It’s hard to believe that it’s been over two years since Ben Affleck was cast as the latest live-action incarnation of the Dark Knight in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. With the film less than six months away from its March release date, anticipation for the eighth (yes, we’re counting Lewis G. Wilson and Robert Lowrey from the serials) big-screen Batman is at an all-time high. Audiences will soon find out whether the casting of Affleck was truly as apocalyptic as the Internet led them to believe.
The decision to bring Affleck into the Bat Family was monstrously controversial, but considering the character’s casting history, it shouldn’t have surprised as much as it did. Few could have ever foreseen George Clooney or Val Kilmer landing the role, and the selection of Michael Keaton outraged legions of fans. It was inevitable: no matter who was tapped to play Batman in Zack Snyder’s quasi-sequel to Man of Steel, the actor would have had his fair share of detractors. In every depiction of the character to date, countless others have been considered, and inevitably found to be unworthy.
While we wait to see which side of the Keaton/Clooney fence Affleck’s Batman lands on, let’s take a look (in reverse-chronological order) at 13 Actors Who Almost Played Batman.
Although 2013’s Man of Steel received decidedly mixed reviews, it proved to be the financial hit that Warner Bros. was looking for, tallying over $668 million at the global box office. After Superman had managed to defeat his physical equal (General Zod) in the film, director Zack Snyder decided that his next opponent could be none other than Batman himself. With Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy having reached its conclusion, a replacement for Christian Bale was sought. Among those rumored to be under consideration were Hobbit stars Luke Evans and Richard Armitage, as well as American Horror Story‘s Wes Bentley, who sources have claimed was Nolan’s recommended selection.
But no one came closer to landing the role than recent Sicario star Josh Brolin, who has since confirmed that he was indeed in the running for the part. After discussing the role with Snyder, the two mutually agreed that it wasn’t the right fit, and Snyder went on to spark fan outrage and cast Ben Affleck as the Caped Crusader.
Brolin’s casting likely would have been far less internet-breaking, as he was a long-time fan-favorite for the role. The slightly undersized (he’s 5’10) 47 year old almost certainly could have embodied the menacing intensity of a masked vigilante—and he definitely has the right chin for the cowl—but whether or not he could have pulled off Bruce Wayne’s billionaire playboy facade is a question we’ll probably never see answered.
Few of the actors on our list came closer to bringing the Dark Knight to life than Hammer did. Back in 2007, when Nolan’s TDK series was still very much ongoing, George Miller’s infamously doomed Justice League: Mortal was greenlit by Warner Bros. The then-unknown Hammer was hand-picked by Miller to play Batman, and production made it all the way to costume fitting before the film was officially canceled, due in large part to the success of 2008’s The Dark Knight. We may just get to see how Hammer looked in the Batsuit in the very near future, thanks to an upcoming documentary on the film that’s set to be made as soon as Warner Bros. gives its approval.
It would appear that everything worked out for the best in this scenario. Hammer has gone on to enjoy a solid, cape-less career, and it seems he simply wasn’t a great fit for the role. By the time Mortal would have actually begun filming, Hammer would have been only 21 years old. And even with a healthy dose of movie magic, the 6’5 Hammer would have towered over the film’s Superman, set to be played by the 5’10 DJ Cotrona. Miller, of course, is reaping the benefits of the biggest directorial hit of his career, Mad Max: Fury Road. He may even get a shot at a DC movie somewhere down the line, if Zack Snyder has anything to say about it.
Hammer since gone on record as saying that he “would have made a terrible Batman.” The now-29 year old may not have been an ideal choice for that particular Justice Leaguer, but we here at Screen Rant think he could make for a fantastic Shazam.
Having been in the running for the starring role in several failed Batman projects, Christian Bale was considered the front-runner for Batman Begins from the start. Nevertheless, director Christopher Nolan cast a wide net when he first boarded the project back in early 2003, meeting with a number of talented young actors, including Joshua Jackson, Billy Crudup, Hugh Dancy, Eion Bailey, and future Superman Henry Cavill. Surprisingly, it was the then-23 year old Jake Gyllenhaal that was viewed as Bale’s chief competition for the cape and cowl.
