The newly formed media behemoth Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) – Get Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. Report has been making headlines all week thanks to some rather drastic decisions to cut programming.
One after the other, popular shows and movies have suddenly been cancelled, as new CEO David Zaslav, formerly the CEO of Discovery Communications, has pledged to shareholders he would find $3 billion in savings in the wake of the merger. So far, it seems a lot of that savings is coming from the Warner Bros. site.
Warner Bros. streaming service HBO Max has had various projects associated with major IPs for several years now, including properties from DC Comics, Hannah Barbara, Cartoon Network, and more. And although many of these network shows and major characters are household names, none of them are safe from CEO Zaslov’s mighty axe.
The biggest title to be knocked off WB’s schedule is the well-publicized direct-to-streaming movie “Batgirl”. The film was slated to be a major contributor to the DC comics film universe, including the re-introduction of Michael Keaton’s 1989 Batman into the modern film universe.
“Batgirl” has garnered interest from fans and movie executives alike thanks in part to its stars, Leslie Grace (“In the Heights”) and fan-favorite Brendan Frasier. So when the film was canceled in its postproduction stage, no one seemed to see it coming.
What Happened to ‘Batgirl’?
“Batgirl” was intended to be the first of several direct-to-streaming DC extended universe titles.
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Thanks to The Hollywood Reporter, we now have a clearer idea of exactly why the $90 million Afro-Latina-led superheroine origin story was cancelled. According to sources, the film was shelved in the interest of a tax write-down, as this move was speculated to be of greater financial benefit than releasing the film. But between fan and creator outrage at the decision, Warner Bros. could be looking at another fan-demanded Snyder Cut situation.
The issue at hand seems to be a change in corporate strategy. Former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar’s strategy was to create middle-budget films for HBO Max in order to keep subscribers happy. It also allowed Warner Bros. to experiment with its DC Universe properties without having to make a big-budget blockbuster film every time out.
But Zaslov has reversed this strategy, and now wants all Warner Bros. Discovery films to have a theatrical window. Whether this results in less middle-budget films remains to be seen. The streaming service has also quietly removed some of its HBO original films from the popular streaming service with no explanation as to why, although it’s been speculated it’s a way to stop paying royalties for underperforming films.
Amid the controversy, fans are mourning the loss of other canceled projects, including CW shows “The Flash”, “Batwoman”, and more. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. still seems set on wrapping filming on “The Flash” theatrical release despite mounting controversy surrounding the film’s star, Ezra Miller. This, combined with the anticipated layoffs coming for Warner Bros. employees, has a lot of people in the industry concerned about the future of feature film streaming.
The Industry Reacts
These DC comics and Bat-family events weren’t the only Warner Bros. project canceled just before the film was set to release. Creators of the sequel to the animated “Scoob” movie were devastated to find out that their film was also canceled after director Bill Haller had just “approved the last shot of animation”.
Meanwhile, fans and creators of many other Warner Bros. productions are starting to sweat. And according to some in the industry, it isn’t just HBO/Warner employees who are doing so.
Screenwriter C. Robert Cargill (“Doctor Strange” & “Sinister”) took to Twitter to shed some light on why these announcements are sending shockwaves through the industry.
One thing is certain: Warner Bros. Discovery’s quarterly earnings call will attract an audience of more than just WBD’s investors. After almost two decades of streaming services battling for supremacy and international stay-at-home orders due to covid, the streaming market may stand on the edge of some pretty radical changes. And it’s highly likely that Batgirl and her friends aren’t going to be the only casualties.