JThere was a time when being sent straight to video was just about the most dastardly fate a future movie blockbuster could suffer: the vision of its creators confined to the dimensions of a television screen, only ever able to be enjoyed by a couch full of people in one sitting. In the modern era, that fate has become even less tangible: Downgraded to streaming, many good films today still float in a strange digital purgatory, sometimes connecting to large audiences, but rarely acquiring the tangible cultural currency of a success in the cinemas.
Yet such films – like Preyfor example, a surprisingly good Predator prequel that skipped theaters to premiere last week on Disney Plus – can at least be seen, and widely, by those inclined. As of now, the creative team behind Warner Bros.’ muddled comic book movie bat girl would gladly accept this result, having suffered a much rarer and more blatant humiliation. Last week, it was announced that the near-complete movie, having already racked up a budget of $90 million, would not be shown at all — not even on the Warner-owned HBO Max streaming service.
The streaming-oriented animated prequel Scooby-Doo was also dropped in the same announcement. Scoob! : Holiday destination, although, unsurprisingly, it generated fewer headlines: in this era of superhero saturation, the industry was immediately abuzz with questions about how Batgirl’s wings could have been so brutally clipped . “How bad is that?” people asked, as reports of cold drug test reactions were dredged up. Trade cloth the Wrap reported that Warner’s new management team, led by CEO David Zaslav, felt the film “just didn’t work”: once crafted for HBO Max and then lined up for theatrical distribution, it was reportedly felt that the Batman spin-off was not working. making the event film weigh the required studio of its DC Comics properties.
Others suggested the problem was not a quality issue but cold hard numbers, which didn’t track well enough to justify the expense of marketing and releasing the film at any level: taking a cut tax on bat girl and Scoob! : The holiday haunt has been reported Variety, considered the surest way to recoup their costs. “We are extremely grateful to the filmmakers and their respective cast and look forward to collaborating with everyone again in the near future,” reads the studio’s bland statement, though you must be wondering why the talent involved would follow up on this tentative invitation. .
Batgirl directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah – a flashy Belgian-Moroccan duo who had a hit in 2020 with Bad Boys for lifeand whose provocation of art and test on a much smaller scale Rebel premiered at Cannes in the spring – expressed blind dismay; the film’s Latina star, Leslie Grace, limited herself to thanking her fans and collaborators. Industry watchdogs, meanwhile, question whether the studio’s accounting gamble is worth the ugly optics of throwing out a superhero movie directed and titled by people of color. El Arbi, Fallah and Grace cannot even be counted in particularly distinguished or abundant company: the list of great films produced but never released in any capacity is not long.
It’s not the first superhero property to be banned from release, however. In 1993, Hollywood B-movie maestro Roger Corman helped produce a cheap adaptation of another Marvel comic, The Fantastic Four — a world apart from the vast corporate Marvel machines that fill multiplexes today. Made on a budget of $1 million with an unnamed cast, it was supposed to premiere in 1994 and even had a trailer – before the studio abruptly canceled all plans to screen it publicly and confiscated the negatives. . The late Marvel chief Stan Lee fueled rumors that a release was never planned and the film was made solely to retain ownership rights; Corman insisted otherwise. Although at a price very different from bat girlit seems the film was also ultimately sabotaged in the name of accounting, but contraband leaks readily available on YouTube indicate that no great art was lost in the process.
Sometimes a perfectly seaworthy movie is simply cast by the individuals involved. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many have had to change course because of toxic talent; some have given up completely. Blood, a 2017 Gore Vidal biopic starring Kevin Spacey, was in post-production when Netflix shut down the entire project. (Spacey’s role in Ridley Scott’s expensive drama All the money in the worldon the other hand, was small enough to make a reshoot viable with a redesign by Christopher Plummer.)
Very occasionally, a film can be stuck even after its release in the world: Louis CK’s I love you dad, a dark comedy focusing on the seduction of a teenage girl by a filmmaker in his sixties, had premiered, to warm reviews at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival, when independent distributor The Orchard dropped it. a week before its scheduled theatrical release, as sexual misconduct allegations against its star director emerged. Louis CK bought out the distribution rights. Rose Byrne, one of its stars, said: “It will be a while before the film can be seen, and I think it is” – although such feelings did not stop the film from appear on torrent sites.
Here in the UK, the unfortunate Hippie Hippie Shake has become the ultimate cautionary tale about the vagaries of British film financing and production. Conceived as a playful journey through the radical magazine publishing scene of the 60s, the film was first announced in 1998 by Working Title Films – then in their post-Four weddings and a funeral glory days – before riding through a procession of additional directors and writers; the cameras finally rolled in 2007 under the direction of Beeban Kidron, with Cillian Murphy and Sienna Miller leading the cast. Almost two years later, Kidron stepped down during post-production; a projected 2010 release date moved back and forth before Working Title announced it would be shelved for good. Reports vary among the few people who saw it as to the extent of the misfires. But how the film, which was never going to be a blockbuster, could warrant such veiling treatment remains an industry mystery.
If it is difficult to see on paper how Hippie Hippie Shake might be unavailable, the same cannot be said for The day the clown cried, considered for decades with morbid fascination as a kind of white whale of the cinema of yesteryear. The 1972 European-produced Holocaust drama was written and directed by comic jester Jerry Lewis, who also stars as a German circus clown imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp and accused of driving children in the gas chambers. Appalled accounts from the few people who saw a rough cut at the time suggest that it was just as wrong as it sounds; Lewis himself later admitted to being “embarrassed to [his] bad job”. In a rare case of a film suspended by its own director rather than the studio’s enforcement, it was kept under lock and key for half a century, although Lewis donated the negative to the Library of Congress in 2015. two years before his death. , asking that it not be shown for at least a decade.
Will we finally see the wreckage? Moviegoers need to be careful what they wish for. More often than not, even the most cursed productions end up finding the way to the light, and it’s rarely for the best. Directed but disavowed by David O Russell, political satire Nailed down had a troubled and disrupted shoot that ultimately fell apart in 2008, leading to years of financial strife. In 2014, an independent distributor bought it from his bankrupt studio, concocted a final cut, and released it as accidental love, directed by a “Stephen Greene”; the result was not a movie anyone would want their real name attached to.
The shining exception, meanwhile, is Kenneth Lonergan’s sprawling, gnarly, and rather gorgeous moral drama set in Manhattan. Daisy, which sat in legal limbo for six years — with the director and studio Fox Searchlight locked in a torturous disagreement over a lengthy final cut — before finally being released in 2011 to critical acclaim that only intensify over the years. At present, it seems unlikely that bat girl – or, even less likely, Scoob! : The holiday haunt — is in line for such a buyout. But such fairy tales keep hope alive in a ruthless industry.