Starring Leslie Grace in her first outing as the titular heroine, Batgirl was about to pave the way for the resurgence of the DC Extended Universe. Michael Keaton was back as Batman. JK Simmons was reprising the role of Commissioner Gordon. Brendan Fraser was about to make a triumphant return to the big screen as the film’s pyromaniacal villain.
The film had been shot. Postproduction was almost complete. And then… Warner Bros. Discovery pulled the plug, canning the $90 million production and shelving Batgirl without a theatrical release.
There’s no chance of it streaming online, either.
So, what exactly happened to the Batgirl movie? Why was it canned at a moment’s notice? Let’s take a look at what led to Batgirl’s box office downfall.
Batgirl’s Budget Climbed Higher Than a Gotham Rooftop
Let’s face it — Batgirl was never supposed to be a huge blockbuster. Back in 2020, after a previous misfire with Joss Whedon, Batgirl was originally intended as a straight-to-streaming title. Given a $70 million budget and a script from Birds of Prey writer Christine Hodson, it was envisaged as another diverse part of the DCEU.
Think of it like Marvel’s recent MCU shows on Disney+ but as a standalone movie.
After directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah joined the production, Batgirl was unveiled as an HBO Max original. But the studio would eventually change its mind…
After WarnerMedia’s high-profile merger with Discovery, the new company was reportedly considering giving the film a theatrical release with an increased budget, eventually bumping that $70 million up to $90 million, and insiders say it could have been more than that.
“They think an unspeakable Batgirl is going to be irredeemable,” a source told the New York Post after revealing that the current budget was over $100 million — a sum that was considered far too much after early test screenings.
Essentially, it looks as though Warner Bros. Discovery felt that Batgirl wouldn’t be able to make back its budget at the box office and nixed its theatrical release. So, why not pop it on HBO Max instead? That’s all down to Hollywood finances.
Holy Tax Write-Downs, Batgirl!
Batgirl was always going to be an HBO Max release. At least initially. But by the time the budget ballooned to over $100 million, there was no going back. Warner Bros. Discovery had put serious cash behind its next superhero flick, and they expected a theatrical movie.
But insiders say it was far from it.
“The leaders of the studio ultimately determined, in spite of reshoots and increased budget, that the movie simply did not work,” insiders told The Wrap. That doesn’t mean that Batgirl was a bad movie. It’s just that it wasn’t considered to be a big enough film to justify a theatrical release… and it was an increasing risk just to get its budget back.
Releasing the film on HBO Max wouldn’t scratch the surface – even a healthy subscriber increase wouldn’t put a dent in that $100 million. And that’s when Warner Bros. Discovery decided to make Batgirl take the hit — using the production as a tax write-down.
Increasing the budget, yet again, to make Batgirl worth of a theatrical release could have doubled the studio’s spending on the film. Then there’s the $30 million to $50 million needed just to market the film domestically.
Instead, insiders told Variety that this was “a non-starter” with Warner Bros. Discovery already focused on cost-cutting. And so, the decision to can the upcoming film in favor of a tax write-down was made. Even if Warner Bros. Discovery were a bit cagier about why it was cancelled.
It’s the Film Warner Bros. Deserves…but Not the One It Needs Right Now
After the news of Batgirl’s cancellation broke, it wasn’t long before it was all over the internet, prompting Warner Bros. Discovery to release an official statement:
“The decision to not release Batgirl reflects our leadership’s strategic shift it relates to the DC universe and HBO Max,” they 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 Scoob! Holiday Haunt and their respective casts and we hope to collaborate with everyone again in the near future.”
Of course, it was unlikely that Warner Bros. Discovery would go into detail about why the film was really canned… but this boilerplate statement does little to support the actors and filmmakers.
“We are saddened and shocked by the news,” said directing duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. “We still can’t believe it. The 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.”
El Arbi and Fallah went on to heap praise upon their cast and crew. But for the time being, it looks as though Batgirl’s wings have been clipped.
“Our amazing cast and crew did a tremendous job and worked so hard to bring Batgirl to life,” they explained. “We are forever grateful to have been part of that team. It was a dream to work with such fantastic actors like Michael Keaton, JK Simmons, Brendan Fraser, Jacob Scipio, Corey Johnson, Rebecca Front, and especially the great Leslie Grace, who portrayed Batgirl with so much passion, dedication, and humanity.”
But fans and filmmakers on social media weren’t quite so restrained.
You Either Die a Hero or Live Long Enough to Become a Villain
The decision to cancel Batgirl was met with significant backlash on social media. Sure, fans were looking forward to seeing Leslie Grace in the Batgirl suit for the first time, but it’s more than that – folks were enraged by the studio’s reasons for canning it.
And some commenters aren’t exactly renowned for its high quality.
Folks who are like “Batgirl was shelved because it was bad” acting as if that has ever stopped WB from releasing something before, lol.
— Richard Newby (@RICHARDLNEWBY) August 2, 2022
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
Some have even evoked those #ReleaseTheSnyderCut accounts to help right this wrong:
So I assumes all the folks who rallied to get a director’s vision released by the studio that scrapped it will immediately throw all their weight behind BATGIRL now, right?
— William Bibbiani (@WilliamBibbiani) August 2, 2022
Others have suggested that Warner Bros. Discovery head David Zaslav simply wants to burn down everything that came from his predecessors.
How is it “cost-cutting” to remove completed films that you already own and have on your streaming service? This sounds, like so many recent moves like the Batgirl thing, as David Zaslav just wants to take a sledgehammer to everything his predecessor did with HBO Max. https://t.co/nVREXSEmEX
— Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall) August 3, 2022
Whatever the reason, the move has caused significant backlash aimed directly at the studio, especially since DC’s upcoming Flash solo movie is still being released despite the controversy around the film’s star, Ezra Miller.
You will never guess which actor had their film canceled pic.twitter.com/SCXgk7mfPf
— ⭐dicasa⭐ (@dcbobasa) August 2, 2022
It’s certainly not a good look, but Warner Bros. Discovery continues to shuffle its releases and remove its HBO Max originals, it looks as though it’s a time of huge change for the studio. What will happen to the DCEU remains to be seen. But for now, Batgirl is sitting this one out.
Ryan Leston is an entertainment journalist and film critic for IGN. You can follow him on twitter.