- “Batgirl” won’t be released to HBO Max, as intended, or even to movie theaters.
- It had a modest budget compared to other superhero movies, but wasn’t considered ready for theaters.
- But theaters are desperate for product at a time when studios aren’t releasing as many movies.
In another shakeup for the DC film universe, the “Batgirl” movie — which had wrapped filming earlier this year — won’t be released on HBO Max as planned, or even in theaters.
The movie cost $90 million after pandemic-related costs increased the budget, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Even with the added expense, that’s a modest cost compared to other superhero movies today, which often have price tags in the $200 million range. That’s how much this year’s “The Batman,” another DC property released by Warner Bros. to theaters, cost to make.
Movie theaters are starving for more product, either due to pandemic-related production delays or a shift to streaming. Not nearly as many movies are being released to theaters right now as before the pandemic, so it’s disappointing that a mid-budgeted superhero movie apparently isn’t “big” enough for a theatrical release.
The budget for “Batgirl” was more in line with the 2019 DC movie “Birds of Prey,” which cost $85 million and grossed $205 million worldwide. It found another life on HBO Max, after an exclusive theatrical release.
Hollywood studios are more and more committing to superhero movies and other franchise IP in theaters, as those are the ones that make the most money, especially coming out of the pandemic.
If that’s the future, then I wouldn’t mind studios taking more risks, like “Birds of Prey” and potentially “Batgirl,” which had exciting filmmakers behind it with Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who directed the hit “Bad Boys for Life” in 2020, and a rising Latina star as the title character in Leslie Grace.
If that means superhero movies with lower budgets, then that would be a welcome change of pace — both for studios and viewers — to today’s event-sized tentpoles that require mega business in worldwide ticket sales to make a profit.
Maybe more superhero movies should take a cue from another reliable genre at the box office: horror, which drives impressive ticket sales compared to their low cost.
Why ‘Batgirl’ was scrapped
It’s easy to see why Warner Bros. Discovery, DC’s new parent company, would have a higher bar for DC movies after the turmoil of recent years — especially considering it’s currently dealing with controversy around the big-budget “Flash” movie and its star.
The company has made it a priority to get the DC movie franchise on the right track (and to cut costs to appease Wall Street). Variety reported that it wants to “overhaul” DC, including revitalizing underused characters like Superman and finding an exec to oversee DC’s creative strategy, similar to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige.
To that end, there have been plenty of reports about why “Batgirl” was canned. Variety and THR reported that Warner Bros. Discovery hoped to take the movie as a tax writedown.
CEO David Zaslav has made theatrical a priority for the company, meaning movies intended for HBO Max that were greenlit under former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar are getting treated with extra scrutiny.
In the case of “Batgirl,” reactions to initial test screenings were “harsh,” according to Rolling Stone, and rather than investing more money into the movie to make it worthy of a theatrical release, the company opted to recoup the costs with the writeoff.
But as THR pointed out, it’s rare for early test screenings — where a film is likely far from its final version — to act as a “final judgement call.”
One crew member told Insider that it “was a great shoot” and “we all thought we were making a good product.”
Even if “Batgirl” tested poorly, it’s tough to stomach WBD scrapping it when such bad superhero movies on either end of the budget spectrum have been released to theaters. Just this year, Sony’s “Morbius,” which received a 16% Rotten Tomatoes critic score, was released to theaters — twice. Granted, with a new corporate regime comes new priorities, but it’s not a good look.
If Warner Bros. Discovery wants to repair its relationship with movie theaters (and creators and talent, for that matter), then releasing “Batgirl” might have been a good start. The audience could judge it for themselves.