‘Batgirl’ Died For Our Sins

‘Batgirl’ Leslie Grace. Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
Matthew Belloni
August 4, 2022

An email came in yesterday from a TV writer: “You should know that, on multiple writer text chains, people are calling him Zaslav The Butcher.” This person was referring, of course, to David Zaslav, the Warner Bros. Discovery C.E.O. who in less than four months atop HBO Max, Warner Bros., and all those cable channels, has quickly become known for his slash-and-bash strategy. Scripted shows on TBS and TNT? Gone. Kids stuff and animation on HBO Max? Disappearing. CNN+? RIP+. And that was before he started reshaping the Warner Bros. movie studio.  

Hence this batshit Batgirl situation. Is there a greater indignity for a filmmaker than a studio telling you it would rather take a tax deduction than release your $90 million movie? It’s not just that co-directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah had nearly finished the film, or that it was based on DC characters, Warners’ most prized I.P. This is a freaking Batman movie, featuring the O.G. Dark Knight, Michael Keaton. Can you imagine if Disney C.E.O. Bob Chapek just scrapped a nearly-finished Marvel film? Bedlam. Chapek and his new beard would be beaten to a pulp by crazed fans with Thor hammers.

Come to think of it, has a film with Batman ever failed to generate an audience? Diminished returns, maybe, but the fans show up. The Batgirl test screening scores were lower than recent DC fare, I’m told. And I talked to someone who attended a screening and said it played like a CW pilot: low stakes, thin characters, light action, and a twisty, convoluted plot. When viewers were asked after the screening if the movie felt “big”—Warners’ effort to discern whether it could justify the elevated budget by releasing it theatrically—they emphatically responded “no,” according to this source. Meaning no amount of reshoots or C.G.I. would polish this direct-to-video turd into a theatrical diamond.