The film industry has reacted in surprise to Warner Bros.' decision to postpone its Batgirl film, despite the fact that it was largely completed. Such decisions are rare, and it is unthinkable that any company would choose to discard a project that had cost $90 million, despite how awful it might be. In the past, it was more common for troubled projects to be quietly released on streaming or home video formats before they ever saw the light of day.
Why would Warner Bros. want to spend some of its money and release Batgirl on HBO Max, its streaming platform, instead? In fact, Batgirl was originally intended as an HBO Max streaming exclusive, and this was part of its failure.
The New York Post, in its original report, presented the decision solely on quality. In sensational terms, the film was described as unimaginable, irredeemable, and a DC catastrophe that would irreparably damage the brand. But further investigation suggests this is incorrect or at least an oversimplification.
The film was directed by the well-known duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who directed the smashing 2020 action film Bad Boys for Life and were the lead directors for Ms. Marvel for Disney Plus. The cast included actress Leslie Grace as well as the heavyweight acting trio of J.K. Simmons, Michael Keaton, and Brendan Fraser, who played In the Heights.
Sources at Variety agreed that the decision was not about the film quality, but rather about a strategic move at the newly merged Warner Bros. Discovery organization, headed by new CEO David Zaslav, to ensure all DC films are theatrical releases at blockbuster scale. Batgirls budget, although far from tiny, had been set with a streaming release in mind and would not have matched the scale of planned DC releases, like Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom and The Flash.
According to Puck, Zaslav is looking for an executive to head a newly centralized DC film division that will basically fill Kevin Feige's role at Marvel Studios.
The decision to sell the film completely on its own might be explained by two additional factors: a technical flaw within Hollywood.
The Deadline investigation and Variety's follow-up points to studio accountants. Variety claimed that the bean-counters considered a tax write-down the most financially sound way to recoup film losses, while Deadline claimed that the Warner Bros. merger with Discovery would close the window in mid-August for such accounting maneuvers.
Zaslav has openly disowned his predecessor's decision to release all Warner Bros. films, including Dune and The Matrix Resurrections, day-and-date on HBO Max during the epidemic. Kilar's intention to increase HBO Max subscriber numbers was successful, but the long-term value of those subscribers versus box office revenues is questioned.
When Hollywood executives and Wall Street investors discover that Netflix's obsession with subscriber growth looks shaky as soon as that growth stops. Similarly, Paramount proved the wisdom of sticking to Top Gun: Maverick for two years, despite having its own streaming service in Paramount Plus at the box office.
According to Deadline, movie theaters arent yet dead. Indeed, many within Hollywood are claiming that a theatrical release confers status on a streaming service when it arrives there; The Batman is said to have performed exceptionally well on HBO Max after making Warner Bros. $770 million in theaters.
Money talks, and it's clear that films can still make money in theaters as well as provide subscriber growth. Batgirls' termination may be a matter of accounting expediency, but it's also a symbolic move that is sure to not be missed by investors and industry-watchers.