While it’s safe to say that the live-action DC multiverse is always in a state of flux, it was met with one of its most surprising developments yet on Tuesday, when it was announced that Warner Bros. is shelving its Batgirl movie, electing not to release it in theaters or on their HBO Max streaming service. The project, which wrapped production earlier this year, would have finally brought Barbara Gordon / Batgirl (Leslie Grace) into the modern superhero blockbuster space, and was reportedly in the final stages of post-production before being scrapped. The Batgirl news has sent shockwaves throughout social media, inspiring a flurry of hashtag campaigns and provoking a wide array of emotions among fans, many of whom see the decision to cancel an already-completed film surprising. While there’s no telling what the future could ultimately hold for Grace’s Batgirl, the decision to cancel her solo debut might be one of the most shocking decisions that has been made in the superhero movie world yet.
Although Batgirl has made cinematic appearances in the past, the topic of her getting the spotlight in the modern DC universe has been speculated about for quite some time. A Batgirl solo film has been in the works in one capacity or another since 2017, but didn’t really get momentum until Grace, screenwriter Christina Hodson, and directors Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi joined the project in recent years. To an extent, it’s easy to see why a Batgirl film would be such a tough nut to crack, as the character has had a legacy in DC Comics unlike any other. In the decades since her 1960s debut, which had hoped to increase the female viewership of the Adam West-led Batman television show, Barbara Gordon has gone on a profound journey. She transformed from Batman’s latest happy-go-lucky sidekick into her own heroine, got a second act as the computer expert Oracle after being paralyzed in Batman: The Killing Joke, and went on to form the superheroine ensemble the Birds of Prey.
Along the way, Barbara has donned the moniker of both Batgirl and Oracle depending on the context, and has inspired legions of fans in the process — particularly those who were eager to see positive representation for disabled characters in mainstream comics. She’s also arguably remained one of DC’s most well-known female heroes, with projects like DC Super-Hero Girls continuing to create new generations of fans. That notoriety and significance across the board made the idea of a Batgirl solo film enticing, whether it premiered in theaters or on streaming. When you couple that with Grace making history as an Afro-Latina actress in the lead role after a star-making performance in In the Heights, and a pair of directors who have achieved cult status thanks to Bad Boys for Life and Ms. Marvel, the film felt like it had even more potential. The film was also filled with a number of exciting firsts, including Ivory Aquino as Barbara’s groundbreaking openly-transgender best friend Alysia Yeoh, and beloved actor Brendan Fraser continuing his career renaissance by playing the film’s main villain, Firefly.
That potential can also be reflected in the various rumors that have surrounded Batgirl in the past year, particularly regarding the film’s possible significance in the larger tapestry of DC. Rumors had indicated that Jurnee Smollett’s Black Canary would factor into the film, whether through Easter eggs or otherwise, and theoretically set up her own in-development solo project in the process. Other rumors teased that Grace’s Batgirl could go on to be a fixture of the new live-action Justice League, alongside Sasha Calle’s upcoming portrayal of Supergirl. And even outside of the rumors, it was already confirmed that the film would feature the return of Michael Keaton’s iteration of Batman — seemingly giving us the start of a live-action „Batfamily“, something that hasn’t properly graced the big screen in decades. Sure, there’s always a chance that Grace could ultimately portray Batgirl in another upcoming DC project, but the fate of her solo movie would be in the back of many fans‘ minds.
A statement from Warner Bros. confirmed that Batgirl’s cancellation was due to a „strategic shift as it relates to the DC universe and HBO Max“, with reports hinting that it the film’s $90 million budget made it too expensive to release solely on streaming, but not enough of a larger-scale blockbuster to premiere in theaters. Depending on the legal details, we might not ever get to see for ourselves if that is the case — but when you look at the larger tapestry of superhero films, it’s still a surprising choice to make. Many of DC’s hit theatrical films from the past years had budgets comparable to Batgirl’s, including Birds of Prey, which went on to become a cult classic, and Shazam!, which is getting a sequel later this year. Even 2019’s out-of-continuity Joker, which went on to make $1 billion at the box office and won multiple Oscars, had a much smaller budget than Batgirl. As has been argued across the board of superhero storytelling in recent years, smaller-budget stories are necessary to keep things thriving — both to mix things up on a creative level, and to stop the proverbial „bubble“ from bursting.
Beyond that, cancelling Batgirl after production had already wrapped sets a shocking precedent — one that has already made fans worry about essentially every other project that DC reportedly has in the pipeline. Even the fate of upcoming theatrical films like next year’s Blue Beetle movie, which already moved away from an HBO Max release before production began, is now being doubted by some fans. Yes, Warner Bros. Discovery is obviously in a period of transition after its landmark merger earlier this year, and reports have indicated that they are still figuring out the future of their live-action DC universe. But having those decisions directly impact the creative, long-awaited work of films like Batgirl probably does not convey confidence in the eyes of some fans, especially when other superhero franchises just recently guaranteed years of storytelling that fans didn’t even know they wanted.
From the second it was announced to be in the works, it was clear that Batgirl’s journey to the screen would be as scrappy and surprising as its titular character, which has only made the news of its cancellation all the more disheartening. Regardless of however things for the character (and for the larger DC universe) shake out, one thing is clear — it’s a decision that will probably remain a turning point for the landscape of superhero media for a while.
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