More than any other character, Barbara Gordon is the center of the Birds of Prey. When Barbara was paralyzed from the waist down following the events of The Killing Joke, Gordon felt cut-off from the high-flying life she once lived. Then, she ised her formidable intellect and technological skills to reinvent herself as Oracle, the proverbial woman in the chair behind Batman's entire operation. And when she wasn't working with the Dark Knight, she united a team of women with gifts who could combat crime and protect the innocent: the Birds of Prey.
However, Barbara Gordon is nowhere to be found in the upcoming Birds of Prey film. Instead, Harley Quinn seemingly takes her role as the team's ideological center by bringing together a team of disenfranchised women to find value in themselves. So this begs the question: why is Harley Quinn uniting this team rather than Batgirl?
The Complicated Story of Barbara Gordon in Live-Action
Barbara Gordon should have a movie by now. As of yet, the character hasn't truly appeared in live-action since the 1960s Adam West series and the short-lived early 2000s Birds of Prey TV series. While a version of Barbara appeared in 1997's Batman & Robin, this iteration was Alfred's daughter, not Commissioner Gordon's. When crafting The Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan deliberately refused including any members of the Bat Family, outside of a cheeky Easter Egg surrounding a character named "Robin," in the Dark Knight Rises.
Following the DC Extended Universe reboot with Man of Steel, a Batgirl film was announced, to be written and directed by Joss Whedon. Although Whedon had an idea for the project, he abruptly left the production. Although the project found a new screenwriter in Christina Hodson, Batgirl seemingly slipped down the priority list.
Without a pre-existing live-action Batgirl, Birds of Prey would have had to establish her along with the rest of the film's cast. film could be released, which would've made the selling of the film even harder.
DC Needs Hits
Ever since Justice League dramatically disappointed at the box office, the DC Extended Universe has found itself in a state of semi-constant turmoil and shifting plans. While some DC-based movies like Wonder Woman, Aquaman and even Joker performed well at the box office, Justice League cast a shadow of uncertainty around all of Warner Bros.' DC movies.
With that in mind, DC movies need every possible advantage they can get, and Harley Quinn's immense popularity is a big advantage for Birds of Prey.
Despite failing to impress critics, Suicide Squad was a surprising hit. While audiences might've been generally divided by Jared Leto's Joker, they walked away loving Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn. Before development started on a sequel to Suicide Squad, more projects surrounding Harley Quinn began to surface.
At first, Harley was to appear in an announced Gotham City Sirens film, but this film faded away as focus moved to a Birds of Prey film, where Harley could be the central star, helping to introduce a whole new roster of women to the team. Due to Birds of Prey's low budget and Margot Robbie's star power, it moved forward far, far faster than a more special-effects heavy film like The Suicide Squad or Gotham City Sirens would.
Furthermore, Harley Quinn is currently in a role that would put her in the perfect position to unite the Birds of Prey. Harley works best in a team on screen. Every iteration of her has featured her working with other characters, helping introducing more obscure characters to general audiences. She already did that with characters like Captain Boomerang, so there's no reason she couldn't serve a similar function for Rene Montoya.
The Birds of Prey need an established character at their center. Someone with history. Someone who, by uniting the team, has something to prove to the world. Barbara Gordon, as far as we know, doesn't exist in this universe. But we know Harley and her struggles. She's a character audiences are already invested in going into this film.
However, while this Barbara Gordon-less Birds of Prey may be disappointing to many Barbara Gordon fans, this isn't entirely bad news.
Batgirl is Still Getting a Movie (and a Batgirl is in Birds of Prey)
Christina Hodson, the writer for Birds of Prey and last year's Bumblebee, is still writing a script for a Batgirl movie. This film is being developed separately from her Birds of Prey script. However, two important things to note is that Barbara Gordon is getting a whole film to introduce her character, which might eventually tie into a potential sequel to the Birds of Prey -- especially seeing as how The Suicide Squad will bring Harley back into her old team.
Furthermore, there is still a Batgirl being introduced in Birds of Prey: Ella Jay Basco's Cassandra Cain. Though as of now it doesn't appear to be that she will become Batgirl any time soon, Cassandra Cain will technically be the first Batgirl to appear in the DCEU. While she might end up taking her current comic codename, Orphan instead of Batgirl, Cain and Gordon have a major relationship in the DC comics, with Oracle struggling to mentor the new Batgirl despite Cain's numerous personal difficulties.
Regardless, maybe in a sequel we can see an established Barbara Gordon take the mantle. However, it is uncertain if she will take the mantle as the brilliant Oracle or as Batgirl. Still, if Birds of Prey warrants a sequel, it will probably only be a matter of time until Batgirl takes flight with her old team.
Directed by Cathy Yan from a script by Christina Hodson, Birds of Prey stars Margot Robbie, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, and Ewan McGregor. It is scheduled to be released on Feb. 7, 2020.