It seems fair to say that no film franchise in history has matched the DC Extended Universe’s level of divisiveness. Every creative decision, from casting announcements to directorial shake-ups, has been dissected ad nauseam by the fan base, to say nothing of the controversy generated by the three films the shared cinematic universe has actually produced thus far. Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad have all managed to split comic fans right down the middle, with some appreciating their novel approach to the superhero genre, and others decrying their overly morose tone.
Given just how divisive the DCEU has proven to be, it may have come as a bit of a surprise then that yesterday’s bombshell rumor would be something pretty much every comic book fan can get behind: a Nightwing solo film is reportedly on the way. According to THR, Lego Batman director Chris McKay is in talks to helm the project, which is still very much in the planning stages as of this writing.
Dick Grayson’s DCEU debut has been a hotly anticipated one, to say the least. Past live-action iterations of the original Boy Wonder have underwhelmed, but the opportunity is certainly there for Warner Bros. and DC to shine a whole new light on Batman‘s first (and, let’s be honest, best) sidekick. Casting a note-perfect Grayson will be key, and so we thought we’d lend a helping hand. In no particular order, here are 15 Actors Who Should Play Nightwing.
15. Dylan O’Brien
One of the first questions asked when it comes to casting the former Robin will be just how old the character should be. With Ben Affleck’s Batman — and yes, he’s still attached to play the Dark Knight — in his mid-40s at this point in his crimefighting career, it would make the most sense to bring in a Dick Grayson that appears to be in his late-20s to early-30s. In that regard, 25-year-old Dylan O’Brien may be a bit on the young side, but it’s hard to deny that the hyper-talented up and comer would be a fine choice for the role.
Now nearly two years removed from being a rumored frontrunner for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s take on Spider-Man, O’Brien has only further solidified his rise in Hollywood with noteworthy turns in Deepwater Horizon and his Maze Runner franchise. Any doubts about the young actor’s readiness to take on such an action-heavy role could soon be put to rest with the upcoming adaptation of Vince Flynn’s American Assassin novel, in which he’ll star alongside former Batman Michael Keaton. O’Brien has been a potential breakout candidate for a few years now, but this headlining role could very well have a Matt Damon/Jason Bourne-like effect on his career, allowing for the sort of meteoric rise that can only be topped by a turn in a particular pair of blue and black tights.
If DC elects to go with a younger Dick Grayson, one that can be a major player in their shared universe for years to come (and possibly even lead a Teen Titans movie), O’Brien appears to be the man for the job.
14. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Moving from one end of the age spectrum to the other, 36-year-old Joseph Gordon-Levitt would definitely be one of the older candidates Warner Bros. would ever consider casting in this film. And having already starred as Robin John Blake in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, his odds of appearing in the rebooted version of the same universe appear to be on the slim side. Then again, there’s a reason why he’s been a fan-favorite to play Dick Grayson for so long: he might just be perfect for the role.
Physically speaking, Gordon-Levitt is an excellent match for the character’s pretty boy looks and lean frame, and he undeniably exudes the sort of charm that Nightwing has come to be defined by. Now that he’s dropped out as director and star of the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, he might just have room on his dance card for a truer take on Robin, but whether or not he’d be interested in returning to the DC world is another matter entirely.
Continuity confusions aside (casual Bat-fans could take his casting to mean that the two takes on the Caped Crusader are somehow connected), JGL’s youthful appearance will allow him to play younger characters for a while yet. Should he be open to the idea, he could be the safest option on the board for DC.
13. Lewis Tan
A relative newcomer to the industry, Lewis Tan already has some comic book experience under his belt. The former model and professional stunt man has had a handful of guest spots on hit series like NCIS: Los Angeles and Hawaii Five-0, but it’s his upcoming role on Netflix’s Iron Fist that’s had his name in the headlines as of late.
Having originally auditioned to play the eponymous hero of the series, Tan was passed over for the lead in favor of Game of Thrones alum Finn Jones, though he later signed on to play the villainous Zhou Cheng, a man tasked with killing anyone who takes on the power of the Iron Fist. The 30-year-old obviously checks out in terms of the character’s physical requirements, but if you take a look at his Vimeo page, you can see that he’s no slouch in the acting department, either. He’s certainly a worthy candidate to play the former Boy Wonder, and if he’s willing to jump ship from Marvel to DC (and assuming Marvel has no grand future plans for Zhou), he’d be wise to secure himself an audition.
