It’s a mess, so let’s get into it.
On Tuesday afternoon, news broke that Warner Bros. Discovery had shelved Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt. The cancellations of the two completed feature films came as a shock to the industry, and everyone wants to know what is going on.
Several threads are being pulled at the moment that caused Warner Bros. Discovery to make this choice, but the move to cancel these two films amounts to the rejection of past WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar’s strategy to make original films for HBO Max.
It was an unusual decision to scrap a $90 million film made by Ms. Marvel and Black directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. While there are speculations that Batgirl did not meet Warner Bros. Discovery’s expectations, the truth lies in the studio’s radical strategy shift. Let's get into it.
Warner Bros. Discovery's New Strategy
According to Deadline, Zaslav is rejecting Kilar’s infamous strategy to focus on building streaming subscriptions for HBO Max.
What was Kilar’s strategy? Known as the "Project Popcorn initiative," Kilar made the 2021 theatrical slate (Dune, Godzilla vs Kong, and The Matrix 4) day-and-date in theaters and on HBO Max during the pandemic. That was a huge deal at the time and a major shift in the film landscape.
Kilar believed that this strategy was a win, although many executives and filmmakers strongly disagreed. After seeing the success of Top Gun: Maverick, studio executives found Kilar’s initiative to no longer be effective in a post-COVID world. The number of subscribers no longer matters as much as profits, as seen in Netflix's stock value and its decision to cancel shows that are expensive to make despite their popularity.
What Really Happened to Batgirl?
Unlike The Flash and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, Batgirl wasn’t designed to be released in theaters, and neither was Scoob! These projects were made to be a direct-to-streaming release that Warner Bros. Discovery decided to reject under its new leadership.
Warner Bros. Discovery released a statement, saying:
“The decision to not release Batgirl reflects our leadership’s strategic shift as it relates to the DC universe and HBO Max. Leslie Grace is an incredibly talented actor and this decision is not a reflection of her performance. We are incredibly grateful to the filmmakers of Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt and their respective casts and we hope to collaborate with everyone again in the near future.”
Warner Bros. Discovery isn’t losing any sleep over this decision. In addition, the studio wants to save the introduction of new characters in the DCEU for theatrical titles. Rather than spend an extra $30 million to $50 million to market the film domestically, the studio felt that scrapping the movie was a smart, financial decision that would ultimately save them from any major losses (as reported by Variety).
These films simply found themselves on the bad end of a deal. They were neither big enough to feel worthy of a major theatrical release nor small enough to make economic sense as a streaming release.
The Good News for Theaters, Bad News for HBO Max
Warner Bros. Discovery is returning to exclusive theatrical releases, and this is a win for theaters that suffered greatly during the pandemic. As I mentioned earlier, Top Gun: Maverick proved that people are going to the theaters to watch highly anticipated or well-received films, making studios confident that they can make a profit once again at the box office.
Unfortunately, this means that HBO Max will no longer have films made specifically for its streaming service, and the films made for the streaming service are quietly being pulled in what appears to be an effort to cut costs.
Within the past few weeks, at least six Warner Bros. Discovery movies have been removed from HBO Max. Titles that were labeled as “Max Originals,” like Moonshot, Superintelligence, The Witches, and Charm City Kings, have been pulled without warning, which is highly unusual for streaming services even though they are continuously adding and removing content.
Upcoming HBO Max releases such as the rebooted comedy classic House Party have also been pulled from the calendar.
HBO Max’s removal of Warner Bros. movies could be part of Zaslav’s move to get streaming-content payment obligations for underperforming titles off its books.
If you're a filmmaker with a project at HBO Max, you're probably feeling a little worried at the moment. Deadline’s sources don’t expect other films under Warner Bros. Discovery will get killed like Batgirl and Scoob! because the accounting opportunity expires in the middle of August 2022.
This is still a major and unexpected move that could shift the neverending battle between theatrical and VOD releases. We will be keeping an eye on the situation, but until then, get ready to return to the theater to watch any Warner Bros. Discovery films.
Let us know what you think in the comments below!