Warner Bros’ recent announcement that Batgirl has been thoroughly, unequivocally, comprehensively shelved came as quite a shock.
While it wasn’t exactly one of the studio’s higher profile DCEU titles (it was actually planned as a feature for streaming platform HBO Max), this was still a hefty production, with a reported $90 million price tag and parts for a returning Michael Keaton as Batman and JK Simmons as Commissioner Gordon.
While we’re used to studios rethinking the release plans for a movie (Coming 2 America, Da 5 Bloods and Borat 2 were all originally earmarked for the big screen, only to premiere on streaming), this is a rare thing for a studio to completely kill a movie.
So, there won’t be any multiplex release for Batgirl, nor will it have a life on streaming or DVD. Batgirl, to paraphrase Monty Python, ‘is no more, it has ceased to be’.
Rare it is, then, but not unique. There are plenty of movies that were made, completed and yet, for a multitude of reasons, are still gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.
Here are just some of the movies shelved by Hollywood.
The Fantastic Four (1992)
Predating Tim Story’s Fantastic Four feature by 11 years is this shonky, poundshop curio, produced by B-movie ledge Roger Corman, alongside German filmmaker Bernd Eichinger. Eichinger had purchased the movie rights for the Fantastic Four off Marvel for a bargain price of $250,000 in 1986, only the option had a six-year expiry date.
If the producer didn’t get a film into production by 31 December, 1992, he’d lose the rights, and any renegotiation would mean coughing up more dough.
So, in September of ‘92 Eichinger approached Roger Corman, a producer with a canny eye for thrifty filmmaking, with an eye to racing into production a $1 million movie version of The Fantastic Four. Except it was never intended to be released, a fact that was kept from its director, Oley Sassone, and cast.
“I was pretty stunned,” reflected Joseph Culp, who played Dr Victor von Doom in the film, “because we had been doing press junkets at comic conventions and magazine spreads and it looked like we’d get a little release.”
Alex Hyde-White, who played the lead role of Reed Richards, later claimed he went into denial mode, while Sassone felt it most keenly of all.
“All of us that worked on the movie felt like someone stuck an ice pick in our heart,” he said. The full grisly tale is told in the documentary, Doomed!: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four.
Hippie Hippie Shake (2007)
Hippie Hippie Shake is proof that it’s possible for even the starriest of stars to have an unreleased movie stinking out their IMDB page. This big screen adaptation of 60s counter culture journo Richard Neville’s autobiography headlined Cillian Murphy, while Sienna Miller, Hugh Bonneville, Max Minghella, Chris O’Dowd and Daniel Mays are all listed as cast members.
It was a troubled production from the start, having burned through a succession of screenwriters, before settling on Lee Hall (Billy Elliot). Director Beeban Kidron (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) then departed during post-production, telling The Times, “I worked on the film for as long as I could and as hard as I could and then I had to walk away. It was very wounding.”
Working Title have never commented on why Hippie Hippie Shake is still on the shelf, but even Neville, before his death, was hardly gushing about the movie, telling , “’We saw the first cut of the film – Jim, I and other Oz [magazine] people – and there was a lot of disappointment … We made a lot of suggestions to the producers … the final cut was very much better. It wasn’t a work of genius but it was a watchable film.”
The Day The Clown Cried (1972)
This movie, about a circus clown who is imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp and used to lure Jewish children to their deaths in the gas chambers, was a wild left turn for its star and director, Jerry Lewis.
Known primarily for pratfall comedies, this tonally uneven drama was beset by problems almost from the outset. First, it ran out of money, only for Lewis to dig into his own pocket (to the tune of $2 million) to complete it, while, upon seeing the finished product, screenwriter Joan O’Brien declared it unreleasable.
A blizzard of rights problems have meant that The Day The Clown Cried has never been publicly screened, but for Lewis, it seemed as if it was as much to do with the movie’s quality as anything else, telling Entertainment Weekly in 2013: “No one will ever see it, because I am embarrassed at the poor work.”
One of the few who have clocked eyes on it is Simpsons voice actor Harry Shearer, who said of the film, “This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. ‘Oh my God!’ – that’s all you can say.”
David Schneider hosted a BBC documentary about the film in 2016, revealing even more about the most infamous movie in Hollywood history.
Cocksucker Blues (1972)
These days, any purportedly no-holds-barred documentary about a pop star is micro-managed to the mili-second by the record company, should anything untoward find its way on screen.
Even considering how different things were five decades ago, it’s still hard to imagine quite what the Rolling Stones were thinking when they hired photographer Robert Frank to chronicle their 1972 American tour. They soon realised their folly, however, when they saw the resulting documentary, taking Franks to court to prevent it ever being shown.
Fifty years on from its completion, those who have seen Cocksucker Blues describe a film that’s even more shocking today than it even would have been in ‘72. One scene, on the band’s private jet, shows, in The New Yorker’s words, “a sex party that makes the airplane scene in The Wolf Of Wall Street look starchy.”
The movie has been screened occasionally in the years since, but it’s never had an official release, and isn’t likely to, while Jagger, Richards and Wyman are still alive.
Watch: Batgirl’s directors respond to axe