12. Garrett Hedlund
Garrett Hedlund is one of those actors who seems to pop up in every superhero casting call you’ve ever come across. He’s also one of those guys that’s seemingly been on the verge of a breakout for the better part of a decade, though he hasn’t quite lived up to his billing as Hollywood’s next “it” actor.
Despite the shortcomings of the would-be franchise starters like Tron: Legacy and Pan that stand out like a sore thumb on his resume, the 32-year-old has quietly put together a respectable string of solid performances in lower-profile films like On the Road and Inside Llewyn Davis. His ability to disappear into a role and command the screen is not to be underestimated, and we think he’d be an excellent choice to bring Nightwing to life in the DCEU. If you require further proof that he’s more than a guy that simply looks like a movie star, be sure to check out his turn in the critically acclaimed period drama Mudbound, which will debut on Netflix sometime in 2017.
11. Riz Ahmed
One of the fastest rising stars in Hollywood, Riz Ahmed has seemingly come out of nowhere to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with on-screen. The 34-year-old had an absolutely monstrous 2016, starring in Jason Bourne, The Night Of, and a little-known film called Rogue One. Granted, his widely-acclaimed supporting role in the 2014 thriller Nightcrawler was the one that put him on the map, but there’s no denying that the past 12 months have been the finest of his career.
How he could ever hope to top such a remarkable year is anyone’s guess, but as of now, he’s only in line for a brief stint on the final season of HBO’s Girls. Aside from that, his 2017 has so much room for activities. There’s little doubt that quality offers are landing on this guy’s desk day in and day out (and if they’re not, Tinseltown should just give up forever), but if he were interested in taking a trip to Blüdhaven, he’d certainly be an inspired dark horse candidate for the gig.
Bonus points for being able to hold his own rapping alongside Childish Gambino himself, Donald Glover.
10. Jake Gyllenhaal
Casting big name stars in superhero projects often attracts as much controversy as it does enthusiasm (see: Michael Keaton/Ben Affleck as Batman, Chris Evans as Captain America, etc.). The increased price tag that such a performer can command to sign on for a multi-picture deal isn’t exactly something studios look forward to, either. And from top to bottom, there’s no bigger star on this list than Jake Gyllenhaal.
Aside from his sheer starpower, other obstacles stand in the way of this slice of dreamcasting. He may not look it, but Gyllenhaal just turned 36, and now that he’s in the prime of his career, he’s one of the most in-demand actors around. And while he’s apparently not opposed to the idea of stepping into the comic-verse, he seems to have his heart set on the Dark Knight himself. When asked on Mike & Mike which superhero he’d like to play, he responded simply, “Batman…you kidding me?”
It’s hard to imagine Gyllenhaal signing on to play the second greatest hero Gotham has ever seen, so unless DCEU Dick Grayson is set to take up the cape and cowl like he did after Batman’s death in Final Crisis — or the actor manages to outright replace Affleck as Bruce Wayne — it’s hard to see him signing on to join the Bat Family. Still, seeing how far he’s come in his years in the industry, we can’t help but imagine how great he could be in the role.
9. Robert Pattinson
Now let’s all take a deep, collective breath before rushing off to the comments section to claim that the guy from Twilight could never pull off a superhero role. We’ll be the first to admit that this one’s a bit out there. But it’s been over 4 years since Robert Pattinson played the impossibly shiny teenage vampire in that one film series that made you want to jump out a window when someone you thought was your friend asked you if you were Team Edward or Team Jacob. The dark days are over, guys, and while we were busy hating everyone involved with the franchise, Pattinson was stringing together a laundry list of standout performances in indie fare like The Rover, Maps to the Stars, and The Childhood of a Leader. He may not necessarily exude the sort of charm the superhero in question is known for (and he could actually be a more natural fit to play Robin #2, Jason Todd, in the DCEU), but we wouldn’t put it past him to shock the world and display a side to him that moviegoers never knew existed. If nothing else, the Batfleck-level pandemonium that would ensue from this casting announcement would be the stuff of legend.
