When Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav canceled any release of the $90 million HBO Max-exclusive film Batgirl in favor of a tax benefit, he unleashed the hounds of hell on directors Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi, star Leslie Grace, and the rest of the cast and crew who devoted months or years of their lives to making it. It also warned the industry that, even if you make a superhero film, your effort may be worth more than alive.
The Flash is a difficult topic to take in, but it might get worse.
The Flash's trials and tribulations, as well as the star's Ezra Miller, have been widely reported. Yesterday, WBD reported its Q2 earnings after the close of the market: A 6,300-word Insider report of Miller included now-familiar allegations of grooming and abuse, as well as allegations of growing paranoia, body armor, and even leading a cult in Iceland.
Warner Bros. is expected to promote The Flash for a theatrical release next June, but it isn't impossible: On that earnings call, Zaslav name-checked The Flash as one of the DC films he's very proud to release. (He also stated on two separate occasions during the interview that he would not be forced to release any film in order to satisfy quarterly demands, so perhaps The Flash might see another date change.)
The Twitterverse was up in arms over The Flash even before the earnings call ended, including those who chastised Zaslav for killing a woman of color and supporting another that has been accused of abusing women and minors.
WBD insists that they must protect the DC brand from something like Batgirl and not, say, The Flash, whose star has reportedly been [checks notes] beating up Hawaiians and wandering Iceland with a cult and a rifle.
Caroline Darya Framke (@carolineframke) on August 4, 2022.
The Flash will be released in cinemas, whatever it is; that seemed to me obvious until this week; Hollywood's social contract has always been that it will be produced if you make it. It may not sell itself at a Redbox kiosk, or it might be forgotten in a corner of a Redbox kiosk. But it was impossible to imagine that a studio could invest tens of millions in a film and then just, not release it. Like a failed TV pilot, make it disappear and die.
Today, we understand that something can happen. However, if that were to happen for The Flash, the consequences would be much greater than Batgirl's shock and wonder.
The decision to kill Batgirl and remove underperforming HBO Max titles from circulation was shocking, but it was also HBO Max. The Flash is a full-on, franchise-launching, anticipated blockbuster film. Unlike Batgirl, it's been testing well: the first footage premiered at the virtual DC FanDome almost a year ago, more dropped in February, and the appearance of Flash in Zack Snyder's Justice League was named the most cheer-worthy film moment of 2021 at the Oscars in March.
The Batman is Warners' most successful film since The Joker was released in 2019.
Losing The Flash would be a setback for the exhibitors who are after a major breakthrough, to the DCEU's architecture, and to WBD's bottom line, which saw the studio lose $3.4 billion in Q2, but even a flash-sized tax break would not compensate for the loss of time and effort in world building.
There is no complete agreement on a digital replacement for Miller, which is prohibitively expensive and will not resolve much. From a PR standpoint, WBD would have as much potential to distract unwanted attention as Miller himself, making for a first-of-its-kind franchise debut. It's hard to imagine that Miller might be reunited for a future production that requires DC to reorganize its reboot.
Zaslav answered an analyst's question by spending a lot of time highlighting his love for DC. He said the Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group has fantastic IP and a long history. Look at Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman, these are names well known throughout the world. It's a huge opportunity for us to be able to drive those around the globe.
He then talked about a 10-year plan focusing solely on DC. It's very similar to the structure that Alan Horn and Bob Iger put together with Kevin Feige at Disney. We think we can create a long-term, much more sustainable growth business out of DC, and as part of that, we're going to focus on quality DC. We're now focused on it.
Warners has promised DC do-overs before, but one is needed again. The collateral damage for the fan base goes beyond the specific disappointment of losing Batgirl. Whether it's DC, Marvel, or Star Wars, superhero fans place an enormous amount of trust in the people who create the worlds they love. It's also evident in the rage over the internet and television shows that include biblical references.
At last months Comic-Con where WBD announced no new titles and made no mention of The Flash, Marvel announced five new films stretching all the way until 2025. This is how we will sustain all of the enthusiasm that you generously provide, because we trust you to fulfill your promise. Batgirl was a broken promise, but now WBD says The Flash is one it will keep.
Chris Lindahl contributed to this report.