Warner Bros’ recent announcement that Batgirl has been thoroughly, unequivocally, comprehensively shelved came as quite a shock.
While not 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 release plans for a film (Coming 2 America, Then 5 blood and Borate 2 all originally earmarked for the big screen, only to premiere on streaming), this is a rare thing for a studio to completely kill a film.
Read more: Leslie Grace thanks fans for their support Bat girl
So there will be no multiplex release for Bat girlnor will it have a life on streaming or DVD. Bat girlto paraphrase Monty Python, ‘is no more, it has ceased to be’.
It is rare, but not unique. There are many films that were made, completed and yet, for a variety of reasons, are still gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.
Here are just some of the movies in Hollywood.
The Fantastic Four (1992)
Preceded by Tim Story’s Fantastic four feature by 11 years is this slick, poundshop curio, produced by B-movie shelf Roger Corman, along with German filmmaker Bernd Eichinger. Eichinger had bought the film rights for Fantastic four by Marvel at a bargain price of $250,000 in 1986, it was the only option that had a six-year expiration date.
If the producer did not get a film into production by December 31, 1992, he would lose the rights, and any renegotiation would mean coughing up more dough.
Read more: Directors who regretted making their own films
So in September of ’92, Eichinger approached Roger Corman, a producer with a keen eye for thrifty filmmaking, with an eye toward launching a $1 million film version of The Fantastic Four. Except it was never meant to be released, a fact that was kept from the director, Oley Sassone, and the cast.
“I was pretty stunned,” reflected Joseph Culp, who played Dr Victor von Doom in the film, “because we’d been doing press articles at comic conventions and magazine spreads, and it looked like we were going to get a small release.”
Alex Hyde-White, who starred as Reed Richards, later claimed he went into denial mode, while Sassone felt it most intensely of all.
“All of us who worked on the film felt like someone stuck an ice pick in our hearts,” he said. The entire horrific story 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 starliest of stars to have an unreleased film stinking up their IMDB page. This film adaptation of 60s counterculture journal 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 number of screenwriters before settling on Lee Hall (Billy Elliot). Director Beeban Kidron (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) then left during post-production, telling The Times: “I worked on the film as long as I could and as hard as I could, and then I had to walk away. It was very hurtful.”
Job title has never commented on why Hippie Hippie Shake is still on the shelf, but even Neville, before his death, was hardly embarrassed by the film, telling: “‘We saw the first cut of the film – Jim, me 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 film, 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 slapstick comedies, this tonally uneven drama was plagued by problems almost from the start. 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 screenwriter Joan O’Brien, upon seeing the finished product, declared that it could not be issued.
Read more: The Strange True Story of Jerry Lewis’ Holocaust Comedy
A blizzard of rights issues has meant that The day the clown cried has never been shown publicly, but to Lewis it seemed as much to do with the film’s quality as anything else, telling Entertainment Weekly in 2013: “No one will ever see it, because I’m embarrassed by the bad work. .”
One of the few who have looked at it is The Simpsons voice actor Harry Shearer, who said of the film, “This film is so drastically flawed, its pathos and comedy so wildly out of place that you couldn’t, in your imagination of what it might be, improve upon 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 film in Hollywood history.
Cocksucker Blues (1972)
These days, any allegedly banned documentary about a pop star is micro-managed to half a second by the record company, should anything untoward find its way onto the 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 cover their 1972 US tour. However, they soon realized their folly when saw the resulting documentary, and took Franks to court to prevent it from ever being shown.
Read more: Roger Daltry calls The Rolling Stones “a mediocre pub band”
Fifty years after its completion, those who have seen Cocksucker Blues Describe a movie that is even more shocking today than it would have been in ’72. One scene, on the band’s private jet, shows, in the words of The New Yorker, “a sex party that makes the plane scene in The Wolf of Wall Street look starchy.”
The film has been screened occasionally in the years since, but has never had an official release and is unlikely to ever, with Jagger, Richards and Wyman still alive.
Watch: Batgirl directors respond to ax