the source said.

You have to feel a little bit sorry for the DCEU which has really been a mixed bag all along. Sure they had some hits like Man of Steel, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. But they also released Justice League which was awful (though I’m surprised to see it’s at 68% on Rotten Tomatoes) and Wonder Woman 1984 which was mostly terrible and got clobbered by the pandemic.

So now they’re looking forward at an underperforming Batgirl and a feature version of the Flash featuring a lead actor who has been arrested multiple times for sketchy behavior. That probably looks like a vortex of failure that could drag the whole DCEU down.

On the other hand, they also have a decent looking Shazam! sequel, Black Adam, coming out in two months and that’s starring one of the biggest actors in the world. So the question becomes, do we let a subpar film further ruin our average or do we eat the loss and hope The Rock can turn the ship around? They wisely decided to eat the loss. I hope this is good: