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‘Kapow!’: why $90m Batgirl movie was axed

  • August 05, 2022

News that Warner Bros. Discovery is shelving its upcoming $90m Batgirl movie has sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry. 

She has “fought the Joker“ and “helped to save Gotham City” but – “Kapow!” – it appears Batgirl has “finally met a foe she cannot overcome in the shape of Hollywood executives”, said The Times

The film was close to completion and in the process of going through test screenings when it was cancelled. “Not dumped to HBO Max, not being sold to another company. Scrapped entirely, and left to languish in the vaults of the studio, presumably forever,” said Slash Film.

A studio failing to release a movie that expensive is “flat-out unprecedented in Hollywood history”, said the film blog. “So the big yet simple question lingers: why?”

The ‘irredeemable’ theory

“Holy millions down the drain, Batman!” declared The New York Post, which claimed the test screenings were “so poorly received by moviegoers that the studio decided to cut its losses and run, for the sake of the brand’s future”. Calling it a “DC disaster”, the paper said one Hollywood source had branded the film – starring Leslie Grace and Michael Keaton – “irredeemable”. 

But this theory “doesn’t add up”, said Robbie Collin in The Telegraph. When it comes to superhero films, “it can’t be said that dreadfulness has traditionally been a barrier to entry”. One industry insider told Collin the film would have had to be “sub-Sharknado in terms of quality” and suggested “bigger corporate machinations” were at play.

The tax write-down

Variety believes the film found itself on “the bad end” of a new Warner strategy to release first-run feature films in cinemas before putting them on HBO Max. Batgirl was apparently “neither big enough to feel worthy of a major theatrical release nor small enough to make economic sense in an increasingly cutthroat streaming landscape”, said the Hollywood trade magazine.

It would have needed up to $50m to market it for a cinema release domestically and “tens of millions more” to promote it around the world, which “could have nearly doubled spending on the film”. By preventing it from going straight to video-on-demand service HBO Max, costs could also be recouped through a tax write-down, several sources told the magazine.

The creative cost

There is a “grim upshot to this strategy”, said Collin at The Telegraph. “If the logical end point of the franchise era is in treating films like assets to be bought and sold – and sometimes written off – then actors and crew members will themselves start to reconsider where their time and talents should be invested.”

The creative insider told him that “from an artistic standpoint” the decision to scrap a film like Batgirl “makes your blood freeze”. It frames each movie as “just another item in an investment portfolio, rather than four years of people’s time and careers”, they said.

For the 27-year-old Grace, “a well-regarded newcomer with just one prior screen credit, a role like Batgirl could have been life-changing”, said Collin, “if anyone had actually seen it”.

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