Best known at the time for playing the troubled teenage lead in Donnie Darko, Gyllenhaal was one of the youngest actors up for the role, and was actually writer David Goyer’s personal favorite. But the decision was ultimately Nolan’s, and Bale was eventually given the nod. Over a decade later, after having established himself as a dramatic force in films like End of Watch, Prisoners, and Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal was offered a lead role in another DC film, Suicide Squad, a role he elected to pass on. He was even a rumored candidate for Batman back when Batman V Superman was still searching for its Dark Knight. Perhaps the Demolition star has lost interest in the superhero genre?
While Gyllenhaal was considered Bale’s number one Batman competitor for Begins, Murphy was also asked to audition for the role. Though the 28 Days Later star didn’t feel that he was the right fit for the part, he leapt at the chance to work with director Christopher Nolan. Murphy (along with Bale and fellow contender Eion Bailey) screen tested in Val Kilmer’s old Batsuit from Batman Forever opposite future Lois Lane Amy Adams, who was there as a favor to the movie’s casting director. Murphy impressed Nolan so much that the director successfully campaigned for the actor to be cast as Jonathan Crane, a.k.a. Scarecrow, in the film.
Of course, Murphy didn’t seem to have quite the right look for the character, but he proved to be an outstanding villain, one that made memorable appearances in each of Begins‘ sequels. Murphy has enjoyed a fine career in the years since, but one can’t help but wonder what doors might have opened for the actor had he been chosen to portray the Caped Crusader.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Murphy and Bailey’s screen tests on The Dark Knight Trilogy Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray.
As previously mentioned, Christopher Nolan met with a number of talented young actors for the starring role in Batman Begins, but none more surprising than the future Clown Prince of Crime himself, Heath Ledger. Ledger turned down the opportunity to don the cape and cowl, telling the director that he ‘would never take part in a superhero film.’ He was evidently impressed with Nolan’s work on Begins, as he jumped at the chance at playing the Joker in the sequel, signing on long before the first draft of the script was completed. As we all know, Ledger went on to give a once-in-a-lifetime performance in the film, a villainous turn that earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar roughly one year after his tragic death at the age of 28.
At the time, Ledger was obviously not a guy you would ever think of to play Batman, but then, you probably never would have thought of him for the Joker either. The intensity of the backlash to the decision to cast the Australian as Batman’s arch-nemesis rivaled that of any superhero casting, from Keaton to Affleck. But if The Dark Knight taught us anything, it’s that Ledger truly was capable of anything. He may very well have made for a fine Batman.
Before Nolan’s vision was given the green light, Warner Bros. entertained several story ideas from filmmakers for the next Batman film. Director Boaz Yakin (of Remember the Titans fame) almost got a live-action Batman Beyond adaptation off the ground, and Wolfgang Petersen (Troy) pitched a Batman vs. Superman film that would have starred Christian Bale or Colin Farrell as the Dark Knight, had the project not fallen apart. Joss Whedon was even in the mix at one point.
One of the pitches that’s made a lasting mark was the one made by future Noah director Darren Aronofsky. Fresh off the momentum of his breakout drama Pi, Aronofsky sought to make his own version of the famed origin story, Batman: Year One, one that saw an orphaned, penniless Bruce Wayne fighting crime out of a Lincoln Continental. Having been previously interested in a Dark Knight Returns adaptation, Aronofsky told the studio in the pitch meeting that Clint Eastwood was his first choice for Batman. How serious he was about casting the then-70 year old Eastwood is unknown.
Aronofsky later saw the incredibly-obvious light and approached Bale (sensing a pattern here) for the part, but Eastwood’s connection with the character was cemented. Three or four decades earlier, he may have been the perfect choice for a grittier take on the defender of Gotham. At the time, however, Eastwood’s age could only have allowed him to portray the elderly version of the character seen in the Batman Beyond animated series. Now THAT is something we’d love to see.
