Why Batgirl Deserves to Be Released in Theaters

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The fate of the DC Films world feels like it’s changing on a pretty regular basis, leaving fans eager to see what the future holds for their favorite heroes and villains. Among them is Barbara Gordon / Batgirl, whose long-gestating solo film has finally gotten off the ground in the past year. The project, which will star In the Heights’ Leslie Grace as Barbara, wrapped production last month, with the goal of debuting exclusively on the HBO Max streaming service. Now, that doesn’t appear to specifically be the case, with rumors swirling that the film could end up getting a theatrical release amid the changes surrounding WarnerMedia and Discovery. If that does end up being the case, Batgirl would be the second DC film to do so, after the upcoming Blue Beetle film was confirmed to be moving to theaters late last year. While we’ll have to wait and see if Batgirl gets a similar treatment, it’s hard to deny that it absolutely deserves to happen.

On paper, it was initially easy to explain why Batgirl would thrive as an HBO Max exclusive — it would allow for an opportunity to introduce the character without needing to throw her into an expensive blockbuster, or deal with the ever-moving goal posts of pre-pandemic box office numbers. It would also potentially insure that the movie could be released regardless of the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, and whether or not audiences would feel comfortable sitting in a movie theater yet. There’s also Batgirl’s comic-accurate ties to the Birds of Prey, whose 2020 movie thrived once it started streaming on HBO Max, and is potentially getting a HBO Max-exclusive spinoff film centered around Jurnee Smollett’s Black Canary. All of this seemed to indicate that Batgirl could be a significant, but reliable tentpole for the streaming service’s exclusive library, all while helping building out a street-level corner of the DC Films universe.

That being said, a lot of circumstances have changed since Batgirl was originally announced as an HBO Max release, and a lot of them only further justify the film debuting in theaters. Even when the film was stuck in several years of development hell, it was safe to say that Batgirl remained a character who was recognizable to a lot of general audience members, whether they know her from Yvonne Craig’s portrayal in the 60s Batman TV show, the newer kid-friendly cartoons like DC Super-Hero Girls, or anything in between. While HBO Max’s numbers are continuing to improve, releasing Batgirl exclusively on the service would create a barrier of entry for a percentage of people who would possibly want to see the film. When you add in the cultural significance of Grace stepping into the role as an Afro-Latina actress, there’s the possibility for Batgirl to become a true pop culture moment if it is released in the right capacity.

Beyond Barbara’s own storied comic history, there’s also her unique role as a prominent member of the Batman family — something that we know the film is going to play off of, now that Michael Keaton is confirmed to be reprising his role as Batman following his initial onscreen return in The Flash. Granted, we’ll still have to wait over a full year to experience Keaton’s return in The Flash, but history has proven that there is a built-in audience for his portrayal of the character, and for practically anything with “Bat” in the title. The idea of seeing Keaton on the big screen once again — much less interacting with Barbara, who is one of his strongest onscreen allies in the comics — is something that could easily draw in a number of viewers, and could potentially help lead to the proper live-action “Bat-family” that fans have wanted to see onscreen for so many years.

Rumors have also swirled that Grace’s portrayal of Barbara could have a larger role in the overall DC Films universe, potentially joining the Justice League alongside Sasha Calle’s Kara Zor-El / Supergirl, who will initially debut in The Flash. If those rumors do prove to be true, and Batgirl becomes a key component of the next Justice League roster, it would be invaluable to have her solo film debut in theaters ahead of time, and for as many fans as possible to get invested in her before she joins the team.

Even beyond the narrative and pop culture perks of having Batgirl open in theaters, recent trends have indicated that it could still perform very well on HBO Max after the fact. With Warner Bros. now utilizing a 45-day exclusive theatrical window (following a year of releasing their films simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max for a limited time), they’re allowing for multiple waves of audiences to experience their films at their leisure. Look no further than The Batman, which started out with the second-best box office performance of the pandemic thus far at $759 million worldwide and counting. The film has now gotten a second wind since it was released on HBO Max earlier this month, pulling in 4.1 million households in its first week and beating the streaming performances of nearly all of the studio’s 2021 films. Again, part of that success could probably be attributed to the film being about one of the most well-known characters in popular culture — a character that Batgirl is also under the umbrella of, albeit in a separate continuity. Releasing Batgirl in theaters with a 45-day exclusive window could allow for the film to get a similar kind of success — capturing some of the audience it would have gotten just as a solely HBO Max release, while also giving that audience the option to see it on the big screen.

While there’s no telling exactly what the future holds for DC’s Batgirl film, the stars seem almost perfectly aligned to have the project release in theaters, instead of solely on HBO Max. Not only would it add another unique, compelling hit to DC’s ever-growing roster of theatrical films, but it would finally give Barbara Gordon the cinematic treatment that she deserves.

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