Warner Bros Discovery won’t release $90 million ‘Batgirl’, because of ‘taxes’

So, let’s get into this Batgirl chaos. On Tuesday, Warner Bros Discovery announced that they were shelving the Batgirl movie. The movie was filmed during the pandemic and the production cost (then) Warner Bros about $90 million. It stars Leslie Grace as Batgirl, Michael Keaton as Batman, JK Simmons (an Oscar winner!) as Commissioner Gordon and Brendan Fraser as Firefly, the villain. Filming ended months ago and the actors had already started talking about it in interviews. Various edits of the film were already in test screenings. And Warner Bros Discovery just…pulled it. They said they wouldn’t release the film in theaters or on streaming. It’s insane. So why is this happening? From Variety:

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, the most likely reason: taxes.

Several sources note that “Batgirl” was made under a different regime at Warner Bros., headed by Jason Kilar and Ann Sarnoff, that was singularly focused on building its streaming service, HBO Max. That effort included Kilar’s infamous decision to release the studio’s entire 2021 theatrical slate simultaneously on the streamer, which helped build the subscriber base but also jeopardized the studio’s reputation with top-tier talent (though many agents and stars privately came to appreciate the move when the company paid generous bonuses as a make-nice).

Even before David Zaslav took the reins of the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery as CEO this spring, the exec went on a well-publicized listening tour designed to repair the company’s relationship with the creative community. As part of that effort, Zaslav has made no secret of reversing Kilar’s strategy and committing to releasing first-run feature films in theaters before putting them on HBO Max.

“Batgirl” found itself on the bad end of that decision, apparently neither big enough to feel worthy of a major theatrical release nor small enough to make economic sense in an increasingly cutthroat streaming landscape. Spending the money to expand the scope of “Batgirl” for theaters — plus the $30 million to $50 million needed to market it domestically and the tens of millions more needed for a global rollout — could have nearly doubled spending on the film, and insiders say that was a non-starter at a company newly focused on belt-tightening and the bottom line. (Spokespeople for Warner Bros. and Warner Bros. Discovery declined to comment for this story.)

Releasing the movie on HBO Max would seem to be the most obvious solution. Instead, the company has shelved “Batgirl” — along with the “Scoob!” sequel — and several sources say it will almost certainly take a tax write-down on both films, seen internally as the most financially sound way to recoup the costs (at least, on an accountant’s ledger). It could justify that by chalking it up to a post-merger change of strategy. Doing so, however, would mean that Warner Bros. cannot monetize either movie — no HBO Max debut, no sale to another studio.

[From Variety]

Granted, I’m not a studio accountant, but surely they could find a better way to save money AND release the film in some way? I agree that dumping it on HBO Max would probably be the best solution, and the studio wouldn’t have to send the stars out on a global promotional tour or anything. Just do an LA premiere and organize some print media. This is insane.

For what it’s worth, the New York Post’s industry sources claimed that the test screenings were going terribly, and that early audiences really hated the film: “Those tests were said to be so poorly received by moviegoers that the studio decided to cut its losses and run, for the sake of the brand’s future.” One source told the Post: “They think an unspeakable ‘Batgirl’ is going to be irredeemable.” Yikes!

A post from Adil El Arbi, the co-director of Batgirl:

’Batgirl’ promotional image courtesy of Warner Bros Discovery.

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49 Responses to “Warner Bros Discovery won’t release $90 million ‘Batgirl’, because of ‘taxes’”

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  1. Ceej says:

    They are going to deny me Michael Keaton in the batsuit with that eyebrow arch???!!!

    How disappointing to everyone who was involved, and filmed at potential health risk, to be deemed a tax write off.

    • FHMom says:

      I remember going to the movies on opening night for his Batman. It was the most fun I’ve had at a movie. At the time, it felt groundbreaking and the audience was so into it. I love Christian Bale, but I was looking forward to seeing Michael Keaton in that role. He set the bar high.

    • tealily says:

      I have no idea how I missed that MICHAEL KEATON was playing Batman again, but now I’m devastated.

      • Kimmy says:

        Right? I feel like there’s some $$ to be made back just from seeing Keaton as Batman again.

    • Dutch says:

      Keaton is also going to be in The Flash movie (if Ezra Miller manages to stay out of prison).

  2. Noki says:

    Huh? I am totally lost!

