The future of Batman on the big screen is surprisingly uncertain at this point. A new, standalone film is being written by Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes), but Ben Affleck has not been confirmed for the role of Bruce Wayne, Batman's billionaire alter-ego.
"You don’t do it forever, so I want to find a graceful and cool way to segue out of it." Affleck told USA Today in 2017.
That was a long time ago. Who knows what Affleck thinks now. Inked to a five-movie deal with Warner Brothers, the Boston native has not fared well wearing the cape and cowl thus far. Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, and Justice League were all skewered by critics. Justice League 2 and the standalone Bat film would complete the deal, but a lot could also change.
Batfleck returning is besides the point. Whether he does or not, someone else will eventually succeed him in what has become one of the premiere franchise roles in film (next to James Bond). Batman is, along with Ethan Hunt, the closest thing Americans have to their own 007. Batman movies will continue being produced until we die. He's a legendary character with hundreds of comic storylines. In the next century, we'll see Future Batman, Black Batman, Steampunk Batman, Picasso Batman, Spider-Batman... and, of course, Batgirl (who already has a movie being made about her).
We give Batfleck another year as Bruce Wayne. Batman won't be handed to an unknown or marginal actor. This is a big role, which is why guys like Michael Keaton (huge star at the time), Christian Bale (on the cusp of stardom), and Ben Affleck (huge star) have been handed the keys to the Batmobile in the past.
Bruce Wayne, the alter-ego, is wealthy, flamboyant, cocksure, confident, and essentially a movie star. He's famous in Gotham City and hides in plain sight. Wayne was named for Robert the Bruce, the Scottish nobleman who fought for his people's rights. His intentions are good, but he also plays the rich playboy well for the tabloids. Whomever portrays Wayne must be versatile. Actors like Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Robert Redford were always immediately believable as wealthy, no matter their ages, but they could also play blue collar. We need someone like that.
We also need someone, and this is important, likable. Affleck, for all his positive traits, isn't the most popular guy in Hollywood and I think that hurt him as Batman. People wanted him to fail. Everyone ever cast in the role has been beaten up in the press afterwards. The fans always overreact, but Affleck was really lambasted. Warner Bros. needs an actor the fans are excited about.
What really throws a wrench in the gears is the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the success of comic movies in general. Every major actor has played a superhero at this point so all the best choices are already established as another hero, or worn out from years in Marvel movies. But there must be a few stars still available, right? Marvel may have most of the great comic book characters — Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Man, Captain America. But DC Comics has Batman, the most cinematic, best comic (don't call him super) hero of them all. Everyone is in the draft queue. Here are five actors we like for Batman, and five we don't.
1. Leonardo DiCaprio
Here's the guy everyone wants to be a superhero and he's probably not interested, but he maybe, might, could be enticed with the right script and director. Leo's turned down a Batman movie in the past, Batman and Robin, but that was to play the sidekick, Robin, not the Bat. He also rejected an offer to play Spider-Man (the part his buddy, Tobey Maguire, nabbed eventually). DiCaprio wasn't impressed with those roles, but Bruce Wayne? Batman? Wayne has the Jay Gatsby vibe and Leo went for that character. He's probably not down, but DiCaprio is the dream choice for Batman. He's an established, popular star who knows how to be both suave and intimidating. And he's a screamer. He'd be great with the voice. He might also lure Christopher Nolan back.
2. Jake Gyllenhaal
Gyllenhaal was Christopher Nolan's second choice to play Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. Christian Bale beat him out. Years later, he's still a great pick. Gyllenhaal has cemented his place among the most talented and in-demand names in Hollywood. He's also smart about the movies he makes so he's picky about any role. Gyllenhaal has already obtained cult comic status as Donnie Darko, one of the most underrated superheroes in movies. But his first real foray into the genre will come this summer. He's playing Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Might a little taste of comic book movie pasta be addictive enough to entice Jake in a Batman rendezvous? He'd be great. Also a screamer, but more importantly, someone who would bring real intensity to the character.
3. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Many fans liked Gordon-Levitt to take over for Bale after The Dark Knight Rises ended the Nolan trilogy. But his character in the movie, John Blake, was revealed to be Nolan's version of Robin so perhaps a Robin movie would be next? Seven years later, neither has happened so why not a reboot? Gordon-Levitt hasn't been soiled by the Marvel machine and has more than enough star power for the role.
4. Keanu Reeves
As recently as December, Reeves said he always had interest in playing Batman or Wolverine, but the roles were already cast. Keanu hasn't made any Marvel comic book movies yet, but he has played a DC superhero (Constantine), and he's always beating people with style (John Wick, The Matrix trilogy, Man of Tai Chi). He was made for Batman, even at age 54. Reeves might be the best choice based on voice only. He has plenty of martial arts training and his dark hair and dark eyes are tailor-made. Plus: Fans would freak. Reeves as Batman would be universally applauded.
5. Jason Momoa
There is no bigger star on the planet right now than Jason Momoa. Aquaman is a global blockbuster and everyone is fighting to get this guy in their movies. But leave that aside. Momoa is one of the most physical, primal actors we have working today. He could create a dark, ballistic Batman that no other actor could. One big problem: He's already Aquaman. Warner Bros. and DC would have to shitcan the current DC Extended Universe and start over. And I say do it! Wait a few years and start from scratch. Momoa can play Aquaman in the meantime and then make the switch.
Obviously, this will never happen, but that's why we call it "dream casting."
Honorable mentions: Josh Brolin, Chris Pine, Ryan Gosling, Daniel Craig, Chris Pratt, Dominic Cooper
Give them a few more years: Nicholas Hoult, Tom Holland, Daniel Kaluuya, Timothée Chalamet, Lucas Hedges
Anyone but these seemingly good, but boring choices: Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon, Jon Hamm, Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill, Kit Harington