It’s only August 4 and Warner Bros Discovery has already had a tough start to the month. Yesterday (August 3), it was first rumoured, then confirmed by the studio, that both Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt were cancelled and neither would see the light of day.
It caught the industry by surprise, as well as the directors of Batgirl who seemed unaware of such plans. They posted a statement on Instagram, describing feeling “saddened and shocked.” Both films were almost completed so to completely scrap them is an unprecedented, unnerving move from new Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav.
It seems the reason for the cancellations was WB’s desire to collect a hefty tax write off in order to recoup some of the costs. They’re said to be now focusing on films releasing primarily in theatres, so we can presume Black Adam as well as sequels for Shazam! and Aquaman are safe for now. But it does leave HBO Max’s future in an uncertain state.
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The key here is to remember that both Batgirl and Scoob! were greenlit and produced under different leadership. Zaslav took over from Jason Kilar and Ann Sarnoff, who were both more keen on building HBO Max as a leading streaming service. Zaslav is now focusing on completely different areas of the business.
Variety reported yesterday that a total of six films had been removed from HBO Max, including Seth Rogen comedy American Pickle and the 2020 remake of The Witches. All these films were branded “Max Originals” and were streaming exclusively on HBO Max. Turns out, a lot more films have been quietly removed from the service without anyone real warning.
This is most likely again due to recouping some costs, as HBO Max still has to pay a licence fee on them. HBO Max is set to merge with Discovery+ soon, so we can only expect that the shake-up has something to do with this. Netflix has been in the news recently, too, over losing subscribers and having to rely on layoffs as a cost cutting measure.
It’s not unreasonable to speculate Warner Bros Discovery might need to do the same, even though they are currently ranked as “the No. 2 entertainment giant,” as reported by The Wrap.
Kilar’s strategy of releasing most of Warner Bros.’s top titles in 2021 straight on HBO Max as well as cinemas was always controversial. Dune, Godzilla Vs. Kong and The Matrix Resurrections were all available for subscribers at no extra cost on the day of release.
Kilar’s move made sense at the height of COVID-19 when people were less likely to leave their house to go sit in an enclosed space with a bunch of strangers.
But Top Gun: Maverick has proved Kilar’s strategy to be an unreliable one. The action-sequel is still dominating cinema screens after nearly 3 months and has earned $1.2 billion so far, making it a huge success all around.
Only time will tell if Zaslav’s bold moves will pay off, but the current news is certainly as intriguing as it is troubling for the industry as a whole.