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The Dark History Of The Batgirl Movie

When "Batgirl" was announced, it wasn't even the biggest DC film on the horizon. It was considered one of the smaller movies in the DCEU, with most of the attention and buzz surrounding the return of Michael Keaton as Batman. Yet no one could have predicted what was about to happen, and how the film became one of the most controversial DC productions of all time, alongside the likes of "Justice League" and "Superman II." Sadly, it never saw the light of day, doomed to live in the darkness and gloom of Gotham City's dingiest, forgotten alley.

Taking a look back at the development of "Batgirl," it's fascinating to see what might and could have been. While there were rumors (via The New York Post) that the film was simply too terrible to release and would have been a catastrophe for the studio, there are counterarguments that a test screening isn't a good indication of the overall quality of the final product. Additionally, all the corporate turmoil at Warner Bros. Discovery played a major role in this film's fate (via THR), as the boardroom politics proved to be a bigger villain to Barbara Gordon than the Joker or Riddler. So let's head on down to the Batcomputer and find out more about the dark history of "Batgirl."

Batgirl was planned for Birds of Prey initially

There's one fact that no DCEU fan can ever dispute: This universe has changed course and direction more times than Dom Toretto does in a "Fast and Furious" movie. Whenever it appears as if a blueprint is laid out for filmmakers to follow, some ancillary event happens and everything is flipped on its head. In the case of Batgirl, the original intention was reportedly to introduce her in the film universe earlier through 2020's "Birds of Prey." In the comics, Barbara Gordon was a founding member of this team, along with the Black Canary; however, the remaining members often differed or were rotated out. Yet in the film adaptation, Babs was nowhere to be found.

Much like other DC films, "Birds of Prey" went through several changes and switcheroos before Cathy Yan hopped on board as the director. In the end, Babs didn't make the cut for the team, possibly also due to the fact that no one knew who the main Batman of the DCEU was at the time, making it a bit tricky to introduce her. The film's producer, Sue Kroll, deferred Heroic Hollywood's question about why Batgirl wasn't included in "Birds of Prey" to Warner Bros. "This is a studio question," Kroll said. "That character's in development on her own film, right?"

Joss Whedon exited Batgirl after the Justice League fiasco

The name Joss Whedon isn't particularly popular in Hollywood or among the DC fandom these days. While the filmmaker achieved record-breaking success with "The Avengers" for Marvel, he didn't quite bring the same to "Justice League": the theatrical cut of the movie was described as something of a Frankenstein's monster (via The Wrap), as his and original director Zack Snyder's vision didn't mesh well at all. After the whole "Justice League" fiasco, Whedon was still supposed to carry on playing in the DCEU as the writer and director for "Batgirl" — something that raised more than a few eyebrows.

However, he departed the project in 2018. When pressed about the reasons for leaving, Whedon told Variety, "The story kind of just crumbled in my hands. There were elements that I just hadn't mastered that, after a long time, felt like I wasn't going to. I told people that I didn't have an idea, which isn't an exact truth. I had an idea, but it didn't fit in the space that was left for it." For several years after that, a number of allegations about Whedon's behavior towards the "Justice League" cast spun out in the public sphere. The filmmaker eventually responded to the criticism, but he is still persona non grata in the DC film universe.

Haley Lu Richardson came close to being Batgirl

Even though "Batgirl" had been in development for several years, Leslie Grace was only cast as Barbara Gordon in 2021 (per Deadline). Naturally, fans spent a lot of time debating who should play the beloved Bat-Family member, with Jane Levy being a name constantly brought up in conversations. In fact, the actor even used her Twitter account to throw her name into the ring and drum up some excitement for herself.

In the end, though, the decision was between Grace and "The White Lotus" actor Haley Lu Richardson. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Richardson opened up about the experience and losing out on the role. "I really tried, let me tell you," she said. "I did get a nice little personal email from J.K. Simmons out of it, which was really nice. Getting the role would've been pretty cool, but I told myself that his email meant more to me than getting the role." Of course, Simmons reprised his "Justice League" role as Jim Gordon, Batgirl's father in the film.

