Christmas Entertainment

Why Is Warner Bros. Discovery Trying To Cancel Christmas?

Christmas movies and holiday specials featuring Batman, Batgirl, Steve Urkel, and Scooby-Doo have been cancelled at HBO Max because of the Warner Bros. Discovery merger.

by | August 24, 2022

Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt Shelved At HBO Max after Warner Bros. Discovery Merger

Things aren’t so merry and bright over at Warner Bros. right now. As you may know, the entertainment giant recently decided to cancel the release of several upcoming HBO Max movies and TV shows in an effort to cut costs. Among the most anticipated shelved projects were DC’s Batgirl and the follow-up to 2020’s Scoob!, entitled Scoob! Holiday Haunt. Unfortunately for Christmas lovers everywhere, it just so happens that both films were Christmas movies. In addition to these cancelled feature films, two upcoming animated Christmas specials also received the axe – Merry Little Batman and Did I Do That to the Holidays: A Steve Urkel Story.

What went wrong behind the scenes? What were these movies about? And will we ever even get a chance to see them?

The Batman and Scooby-Doo Christmas Movies You’ll Likely Never See

Both Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt were part of a plan by Warner Bros. to reinvent themselves and reach new audiences. Last year, Warner Bros. simultaneously released all their films in theaters and on their streaming service, HBO Max. While box office results were mixed, they had plenty of success with at-home audiences, who especially loved Godzilla vs. Kong, Dune and The Suicide Squad. So, it made sense that the studio would make several films just for streaming giant. When they announced this plan back in December, it looked like a new era was being ushered in for both Warner Bros. and HBO.

At least until Discovery officially bought WarnerMedia in April.

Like with any new change in leadership, drastic measures such as cost-cutting, layoffs, and cancellations took place. Once again, the company refocused on theatrical releases only and dropped their distribution strategy with HBO Max. As a result, many anticipated projects went out the window no matter where they were in the production process. Dozens of already released HBO Max original films and TV shows, primarily family shows and animation, were also removed from the streaming service without warning. Needless to say, fans, filmmakers, and even higher-ups like DC Films President, Walter Hamada, are beyond disappointed.

Warner Bros. Discovery Logo after April 2022 Merger

The Grinch That Stole Christmas from HBO Max

David Zaslav is the President and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery. Prior to the merger, he was CEO of Discovery, and he was responsible for spearheading the transaction between AT&T (previous owner of WarnerMedia) and Discovery. As the man at the forefront of the merger and the current head of the company, David Zaslav is receiving much of the blame for these cancellations. #FireDavidZaslav has even started trending on Twitter, as fans angrily call for the release and reinstatement of these shelved films. David Zaslav has not done much to ease the backlash, offering little transparency behind these decisions, and only making generalized comments about the future of Warner Bros. Discovery. often citing a 10-year plan for their DC Films.

Set Photo from DC's Cancelled Batgirl Christmas Movie Starring Leslie Grace and Michael Keaton for HBO Max

Lights Out Gotham, Batgirl Cancelled

DCEU’s Batgirl was easily the most anticipated, and highest-budgeted, of all the canceled films. Unfortunately, it seems as though it did not fit into David Zaslav’s new 10-year plan for DC Films and they were willing to scrap it despite a nearly $100 million budget. Even worse — it already completed seven grueling months of filming in Scotland and was deep into the editing process.

Batgirl starred singer-turned-actress Leslie Grace as the title role, with J.K. Simmons and Michael Keaton reprising their roles as Commissioner Gordon and Batman respectively. Even Brendan Fraiser, who is in the midst of a major career resurgence, was on-board as the movie’s villain Firefly.

Adil El Arbi and Bilal Fallah, who also worked on the hit Disney Plus series, Ms. Marvel, served as directors. Adil and Bilal have not been shy about expressing their disappointment, and even described the moment they found out about the cancellation online. They claimed to have rushed to find footage to salvage on their cell phones and found that it had all already been removed from the servers.

Leaked Set Photo from Batgirl showing Christmas in Gotham in the cancelled Warner Bros. Discovery HBO Max original film

While we don’t know much about Batgirl’s plot, a few leaks (like the photo above) have given us some hints. For one, we know it’s supposed to take place after the upcoming Flash movie, whose future is also in question right now for very different reasons. And based on a TikTok set video, much of this movie is set during Christmastime. The leaked footage shows a full-blown Christmas market, winter-themed billboards, holiday lights, and bags of fake snow all ready for filming. An early rumored scene also had Barbara Gordon stopping a crime while attending a Halloween party dressed as Batman, kicking off her new role as a superhero, and giving fans a new multi-holiday story to enjoy.

It looks like Batgirl would have been very similar in tone and setting to 1992’s Batman Returns. The Tim Burton-directed feature is still a favorite amongst Bat-fans and nostalgia lovers, thanks to its iconic visuals, costumes and the Christmas in Gotham wintertime setting. The return of Michael Keaton to the role of Batman would have strengthened the connection even further. Just like other non-traditional Christmas movies, such as Die Hard and Gremlins, Batman Returns hold a special place in many holiday-lovers’ hearts.

We can only imagine how much fun this would have been to watch Batgirl around the holidays. For now, fans of Hallmark Christmas Movies and the DC Extended Universe will have to make do with another viewing of Shazam, which featured several moments of Christmas cheer, as well as an overall theme of the importance of family.

