More than a year after the Warner Bros. Discovery merger ushered in the removal of multiple HBO Max TV series and original films, including the total cancellation of a $90 million Batgirl movie, the company is pulling the plug on yet another completed project. On Thursday, it was confirmed that Warner Bros. has scrapped plans to release Coyote vs. Acme, a live-action and CG animation hybrid film starring John Cena that completed filming last year, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“With the re-launch of Warner Bros. Pictures Animation in June, the studio has shifted its global strategy to focus on theatrical releases,” a WB Motion Picture Group spokesperson said in a statement. “With this new direction, we have made the difficult decision not to move forward with Coyote vs Acme. We have tremendous respect for the filmmakers, casts, and crew, and are grateful for their contributions to the film.”
Based on a New Yorker humor piece by Ian Frazier published in 1990 and adapted by Samy Burch, who also wrote Todd Haynes’ upcoming awards contender May December, the film centers on Looney Tunes character Wile E. Coyote (played by Cena) as he seeks legal action against Acme after the company’s products fail in his pursuit of the Road Runner. Co-starring Will Forte and Lana Condor, the project was announced in 2020 and dated for theatrical release on July 21, 2023, before it was wiped from the calendar and replaced by Barbie.
When Batgirl was shelved last year after advanced screenings, a Warner Bros. Picture spokesperson blamed the move on “our leadership’s strategic shift as it relates to the DC universe and HBO Max.” But sources told Variety that Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav intended to take a tax write-down from the film, rather than spending an additional $30 million to $50 million into marketing it. Coyote vs. Acme reportedly came with a $72 million price tag and had begun receiving high audience scores at early test screenings. YetWarner Bros. leadership has apparently similarly balked at pouring any money into promoting the project for release. According to Deadline, the company plans to take an estimated $30 million write-down on the production.
While cutting losses by canceling projects is not a new strategy for Zaslav’s company, it’s surprising that Warner Bros. would choose to shelve a film that involves so much marquee talent involved. DC Studios co-head James Gunn produced the film and worked on its story. Director Dave Green, who previously helmed 2016’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, is developing a project at the company’s New Line Cinema division. And Cena stars in Max’s DC show Peacemaker, which is due to return for a second season. (Vanity Fair has reached out to a rep for the actor for comment.)
“For three years, I was lucky enough to make a movie about Wile E. Coyote, the most persistent, passionate, and resilient character of all time,” Green wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “I was surrounded by a brilliant team, who poured their souls into this project for years. We were all determined to honor the legacies of these historic characters and actually get them right. Along the ride, we were embraced by test audiences who rewarded us with fantastic scores. I am beyond proud of the final product, and beyond devastated by WB’s decision. But in the spirit of Wile E. Coyote, resilience and persistence win the day.”
Composer Steven Price shared a snippet of the film’s score to social media, “as no-one will be able to hear it now, due to bizarre anti-art studio financial shenanigans I will never understand.”