Before the Batman franchise was forced to endure its well-documented eight year long stint in cinematic purgatory, hopes were high for the third installment in the modern film series, 1995’s Batman Forever. Though director Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film was a huge success, its critically well-received sequel, Batman Returns, earned nearly $150 million less at the box office. The folks over at Warner Bros. felt that a more family-friendly approach would appeal to a wider audience, so they parted ways with Burton and placed Joel Schumacher at the helm. As Forever‘s decidedly lighter tone began to take shape, star Michael Keaton opted out of the franchise—leaving $15 million on the table—and the search for the next big-screen Batman was on.
Among those considered for the role was up-and-comer Ethan Hawke, best known at the time for his performances in Dead Poets Society and White Fang. Hawke actually turned down the role, fearing it would hurt his credibility as an actor. Years later, Hawke would express regret over this decision, saying, “I wish I’d done it, because I could have used it to do other things.” Hawke has enjoyed a completely respectable career in the years since, but surely he’s spent some time pondering the road not taken.
Hawke of course was not the only actor up to replace Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader. One of the bigger names (at the time) associated with the role was none other than Backdraft star William Baldwin, whose older brother Alec had been considered for Tim Burton’s first Batman film. According to the younger Baldwin, Schumacher counted him among his top choices for the part before Val Kilmer was selected, along with Daniel Day-Lewis, Ralph Fiennes, and Kilmer. The then-30 year old actor would have been an… interesting choice.
Two years later, after Kilmer declined to return to the franchise, Baldwin once again found himself on Schumacher’s radar. Said Baldwin: “The next time, when George Clooney did it, [Schumacher] said, ‘You were on my original short list with those other three actors, but the studio went with Val and this time I’d like to go with you.'” Clooney later landed the role and proceeded to run the character into the ground, but with the script and direction he was given, it’s hard to imagine that Baldwin would have fared any better.
When Tim Burton stepped down as the director of the Batman film franchise, he elected to stay on in a producing role, a factoid that makes Depp’s inclusion on this list a bit less surprising. The two had already worked together on Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood, and would go on to collaborate on six additional films as a director/star combo for the ages. Unconfirmed reports state that Burton suggested the then-30 year old Depp for the part, but that nothing ever came of it.
Depp’s association with the character didn’t end there, however. After the success of Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film, The Dark Knight, fans lobbied hard for the actor to play the Riddler in the sequel, though Warner Bros. reportedly wanted Leonardo DiCaprio for the role. When asked at the time if he was interested, Depp responded, “If the opportunity came, I’d definitely juggle it.” Despite his apparent interest, Depp ultimately did not appear in The Dark Knight Rises, nor did the Riddler.
Could Depp have pulled the role off 20 years ago? Crazier things have happened, and at the very least, it would seem that the Black Mass star certainly could have convincingly portrayed the World’s Greatest Detective aspect of the character.
When Tim Burton first boarded the project that would become his 1989 film, Batman, Warner Bros. understandably pushed for a major action icon to star in what they considered to be a high-risk endeavor. A who’s who of A-List actors were considered, including Harrison Ford, Kevin Costner, Tom Hanks, Dennis Quaid, Tom Selleck, Charlie Sheen, and Willem Dafoe (who was not considered for Batman’s archenemy, The Joker, contrary to popular belief). One of the more popular candidates was Lethal Weapon star Mel Gibson, who was reportedly the studio’s top choice. Having recently concluded his star-making Mad Max trilogy, Gibson was one of the hottest young talents in Hollywood, and appeared to be a natural fit for the part.
Burton’s decision to cast Michael Keaton—who had previously been type-cast in comedic roles—sparked Affleck-level outrage with Batman fans, who sent over 50,000 letters to Warner Bros. calling for the duo’s heads. Burton later commented on the matter, explaining that he felt Keaton possessed an “explosive, insane side,” a quality we now know that Gibson has in spades. Hindsight’s 20/20, though.
