First ‘Batgirl’ then ‘scripted content’: Warner Bros. Discovery’s recent decision-making is worrying

Photo: Chris Yarzab / Flickr

In recent days, it was revealed that the Warner Bros. Discovery merger had already had a huge impact on upcoming releases and the extremely popular streaming service HBO Max, arguably the service with the best content library. First, it was revealed that the upcoming Batgirl film, which had finished production, had been canceled. It was no longer to be released in theaters or on HBO Max. Then, we found out that the Scoob! sequel, an animated film due to be released later this year, had also been thrown away entirely.

That is a largely completed $70-90 million budgeted superhero film that exists in the most popular corner of the DC comics universe, alongside an animated franchise sequel for all ages with a budget of $40 million (and, supposedly, they had just completed the animation process). The films had, to a certain extent, been completed, but Warner Bros. Discovery didn’t want to release them at all. Instead, they had opted for a tax write-down.

That was an unprecedented action that felt illogical — they would’ve been seen by a lot of people on HBO Max and could’ve made money in theaters — and disrespectful — to the film industry, the filmmakers, the crew, and the cast. Art — and films are art — should never be mentioned in the same breath as a ‘tax write-down’ when you are a company like Warner Bros, which has such a rich history in this industry. But the new leadership apparently sees things differently.

Reports suggest that they want to completely revamp Warner’s established release strategy, and some rumors have even suggested that the new decision-makers want to focus less on ‘scripted content.’ That would be disastrous for Warner Bros. and for the industry. The confidence that people once had when they spoke about Warner Bros. seems to have faded a little bit, and Christopher Nolan’s decision to jump ship may seem like a smart decision to everyone all of a sudden. If Warner Bros. Discovery now wants to stop making films with a mid-to-low budget to instead focus entirely on expensive spectacle and popcorn films, then the film industry may have lost one of the studios that once really championed filmmakers.

Now some people think HBO Max is not just going to be folded into Discovery+, but that it may also be losing some of the popular shows and original films (made for the streamer) entirely. And recent evidence would back that fear up. Reddit has noticed that at least six HBO Max original films (and certain shows) had suddenly disappeared from the service. Films like Moonshot (which just came out a couple of months ago). An American Pickle (a decent Seth Rogen-led comedy), and Doug Liman’s Locked Down (a drama set during a COVID lockdown). Now, I didn’t like that last film, but my heart breaks for the people that made all of those films. Those films may have just been lost, and I’m not sure any of them were released on physical media (collect DVDs and Blu-Rays, people).

Whether or not you think the streaming subscription era is based on an unsustainable model or not, something very dangerous is happening this year. The HBO Max-Warner Bros. situation is very worrying, as it feels like they’re testing the waters, and it would be awful if that approach became common practice. But concerning things are happening elsewhere as well. The steep competition has meant that services like Apple TV+ is quickly catching up to long-timer Netflix, which has focused too much on quantity over quality. The fact that other streaming services are extremely competitive has made Netflix panic. Some of the people in charge of Netflix have made some very disrespectful comments about The Irishman, one of the streamer’s very best films (from arguably one of the best American filmmakers of all time), whether they like it or not.

Reports make it sound like Netflix is hanging on by a thread due to the loss of subscribers, declining stock value, price hikes, and a change in approach, and, meanwhile, HBO Max may be disappearing to make way for something that could be more focused on reality TV than scripted entertainment. That makes me very scared for the future of this industry. There has to be room for films that aren’t low-budgeted fare or massive blockbusters, but I’m worried the industry is continuing to move in a direction that doesn’t allow for these mid-ranged films as often. When you pair that with the recent decision-making at WBD (canceling films that had wrapped production for the purpose of a tax write-down and removing their own films from their own streamer on a whim and out of the blue) everything just feels up in the air… It’s a worrying trend. What will the money men come up with next?

– Article Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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