Batgirl survived the first big DC cull

Remember Ava DuVernay's "New Gods" or James Wan's "The Trench"? Don't worry, no one does, because these films joined the great big unmade production graveyard in the sky. These projects were greenlit, worked on for years, then set on fire when someone decided they weren't needed anymore. It's an unfortunate byproduct of all the turbulence at the executive and ownership levels of Warner Bros. throughout the years, as well as the constant realignment of the DCEU.

When Marvel Studios announces MCU films or television series for its various phases, it tends to stay the course — with maybe only dates shifting every so often. Whereas the DCEU's planned slate now looks nothing like it did in 2016 (via CinemaBlend), "Batgirl" appeared to be one of the lucky ones when Warner Bros. brought down the axe in 2021, as per The Hollywood Reporter. "New Gods," in particular, was a project with a lot of excitement behind it since it would have explored more of Darkseid and legendary comics creator Jack Kirby's "Fourth World." The fact it was canned, and "Batgirl" remained, indicated the studio must have had high hopes at the time for Barbara Gordon's solo film.

Batgirl's directors didn't even know which universe the film was set in

The Warner Bros. Discovery deal had a huge impact on the DC Universe. News of the merger had been in the pipeline for a while and created turbulence around the state of the DCEU, since a regime change was on the horizon and no one knew what the future held. There were standalone films like Matt Reeves' "The Batman" and Todd Phillips' "Joker," but the status quo of the DCEU was always uncertain as plans were subject to change at the drop of a hat.

Well, if fans found this whole scenario confusing, they weren't the only ones, since the filmmakers involved in these projects also had no idea what was going on. "Batgirl" directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah explained to The Direct that they weren't told which universe their film was set in. "We would also ask, 'Oh, you have J.K. Simmons from the Snyderverse and we got Michael Keaton from the Burtonverse. What's the situation there?'" El Arbi said. "And they would say, 'Don't worry about it. We got a plan.' They never really explained that aspect to us." What are the odds that Warner Bros. wasn't sure about that either?

Batgirl was described as an expensive CW film

The streaming wars are still upon us, and there seems to be no end in sight as various platforms compete for similar audiences and their subscriptions. The only way to win this battle is for the streamers to provide the sort of content that viewers demand. For HBO Max, the solution was to make platform-exclusive films like "Batgirl," as per The Hollywood Reporter. While the film didn't have an "Avengers"-like budget of $250 million-plus, it still cost a reported $90 million to produce (via TheWrap).

Entertainment reporters Erik Davis and Umberto Gonzalez held a session on Twitter Spaces where they discussed further details about the movie. According to Gonzalez, a source described "Batgirl" as looking like something The CW would have produced. "A source of [mine] said: 'I saw "Batgirl," certainly not the worst superhero movie but ultimately, I understand why they [cancelled it],'" he recalled. "I asked this individual to elaborate a little further and was told it's basically essentially an expensive CW pilot, which is what I heard it was." While that might not be what fans wanted to hear about the film, there's also no disputing that The CW's Arrowverse was a hit with fans, even if it didn't feature massive budgets.

Batgirl was canceled after it was almost completed

Hollywood is like a boulevard of broken dreams. It sells fantasies, then rips them away just as they're about to come true. This is why most individuals in the film industry don't believe anything until it officially enters production and the crew are on site, since there's always the chance that something gets canceled in the pre-production phase. "Batgirl," however, proved to be one of the greatest anomalies in the history of the business. Not only was $90 million spent on the film, but it was also deep in post-production before it received the axe, as per The Hollywood Reporter.

The studio issued the following statement about the cancellation: "The decision to not release 'Batgirl' reflects our leadership's strategic shift as it relates to the DC universe and HBO Max." It also helped the studio receive a significant tax write-off as it embarked on a cost-cutting exercise. Nonetheless, it shocked the world, as no one had seen such a high-profile project being canceled so close to the finish line. An unnamed exec from a rival studio told film reporter Justin Kroll that it was something they'd never seen in 30 years in the business.

