In a world of franchise media and tentpole blockbusters, the idea that a movie full of big names is basically done and then canceled before production seems absurd. But thanks to the bizarre machinations of the people who own all the rights to DC Comics, fans are seeing the absurd firsthand and wondering what’s next.
bat girl, to be directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah and Leslie Grace in the title role alongside Michael Keaton and Brendan Frasier, was canceled by WB. This comes as a shock to most as the film was between 90% and 100% complete.
The concept behind the film began in 2017 when Joss Whedon pitched the project before quickly saying goodbye. By 2021, El Arbi and Fallah were linked with plans to appear directly on HBO Max this year. Filming took place from last November to this March. The title character is quite a big name who hasn’t seen the big screen since the tragedy Batman & Robin in 1997. Fans were excited when Batgirl got her feature film, but the film had many other selling points. Michael Keaton has committed to returning to the Batman role for the first time in decades. Popular actor Brendan Frasier was set to deliver a rare villain performance. JK Simmons would return as Commissioner Gordon, tying the film into the larger DCEU. There was a lot of exciting and interesting details that would draw a multitude of fans, but the film won’t come out and WB’s reasoning reveals some grim truths about the industry.
The studio’s official explanation when asked why they would cancel a nearly finished product bat girl outside of their strategy for the future of the DCEU. In short, WB only cares about massive budgets behind tentpole blockbusters. There’s no room in their lineup for a $90 million action movie. They want to release fewer movies with bigger budgets, and they can’t deal with something that doesn’t have the potential to make a billion dollars. It’s a problem that’s been ruining cinema in general for decades, but it’s nice that one of the industry’s two largest entertainment monopolies is coming out and saying it. Looking back to the 80’s and 90’s the prevailing strategy was to put out a lot of good movies and hope that some were big enough to bet on merchandise and sanction some sequels. Today, Warner Bros.’s stated goal is to nullify any creative effort that can’t reliably guarantee them a 9 or 10-figure ROI. Under that ethos, DC fans wouldn’t have done that Shazam, birds of preyor The Suicide Squad. It’s a sad day for blockbuster cinema.
There is some speculation about this bat girl maybe it was just terrible. Although initial screenings were positive, more recent focus tests indicated that some viewers found the film disappointing. The published studio batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman ’84, and two versions of justice league Canceling a film because of poor quality remains questionable at best. Very few people saw the project, it might be great or terrible, but its quality isn’t the issue. Test screenings used unfinished versions of the film, which the studio admitted some fans could expect more of. Now that no one will ever see the finished version, bat girlThe quality is not up for debate. It wasn’t canceled because it was just too horrible to see the light of day, it was canceled to keep up with a toxic trend sweeping the industry.
The cancellation of bat girl runs along with the similar cancellation of The Miracle Twins, proving that the former was no coincidence. Warner Bros. appears to be moving away from HBO Max as a distribution platform for its DCEU content. This reveals several potential problems. Perhaps the streaming model is far less sustainable than it once seemed. If WB tries to channel a big push back into theaters, it could do so by moving any superhero project away from home viewing options. It also mirrors the shell of other HBO Max staples like the hit sci-fi series Raised by wolves. It wouldn’t be out of the question to surmise that despite huge hits, HBO Max like peacemaker. While it’s unlikely that HBO Max will go away entirely, WB doesn’t seem to believe in launching major projects via the streaming platform. This business problem interacts with a larger problem in the way the industry affects cinema.
The optics of canceling the introduction of a new female superhero while leaving the wanted criminal starring film on the release list is awful. Warner Bros. is still going strong The Lightning, despite star Ezra Miller’s well-known actions, is currently wanted for a variety of deeply unsavory crimes. The idea that Miller’s actions weren’t enough to cancel a film, but disappointing test screenings were enough to have it scrapped bat girl raises many questions that WB cannot answer. There are other issues with this decision as well.
Any concept of creating art in a large studio like Warner Bros. already has a thousand hurdles to overcome. The studio mangles the work of good directors to better fit the nine different ideas they half came up with for the direction of the larger universe. Some filmmakers are given the power to nix the entire project, while others have little freedom to direct the films they are hired to direct. The healthiest cinematic environment is one in which new ideas are free to emerge and become popular. One where each project doesn’t have to cost the GDP of several nations and risk being labeled a failure if it doesn’t sell every person on earth a ticket.
With deregistration from bat girl, Warner Bros. signals its frank admission that they’re not interested in telling many new and interesting stories. They’re interested in turning a few big names into gigantic blockbuster events until one makes enough money to celebrate. This is a deeply disheartening moment for one of the few studios to own the ideas fans love, and it remains to be seen how this will impact the industry.
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