It’s almost as if Leslie Grace was destined to end up in Gotham.
The In the Heights star and Latin pop singer didn’t grow up reading DC comics or watching superhero shows, but she and her childhood best friend nicknamed themselves after the caped crusader and his sidekick. “We always got into trouble as kids, so we started calling each other Batman and Robin,” she previously told ELLE.com. So when she learned she was cast as Batgirl (amid a tight race for the coveted role), her BFF knew it felt like fate. “[She] was like ‘All this time, we’ve been manifesting this,’” Grace said.
A standalone Batgirl film has been in the works with Warner Bros. and DC since 2017, and Grace’s casting was announced in 2021. However, a year later, the film has been scrapped just months away from release. Here’s what we know.
Why did Batgirl get scrapped?
Batgirl was expected to arrive sometime in 2022 on HBO Max, but on Aug. 2, reports broke, initially from The New York Post, that Warner Bros. wouldn’t be releasing the film at all, theatrically or online.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, “The unusual move comes after a change in leadership at Warners, with newly installed Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav prioritizing on cost-cutting measures and refocusing Warners on theatrical films rather than creating projects straight for streaming, as had been a priority for former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar.”
The film—with a reported budget of $80 million and actual costs nearing $90 million due to COVID protocols—had already finished shooting, THR reports. Sources told the outlet that costly projects made only for streaming don’t align with the company’s new strategy.
The Wrap reported earlier that, according to insiders, the studio heads decided Batgirl simply didn’t work, even with reshoots and an increased budget. The new management is “committed to making DC titles big theatrical event films, and ‘Batgirl’ isn’t that,” per The Wrap. However, the studio reportedly loves Grace and the film’s directors, and want to work with them in the future.
And according to Variety, “Studio insiders insist the decision was not driven by the quality of the film or the commitment of the filmmakers, but by the desire for the studio’s slate of DC features to be at a blockbuster scale. ‘Batgirl’ was budgeted to screen in homes on HBO Max, and not for a major global release in theaters.” (For reference, the Robert Pattinson-starring Batman, which released primarily in theaters, cost $185 million.)
Still, as the outlet points out, it’s surprising to see the studio drop Batgirl entirely rather than try to make up for some of the costs with a smaller release. Variety later reported that the studio will likely take tax write-downs for both Batgirl and the Scoob! sequel, which was also shelved.
Warner Bros. Discovery told Deadline in a statement:
“The decision to not release Batgirl reflects our leadership’s strategic shift as it relates to the DC universe and HBO Max. Leslie Grace is an incredibly talented actor and this decision is not a reflection of her performance. We are incredibly grateful to the filmmakers of Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt and their respective casts and we hope to collaborate with everyone again in the near future.”
Sources also told the outlet that Batgirl wasn’t shaping up to be a bad movie. The reported poor screen test results were likely because of the temporary visual effects, which could’ve thrown viewers off.
Insiders told Deadline that the filmmakers were told the cancelation was part of a “purchase accounting” move that resulted from the Warner Bros. Discovery merger. The opportunity, which expires in mid-August, would allow the company to not carry over their losses. Instead of increasing the Batgirl and Scoob! budgets to make them fit for theatrical releases, the studio reportedly felt shelving the projects was better, in combination with the purchase accounting opportunity.
What has the cast said about Batgirl‘s cancelation?
Grace responded to the news with a bittersweet note on Instagram, paired with a carousel of behind-the-scenes photos and videos from the Batgirl set.
“Querida familia! On the heels of the recent news about our movie ‘Batgirl,’ 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,” her message began. She also thanked fans of the film and quoted her character, Barbara Gordon: “To every Batgirl fan – THANK YOU for the love and belief, allowing me to take on the cap and become, as Babs said best, ‘my own damn hero!’”
Read her full note here:
Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah expressed their shock and disappointment over the decision on Aug. 3. They also expressed gratitude toward their “amazing cast and crew.”
“We are saddened and shocked by the news,” they wrote in a statement posted on Instagram. “We still can’t believe it. 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 an embrace the film themselves. Maybe one day they will insha’Allah.”
Read their full message below.
What is Batgirl about?
The film was meant to follow Barbara Gordon, daughter of Gotham’s police commissioner (and famous Batman ally) James Gordon, taking the alias of Batgirl. Grace also teased a bit of Barbara’s story to ELLE.com:
“I can’t say much about what she is going to do, but Batgirl becomes her own hero. [Her origin story] is crazy dark, like a lot of other superheroes, but I like that she becomes Batgirl because she wants to make a difference in the world. She feels like people underestimate her as Barbara Gordon, and I relate to that.”
The actress also hinted at some of the stunt work she’d be doing in the role, speaking to Variety: “There’s crazy fire. There’s crazy stunts, crazy drops. She’s a biker chick, so you’re going to see her do a bunch of badassery.”
This marks the third onscreen iteration of the caped superheroine, per The Hollywood Reporter. She debuted on TV in 1961 as Betty Kane (played by Yvonne Craig) then appeared again in the 1997 Batman & Robin film (starring Alicia Silverstone as Barbara Wilson).
Who’s in the cast?
Michael Keaton was set to make his grand return as Batman. J. K. Simmons, who played Commissioner James Gordon in Justice League, was going to reprise his role too.
Mummy star Brendan Fraser had joined as the pyromaniac supervillain Firefly, Deadline reported in October. And Jacob Scipio, breakout star of Bad Boys for Life, was also onboard as mobster Anthony “Tony” Bressi.
Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (Bad Boys For Life, Ms. Marvel) were directing, Christina Hodson (Birds of Prey) wrote the script, and Kristin Burr (Cruella) was producing. Joss Whedon had initially signed on to write and direct the film before dropping out in 2018.
Leslie Grace has shared a sneak peek at her Batgirl costume.
On January 14, Grace shared a shot of herself in the Batgirl costume, standing against a Gotham building backdrop. The suit has a blue cast to it, a gold utility belt, what looks like a weapon strapped to her thigh, and a short cape lined with yellow. Grace’s hair flows free in the wind behind her.
She captioned the image, “‘I use their expectations against them. That will be their weakness. Not mine. Let them all underestimate me…And when their guard is down, and their pride is rising, let me kick their butts.’ – Batgirl, Year One.”
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This story has been updated.