Geeks. Nerds. Dorks. By any name, the subculture of lovers of comic books, sci-fi, fantasy, and all things imaginative have an intense passion. That furor inspires them to spend hundreds of dollars on toys, wait hours in line for panels at conventions, and take to the internet to discuss and share their love with fellow fans. That same community has helped propel the superhero genre to the most dominant in Hollywood and turned Jediism into a real religion citizens can claim on their census forms.
For all the excitement and appreciation, though, the geek community, for lack of a better term, has a nasty reputation for overreacting. In the Digital Age, with information traveling at literally the speed of light, every announcement about comic books, television or movies suddenly becomes fodder for outrage, anxiety and general bitchiness (for recent evidence, look no further than Captain America’s outing as a Hydra agent, and the hateful backlash that followed). Often, these frustrations are warranted, but at other times, the geek-o-sphere ends up eating its words and looking rather silly in the public eye.
These are some of their biggest mistakes.
12. Michael Keaton cast as Batman
Modern geek outrage can trace back to one specific event: the release of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989. Yes, the nerds had spoken before — letter campaigns to save Star Trek, death threats against Paramount for killing off Spock — but with Batman, the geeks spoke louder than ever before.
To say the casting of Michael Keaton in the titular role was met with skepticism understates the seismic shockwaves that rippled through the media. Keaton’s casting made front page news on the cover of The Wall Street Journal. Fans of the character revolted. Keaton had hit big with comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice, not the kind of noir-action picture Batman demanded. The geek-o-sphere demanded that Burton recast the role with a square-jawed action star like Tom Sellick or Mel Gibson.
Of course, history vindicated Keaton: Batman became one of the biggest movies in history, launching a billion dollar franchise, which, to date, has always existed in some form or another in film and television. Some viewers criticized the movie for not focusing enough on Batman himself, though Keaton’s intense performance won almost universal praise from Bat-Fans, so much so that when the actor departed the series, those same critics revolted again, this time, for recasting the part with Val Kilmer!
11. Heath Ledger cast as Joker
Maybe skeptical Bat-Fans are a good sign when planning a big screen outing for the Dark Knight. Batman Begins opened to rave reviews in 2005, and a sequel which would pit the Caped Crusader against his arch-nemesis the Joker seemed a foregone conclusion. Moreover, because of the success of Begins, actors lined up in droves to lobby for the role. Oscar winners like Adrian Brody and Robin Williams expressed strong interest, while well-regarded actors like Paul Bettany and Steve Carrell also coveted the part. Skeptics also clucked that no actor could ever replace Jack Nicholson in the role.
Then came the announcement: Heath Ledger had won the role, and the geek-o-sphere damn near exploded. Announced during the San Diego Comic-Con, attendees will recall the shock and perplexed reactions of Bat-Fans. Ledger’s name had never even been rumored for the part, and the public regarded Ledger as something of a pretty boy lead.
Then came the trailers which silenced Ledger’s critics. Then came the movie.
Ledger’s performance, suffice it to say, changed the way actors approached roles in comic book fare, as well as the way the audience views it. The Dark Knight often bares citation as the greatest superhero film ever, and Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his work.
While we’re on the subject of Batman in the movies, the most recent casting of the Dark Knight needs mentioning here. Ben Affleck, despite being a life-long comic book devotee, didn’t have a great reputation within the geek-o-sphere, mostly owing to his underwhelming outing as Daredevil, and his overexposure in the tabloid press.
Word that Affleck would don the cape and cowl was met with instant hostility. Announced just before the mega-convention WonderCon, vendors had anti-“Batfleck” shirts waiting, which sold like hot-cakes. Affleck’s maturation as an actor quieted the angst to some degree—his performance in Gone Girl won critical raves, and the actor displayed a thoughtful worldliness he’d never shown before.
Still, the gripes lasted all the way up to the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Then critics of Affleck’s casting fell silent; he played the role like a man possessed—driven, grim, and thoughtful just like, well, Bruce Wayne! The film may have garnered mixed reviews, but Affleck’s performance as a middle-aged, brooding Batman won acclaim as one of the film’s (few) highlights. Affleck’s continuation in the role, as well as his employment to direct a solo Batman film, inspired even the most jaded haters of Batman v Superman to have a bit of optimism.
9. No Beast in X-Men
Comic book fans rejoiced in the late ’90s, as the long in Development Hell adaptation of a live action X-Men film finally moved into production. Fans lauded the choice of cerebral director Bryan Singer to bring a serious tone to the material, and the choice of Patrick Stewart to occupy the wheelchair of Professor Xavier.
When the rest of the X-Roster hit the press, however, fans changed their tune. Not only would the movie not use the original lineup of X-Men, the staple character Beast would be absent altogether! An X-Men movie without Hank McCoy didn’t seem complete.
While the original X-Men film hasn’t aged well, it proved a wild box office hit and spawned a long line of sequels that continue to this day. Geeks also softened their rage upon seeing the final product: while far from perfect, it captured the excitement and spirit that made the X-Men comics endure for so many years. Besides, the omission of Beast allowed the other roles to expand, and instead of just hanging out at the mansion, Jean Gray became a well-respected doctor. The budget restrictions became obvious, and thanks to the success of the original film, Beast would eventually take his place among the standard X-lineup.
8. The X-Men wearing black, not yellow
On the subject of X-Men, the geeks railed against another subtle change in the translation from page to screen: nobody wore yellow spandex!