    • Dutch says:

      New ownership is changing its strategy to deemphasize subscriptions for streaming and wanting to make the DC Comics properties theatrical only (while deeply cutting costs in an effort to be more attractive to Wall Street investors). Batgirl was always to be a direct to streaming project and its budget has bloomed to $90 million because of COVID delays (aka money that is not seen onscreen, Discovery has decided that no streaming project should exceed $35 mil).
      There was a test screening and reviews were mixed at best (typical for a test screening). Story stakes were low, it didn’t look “cinematic” enough to be released to theaters and no amount of script tweaks or reshoots can get it to point were it could have a successful theatrical release.
      TL;DR — So Batgirl was too expensive for streaming and too cheap for theaters.
      During big mergers like the WB-Discovery deal, there is a limited time window where you can write down the costs of projects/initiatives that previous management implemented that don’t fit the new direction of the company (in this case the window closes in mid-August). But those projects have to be totally abandoned to get the tax write-off.
      In the end, Batgirl was more valuable as a tax write down than it was as a finished product. This is what happens when bean counters take over creative.

      • Noki says:

        Thank you so much for taking the time to explain this Dutch. You are Star.

      • kirk says:

        Dutch – thanks for explanations (here and below). I thought decision was based on all department input, not just Fin, because test screenings were “mixed at best.” But you’re saying that’s “typical.” Will be interesting to see what content comes from capping streaming projects at $35M.

      • Dutch says:

        I listed to a podcast from a journalist who used to be EIC of the Hollywood Reporter. He had a trusted source who saw the Batgirl test screening and said one of the big questions they asked was if Batgirl felt like a big event and the answer was a pretty resounding “no.” I think this is partly where the “irredeemable” narrative came from. The new brass was trying to figure out if it could be put out in theaters without expensive story tweaks, reshoots and effects. It feels like Batgirl was okay just not close enough to theatrical blockbuster quality to make the effort.

  3. Mia4s says:

    Hmmmm, the test screening stories feel like spin honestly. Also, how often have they released terrible movies and made a fortune? Hell I thought DC’s Aquaman movie was garbage and it gave me a headache….but it made a billion, so what do I know?

    The unspoken part of this is I feel like for whatever reason these new owners are not keen on HBO max streaming service. It feels like that’s going to be merged or sold or something. Watch for that. It feels like another major shift in the business is coming.

    • Gizmo’sMa says:

      I agree. HBOmax is not long for this world. It’s going to be folded into Discovery. All of its original programming will be canceled. And you will just have HBO. It will be like it was a couple years ago. IIRC it was HboNow to steam HBO?

      • Sigmund says:

        Yeah, there’s a ton of info right now claiming they are ending scripted HBO Max shows and just doing reality shows because they’re cheaper. WB has a lot of debt now, so they’re looking to severely cut costs.

      • North of Boston says:

        I hadn’t been on it for a while, but logged in the other day to keep watching a show I’d started… but it was no longer there. So I looked for another show, but that had only limited episodes available, and then another that wasn’t there. I was wondering what was going on.

        Hmm, looks like HBO Max is the streaming service I’ll be dropping this month!

  4. Pumpkin (was Sofia) says:

    I mean yeah maybe if an accountant at WB explained it to me it would make sense but it doesn’t take away from the fact that WB/DC are throwing away the hard work of the actors/crew. I mean Fox made 2 bad Marvel films in recent history and even after Disney brought them, they were released theatrically anyways (and they were flops).

    • Dutch says:

      Disney was in a much stronger financial position when it bought Fox than Discovery did, so it could easily absorb the debt related to the transaction (Disney stock was trading above $100 a share while WBD is less than $20). And Disney took on less debt $20 billion for Disney vs. $43 billion for WBD. WBD is in major cost cutting mode. They are expected to announce thousands of job cuts at their earnings call today, which will make the work thrown away (by people who got paid anyway) look like small potatoes by comparison.

  5. Gizmo’sMa says:

    This movie was never meant for theaters. It was always a HBOmax movie. Same with the other movie that was shelved. Scoob2 an animated movie.

    Unfortunately Batgirl has brought out the toxic fandom. Not just bc the Leslie Grace is Latina but there’s also a Trans Character in the movie.

    They can say taxes all they want but this is rubbing me the wrong way. The leak to that horrible trashcan liner The NY post and not a trade paper so they can spin it as irredeemable. Also the over used phrase ‘Focus on Tentpoles’ screams nothing but a straight white guy movies from now on.

