Warner Bros., HBO Max and Discovery: the cancellation of Batgirl in the midst of a multi-million dollar acquisition

In an unusual move for the Hollywood film industry, the film batgirl (based on the female character created by DC Comics in 1961, 22 years after Batman first appeared) was canceled when filming was completed and the filmmakers were working on post-production.

  • The first argument that circulated in the news portals, such as Variety or Deadline, to justify the decision, was not very convincing: it was argued that Warner wanted to give a greater and more important profile to all the film adaptations of DC’s heroes. The real reasons may be others.

The studio spent $90 million to finance the film that was going directly to the company’s streaming platform, HBO Max, without going to theaters. That amount of money is much more than the budget of an independent or medium-sized movie, but it is small compared to what other comics-based movies tend to spend.

Not counting advertising expenses, Black Adam (Warner/DC’s upcoming title starring Dwayne Johnson and Pierce Brosnan) cost $200 million.

Justice League, the chaotic production released in 2017, cost US$300 million, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the reissue with the director’s original vision exclusively for the platform, was priced at US$370 million (again). : not counting advertising expenses), making these last two titles two of the most expensive in the history of cinema.

For a production like Justice League to raise just over US$650 million worldwide, as happened in 2017, it is considered a failure. Not only because the box office pales in comparison to other Hollywood tanks (particularly those in the Marvel franchise), but because in these cases the cats in advertising often equal (or exceed) the cost of the entire movie. The main source of profit for franchises, be it Marvel superheroes, DC, Jurassic World dinosaurs, or wizards from Harry Potter, it’s not so much the film itself, but everything they generate with toys, video games, miscellaneous items and, as Scorsese would say, attractions in amusement parks.

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The argument of the lower budget for a movie based on comics, with characters from the world of Batman (the most profitable character for Warner and DC), is not convincing if one takes into account that Joker, in 2019, cost US $ 70 million and grossed over US$1 billion worldwide, making it one of the most successful films of that year.

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nothing personal, just business

Contrary to what the debate on social networks assumes, the cancellation of Batgirl also has nothing to do with a cultural battle for or against an American/Dominican actress (Leslie Grace, the protagonist), or two Belgian directors. Another, more cynical and plausible justification—which may or may not have to do with the quality of what had been shot—is that the studio found a tax deduction by canceling the release of Batgirl and another Scooby Doo animated film. Almost like a scene out of Mel Brooks’ classic The Producers, Warner’s new management discovered that certain movies work better buried forever as tax cuts than fattening up a streaming service’s catalogue.

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This justification could also be supported by the recent acquisition of WarnerMedia by the Discovery group, which took place in April this year. The media conglomerate may merge the recently renowned streaming service, HBO Max, with Discovery+, another of the company’s streaming services, as part of an aggressive campaign to redirect all services.

If Discovery+ ends up nucleating HBO Max, the number of original productions such as fiction series or movies will be reduced. The recent wave of canceled fictions (among which are the award-winning series Full Frontal With Samantha Bee and the recent Batgirl, among many others) could indicate that the company plans to make a significant reduction in expenses. The acquisition of Warner exceeded USD 43 billion dollars and the new CEO, David Zaslav, who comes from Discovery, wants to reduce USD 3 billion in the expenses of the company that produces series and movies.

Quality before quantity?

That Warner/DC cannot find the compass to make its superhero catalog more profitable is no longer a novelty. Except for isolated cases, such as Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and Joker, there does not seem to be any creative or commercial direction that guides the titles. Batman, the latest iteration of the bat man starring Robert Pattinson, wasn’t a flop but it fell far short of the box office gross of the last two movies with Christian Bale playing the character. And cases like Birds of Prey ($201 million cumulative, for a $100 million budget, without advertising), with Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, or Suicide Squad ($168 million worldwide against a cost of $100 million). 185 million), s were commercial failures in their time in theaters.

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It is not the first time that an almost finished production has been canceled to be kept in the vaults of some company. Empires Of The Deep, a Chinese production that sought to rival, two years later, Avatar (James Cameron’s blockbuster film to be released in 2009), never saw the light of the spotlight on the big screen. Or on any screen in the world, to be more specific.

Despite spending US$130 million on the set, having an actress like Olga Kurylenko, and more than 10 screenwriters involved, the 3D fantasy story seems closer to narrative and artistic disaster than to the promise of rivaling the biggest Hollywood productions.

It can be argued that no decision is permanent in Hollywood, especially when days before the news of the cancellation of Batgirl, Brendan Fraser, who plays the villain Firefly in that film, spoke enthusiastically with the media promoting his character. It is possible that the Warner business group will back down and finally decide to launch batgirl taking advantage of the publicity that is generated with the cancellation.

Something similar to what happened with the restoration of The Justice League when it was re-released four years later as Zack Snyder, the original director, had imagined. The studio denied or downplayed, for years, the existence of a director’s cut. Snyder’s followers grew a network campaign that ended, in effect, with the director’s cut that served to promote the launch of HBO Max. Batgirl may never have an official release, or it may.

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