We all read the bizarre news yesterday that Warner Bros. has decided to completely scrap a nearly finished Batgirl film that cost some $90 million to make.
I didn’t even know they were making a new Batgirl movie. The last Batgirl I can remember looked like this:
They also canceled an animated Scooby-Doo film called Scoob! Holiday Haunt. Ruh-oh.
That seems like a lot of money to just throw away. And it is! But, as always, the real reason doesn’t quite make it out to nerd media.
It has to do, of course, with corporate accounting. Per Deadline:
There were initial cries that the scrapping of Batgirl carried bad optics because the title role is played by a Latina. But there were reasons for the move. In both cases, the filmmakers were told that it came down to a “purchase accounting” maneuver available to Warner Bros. Discovery because the company has changed hands, and also changed strategy from the previous regime. This opportunity expires in mid-August, said sources, and it allows WBD to not have to carry the losses on its books at a time when the studio is trying to pare down $3 billion in debt across its divisions.
If I understand this correctly, because the entire Warner Bros. conglomerate was just sold by AT&T to Discovery, the new owners are allowed to come in, survey what they just acquired—and if they think something sucks so bad they can’t use it, they can “write it off” by declaring it part of the acquisition cost.
Get it? If they just cancel the movie, instead of trying to release it on HBOMax (the original intention), or spend money to market it theatrically, it can effectively vanish from their ledgers. Poof!
And then they never have to deal with explaining its poor performance on their watch.
So it’s an extreme case of something that keeps creatives up at night: you develop (and even film and edit) a project with one studio regime, then they’re fired and the next regime hangs you out to dry—because they don’t want to have anything to do with their predecessors.
It brings up the question...are studio executives dumb?
No, I don’t think so. Not at all. These are not jobs for stupid people.
But I think part of the issue is that, as corporations have become larger and more, well, corporate, the art and skill of navigating them becomes its own skill set.
It’s pure Darwinism: those who survive do so because they have the best tools. They are able to find mentors, make allies, and bury enemies. They learn socially how to rise within the corporation. They have to be good at their jobs, I would hope—but it’s really about looking like they’re the best at their jobs. (And there’s probably a ton of luck involved.)
The bigger these companies get, and the more effort one has to put into learning how to rise within them—that’s less time spent on what used to be a prerequisite for being a studio head. Namely, storytelling and moviemaking—those little things!
The most revealing thing about being a studio chief comes to me third-hand. It’s from an ex-CEO who confessed that, if at the end of his tenure, he had said yes to all the movies he had rejected, and no to all those he had made...the end result would have been pretty much the same, financially.
It’s way more random than anybody admits.
Warner Bros. is making a pretty severe U-turn from the previous CEO’s desire to build HBOMax (to compete with Netflix). At the time, subscription growth was the #1 metric to impress Wall Street. So he ordered an entire year’s worth of theatrical movies to premiere day–and–date on HBOMax.
Turns out that pissed everybody off—except me, because I had no desire to risk my family’s health by going to a movie theater. So last fall I watched Dune, The Many Saints of Newark and The Matrix Resurrections while comfy at home—the first two thirds of which I found to be a great experience.
It is shocking that DC is still apparently lost in the weeds as far as movies. Superman and Batman are probably the #1 and #2 most iconic superheroes. They’ve got Batman down, but Superman mystifies them. And all the supporting characters—like I said, I didn’t even know they were making a Batgirl movie.
I wonder how bad this Batgirl movie really was? Because it was intended for HBOMax, there are reports it was under-budgeted. So maybe it looked cheesy. It has (had?) Michael Keaton returning as Batman, which seems like a big thing to throw away.
But I know one thing: it’s way more intriguing to imagine what the canceled movie was like than if it had just been thrown onto HBOMax as originally planned. Good marketing!