    • Laura-Lee MacDonald says:

      Your take is identical to mine. This is a toxic bro as new CEO pandering to, and agreeing with, the worst of the fandom. I was so excited for this movie. I’m a mom of a Trans kid, and we were so pumped for Ivory Aquino. Even better?! The new CEO is apparently gunning for The Flash WITH EZRA MILLER as their big win. Like, Miller will be fine, everyone will forget what garbage gross stuff they’re doing, and watch them run really fast. ARGHHGGHHHGFVHHJJJ!!!

      • Gizmo’sMa says:

        Pandering to that toxic fandom has worked out so well for them. Look at how well the Snydercut did! /s
        When will they learn just bc their toxicity is loud doesn’t mean it translate to dollars. Look at the mess Star Wars films are in bc they catered to them.

        Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in screen. I wish your child could have experienced it in a superhero movie.

        Ezra Miller is a horrible Flash. They were before all the disgusting details of their life became public. How is the publicity tour for the movie going to be anything other than a disaster? Even if TPTB decide to keep Ezra off the PR circuit the other actors, especially the women, will be asked questions about Ezra’s behavior. And that’s not fair to them.

      • Deering24 says:

        Yeah, there’s a nasty “Go woke, go broke” undercurrent to how this is being handled. Toxic fandom and “limited commercial appeal” excuses probably played a big part in WB’s calculations not to stream, taxes, notwithstanding. Wouldn’t they at least get _something_ for putting it on HBO Max?

  6. Mireille says:

    I don’t believe anything coming out of the New York Post. But NOPE, the studio excuses for scrapping this movie and Scoob are also unbelievable. Releasing them on HBO/Max makes sense. So what if they’re bad? There’s something else going on behind the scenes.

    • Barbie1 says:

      Agree. Netflix releases crap all the time. What a waste of talent and hard work.

    • BeanieBean says:

      Seriously! A lot of crap gets released by studios in theaters & streaming all the time. ALL THE TIME. This sounds like more of the creative Hollywood accounting at work, where profits are never made.

  7. Rapunzel says:

    Stupid move, but I’m not sure it’s taxes. I honestly think this has to do with reassessing their plans for Batman. The Flash movie is supposed to retcon Keaton as the new main Batman of the DC movie universe, replacing Affleck. I think they’ve changed plans.

    Otherwise, why not just release what they have on HBO Max for some money?

    • Yup, Me says:

      I wonder if this is has anything to do with the drama of The Flash movie and the hot mess that is Ezra Miller and the fact that they have to finish and release that film to make back the money spent on it.

  8. Amanda says:

    Why did they do that to Leslie Grace’s hair? That’s all I’ve got. I’m appalled at how awful it is. There are good reds for a Latina’s hair, but that is not it. Reminds me of the summer I dyed my hair bright pink and then it faded to an awful orangey-red.

    • CourtneyB says:

      Maybe she wears a wig as batgirl like Yvonne Craig did back in the tv series? Then her regular hair as Barbara Gordon.

  9. Ginny says:

    Wow…Even bad movies (not saying that this one is — we’ll apparently never get to decide that for ourselves!) are the result of a HUGE amount of labor by so many people beyond the big names. I’m sad for every single one of them to not be able to have their work viewed by an audience.

  10. Ana170 says:

    I don’t believe anything “sources” say at WB. These are probably the same people that declared Snyder’s Justice League “unwatchable” and then hired Joss Whedon to “fix” the movie. I’m not a Snyderverse fan but the producers and execs at WB and DC have been screwing up over and over for more than a decade now. This just feels like more of the same.

    • Dutch says:

      Actually no. This is the new management that has all come in with Discovery making this decision. They’ve been in charge for less than six months. It’s all based on cutting costs to make the company’s stock look better for investors. Watch for news from today’s earnings call. There are hundreds if not thousands of jobs expected to be cut.

  11. FHMom says:

    There are so many bad movies on streaming platforms. I can’t believe that they wouldn’t put this out. I feel bad for the actors and crew who worked on the film.

  12. Fifee says:

    Said this yesterday that it would be something to do with a tax scam, I was nearly right!

    I’m wasn’t remotely interested in the film other than it was filmed in Glasgow, with plenty of it filmed round the corner from where I lived for 15 years. It’s a busy part town where they filmed with businesses having to close, people’s life disrupted with noise, no parking which is hard to come by in this area other than two overly expensive multi-storey car parks, bus routes disrupted, street and roads closed off to cars. It’s not much in the grand scheme of things when you spend $90 million for no reason!

