This story is a very strange one, so buckle up! If you haven’t heard the news, Warner Bros. and DC Films recently announced the cancellation of Batgirl, with news reports suggesting that the film was considered “irredeemable” by the studio after disastrous test screenings. What’s so strange about this, though, is how far along in its production Batgirl was at the time of its cancellation.
Films get cancelled all the time, but almost never this late in the game. With principal photography complete, enough post-production work done to get the film ready for test screenings, and a partnership with streaming platform HBO Max to distribute the film, practically all of Batgirl’s reported $90 million budget has been spent. Canning it at this stage is incomprehensible… no matter how subjectively “bad” test audiences may have found the film to be.
But is that all there is to say? The film was “so bad” that Warner Bros. and DC Films pulled the plug, and that’s it? Many industry watchers don’t think so, and there’s a rumour flitting around – unsubstantiated at this stage, it must be said – that Warner Bros. and its corporate ownership may have taken this decision in order to offset debts and losses elsewhere in the company.
Warner Bros-Discovery – the parent company of both Warner Bros. films and DC Comics – is tens of billions of dollars in debt, and by cancelling Batgirl the corporation may have been able to write off the loss against its substantial debts, perhaps saving or even earning money in the process. That would be on top of the money saved on the film’s marketing and theatrical release.
Whether that was the intention or not, it does seem as though Warner Bros-Discovery will indeed benefit financially from the film’s cancellation, and that leads us to some very challenging questions about the state of corporate entertainment in a broader sense. This situation is basically unprecedented in modern times; for a film to be cancelled while being functionally complete, potentially locked away in a vault or destroyed, never to be shown in public, it’s something that just hasn’t happened in a very long time.
Other corporations will be watching, looking to see what kind of backlash Warner Bros-Discovery may face, and what kind of consequences – if any – there may be. If the prevailing consensus in a few weeks’ time is that they got away with it and made a tidy saving in the process, perhaps we’ll see this happen again at other corporations in future. You know what corporations are like – once they see an opening, and the waters are tested to confirm it’s safe, they all start jumping in.
I don’t know whether Batgirl would’ve been any good. I felt that The Batman, released earlier this year, was okay for what it was, but as someone who isn’t the biggest fan of comic books and their cinematic adaptations, perhaps it was never really going to be “my thing.” But that’s basically irrelevant at this point, because there clearly was an audience for Batgirl, and as we’ve seen by the reaction on social media, fans of comic books and even cinema in general have turned up to condemn this move from Warner Bros-Discovery.
There have been some well-received comic book adaptations in recent years – Avengers Endgame and Joker spring to mind as just a couple of examples. But even if Batgirl was never going to hit those high notes, did it not still deserve a chance? Even if it was going to end up being critically panned alongside Morbius or Inhumans, shouldn’t it have been left to audiences to find that out for ourselves?
With the cost of releasing a film digitally relatively low – Warner Bros-Discovery owns HBO Max, at the end of the day – it doesn’t seem worth it to spend all of this money on Batgirl only to cancel it at such a late stage. Even if test audience reactions were so negative that a theatrical release was taken off the table, sticking the film on a streaming platform has almost no downsides. Nothing Batgirl could’ve done would’ve damaged the reputations of Warner Bros. or DC Comics in a significant way, so if the film flopped then so what? That happens all the time, and studios dust themselves off and move on. All that would’ve happened if Batgirl had been poorly-received is that it wouldn’t have gotten a sequel and would’ve been quietly forgotten, not being incorporated into any version of the foundering DC Extended Universe.
So that’s where this “debt write-off” conspiracy theory has come from. We may never know the true story of what happened to Batgirl, but I think its cancellation is a shame. Having heard some details about the film, I can honestly say that it sounded like a film with potential. JK Simmons was to take on the role of Commissioner Gordon, Michael Keaton was to return as Batman for the first time since 1992’s Batman Returns, and Brendan Fraser was to star as villain Firefly. I like all of those performers, and seeing Brendan Fraser take on a role like this would’ve been absolutely delicious; I could see his performance being a highlight even if the story of the film and some of its other elements weren’t especially strong.
Moreover, Batgirl would’ve starred Leslie Grace, best known for her role in In The Heights. She seemed ready to take on the role of Batgirl, and her take on the character would’ve been an interesting one. In a superhero genre overloaded with male superheroes and ensembles, almost any picture with a female lead is going to feel different, interesting, and exciting.
All of these performers, as well as the film’s directors and other members of the creative team, have been insulted by this move. If it’s true that Warner Bros-Discovery is doing this to take advantage of a loophole and pay down its mountain of debt, then it’s even worse. Allowing Batgirl to take the fall – and be heinously attacked in the process, with worlds like “irredeemable” being thrown around – is just awful, rotten treatment by the studio and its corporate overlords.
So I think it’s disappointing that Batgirl was cancelled. The circumstances are incredibly bizarre, and I can quite understand why speculation has turned into conspiracy theory pretty quickly. The reaction online has been overwhelmingly negative, and if Warner Bros-Discovery stick to their guns and don’t release the film, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see bootleg copies popping up on pirate websites in the weeks ahead. Ironically, Batgirl may have just become one of the hottest and most sought-after films of the year. I know I for one would be very interested to see what all the fuss has been about.
Batgirl is the copyright of Warner Bros. and DC Films. No release is currently scheduled. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.