Column | ‘Batgirl’: An 82 million film went into the vault

They wanted to make film history, says the directing duo of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. “But not so. It was a shock for us and a shock wave for Hollywood.” What the Moroccan-Belgian duo experienced in August is quite unique. At the beginning of 2020, they broke through with the action hit Bad Boys For Life with Will Smith, after which they sold for 70 million dollars for streaming service HBO Max. batgirl a superhero movie set in Gotham City with two exciting comebacks: actor Michael Keaton as Batman and slammed action hero Brendan Fraser as supervillain Firefly.

Due to Covid vicissitudes, the budget swelled to 82 million, but work progressed steadily until the producer called at the beginning of August. batgirl was deleted overnight. For studio Warner Bros. it turned out to be fiscally beneficial not to release the film. He went into the vault. Forever. Bilall tried to get to the movie through the server to save a scene from Michael Keaton. „Too late, it was ‘no access’.”

The duo is a victim of the drive of Warner’s new CEO David Zaslav, who from 2009 transformed the school network Discovery into a big name in reality TV. Discovery bought film studio Warner Bros., but with a debt burden of $50 billion, hard cuts were required. And something else was going on. Since the 2020 streaming war between players like Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime and HBO Max, absurd amounts have been spent on exclusive ‘content’ for streaming. Loss did not matter in the pursuit of subscribers.

Now that the growth looks like streaming, it’s time to count the knots. Zaslav thought it illogical that a studio like Warner Bros, traditionally focused on film distribution, foregoes hundreds of millions in cinema receipts by putting films directly on streaming. Better to release a movie first in theaters and then on HBO Max, like in the old days. Then you earn twice as much.

“Maybe we’ll be back on a movie set in two weeks, anything is possible in Hollywood”

Van Zaslav’s new strategy is batgirl the most significant victim. „Regime change is often accompanied by dramatic scenes,” says Bilall resignedly. “Firing employees, canceling projects: that is never pleasant.” To batgirl HBO Max still required expensive scenes and digital effects. A theatrical version would have cost a lot more. Canceling was a “cool, purely business decision”. However, he denies that the film was a failure, as is alleged. Test audiences reacted critically to the first version. “But that is precisely the idea of ​​such a test vision: getting feedback. Bad Boys for Life was only ready after eleven test visions.”

Adil and Bilall didn’t go to ‘s ‘funeral performances’ batgirl for those involved in Los Angeles and take comfort in the messages of support and positive response to their pilot episode for the series Ms. Marvel on Disney+, featuring the first Muslim superhero. And now? A new Bad Boysmovie appears problematic after lead actor Will Smith punched presenter Chris Rock at the Oscars. Bilall: “Will is on vacation for a while, I think.” But you never know in Hollywood. Adil: “Maybe we’ll be on a film set in two weeks.” Bilall: “Anything is possible there.”

Coen van Zwol is a film critic.

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