Warner Bros. Discovery’s controversial decision to terminate its upcoming superhero movie BATGIRL prompted The Atlantic’s David Sims to consider the state of decision making on releasing films straight-to-streaming.
Before it was cancelled, the studio had already invested $70M in making BATGIRL, with the intention to release it at the end of the year as an HBO Max exclusive. However, early screenings of the film met with a lukewarm response, despite the appeal of a DC Comics superhero movie focused on a well-known heroine. WBD made the safe decision to end the project and write off the investment, rather than proceed with a less-than-stellar on-line only release.
At the height of the pandemic, both Hollywood and Wall Street saw streaming as the future of the entertainment industry, creating a digital, direct-to-consumer financial relationship. But all major streaming services are mired in “investment mode”, which is likely to continue for years. The thing about blockbusters is that they cost a lot of money to produce, and studios are once again focusing on the profitability of each movie they make. By skipping a theatrical release, studios are missing the opportunity to earn millions at the box office and build interest in the movie for its eventual online availability. The pendulum is once again swinging back towards the traditional model of starting with a theatrical release followed by a second release online.