Warner Bros. guts movies for tax write-offs, harms industry

Samy Burch has written two feature films in her career. The first, “May December” debuted on Netflix last November, and is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.


Samy Burch has written two feature films in her career. The first, “May December” debuted on Netflix last November, and is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The second, “Coyote vs. Acme,” will likely be deliberately destroyed.

“Coyote vs. Acme” was originally envisioned as Warner Bros. Discovery’s July 2023 theatrical release, but it was replaced by “Barbie,” and disappeared from the company’s release calendar. Last November, it was reported that the film would no longer be released at all, instead the studio planned to shelve it for a $30 million tax write-off. This means that when filing taxes, the company reports the film as having zero worth, and therefore it isn’t taxed, and the company can no longer profit off of it. The film is completed, a live action animated hybrid pic about Wile E. Coyote filing a lawsuit against the Acme Corporation. It stars big names: Will Forte, John Cena, and Lana Condor, and reportedly cost the studio $72 million in total, meaning that its cancellation is a substantial loss. But not only is this a short-sighted business move, it’s a highly offensive and anti-art stance.

WBD has pulled this trick before, namely with “Batgirl” and “Scoob! Holiday Haunt,” both completed or near-completed franchise films set for a 2022 HBO Max release that were canceled in the wake of its merger for tax write-offs of undisclosed amounts. But cancellations of this type are unprecedented in the film industry – and all three are among the costliest canceled films in history. Most other films on that list faced extenuating or unusual circumstances where they could not be released, such as the 2009 film “Black Water Transit” which was canned after extensive litigation and a fraud conviction against one of the movie’s producers. 

The official reasonings for all three recent WBD cancellations are nowhere near as understandable. Supposedly, “Batgirl” was “not releasable” and “would have hurt DC” according to DC studios head Peter Safran, who took over after its cancellation. But that seems hard to imagine given that DC was about to release “Black Adam” and “The Flash,” which are both vile. The studio never even bothered to officially comment on why it threw out “Scoob! Holiday Haunt,” and it half-heartedly tried to pawn “Coyote vs. Acme” off to other distributors, but declined to hear their offers, instead asking for a take-it-or-leave-it $75 million sum.

The precedent set by these cancellations is a dangerous one for an ever-unstable industry. If movies continue to be simply wiped from existence like this, both consumer and creator trust will quickly erode. Film cancellations also inevitably hurt the artists that worked on them, like “Scoob! Holiday Haunt” co-director Michael Kurinsky, who had called his film a “dream come true.” Also, CEO David Zaslav has a strategy of canceling fully-developed projects to exploit tax loopholes is a clear-cut example of businessmen putting profit over art.

Though no completed film ought ever be canceled for financial gain, “Coyote vs. Acme” is particularly shameful because reportedly, it was quite good. The film consistently scored well into the 90s, according to Brian Duffield, who called the film “excellent.” “It’s beautifully shot. The animation is great,” wrote Ben David Grabinski, another writer who saw the film. “The ending makes everyone cry,” he said.  

 “Coyote vs. Acme” had a final internal “funeral screening” for cast and crew in November. Unless something changes before WBD’s earnings call on Feb. 23, it will be the last time anyone ever sees that ending.