The directors of Batgirl have said they were "shocked" that the $90 million superhero film had been axed by the studio and will now not be released in any format.
Warner Bros Discovery announced they were shelving the movie adaptation of the DC Comics character, which was to star Leslie Grace in the title role, alongside Michael Keaton as Batman, preventing it from being seen in either cinemas or on the streaming platform HBO Max.
"We are saddened and shocked by the news. We still can't believe it," directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah wrote on Instagram on Wednesday.
"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 and embrace the final film themselves."
The movie had completed principal photography and much of the post-production work — where special effects, sound and graphics are added — was also done.
Grace (In the Heights) released an upbeat statement on her Instagram account on Wednesday night, saying she was "proud of the love, hard work and intention all of our incredible cast and tireless crew put into this film more than seven months in Scotland.
"I feel blessed to have worked among absolute greats and forged relationships for a lifetime in the process!"
Her efforts were applauded by El Arbi and Fallah, who described themselves as "huge fans of Batman since we were little kids".
"It was a dream to work with such fantastic actors like Michael Keaton, JK Simmons, Brendan Fraser... and especially the great Leslie Grace, who portrayed Batgirl with so much passion, dedication and humanity," the Bad Boys for Life directing duo said.
The move sent shock waves through Hollywood, where industry veterans said it was unprecedented for a movie to be so close to completion — and with so much money already spent — and not be released.
Streaming platforms' belt-tightening
Batgirl appears to have fallen victim to a change in corporate strategy after a merger between Warner Bros and Discovery.
Warner Bros had committed to making movies that could go straight to HBO Max as part of an effort to boost subscribers in the increasingly crowded streaming sector.
The decision, which was driven partially by a need to bypass Covid-hit theatres in 2021, was not popular among creatives and appears to have been rolled back after the tie-up with Discovery.
Trade title Variety quoted industry insiders as saying Batgirl had fallen between two stools — not big and glitzy enough for a theatrical release, with its expensive marketing requirements, but too big to make economic sense in the belt-tightening streaming landscape.
Variety said the $90m hole this would leave in the studio's balance sheet would probably be dealt with via a tax write-down — a process where companies reduce their exposure to tax by subtracting losses from their profits.