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With Road Runner-like speed, Warner Bros. Discovery has reversed its decision to bury Coyote vs. Acme.
The studio will now allow director Dave Green to shop his live-action/animation hybrid movie to other potential buyers instead of shelving the project for a tax write off, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed. Amazon is said to be a contender in the mix, with screenings for potential buyers taking place this month. Puck was first to report the news on the reversal.
The move comes days after the The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that Coyote vs. Acme would become Warners third already-shot film to get shelved after previously nixing nearly completed projects Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt in August 2022.
After Batgirl and Scoob! were dumped, a group of filmmakers with business at the studio started a text chain — a support group of sorts — to share their hopes and their anxieties, as well as encouragement and tips for navigating the studio. The one question all of them had: What was going on with their movies?
The Coyote cancelation roiled the creative community perhaps even harder than Batgirl and Scoob!, because those had been positioned as a one-off change in strategy, never to happen again. According to sources, after the Coyote vs. Acme news broke last week, several filmmakers instructed reps to cancel meetings they had on the books with Warners. But now that Coyote may ultimately find a new home, these filmmakers are taking a wait-and-see approach.
Unlike the other films Warners canceled, Coyote vs. Acme was fully completed and had tested multiple times in the 90s. (Best picture winner Argo, both Deadpool movies, and the first The Conjuring are among features that likewise tested in the 90s.) According to sources who have seen the film — which stars Will Forte, John Cena and Lana Condor — Coyote vs. Acme is a popcorn-style crowd-pleaser.
“Coyote vs. Acme is a great movie,” tweeted writer-director BenDavid Grabinski, who worked with Green on Happily. “The best of its kind since (Who Framed) Roger Rabbit … The leads are super likable. It’s beautifully shot. The animation is great. The ending makes everyone fucking cry. I thought the goal of this business was to make hit movies?”
After Batgirl was shelved, a narrative emerged that the film was axed because it wasn’t very good. “Our job is to protect the DC brand, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Warner Bros. Discovery CEO Zaslav declared during 2022 investor’s call days after the cancelation. Peter Safran, who became the head of DC Studios after Batgirl was shelved, said the team behind the film was talented, but that Batgirl “was not releasable” in remarks to press in January.
Green’s industry friends mobilized to prevent that kind of messaging from tainting the reputation of Coyote vs. Acme. There is still a planned “funeral screening” this week on the Warners lot, according to sources, though “funeral” is no longer an apt term for a project that may very well find new life.
“I don’t know how you see the movie and then go, ‘That couldn’t happen to me,’” says Brian Duffield, the filmmaker behind the sleeper Hulu hit No One Will Save You. Duffield was not involved in Coyote vs. Acme, but is friends with Green and gave notes on the film.
Part of Duffield’s frustration, he says, was that Green did everything that was asked of him: he delivered the film, which sources say cost $72 million, on budget. He hit the right test scores. He even moved away from his friends and family to London for 18 months to save the studio money on post-production costs. All this, only to see his film get run off a cliff.
Duffield believes that Coyote can make money — certainly more than the tax write-off.
“I think Coyote is really similar to Barbie in a lot of ways,” says Duffield. “They are playing with iconography in a really fun, popcorn kind of way.”
Veteran film executives acknowledge that shelving a film for a tax-writeoff — and to avoid distribution and marketing costs — can make an earnings quarter look better, but it can be short-sighted for a studio in the business of building franchises and a slate.
The decision followed the industry taking a hard turn from a streaming boom golden age that saw studios shelling out unprecedented billions on content, particularly titles related to a familiar IP like Coyote vs. Acme. Some saw Warners’ bottom-line ruthlessness as less of a new way of mistreating talent than a return to how Hollywood used to be.
“The idea that there was a little window there where a lot of people got to try a lot of stuff they wouldn’t have gotten to try in normal circumstances, that’s the anomaly,” one top writer-producer said. “The kind of red tooth and claw version of (conducting business), the nastiness — I think that’s the norm.”
Still, it’s easy to imagine that if an in-demand creative has an all-things-being-equal choice of going with Warners or another studio in the future, that Zaslav’s aggressive tax strategies could give real pause — even with the reversal. Zaslav previously reversed an unpopular decision — the gutting of TCM — after an outcry from creatives including Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson.
Interestingly, the plot of Coyote vs. Acme follows the speechless, ever-determined Wile E. Coyote as he teams up with a lawyer (Forte) to fight the big ACME corporation. Just like in the cartoons, Coyote buys ACME devices to try and kill Road Runner, but they never work properly, and often abruptly explode. The third shelved Warners movie, in other words, is the story of an underdog taking on a heartless company whose executives don’t realize there can be real consequences to making their products blow up in your face.
—Pamela McClintock contributed to this story.