DC Studios head says ‘Batgirl’ was ‘not releasable’ and says management made the right decision by axing the completed film that cost $90 million

February 1, 2023, 5:20 PM UTC
Batgirl star Leslie Grace at a gala in 2021
Actress Leslie Grace plays Batgirl in the unreleased film.
Matt Winkelmeyer—WireImage/Getty Images

Development of DC’s revamped cinematic universe is well underway after a series of underperforming projects and an inconsistent creative direction. But one of DC’s last most criticized decisions before its leadership was reorganized in October may have been justified, according to one of the studio’s new creative leads.

Warner Bros. Discovery, the parent organization of DC Studios, announced last August that the live-action Batgirl film would not be released despite the movie having completed filming in March, and having cost reportedly $90 million already.

The movie’s 11th hour cancellation came as a blow to its directors and a notable cast that includes Brendan Fraser and Michael Keaton. The film’s eponymous superheroine is played by In the Heights actress Leslie Grace, whose casting had been praised for representing Latinos in superhero films. But while those directly involved in the film’s production defended its quality, Discovery CEO David Zaslav bluntly addressed the cancellation in the company’s quarterly earnings call the day after the film was scrapped in early August of last year.  

“We’re not going to launch a movie until it’s ready,” he said. “We’re not going to put a movie out unless we believe in it.”

Nearly six months later, with the future of DC becoming more clear, newcomers to the studio agree with Zaslav’s assessment that the film was not fit for release, and say that the decision to cancel it may have been the best thing to do for everyone involved.

The Batgirl character may make an appearance in the DC universe at some point, but the studio is unlikely to ever willingly show the scrapped film on a movie theater screen, DC Studios cochair and co-CEO Peter Safran said in a press event this week at the Warner Bros. lot.

“I saw the movie, and there are a lot of incredibly talented people in front of and behind the camera on that film. But that film was not releasable, and it happens sometimes. That film was not releasable,” he said

Unable to compete

Safran was tapped to lead DC Studios in October alongside James Gunn—the director of Guardians of the Galaxy. The pair have been busy in the months since their appointment, opting not to renew the contract of actor Henry Cavill as Superman, and hitting the ground running with 10 new film and TV projects announced this week.

“We’re using some actors from the past, we’re not using other actors from the past, but everything from that moment forward will be connected and consistent,” Gunn said of the new slate of creative projects in an interview with DC’s press office Tuesday.

For Gunn and Safran, the past few months have been all about bigger projects while consolidating and streamlining DC’s creative vision in the style of the much more critically and commercially successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, even if it means cutting actors and projects that had already been involved with production. But with Batgirl, the studio got a head start on the universe’s regime change.

“Zaslav and the team made a very bold and courageous decision to cancel it because it would have hurt DC. It would have hurt those people involved,” Safran said this week. 

While Safran did not comment directly on the quality of the movie, the decision to scrap it may have been down to a change in corporate strategy rather than the quality of the film. A single early test screening of an unfinished version of the movie landed in the low 60s, according to the Hollywood Reporter which spoke to studio insiders around the time the film was axed. Not a great score, but also not one that has stopped movies from being released and making a lot of money in the past. THR compared Batgirl’s early test scores to those of 2017’s It, which ended up earning more than $700 million for Warner Bros.

The decision to shelve Batgirl may have come down to the studio’s vision for future DC films to be “at a blockbuster scale,” Variety reported in August citing studio insiders, a quality Batgirl apparently didn’t have according to Safran.

“It would not have been able to compete in the theatrical marketplace; it was built for the small screen,” he said this week.

He added, however, that the Batgirl character will “inevitably” be included in DC’s evolving story line, but seeing the movie that never was may only be a privilege afforded to those early test screeners.

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