Before Keaton signed on for Batman, Tim Burton met with a handful of actors to star in the film, including a future Bond. Brosnan was a big fan of the character in his younger years, but declined the role, making light of the concept of superhero movies in the process: “…I said something flippant to Tim Burton, like, ‘Any guy who wears his underpants outside his trousers cannot be taken seriously.’ So yeah.” Goodfellas star Ray Liotta shared a similar point of view, refusing to even meet with Burton to discuss the project. Both actors have expressed regret over their decisions in recent years, with Brosnan saying “That was my foolish take on it. It was a joke, I thought. But how wrong was I?” in a Reddit AMA last year.
This would appear to be another case of everything working out for the best for all parties involved. Michael Keaton was fantastic in his two performances as the Caped Crusader, a role that likely would have prevented Brosnan from becoming the James Bond of the late ’90s and early ’00s. As for Liotta, Batman would have been huge for his career, though the filming and required promotional commitments of the film probably wouldn’t have allowed him to star in his two most notable works (Field of Dreams and Goodfellas, which were released in 1989 and 1990, respectively) as a result. As Keaton remains the definitive Dark Knight in the minds of many, it looks like Burton and Warner Bros. definitely made the right call.
That face says it all. Perhaps the most bizarre entry on our list is long-time funny man Bill Murray, best known for his work in comedy classics like Caddyshack and Ghostbusters (1, 2, and now the reboot). Since the turn of the century, however, Murray’s filmography has been more of a mixed bag of comedy and drama, a trend that very well could have begun two decades earlier had Ivan Reitman gotten his way. A few years before Tim Burton entered the fold, the Ghostbusters director was attached to helm the first modern Batman film, and he was apparently interested in putting Murray in the Batsuit. The project (that may have also starred David Bowie as the Joker) languished in development hell for years before the talent involved moved on. Last year, in an interview with David Letterman, Murray neither confirmed nor denied that he had been up for the role at one point, only saying that he “would have been an awesome Batman.”
Of all the candidates we’ve discussed so far, Murray may seem to be the most ill-fit to don the cape and cowl—at first glance, anyway. But be sure to keep in mind that when Michael Keaton first took on the role, audiences knew him from Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice, films that don’t exactly scream Batman. Keaton proved that the only necessary requirement for playing Bruce Wayne and his heroic alter-ego is talent; who’s to say Murray couldn’t have done the same?
If there’s one name on this list that you aren’t familiar with, it’s likely this one. With the popularity of Batman comics at an all-time high in the early-’60s, CBS attempted to create a live-action Saturday morning television series starring the World’s Greatest Detective, who was set to be portrayed by former professional football player Mike Henry. When ABC acquired the rights, they reimagined the show as a potential primetime program, with Lyle Waggoner and Peter Deyell pegged as the front-runners to star as Batman and Robin, respectively. The studio set up two separate screen tests, one with Waggoner and Deyell and another with Adam West and Burt Ward. The campy, over-the-top performances of West and Ward won them the gig in the end, and the two played the Dynamic Duo for three seasons and a movie.
As you’ve likely deduced from the picture above, Waggoner got a pretty nice consolation prize, as he went on to star alongside Lynda Carter in the Wonder Woman TV series as Steve Trevor, a role Chris Pine recently signed on to play in the DC shared universe.
But the importance of the decision to cast West instead of Waggoner cannot be understated. West’s performance is largely the source of mockery these days (you’ve probably gotten at least one good laugh at the site of him frantically running with a bomb over his head or being eaten by a shark) but it undeniably helped pave the way for the modern interpretations of the character. Had Waggoner landed the part, who knows what may have become of the Batman.
Just for fun, here’s a quick look at West and Waggoner’s screen tests:
In just a few short months, Ben Affleck’s Batman will be revealed to a highly-suspicious world. Having overcome his competition for the part, he seeks to establish himself as the definitive Batman of the modern generation. The Dark Knight ranks among the most beloved heroes in modern fiction, and the actors who have brought him to life have had to best some truly talented individuals in order to do so.
Which of these candidates would you most like to have seen don the cape and cowl? Would any of them have been worse than George Clooney? Just how perfect is/was Clint Eastwood for the role? Be sure to sound off in the comments below.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice will be in theaters on March 25th, 2016.