  13. Owlsyn (Ableism is Not Cool) says:

    This probably happens more than people think and we only hear about really prominent examples, like this one, or the infamous Fantastic Four that Roger Corman made, or Empires of the Deep, or The Day the Clown Cried.

    I could see it, theoretically, being cheaper to write off than release because then you don’t have to pay out to investors and such, but honestly I’m getting that from the movie The Producers ….

  14. ThatsNotOkay says:

    The movie was made for $70 million, $20 million below the budget that Warners says warrants a theatrical release. It’s so arbitrary and asinine, but that’s their excuse. Had it been made for $90 million, then, hey, yeah, we’ll put it out there. But no, we’re not going to retroactively shovel $20 million more into a project that’s already in post just to get it to our cut off. We’re going to shelve it forever instead. It’s insane logic but it makes sense to them. I’m not a big studio head making $250 million a year to make theses kinds of decisions, so what do I know.

  15. Leslie says:

    I’m going to be really pissed off if they kill HBO Max because the only way to buy HBO is to buy it as an add on to a cable provider. I don’t have cable so if they kill HBO Max I won’t be able to watch HBO at all. Ugh

    • Christine says:

      Granted the last time I subscribed to HBO it was before HBO Max, but it used to also be an add-on on some streaming services like Prime and Hulu with the added benefit that it’s much easier to cancel when you’re done with it.

    • lucy2 says:

      I didn’t even think of that, I cut cable and do everything through Hulu now, including HBO Max. Hopefully there’s a way to still get it if they close HBO Max. I like it, and watch a number of shows on it.

  16. Michael says:

    They are also scrapping the proposed Supergirl movie as well. So once again Marvel and Disney will lap the field because Warner Brothers is so incompetent. Marvel has multiple female superhero programs and movies coming out and I hear they will be introducing Storm soon as well. I really want a scene with Storm and Thor both calling lightning and Thunder. It would be funny especially if Chris Hemsworth plays it as him competing for lightning bolts

    • Mireille says:

      I always felt that Storm and Thor would make a great couple because they’re both god-like and equal in power. I always rooted for them to be coupled up in the comics. Never cared for the Black Panther-Storm pairing/marriage in the comics. This woman is a super powerful goddess AND leader of the X-Men and they reduce her to being a queen???? She’s beyond royalty and too good for Black Panther. Just my opinion. As you can tell, Storm is one of my favs.

    • CourtneyB says:

      If rumors are true Michaela Coel is playing a Wakandan warrior in BP2 but people are still holding out hope she’s been cast as Storm. Mutants have come to the MCU recently so you never know….. They could gradually introduce them without making a straight up X Men movie first.

  17. Case says:

    I’m quite worried about the future of HBO MAX. It’s my favorite streaming service and the decisions Discovery is making don’t bode well for its future.

    • Mel says:

      I don’t think it’s long for the world in its current form. I don’t really care as long as they go back to HBO Now or whatever it was before. I haven’t really liked any of their original shows tbh, it’s the HBO shows that keep me watching.

  18. Turtledove says:

    I *really* wanted to see Michael Keaton as Batman again, and of course, see a Batgirl lead film.

    My mind is blown that they can afford to scrap a film that already has 70 MILLION invested. Money is such an insane thing. People starving, people homeless, and the entertainment industry can “afford” to shelve a project they already spent 70 million dollars on.

    I love movies, I want to be entertained. I know that this is not as simple as “people are starving”. (People who worked on this in the non millionaire positions were fed by their modest salaries, movies create a lot of jobs, I am not villifying this industry over others) But just on paper, at the most simple of levels, this is so crazy to me. I don’t want to “waste” $100 on clothes unless i really need them. I just can’t fathom “wasting” 70 million.

  19. Rnot says:

    I can certainly believe that the quality was poor. When the costume design is that terrible it’s a really bad sign for the whole movie. Another possibility I wonder about is if some awful deeds by a big name are about to be revealed and make the film too radioactive. I’m also flashing back to The Producers and humming “Springtime for Hitler.”

  20. Bisynaptic says:

    Serious “The Producers” vibe, here. And there’s a million Batmans and not a single Batgirl? Tell me toxic maleness has nothing to do with it.

    • Owlsyn (Ableism is Not Cool) says:

      There isn’t a standalone Batgirl film but Batgirl has been on the big screen in Batman and Robin and to say she was poorly received would be a huge understatement. The body shaming, yikes.

      On the small screen, Dina Meyer played Barbara Gordon in the Birds of Prey TV show but it was a post-Batgirl version of the character.