3D mermaids, CobraGator and Louis CK: the never-released films Batgirl will join in Hollywood’s vault of shame
Until this week, it was hard to look upon the imminent Batgirl movie with anything but a wearied sigh. By all accounts the movie, starring Leslie Grace and directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, looked like another flailing Warner Bros attempt to expand the DCEU in every possible direction without any sort of overarching plan. It was destined to be quickly forgotten, in other words.
But not this quickly. Because this week Warner Bros Discovery revealed that nobody was ever going to see Batgirl. Not in cinemas, not on streaming, not anywhere. And this isn’t because it was scrapped during development, either. The thing is finished. It was shot in Glasgow over four months at the start of the year. It had a budget of $90m. But apparently, according to insiders, the whole thing is so terrible that the studio would rather lock it away than let anyone see it. And this is a studio that just released DC League of Superpets, so it has to really stink.
This might not be the end of Batgirl, of course. If the last few years have been any indication, then it’ll only take a handful of frothing fanboys and their supporting army of bots to pressure Warner Bros into releasing the Batgirl cut. But if this really is it – if Batgirl really is destined to be locked in a vault unseen until the end of time – then at least it finds itself in decent company. Here are some other notorious movies that have never been allowed to see the light of day.
Arguably the most notorious example of film left unseen, The Day the Clown Cried was Jerry Lewis’s attempt to fuse a clown movie with a Holocaust movie. Almost unrelentingly bleak – the film ends with Lewis’s clown leading a young Jewish girl by the hand into a gas chamber – the film clattered into a number of problems during production. First it ran out of money and then, after Lewis had spent $2m of his own money to complete it, one of the scriptwriters declared that it was a “disaster”, and blocked Lewis from releasing it. Lewis himself eventually came around to this view, telling Entertainment Weekly in 2013: “No one will ever see it, because I am embarrassed at the poor work.”. Jerry Lewis died in 2017, and the film remains unreleased.
This arrived out of the blue in 2017, when it was revealed that comedian Louis CK had written, directed and financed the entire thing in secret following the collapse of the previously announced project I’m a Cop. The film premiered at the Toronto international film festival in September, and a release was set for that November. However, the release was pulled with a week’s notice when the New York Times published a damaging report about CK’s sexual misconduct with women. Exacerbating the problem was the film’s plot, about an ageing director who seduces a 17-year-old girl. The film still has not been officially released, but it isn’t hard to find a copy online. By all accounts, it isn’t very good.
Now this one really is intriguing. CobraGator is a Syfy movie, directed by Jim Wynorski for Roger Corman, about an insane scientist who fuses the DNA of a king cobra and an alligator, and watches in dismay as the resulting creature goes on a murderous rampage. The film was shot in two weeks in 2014, and starred Michael Madsen. A trailer was released, and yet the film itself never made it to television. We can only speculate as to why this was, although perhaps it failed to live up to the high quality of other Syfy work such as 5-Headed Shark Attack or Mansquito. Still, if nothing else, CobraGator left us with an incredible poster.
A $130m underwater 3D fantasy starring Olga Kurylenko as the queen of the mermaids sounds like the best film of 2011. And that’s when Empires of the Deep was set to be released. The brainchild of billionaire businessman Jon Jiang, the production hired James Cameron collaborator Randall Frakes to develop the story, and 10 other screenwriters to write it. However, as a Chinese-American co-production, the film quickly ran into a number of cultural and communication problems. The crew complained about late payments. An actor complained about unsafe working conditions and walked off set; producers retaliated by withholding her passport. By all reports a terrible film, Empires of the Deep failed to find distribution in 2014, and a 2016 crowdfunding campaign failed to help get it on to screens.
And now a happy ending. In 2018 it was announced that Michael Flatley – yes, that Michael Flatley, Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley – had written, directed, financed and starred in a globetrotting spy thriller called Blackbird. Not much was known about the film, other than that most of it seemed to feature Flatley wearing a fedora and gazing into the middle distance. It was first screened at London’s Raindance film festival in September 2018, but resulted in zero reviews or Twitter reactions, and – despite Flatley’s insistence that Blackbird 2 was in pre-production – promptly disappeared from view. But miracles do happen. Last month Flatley announced that Blackbird would be released into Irish cinemas in September. Enterprisingly, the Bristol Bad Film Club has also secured a screening on 2 September, on an Imax screen no less. Maybe one day, if the stars align, they can do the same for Batgirl.