The 30-year-old is set to take on his most high-profile post-Twilight role to date this spring when he stars alongside Charlie Hunnam and Tom Holland in The Lost City of Z. If he doesn’t impress you in that, feel free to return to this article and tear us a new one in the comment section.
8. Kit Harington
Another obvious candidate whose name will surely be bandied about over the next few weeks, Kit Harington has been a fan-favorite to play the defender of Blüdhaven for some time now. Best known for his breakout role as the heroic Jon Snow on the HBO smash hit, Game of Thrones, the 30-year-old London native is one of the biggest stars on television today. As filming wraps up on the second to last season of the show that made him a household name, Harington may be looking to step into another iconic role in the very near future.
Aside from some voice work in How to Train Your Dragon 2, Harington hasn’t had much luck outside of Westeros, having appeared in a series of underwhelming box office duds like Seventh Son and Pompeii. Still, he brings along with him one of the biggest fanbases in the entertainment industry (which will surely be seen as a major plus in the eyes of Warner Bros. execs), and he fits Richard Grayson’s pretty boy looks to a T. He’s a talented actor to boot, though we have our concerns about his trademark English accent. Here’s hoping his Gotham accent sounds a bit less goofy than his Southern one does.
7. Richard Madden
Let’s keep that train of insanely-good-looking-dudes-from-House-Stark rolling, shall we? Since bursting on the scene alongside the previous entry on our list in HBO’s Game of Thrones, Richard Madden hasn’t landed much in the way of mainstream roles. Following his turn as Robb Stark, the ill-fated King in the North, he’s only appeared in a handful of projects, though we think he’s capable of much more than looking pretty in the 2015 Cinderella film and running away from explosions in mediocre action fare like last year’s Bastille Day. He’s certainly got the movie star look, and when it comes to bringing the sort of charm a character like Dick Grayson would need to be taken seriously on the big screen, he appears to be up to the task.
Should he manage to land the Nightwing role, let’s hope he learned valuable lessons from his days in Westeros: never, ever go to a wedding, avoid any and all dealings with guys that look like Argus Filch, and if you ever hear “The Rains of Castamere”, run for your friggin life.
6. Joe Alwyn
As far as young-Nightwing-casting-candidates-not-named-Dylan-O’Brien are concerned, Joe Alwyn may be the best of the bunch. The 26-year-old made his acting debut just last year after being handpicked by acclaimed filmmaker Ang Lee to star in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, though from watching the film, you would never have guessed that he was anything but a veteran of the screen. The movie itself may have been a bit of a misfire, but few critics have had anything but praise for Alwyn’s nuanced performance as the titular character. He quickly followed up Billy Lynn with a solid turn in The Sense of an Ending, and he’ll next appear starring alongside Gerard Butler in the psychological thriller Keepers.
It’s safe to say that Alwyn’s career is off to a fine start, but while the talent is certainly there, his baby-faced appearance would limit what DC could do with the character. His Dick Grayson would have to be in the very early stages of his solo career, although that may be exactly what the folks behind the scenes are looking for (especially if they’re hoping to do a Teen Titans movie at some point).
5. Rami Malek
Admittedly, Rami Malek has been a popular choice for fancasts as of late, popping up in a litany of lists dedicated to finding just the right actor for just the right role. (It’s entirely possible that we may have used him in a few such articles ourselves.) But rest assured, fair reader — there’s a reason for all the internet hype.
One of the most subtly skilled performers on the small screen today, Malek’s been in the acting game for over a decade, but the true depths of his talent weren’t revealed until he landed the lead in the USA Network series Mr. Robot. He’s been nominated for a Golden Globe in each of the hit show’s first two seasons, and he brought home the gold at the Emmys and Critics’ Choice Awards for his work in season 1. With a third season set to premiere later this year, the 35-year-old has several other projects in the pipeline, including the widely-coveted starring role in director Bryan Singer’s Freddie Mercury biopic. If he manages to knock that one out of the park, there’s no telling how fast his star will rise. DC would be wise to lock him into a role as soon as they can — assuming he has time in his schedule — and Nightwing would be a great fit.
4. Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Let’s get the obvious out of the way here: Aaron Taylor-Johnson has already played two superheroes (Kick-Ass and Quicksilver) on the big screen. And while there doesn’t appear to be any sort of future in the cards for those characters that would prevent him from signing on with DC, we’re guessing that the folks in charge will be looking to hire a fresh face to the comic book genre to play Nightwing. ATJ himself has expressed enthusiasm over the idea of returning as Quicksilver to the MCU, though whether or not he’d be as psyched to strap on a third different pair of tights is a major question mark. It might be a classic been there/done that for him at this point.
But even with all that taken into consideration, Taylor-Johnson remains one of the most natural fits for the character in the industry today. At 26, the Englishman could play the role for years to come, though he’s also capable of bringing the sort of edge to Richard Grayson which would indicate that despite his youth, he’s been at this crimefighting thing for a while. (For proof, check out his Golden Globe-winning turn as a crazed kidnapper in Nocturnal Animals.) If ATJ wants to take a dip in the DC pool, he’d likely be a popular choice.
3. Ryan Guzman
Ryan Guzman hasn’t been in Hollywood long, and to be frank, his resume to date doesn’t exactly scream “superhero material”. Best known as the star of two of the Step Up films and less-than-impressive TV series like Heroes Reborn and Pretty Little Liars, the 29-year-old heartthrob doesn’t seem like the sort of performer that you just hand a comic book franchise to. And despite the fact that he very much looks the part, if Guzman hadn’t stolen the show last year in Everybody Wants Some!!, he wouldn’t even be in consideration for Nightwing.
And yet here we are. Richard Linklater’s lightheartedly simplistic take on the lives of college baseball bros was bursting at the seams with up-and-coming talent — Supergirl‘s Tyler Hoechlin and The Walking Dead‘s Austin Amelio were among those in attendance — but it still seemed that the stage was set for the film’s main character, played by Blake Jenner, to hog the spotlight for himself. Oddly enough, the film’s lead fell flat as a pancake, while Guzman’s hard-partying Roper ran away with damn near every scene he was in.
2. Steven Yeun
The Steve Yeun for Nightwing bandwagon has been steadily taking on weight for the past year or two now (insert self-congratulatory link here). Our fire burns even brighter now that the man best known as Glenn Rhee has been snatched away from our television sets by a barbed wire baseball bat named Lucille. The best damn pizza boy that ever lived enjoyed one of the finest character arcs The Walking Dead has had to offer, and we can’t help but think that the series’ notable downturn in season 7 has at least something to do with Yeun’s abrupt departure. On the bright side, now that he’s done for good with the series, he actually has time to, you know, appear in other projects. (TWD has a notoriously brutal 6 month-long shooting schedule that often prevents its stars from exploring other opportunities.)
Yeun has been busy since his nightmarish exit from the hit AMC series, taking on several prominent voice acting roles, including the lead in the upcoming animated adaptation of the acclaimed Chew comics. He also does voice work for two different Netflix series, Trollhunters and Voltron. The 33-year-old hasn’t grown camera shy, however, as he’s also listed as the fifth lead (behind folks like Tilda Swinton and the aforementioned Jake Gyllenhaal) in Bong Joon-ho’s Okja. The highly anticipated follow-up to the director’s 2013 masterstroke Snowpiercer could very well be the sort of film that helps launch Yeun’s career on the big screen. Could it be one that culminates in Blüdhaven? Only time will tell.
1. Finn Wittrock
Finn Wittrock checks all the boxes when it comes to casting a live-action Nightwing for the DCEU. He physically embodies the character in a way few others can, he’s a relatively unknown commodity in Tinseltown (read: Warner Bros. can lock him into a long-term deal without completely breaking the bank), and he just so happens to be crazy talented. From his absolutely bonkers performances in the American Horror Story anthology series to his more subdued turns in films like The Big Short and La La Land, there doesn’t seem to be much that this 32-year-old can’t do.
From an entirely practical perspective, consider this: the vast majority of the DCEU’s casting decisions thus far have been internet-breakingly controversial. At a certain point, you have to imagine that they’d like to have at least one character announcement that’s roundly praised. Comic book fans tend to overinvest in the idea that an actor needs to look exactly like the hero they’re playing in order to truly bring the role to life. But like it or not, that’s the world we live in, and it’s hard to deny the fact that, if nothing else, Wittrock is a dead ringer for Richard Grayson.
He’s got the look and he’s got the talent — all he needs is the opportunity.
Who would you cast to play Nightwing in the DCEU? Let us know in the comments.