Beyond the Screen #22: Warner Bros, Batgirl, Scoob, Bullet Train and Beast

We take a look back at recent developments in the WarnerMedia fiasco and the past week’s box office.

Warner Cancels Several Movies Near Completion

Warner Bros, following its merger with Discovery, has begun to cut costs and burn bridges in spectacular fashion, cancelling two feature releases already near completion. HBO Max Original Batgirl, starring Leslie Grace (with Michael Keaton, JK Simmons and Brendan Fraser), accruing a $90 million budget, and Scoob! Holiday Haunt, with a $40 million price tag, were axed despite being deep into postproduction. Per crew members on Scoob! , the move came as such a surprise that the film’s score went on to be recorded the day after Scoob!’s cancellation, since it had already been paid for.

Per Deadline, the filmmakers of both productions were told that their work would be scrapped for reasons relating to “purchase accounting”. That being; in the handover as Warner merges with Discovery, a tax-break is available towards the newly formed conglomerate until mid-August, which allows the company to write off losses. Making a dent in the company’s sizable debt seems to be of a high priority to new CEO David Zaslav, who has not alluded to any financial motivation for the cancellation of the films.

Per Zaslav, the company is shifting its focus on the front of high visibility brands like DC from HBO Max toward theatrical releases, a move made possible by the exit of former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who had placed a great deal of focus on HBO Max, including instating the day-and-date simultaneous releases of films in theaters and on the service. Batgirl was not intended as a theatrical release, and therefore does not align with the company’s new hopes for a singular and quality controlled DCEU, which will follow a 10-year plan hereafter. “We’re not going to launch a movie until it’s ready, we’re not going to launch a movie to make a quarter and we’re not going to put a movie out unless we believe in it… These are brands that are known everywhere in the world, and as part of that, we’re going to focus on quality. DC is something that we think we could make better and we’re focused on it now.”

Suggesting the cancellation was motivated by the film’s quality has not gone over well, as an outpouring of support towards the cast and crew of both Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt has followed. Zaslav’s focus on theatrical exclusivity and dissociation from streaming projects does seem to be taking effect elsewhere: a number of already released HBO Max Originals have been removed from the streaming service, while Elvis, which was due to launch on the service for free streaming this week, will instead only be heading to Premium Video on Demand, allowing the theatrical window greater opportunity to run its course.

Among the HBO Max Originals removed from the service are Seth Rogen-comedy An American Pickle, Robert Zemeckis’ The Witches, romcom Moonshot, as well as several series like Hungary’s The Informant. Further cancellations are dreaded (especially after an HBO financial report recently revealed the company’s plans to write-down $825 million in content and development costs), though whether the current PR nightmare will be taken into account (especially with mounting controversies surrounding star of the upcoming The Flash film, Ezra Miller), remains to be seen. Ongoing reshuffles have been quietly executed since the beginning of July, as production on Originals made in Europe was ramped down, and live-action family programming was eliminated from the service’s strategy.

Bullet Train on Track for Box Office Success

Jam-packed with stars and a dose of breezy summer action schlock, Bullet Train made a healthy debut of $62,430,156 atop the worldwide box office this past weekend, followed close behind by China’s Moon Man in its second week of release with $59,910,000. Minions: The Rise of Gru (going on six weeks of release) has already reclaimed its placement ahead of competitor DC League of Super-Pets, only in its second week of release, bringing in $23,035,240 versus Super-Pets’ $22,452,137 gross. Another Chinese film rounded out the top five: Warriors of Future (sic), a long delayed sci-fi action vehicle, which landed $20,560,00.

Outside of the top five, Top Gun: Maverick, totaling $662,486,308 domestically, continues to smash milestones in its box office run, passing Titanic on the all-time highest grossing domestic films chart, making it the 7th highest grossing film of all time at the domestic box office (unadjusted for inflation). The film is more than likely due to overtake Avengers: Infinity War within the next few weeks, though it’ll need around $40 million more to reach 5th place and dethrone Black Panther, or scrape at the bottom of Avatar with $120 million more. It seems unlikely, but Top Gun: Maverick continues to defy expectations with lingering box office draw every day, and a premium screen re-expansion is imminent.

Another all-time highest grosser, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, will be receiving the IMAX treatment for its 40th anniversary in the coming week, while the only major releases on the books are slasher Bodies, Bodies, Bodies (putting up an excellent limited release performance of $226,653 in 6 theaters this week alone), likely to find a niche audience in wide release, hungry to see horror filmmakers skewer Gen Z, followed by Idris Elba and Sharlto Copley starrer Beast, pitting the actors up against a ferocious lion in true man vs beast fashion.