Warner Bros might finally be learning to undelete films following its Coyote Vs Acme debacle: now it should revisit its disastrous cull of Batgirl and Scoob! 2.
It’s been a difficult week for Warner Bros Discovery, in a year that’s not been shy of them. Not that filmmakers and film fans are offering much sympathy for the company, which is in danger of making a habit of canning completed films.
The story so far.
Following its 2022 decision to scrap both Batgirl and Scoob! 2: The Holiday Haunt, a pair of pretty much completed movies that collectively had cost over $120m to make, it threw the anvil last week on Coyote Vs Acme.
As film critic Robbie Collin wrote on whatever Twitter’s called now, “Why would anyone work for a studio that makes a habit of this?”
And that’s the problem. Doing it once? A nasty one-off. Twice? Well, given that it was done at the same time as the first, it sort of got away with it. A third time? That’s less an accident, and instead clearly a tangible option for the studio. A habit, a potential choice on the flowchart. An open option, when it shouldn’t even be a last resort.
What’s happened this time though is that Warner Bros Discovery has clearly felt the blast of the backlash.
Coyote Vs Acme is a film that’s done, has been scored, had been testing well with preview audiences, and has John Cena in a lead role. Originally set to be released last year, the studio gave its slot to Barbie instead, which didn’t turn out too badly. The problem was that it’s decided it’ll be more economically beneficial to cash out where Coyote Vs Acme is concerned. To treat it as a tax write off, and save itself the bother and the cost of a release.
But Warner Bros Discovery might just have run out of currency. Trade papers report that the studio has been deluged with calls from angry filmmakers, and faced a significant online battering from film fans too. Who, after all, spends $70m on a movie just to delete it to make the books look better?
Now we learn, though, that an about-turn is happening. That the studio has been screening the completed – completed! – movie for potential purchasers. Amazon is said to be in pole position to acquire the picture, which now comes with the added benefit of a swathe of interest that wasn’t there last week when Warner Bros made its decision.
Had there not been the backlash, then the tax write-off for Warner Bros would have been valued at around $30m. The condition of a tax write-off, as I understand it, is that the film and its elements have to be destroyed. If it’s still in existence, then it’s not been written off, and so the studio can’t claim the money.
That said, there’s always the sneaking suspicion that someone’s kept a copy somewhere anyway. And the U-turn that’s going on with Coyote Vs Acme should be shining the light back onto Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt. That the names of those films should not be forgotten, and the decision to can the pair of them should hang like a millstone around the studio’s neck.
As Coyote Vs Acme composer Steven Price put it, it’s “Bizarre anti-art studio financial shenanigans I will never understand”.
It’s also what happens when we allow films to be described as ‘content’. Content is disposable; films are not.
In the case of Batgirl and the Scoob! sequel, here’s the chance to ask the questions again. Why were the films really canned? And appreciating the official word is that they were deleted, is there any chance that they may yet exist in some form?
Because at the moment, if Warner Bros Discovery really wanted to do the right thing, then it’d find a way. On the off chance it had those films hidden deep underground somewhere, it’d drop a note to the very companies it’s showing Coyote Vs Acme to, and offer them some kind of deal. Sure, it may lose its tax write off, but then it’d also get income from the films themselves.
Furthermore, doesn’t this stuff simply matter? A film of reasonable scale takes a lot of people two years to make. Their work deserves to be seen. On top of that, if there’s even a slight feeling that you think films are more than content, more than a line on a spreadsheet, then they surely need an audience. That’s the final ingredient, and these movies have been denied that.
What the fact that Coyote Vs Acme is being shopped around also demonstrates is that Warner Bros Discovery is now willing to sell on a film that’s part of one of its franchises. I always wondered if that was an obstacle with Batgirl (DC) and Scoob! (Hanna Barbera). Yet Coyote Vs Acme is a Warner Bros Looney Tunes movie, just one that it’s looking like another company will be showing instead. That’s a glimmer of light, surely.
The likelihood is that with Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt, the decision is irreversible, of course. I’m not naïve. I’d imagine the Warner Bros Discovery servers have long being scrubbed of both films, and replaced with plans for DC League Of Superpets 2 or something like that.
But still: this is surely an opportunity for Warner Bros Discovery to throw its hands up, admit it may have got this wrong, and find a new way forward. We learned last week that it’s repaired its relationship with Christopher Nolan, and that looked unlikely a year ago. To show that it’s learned that deleting films is a Very Bad Thing would be an even more important step.
Warner Bros used to be known as the filmmaker’s studio. Until it has the delete key taken off its keyboard, it’s got no chance of being known as that again.