Why would you scrap a movie that is all but finished before anyone except studio suits have had a chance to see it? The answer, for Hollywood bigwigs, is a tax write-off. In the last 18 months, Warner Bros has deleted a live-action Looney Tunes riff, Coyote vs Acme; the animated adventure Scoob! Holiday Haunt; and, most infamously, the $90m DC Extended Universe flick Batgirl. Now Netflix seems to be getting in on the act with news this week that the Halle Berry-led sci-fi tale The Mothership is also being axed before critics have had the chance to view it. Has it also fallen victim to the twisted machinations of nefarious accountants?
It’s probably fair to say that a cheesy-sounding Scooby Doo episode and a movie that would have starred John Cena as a lawyer going up against Wile E Coyote probably don’t count as monumental totems of 21st-century cinema that have now been lost for ever in the cruel mists of time. Still, a lot of people quite liked the idea of Batgirl, and ultimately felt cheated that the people who ponied up the money to get this thing made decided it was too risky to actually release.
So why is Netflix at it now? The streaming service has made headlines ever since it first emerged from the death spiral of the home video era for striking ambitious deals that more traditional studios would never have entered into. There was Adam Sandler’s spectacular (at the time) four-movie deal, the more recent decision to acquire rights to the entire Roald Dahl back catalogue, and even its ill-fated dalliance with Harry and Meghan. So it’s hardly surprising that we’ve now discovered – it seems nobody noticed when it was announced – that Netflix has had a content deal with Halle Berry to release multiple films ever since it picked up her 2020 directorial debut Bruised after its premiere at the Toronto film festival.
The streamer is still due to release Berry’s The Union, about a construction worker (Mark Wahlberg) who is roped into espionage by his former high school girlfriend. But assuming that The Mothership has gone the same way as its less-than-illustrious predecessors, the film will now only exist in any tangible form as a line on a set of accounts.
For those of us who love sci-fi, this has to be a worrying turn of events. For every 20 half-decent superhero flicks, there is perhaps just a single attempt at an intelligent vision of futurism hitting cinemas. And out of every 10 of these films, only one or two is actually any good. Chances are that The Mothership, which was centred on a single mother who discovers an extraterrestrial object on her farm that is linked to her husband’s disappearance one year before, would not have been 2024’s I Am Mother or Ex Machina. But the possibility that it just might have been will now remain hanging in the air like a tiny culture bomb whirling for ever in the echo chamber of misery.
The InSneider newsletter reports that Netflix bosses couldn’t get their heads around the fact that Berry’s film needed reshoots, more pertinently that its child stars had aged in the three years since the movie first wrapped in 2021. That sounds like pretty bad planning for a movie that must have had a budget stretching into tens of millions of dollars. Writing it off just seems like such a waste.
Netflix was once known as the streaming service that loved to pick up cherished cancelled shows the US networks could no longer find a home for and give them a new lease of life. It’s the home of Black Mirror, the greatest anthological sci-fi show of modern times. Surely they can do better than this.