Merry Little Batman animated Christmas special logo from scrapped HBO Max project

Silent Night for Merry Little Batman

Little is known about the animated special, Merry Little Batman, aside from its fun premise. The film would have followed Damian Wayne, alone for the holidays in Wayne Manor, while his father Bruce Wayne / Batman is out of town. If this setup sounds familiar, there’s a good reason for that. In a superhero take on the holiday classic, Home Alone, Damian would have to take up the mantle of “Little Batman” to stop would-be supervillains looking to break into Wayne Manor and attempting to destroy Christmas in Gotham City. The script was written by Morgan Evans and was directed by Mike Roth. It is not known how far along in production this film was, but it had been scheduled to debut for the 2022 holiday season.

Scoob! Holiday Haunt logo from scrapped Christmas animated feature Scooby-Doo HBO Max

Zoinks, Like, What Happened to Scoob! Holiday Haunt?

Right off the bat, we know this would have been an interesting holiday movie. Scoob! Holiday Haunt was another Mystery, Inc. prequel story set to follow Scoob!, with some of the voice cast returning to play a much younger gang. This included Iain Armitage, McKenna Grace, Arianna Greenblatt, and voice acting legend Frank Welker as Scooby-Doo. According to IMDB, the plot would follow Scooby-Doo’s first Christmas, which would see the budding Mystery, Inc. gang solving a 40-year-old mystery at a holiday-themed resort owned by Fred’s uncle.

Although it did poorly in theaters — no thanks in part to the pandemic — Scoob! was a top performer on streaming services so a sequel was sure to follow. Unfortunately, its cancellation came right when production was almost finished. Even the music, including Christina Aguilera’s version of the Scooby Doo theme song, was fully recorded. To make matters worse, this would have been the first family Christmas film for Warner Animation Group. Now it looks like we’re going to have to wait a little longer for another movie to fill that spot, as this is one mystery that will go unsolved. 

Did I Do That To The Holidays A Steve Urkel Story Logo from animated Family Matters reboot for HBO Max

Did Warner Bros. Discovery Do That to Urkel?

Family Matters was an incredibly popular family sitcom in the 90s that actually began as a spinoff of Perfect Strangers. The show followed the Winslow family living in Chicago and didn’t introduce their nerdy neighbor, Steve Urkel, until the middle of the first season. Played by Jaleel White, Urkel quickly became a breakout character and eventually the focus of the show. As the series continued, the storylines became more outlandish, with science-fiction elements being written-in, including Steve’s alter ego Stefan.

After the successful reboots of other 90s family sitcoms, including Full House, Roseanne, and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Steve Urkel was scheduled to make a comeback in a very different form. Did I Do That to the Holidays: A Steve Urkel Story was planned as an animated Christmas Special / musical featuring Jaleel White as the voice of Urkel. Since the show did embrace its ridiculousness in later seasons, a cartoon, especially a holiday-themed musical one, was a perfect vehicle for a Family Matters reboot.

Jaleel White already voiced Steve Urkel in a special episode of Scooby Doo and Guess Who? in 2019 so Did I Do That To The Holidays would not even be Urkel’s first animated appearance. The Christmas special would have seen Steve Urkel having to track down Santa in order to save Christmas, and hopefully would have included the return of Reginald VelJohnson to voice Carl Winslow and at least one Die Hard reference.

Still image of iconic house with leg lamp in window from A Christmas Story classic christmas movie

What About A Christmas Story Christmas?

In January 2022, Warner Bros. announced a sequel to the beloved holiday favorite, A Christmas Story, with the return of Peter Billingsley and much of the original cast. The film takes place in the 1970s, with Ralphie taking his family back to the house on Cleveland street to celebrate Christmas after the death of his father, The Old Man. Filming was scheduled to begin in Hungary in February 2022, but not much info has been revealed since the initial announcements. Since A Christmas Story Christmas was conceived as an exclusive HBO Max release, its future is now uncertain, especially if it is not released this holiday season. However, nothing official has been announced so the Elf Squad is hoping we still get to see a grown up Ralphie, Flick, Randy, and Schwartz Triple-Dog-Dare each other to have a Merry Christmas!

HBO Max Discovery + Plus logos

What Is the Christmas Future of HBO Max?

HBO Max is set to merge with Discovery+ in Summer 2023, creating a brand-new streaming platform combining the libraries of both services. Until then, HBO Max seems to be cleaning house on multiple projects in various stages of production. With properties such as Batman, and even Looney Tunes, receiving the ax, it is unclear what the future holds for HBO Max streaming. As of now, Warner Bros. Discovery has no plans to release any of these cancelled films, specials and TV shows any time soon.

Various reasons have been cited including an attempt to declutter the service and a shift in programming focus, but the consensus is that cancelling these projects will allow them to be used as a tax write-off.  Unfortunately, if true, this means these projects can never be completed or even released in their (barely) unfinished state. Because of the Warner Bros. Discovery merger, already completed projects may also qualify, which is likely why we are seeing so many previously released films and TV shows also being purged from HBO Max. This includes episodes of Sesame Street, HBO Max original films like Moonshot. An American Pickle and The Witches, and even the Christmas-themed reality dating competition, 12 Dates of Christmas.  

There are rumors that Warner Bros. still want Leslie Grace as Batgirl in future DC projects, plus it is safe to assume they are not abandoning any of these major properties. In fact, there are multiple Batman projects still in development and HBO Max even plans to release a Scooby-Doo spinoff animated TV series for adults focusing on Velma later this year. Since there will be future films and TV shows under these properties, it is unclear why these specific projects have been cancelled at this time, and it is unknown how many future projects will be cancelled before the streaming sites are combined.

If there’s enough public interest (or a loud enough public outcry), maybe one day some of these projects will finally be released in some form. We understand these are business decisions, but with all that hard work put into these films, it would be a shame for all this content to simply go to waste. Until then, there will always be plenty of other holiday movies streaming for us to enjoy this holiday season!

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