“Batgirl” dies, “The Flash” lives on with Ezra Miller, and DC now lives in a constant state of rebooting.
When the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery’s David Zaslav has canceled any release of the $90 million HBO Max-exclusive ‘Batgirl’ movie in favor of a tax break, he’s unleashed the hellhounds on the directors Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi, star Leslie Grace, and the rest of the cast and crew who devoted months or years of their lives to making it happen. He also told the industry that even if you’re making a superhero movie, your work may be worth more dead than alive.
That’s a lot to take in, but it could get worse: think “The Flash.”
The trials and tribulations of “The Flash” and its star Ezra Miller are widely reported. Yesterday brought the most recent update, released the same day WBD released its second-quarter results after market close: A 6,300-word insider briefing on Miller included now-familiar grooming and grooming allegations. abuse, as well as allegations of growing paranoia, weapons, bodies. armor, and even leading a cult in Iceland.
It’s hard to imagine the task of Warner Bros. to effectively promote this film for a theatrical release next June, but it’s not impossible: during this earnings call, Zaslav checked off “The Flash” as one of the DC films he is very proud of. to get out. (He also said, twice during the call, that he wouldn’t be forced to release a movie to satisfy quarterly demands, so perhaps “The Flash” might see another date change. )
A moment of silence for the publicists who will be working on this campaign might be appropriate. Even before the earnings call ended, the Twitterverse was angry with “The Flash,” ranging from passionate fans clamoring for the film’s release; those horrified by the Insider coin; those who have pointed to posts from sources who claim to have been quoted out of context in this article; and those who resented Zaslav for killing a superhero movie featuring a woman of color and supporting another featuring an actor accused of abusing women and/or harming minors. As marketing campaign missions go, this one feels more like an act of self-immolation.
Wild to hear WBD insisting they need to “protect the DC brand” from something like “Batgirl” and not, say, “The Flash,” which the star would have been [checks notes] beat Hawaiians and roam Iceland with a cult and a gun
— Caroline Darya Framke (@carolineframke) August 4, 2022
Either way, “The Flash” will hit theaters. Until this week, it seemed obvious; Hollywood’s social contract has always been that if you make a movie, it will exist. The deal doesn’t offer much more than that, as it may not find an audience, it may not get a theatrical release, and it may end up being forgotten in the corner of a Redbox booth. But it was impossible to imagine that a studio could invest tens of millions in a film and then…just not release it. Make it disappear and erase it, like a failed television pilot.
Today we know it can happen. However, if that were to happen for “The Flash,” the fallout would be far greater than the shock and awe of “Batgirl.”
Zaslav’s decision to kill “Batgirl” and pull underperforming HBO Max titles from circulation was shocking, but so was HBO Max. Budgeted at $200 million, “The Flash” is a potential franchise-opening blockbuster. Unlike “Batgirl”, it has been well tested. The first images premiered at the virtual DC FanDome nearly a year ago, more were dropped in February, and The Flash’s appearance in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” was named the cinematic moment the happiest of 2021 at the Oscars in March.
This is a movie that WBD needs. Warner’s 10 highest-grossing films of the current century are “Harry Potter,” “The Hobbit,” and DC titles. Three of the studio’s top five films are based on DC characters, with 2018’s “Aquaman” grossing $1.14 billion worldwide. DC’s most recent film, “The Batman,” performed well by pandemic standards after its March release with $770.84 million in worldwide ticket sales. It’s Warners’ highest-grossing release since “Joker” — another DC title — was released in 2019.
Losing “The Flash” would be a blow to exhibitors hungry for blockbuster products, to the architecture of the DCEU and to WBD’s bottom line, which saw the studio lose $3.4 billion in the second quarter. Zaslav has repeatedly shown he has no interest in wasting money after harm (RIP, CNN+), but even a ‘Flash’-sized tax break can’t make up for the loss of time and effort in building the world.
There is no entirely satisfactory result. Even if WBD wanted to consider a digital replacement for Miller, it would cost too much and it wouldn’t solve much. From a public relations perspective, it would have as much potential for attracting attention as Miller himself. In theory, they could do a digital replacement with an actor they intended to use in future episodes, which would be a franchise first of its kind. More realistically, WBD will stick with Miller and then recast in the future — even if the studio wanted to, it’s hard to imagine Miller could be tied down for future production — forcing DC to reboot its reboot.
In response to an analyst’s question, Zaslav spent a lot of time describing his passion for DC. “The Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group has fantastic intellectual property and a great history,” he said. “DC is high on the list for us. Look at Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, those are brands that are known all over the world. The ability to drive them all over the world is a big opportunity for us.
He went on to detail DC’s “reset” which includes “a team with a 10-year plan focusing solely on DC. It’s very similar to the structure that Alan Horn and Bob Iger put together very effectively with Kevin Feige at Disney. We believe we could build a long-term, much more sustainable growth business out of DC, and within that, we’re going to focus on quality…DC is something we can improve on, and we’re focused on that now .”
Warners has already promised DC redesigns, but one more is needed. The collateral damage for her fanbase goes beyond the specific disappointment of losing “Batgirl.” Whether it’s DC, Marvel, or Star Wars, superhero fans place enormous trust in the people who create the worlds they love. You can see it in the furious online chatter, the Cons, claiming that the expressions and lore of the universe span multiple movies and TV shows with biblical alignment.
At last month’s Comic-Con – where WBD announced no new titles and made no mention of “The Flash” – Marvel announced five new movies spanning 2025. While that’s certainly meant to stoke excitement, it’s also a promise: This is how we’ll fuel all the passion you generously provide, because we trust you to show off. “Batgirl” was a broken promise; now WBD says, ready or not, “The Flash” is the one he will keep.
Chris Lindahl contributed to this report.