The directors of the superhero film “Batgirl” on Wednesday said they were “saddened and shocked” that Warner Bros. will shelve their movie instead of releasing it in theaters or distributing it on the streaming service HBO Max — a rare decision from a major studio.
The film was expected to debut sometime this year.
“We still can’t believe it,” Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah said in a joint post on Instagram.
“As directors, it is critical that our work can be shown to audiences, and while the film was far from finished, we wish that fans all over the world would have had the opportunity to see and embrace the final film themselves. Maybe one day they will insha’Allah.”
“Batgirl,” budgeted at roughly $90 million, starred Leslie Grace (“In the Heights”) and featured supporting performances by Michael Keaton (reprising his role as Batman), J.K. Simmons and Brendan Fraser.
Grace addressed the situation in an Instagram post Wednesday night, writing in part: “I am proud of the love, hard work and intention all of our incredible cast and tireless crew put into this film over 7 months in Scotland.”
Arbi and Fallah previously co-directed the action spectacle “Bad Boys for Life” and oversaw episodes of the Disney+ streaming series “Ms. Marvel.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Warner Bros. Pictures said “the decision to not release Batgirl reflects our leadership’s strategic shift as it relates to the DC universe and HBO Max.”
The spokesperson added that Grace is “an incredibly talented actor and this decision is not a reflection of her performance.” (WarnerMedia is the parent company of Warner Bros. Pictures and HBO Max.)
Hollywood studios almost never bury movies that do not meet creative or financial expectations. In most cases, the film in question is sold off to a streaming service or quietly dropped in theaters without a marketing campaign.
“Batgirl” was sent into production before WarnerMedia merged with Discovery Inc., a company best known for a portfolio of cable channels such as the Food Network and HGTV.
David Zaslav, the chief of the combined multimedia conglomerate, could announce wider changes during an earnings call on Thursday afternoon, including a merged version of HBO Max and Discovery+. Industry insiders are reportedly concerned about layoffs and other cuts.
Zaslav’s vision for the company appears to be dramatically different from that of previous chief executive, Jason Kilar, who invested heavily in streaming and, during the height of the pandemic, instituted simultaneous streaming and theatrical premieres for films like “Dune” and “King Richard.”
“Batgirl” was part of a slate of projects produced exclusively for HBO Max. Six other movies made under those terms, including the Anne Hathaway fantasy “The Witches” and the Seth Rogen comedy “An American Pickle,” appeared to have been removed from the platform in recent days.
Warner Bros. also scrapped plans to release the animated sequel movie “Scoob!: Holiday Haunt.” Tony Cervone, the movie’s producer and writer, confirmed in an Instagram post that the project was “practically finished and turned out beautifully. I am beyond heartbroken.”
The movies set in the DC Comics universe have been a critical and commercial mixed bag. “Wonder Woman” (2017) conquered the box office and earned strong reviews, whereas “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016) and the original version of “Suicide Squad” (2016) drew largely negative reactions.
Arbi and Fallah wrote in their Instagram post on Wednesday that it was a “privilege and an honor to have been a part of the [DC film franchise], even if it was for a brief moment. Batgirl for Life.”
Daniel Arkin is a national reporter at NBC News. He specializes in popular culture and the entertainment industry, particularly film and television.