Warner Bros.’s decision to shelve DC’s Batgirl movie in the summer of 2022 undoubtedly came as a shock to moviegoers worldwide - but did the move also mark the start of a growing trend?
While many involved with directors Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi’s finished superhero movie were still mourning its loss, a similar stunt was been pulled less than two years later. In January 2024, news arrived that Halle Berry’s Netflix sci-fi film The Mothership had also found itself cancelled and without a release date, despite nearing completion.
Rare it is then - but not unique. In fact, there are plenty of movies that have been made and completed over the years only to ultimately spend their days gathering dust on a shelf.
Here are just a few of the movies Hollywood decided to ditch.
The Mothership (2023)
In January 2024, it was revealed that Halle Berry’s new science fiction feature The Mothership had been cancelled and would not be getting a Netflix release after all.
Oscar winner Berry completed filming the movie, written and directed by Matthew Charman, in 2021. In it, she played a single mother who stumbles upon a mysterious alien object on her family farm that has links to her husband’s disappearance a year earlier. The film was set to co-star Paul Guilefoyle, John Ortiz, Omari Hardwick and Molly Parker but experienced a number of post-production delays on its road to release.
Ultimately, the decision to pull the movie was due to a need for extensive reshoots that would have been hampered by the fact that the child actors behind Berry’s on-screen kids had out grown their roles.
As it stands, there are no reports that suggest The Mothership will ever see the light of day.
Batgirl from directing duo Fallah and El Arbi was stripped of its release in summer 2022 with poor test screenings cited as the reasoning behind the decision.
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), Batgirl 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'.
It's a situation that was equally painful for its directors as it was for audiences, with its filmmakers calling it the "biggest disappointment" of their careers so far.
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 has 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 The Sydney Morning Herald, “'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 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 $1million 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.
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 $2million) 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 and Richards are still alive.