‘The Flash’: 3 Ways Warner Bros. Can Handle Its Ezra Miller Problem

Ezra Miller’s alleged behavior presents an unprecedented challenge for Warner Bros.’ The Flash.

We’ve had big movie stars, even quite recently, who got involved in public misbehavior and outright criminal activity, and yes we’ve had films outright shelved due to the offscreen revelations about a filmmaker. Just five years ago, Ridley Scott spent an extra $10 million to swap Kevin Spacey for Christopher Plummer in All the Money in the World after the former was accused of copious instances of sexual harassment and assault. Meanwhile, Louis C.K.’s directorial effort I Love You Daddy (a dramedy starring C.K. as a concerned father dealing with his daughter falling in with a much older, Woody Allen-like filmmaker) was pulled from release after rumblings about sexually inappropriate/unprofessional behavior went from long-simmering rumors to reported fact. And Johnny Depp was replaced by Mads Mikkelsen as Grindelwald in the third Fantastic Beasts film after a U.K. court found allegations of spousal abuse to be factually valid. However, the circumstances surrounding Ezra Miller’s star turn in The Flash are, quite simply, unprecedented in cinematic history.

Big-budget franchise films with explicit ties to related franchises are a relatively new phenomenon.

A mostly unknown actor fronting a (guestimated) $200 million comic book fantasy with explicit ties to a cinematic universe is a relatively new normal for Hollywood. It’s not like, intentionally over-the-top comparison, any future Christopher Reeves-led Superman movies would have been imperiled had Helen Slater been exposed as a serial murderer before the release of Supergirl. The failure of Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin ($235 million on a $130 million budget) 25 years ago isn’t what killed Tim Burton’s Superman Lives (which was supposed to open the next summer) any more than the disappointment of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns ($394 million on a $270 million budget) had any concrete impact on the production of The Dark Knight. However, The Flash was supposed to be a franchise launcher but a cinematic universe “mythology episode” (and rumored soft reboot) within the DC Films continuity. What can Warner Bros. Discovery do? It seems to boil down to three options. Sorry Dumbledore, but none of them are “right” or “easy.”

1. Warner Bros. Discovery can reshoot the film with a different actor.

I can’t even pretend to imagine how expensive it would be to recast Barry Allen (Dylan O’Brien seems to be a popular fan-cast choice) and reshoot most of the movie. The danger there, beyond just the scheduling and logistics, is a repeat of what we saw with Disney’s Solo: A Star Wars Story (where Chris Miller and Phil Lord were replaced by Ron Howard) and WB’s Justice League (where Snyder was replaced by Joss Whedon). The studios spent maybe 50% more money delivering final, over/under $300 million-budgeted films that were 10-20% more commercial. Unless The Flash pulls Aquaman grosses (Solo earned 1/3 of Rogue One’s $1.05 billion cume), the extra production expenses will turn a mere commercial disappointment into an outright financial catastrophe. Unless A) it can be done a lot cheaper than we’d all expect and/or B) there’s an insurance payout (as occurred when Paul Walker died in the middle of shooting Furious 7), that’s probably just throwing good money after bad.

2. WBD can release the film as is and center Batgirl and Batman.

WB could center the marketing and promotional campaign around Michael Keaton and Sasha Calle (playing DC Films’ version of Supergirl) and hold their breath. In a world where marquee characters are bigger draws than movie stars, a big-budget Flash movie (featuring Supergirl and the return of Michael Keaton as Batman 31 years after Batman Returns) could still succeed commercially. I’d wager most moviegoers beyond the perpetually online don’t know or care about Miller and their transgressions. Of course, neither of Keaton’s Batman movies were massively big overseas earners. may end up in a skewed situation where they have a winning Flash movie featuring a charismatic star performance that becomes useless for future DC films. If a huge part of The Flash is to have a specific cinematic incarnation of The Flash that will become an A-level movie star (think Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool or Jason Momoa’s Aquaman), then a hit Flash movie will make a Miller-free sequel even more complicated.

3. The Flash can race straight to HBO Max.

The cheapest option may just be dumping The Flash onto HBO Max. David Zaslav certainly isn’t about shy about taking an immediate financial hit (like dumping CNN+ just days after launch) as opposed to falling prey to sunk-cost fallacy. The Flash wouldn’t be of much value to the streamer, as A) most in-the-know subscribers would be aware of the circumstances and B) most who would sign up just for The Flash have already been onboard since Zack Snyder’s Justice League or James Gunn’s Peacemaker. A possible subscription boost is a lot less valuable than a global theatrical release, but at least the marketing expenses would be far lower. If the return of Michael Keaton is deemed theatre-worthy, they can always swap Miller’s The Flash for Leslie Grace’s Batgirl (currently set for HBO). That Zaslav is aware that theatrical films perform better on streaming than streaming premieres, and that director Andrés Muschietti is a prized WB asset admittedly muddies the waters on an HBO Max “demotion.”

Why the studio (arguably) didn’t act sooner.

I don’t envy Warner Bros. Miller as Barry Allen was a good idea for years until it suddenly wasn’t. Like, J.K. Rowling (whose arguably transphobic ramblings turned her into an unpopular-on-Twitter celebrity), Miller didn’t start getting into trouble until early 2020. That was, coincidentally, also right when Warner Bros. started courting the Snyder fanbase by announcing Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Right as Miller began to make headlines, Cyborg actor Ray Fisher publicly accused Joss Whedon of unprofessional and/or abusive behavior during the Justice League reshoots and WB higher-ups of enabling and covering up said behavior. The accusations, which were at least partially rooted in allegations of racial bias, may have made Warner Bros. more gun-shy about canning the openly queer (and Jewish) performer they had hired to headline The Flash. Add all of this up, and maybe (speculation) they were hoping for Miller (who, by the way, is an adult) to shape up their act or waiting for an explicit legal declaration of wrongdoing for cover. Alas, neither happened before the film finished production.

Ezra Miller was a smart casting choice eight years ago.

The film isn’t scheduled for release for a year, June 23, 2023, which would mark the 34th anniversary of Tim Burton’s Batman. It would be a bittersweet way to mark the tenth anniversary of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (June 14, 2013) which was supposed to launch WB’s answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. No, I don’t blame Zack Snyder’s casting for any of this. First, WB made their big “here is your Justice League cast” announcement way back in October of 2014. At the time choosing a quirky, eccentric and “weird in a good way” indie darling like the openly queer (and now genderfluid) Miller to play Barry Allen was inspired “Marvel would never!” casting. Since then, Miller’s work has been defined almost entirely by a theoretical Flash movie, with a small supporting role in Trainwreck and supporting roles in Justice League and the three Fantastic Beasts movies. That Miller’s scandals have become viral online news highlights how much superhero movies dominate the discourse.

WBD has plenty of time to make a decision.

Warner Bros. Discovery still has several months to internally debate. If most of the more serious allegations are true and Miller doesn’t end up sober and mentally on the mend in time to promote the movie next summer, Warner Bros. will have to make a decision. Sending it to HBO Max is the cheapest option, but also the least commercially beneficial. Just releasing the movie as is may be more profitable (or less money-losing) than recasting. However, it leaves the Flash franchise in the same place it would be if no movie existed. Spending the time and money to reshoot may mean less profit or losing even more money if the movie isn’t very good or if The Scarlett Speedster isn’t as big of a marquee draw as hoped. However, it’s a bet on creating long-term value for a speedster-centric franchise within DC Films. Come what may, Ezra Miller’s The Flash typifies an entirely new kind of Hollywood problem for a comparatively new kind of Hollywood.

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