The Daily Egyptian | Entertainment Column: The cancellation of ‘Batgirl’ is bad for everyone

In the film industry, it’s easy to get stuck with what ifs. This is especially true today, when hundreds of projects are given the green light each month simply because a large chunk of them never get completed.

In our current superhero-obsessed industry, there are plenty of movies that never see the light of day. More recently, following Spider-Man: No Way Home, fans have been obsessed with the rumored details of Sam Raimi’s long-defunct Spider-Man 4, as well as the discontinued sequel to Andrew Garfield’s The Amazing Spider-Man. 2″ with fans even asking to have it made now, decades later.

We even saw fans scream in Zack Snyder’s Justice League for wanting to create a tangible product, a film that would never have happened without fan demand.

Taking it even further, most people have at some point come across the infamous photo of Nicholas Cage wearing the Superman suit for the long-cancelled Tim Burton-directed “Superman Lives.” A film that’s been in the can since the ’90s still inspires obsession with how it could have been, even going so far as to make a documentary about the film. One thing ties all the films mentioned (apart from “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”), they never got past the pre-production phase.

But what if these films were fully shot and even well into post-production? People would be even more eager to get their hands on any of that thing. Such was the case with the recently canned Warner Bros. Studios’ Batgirl, due for release on HBO Max later this year.

This caused an immediate internet uproar, and fans immediately considered how the film could still be released, even going so far as to suggest staff working on the film’s post-production to release it all online. But why did this happen? What would the studio gain by canceling a film that’s reportedly already budgeted nearly $90 million?

First of all, Warner Bros. has just experienced a massive leadership change with its new CEO, David Zaslav. Variety reported that it decided to cancel the film because it didn’t align with interests in a shift the company is making to prioritize theatrical releases over streaming.

This new leadership wants to make higher-budget projects that are comparable to Marvel Studios’ current model. Reports say that the 90 million US dollars The film had little chance of recouping its budget with a theatrical release or HBO Max release. Some sources believe that this decision is purely financial, since it would probably be more profitable for the company to receive a tax break if it does not release it.

Zaslav has made it clear that he runs the company for profit and business strategies that take precedence over creativity. Which is neither surprising nor illogical considering Warner Bros. is actually a multi-billion dollar company. But going so far as to get the work of hundreds of people that isn’t even worth publishing, so far into production and taking a fat check, rather than allowing the crew’s creative efforts even a tiny bit to be confirmed is just insulting.

While $90 million is nothing to sneeze at, with a company worth over $33 billion, you’d think they could afford to make a little less than what they wanted to respect the efforts of the filmmakers involved .

The events surrounding this unprecedented move by Warner Bros. are symbolic of a major problem in the current film industry, still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. Most major studios try to compete with companies like Disney, with each movie costing around $100 million or more. That then creates a business model that suggests that a film that didn’t gross an astronomical close to a billion dollars wasn’t a success.

A recent example is Disney-Pixar’s “Lightyear,” which grossed more than $200 million at the box office this summer. But it’s still considered a major flop for the studio as its production budget was also $200 million. The business model of spending these insane amounts of money on every film and trying to position them all as huge events that no one can miss is just unsustainable. Even from Disney, a company that occupies 52% of the industry’s market share, you can’t expect every film to perform this way, even if you’re forcibly constructing them around pre-existing characteristics and nostalgia.

Warner Bros. is clearly trying to emulate the Disney model, particularly with their superhero traits, but that’s not what the industry needs or people want. The DC arm of the studio was just beginning to evolve to offer creative and unique takes on the genre and deliver things Marvel Studios didn’t have with films like The Suicide Squad, The Batman and Joker” in recent years. While they didn’t create an unbearably precise universe, they delivered films that were more driven by the creative freedom of their filmmakers. But with the change in leadership and the decision to make Batgirl, that exciting era is quickly being wiped out.

While many hope that “Batgirl” will still somehow come to light in some form, it will likely stand as a cornerstone for the streaming industry and the superhero genre in general. With direct-to-stream movies budgeting nearly $90 million and shows like Stranger Things and the upcoming Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power budgeting nearly $300 million per season or above that, it also becomes a clearly untenable model.

The industry’s focus on tying each release to properties that are already popular suggests that the releases will be big moments for everyone to stop and watch. But when these “events” happen three times a month, the market becomes saturated and each subsequent release becomes less and less exciting. And when companies like Warner Bros. make it clear that these projects, no matter how massive, can be scrapped in the blink of an eye, it’s hard to be optimistic.

Staff reporter Zaden Dennis can be reached at [email protected] and you can find his other reviews at letterboxd.com/Zadenator.

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