Reportedly, the film received poor test screenings

The decision by Warner Bros. Discovery to cancel "Batgirl" blindsided everyone, especially since a) the film was practically complete, and b) it's part of a popular multimedia franchise. Behind the scenes, though, many rumors have surfaced about the real reason for the movie's cancellation — including poor test screening scores.

According to the New York Post, the film wasn't well received by test audiences at all, and the studio feared that releasing the film would have been "irredeemable" in the long run. Instead, Warner Bros. Discovery decided to hit the eject button and ensure "Batgirl" would never be seen by moviegoers.

That said, there have been conflicting reports about the purported low test scores. The Hollywood Reporter suggested the film had only been tested once in front of an audience and received a rating in the low 60s, which would put it on par with other films such as 2017's "It" and "Shazam! Fury of the Gods." It was also still without all its special effects and the bells and whistles of a final cut, so the people in attendance would have been watching a work-in-progress rather than a completed version of the film.

The crew found out the movie was scrapped on social media

When Warner Bros. Discovery pulled the plug on "Batgirl," the decent thing to do would have been to call up the cast and crew and explain the reasons. That way, they would have all been prepared for when the news broke in the media and all the questions were fired in their direction. Unfortunately, that wasn't the path the studio chose, as the crew was left as surprised by the film's cancellation as everyone else.

According to Critical Room (via Batgirl Film News), the crew was reportedly informed by the studio to stop working on the film and await further instructions. However, the very next day, they found out that "Batgirl" was cancelled via social media — at the same time as everyone else. Considering all the work they had done on the film, and with no indication that a cancellation was on the cards, this must have been the worst kind of surprise for everyone pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into the project.

The directors learned about the cancellation at one's wedding

While the Internet was quick to rush to Leslie Grace's social media and express their sadness at the cancellation of "Batgirl," everyone should spare a thought for directors Adil El Arbi and Billal Fallah. According to Deadline, the two were in Morocco for El Arbi's wedding when they received the news about the fate of their film. The timing was beyond awful, being extremely reminiscent of the time when WWE sent CM Punk his termination papers on his wedding day.

The directors shared their response to the stunning news on Instagram, expressing their shock, disbelief, and disappointment while adding, "As directors, it is critical that our work 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." Seriously, couldn't Warner Bros. Discovery have waited until they were back from the wedding celebrations before dropping the bombshell?

The studio held a funeral screening for the movie

As soon as the news was officially announced that "Batgirl" was done for, there was a somberness in the air — both from fans and the people who worked on the film. The sadness rippled across social media, as it felt like the loss of a loved one or friend. "Batgirl" was dead and buried, and nothing was going to bring this film back from the grave.

To close out this saga, Warner Bros. Discovery reportedly held a screening for the cast and crew, unofficially dubbed the funeral screening (per The Hollywood Reporter). It allowed everyone who was involved with the movie one last chance to see the project that they'd worked on, as well as privately curse the executives who decided to cancel the film. After the film was shown, it was locked away in the archives — never to be discussed or seen again. It would be interesting to find out if everyone wore black to the event and brought wreaths.

The directors were blocked from accessing Batgirl footage

After the drama of "Zack Snyder's Justice League" and the vocal fandom that publicly targeted Warner Bros. with a relentless — and at least partially fake (via Rolling Stone) — campaign until the release of the Snyder Cut, the studio wasn't in the mood for round two with "Batgirl." As soon as the news broke that the film was canceled, the fans started to rally on Twitter to see if they could get another movement going to save Barbara Gordon's solo movie. Unfortunately, it appears as if the studio wised up from the last time, and prevented the directors from even teasing the possibility of it happening in the future.

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Adil El Arbi and Billal Fallah confirmed that the film couldn't be released as is, since it required a few more pickup shots and the addition of visual effects. However, they wouldn't be able to do so even if they wanted to, because they were locked out of accessing the footage. "We have nothing," Fallah said. "Adil called me and said, 'Go ahead [and] shoot some things on your cellphone.' I went on the server and everything was blocked." Have they tried the password 1-2-3-4 yet? They'll never know unless they try.