The X-Men of the comics had worn a wide variety of costumes over the years, though the most popular designs always entailed yellow and blue jumpsuits. Coming not long after the release of The Matrix, which had popularized black coats and leather, fans worried that their beloved X-characters would take on too many Matrix-like qualities, becoming watered down versions of their comic counterparts. Those same critics shouted even harder when an early trailer showed unfinished special effects footage of the actors on wires.
Director Bryan Singer defended the choice to have the team don black body armor as a bit more grounded and realistic, not to mention consistent with the more serious tone and verisimilitude he wanted to inject in the film. While a few fans still griped, for the most part, the geek-o-sphere quieted over the minor alteration. The costumes in the film also met with so much praise that comic book artists began drawing the X-characters with similar duds on the page! While future installments of the series did, on occasion, show the X-Men in homages to their comic costumes, for the most part, they’ve stuck with the practical: men and women risking their lives don’t wear spandex!
7. Quicksilver’s look in Days of Future Past
And speaking of superhero fashion, the internet exploded after the first images of Evan Peters in his Quicksilver costume first appeared. Making his mutant debut in X-Men: Days of Future Past, the character’s choice of wardrobe departed from his standard fashion sense in the comics. Angry geeks railed against his very ’70s attire, silver hair, and lack of a real jumpsuit. Instead, Quicksilver looked decidedly 70s, sporting a walkman, silver jacket and oversized wind goggles. The filmmakers defended the costuming choice as in keeping with the more grounded, and less cartoony tone of the X-Men films.
The movie quieted those critics big time. The geek-o-sphere relaxed when Quicksilver’s costume made sense in the context of the story — as a teenager, he hadn’t developed a superhero persona yet. Moreover, an elaborate action sequence filmed at high frame rate and featuring the character almost stopped the movie, and many critics singled it out as the highlight of the film. The final vindication came after the MCU introduced a different version of the character in a forgettable appearance, only to kill him off, and Peters received a much-touted increased role in the next X-Men outing, Apocalypse. Peters’ performance again won raves, and nobody complained about his look in his second outing.
6. Apocalypse’s Look in Apocalypse
Die-hard X-Men fans had long hoped to see more villains from the comic series make it to the big screen, with one gathering a following more than any other: Apocalypse. The ancient mutant bent on conquering — and destroying — the world in order to remake it in his own image has enjoyed a long and epic history in the X-books, so perhaps it was inevitable that director Bryan Singer would announce Apocalypse as the baddie for the most recent entry in the film series.
While the casting of actor Oscar Isaac in the role won approval from fans, geeks railed after the first images of the character in costume hit the web. The geek-o-sphere lamented that Isaac looked too short for the part, lacked certain make-up detailing on his face, and to top it all off, his character appeared to be purple skinned rather than grey. Bitchy critics derided the movie for ruining the character long before release, comparing him to the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers villain Ivan Ooze. Of course, what said rabid geeks didn’t realize was that the image lacked details that would be added in post-production, and that the scene in question cast him in an orange light, warping his look.
Upon the issuance of further pictures, the geek-o-sphere quieted, their anxieties tranquilized by images featuring the complete look of the character, which far closer resembled his comic counterpart.
5. Spider-Man has organic web shooters in Spider-Man
In the early 2000s, the internet quaked with excitement: at long last, Spider-Man would make his big-screen debut in a big-budget production helmed by cult director Sam Raimi. Tobey Maguire’s casting in the part won fan approval, and Raimi vowed that the film would respect long-established comic book canon… except for one notable change. Instead of the mechanical web shooters created by the character to web-sling in the comics, his web spinners would result from the accident that gave him his spider powers. Raimi argued that Peter Parker creating his own mechanical webbing when genius engineers working for 3M couldn’t do the same crossed the line into the preposterous, even in a superhero film.
And the fans threw a fit! The geek-o-sphere moaned and wrung their hands, accusing the production of dumbing down the character, and taking too great a liberty with his origin. Snarkier voices also criticized the choice, smugly asserting that organic web shooters shouldn’t grow into Peter Parker’s wrists, they should grow from his backside.
Released in 2002, the original Spider-Man became the highest grossing movie of the year, spawning two sequels and, along with X-Men, ushered in the current boom of superhero movies. The number of people complaining about organic web shooters dwindled and soon went the way of the dinosaur.
4. John Boyega is playing a black stormtrooper/the lead in The Force Awakens
With the Disney buyout of LucasFilm, and the announcement that further entries in the Star Wars saga would soon hit theatres, the geek-o-sphere swelled with anticipation. The release of the first trailer for The Force Awakens, however, elicited some bizarre backlash. The first image in the trailer showed actor John Boyega sweating in terror in some sand dunes, and wearing a stormtrooper uniform.
While the seismic backlash didn’t quite approach the negative buzz as some of the other items on this list, the image of a black stormtrooper invited its own share of outrage. Fans accused the movie of violating Star Wars canon, specifically, that all stormtroopers were clones and should look like actor Temuera Morrison. Even worse, veiled (or not so veiled) racism spewed up from the internet, outraged at the idea that an actor of color could have a leading role in a Star Wars movie. These detractors accused LucasFilm of bowing to pressure to produce a “politically correct” movie.
The Force Awakens opened to a stellar (excuse the expression) box office, and die-hard fans generally welcomed it — and Boyega — as part of the saga. Still, the incident made an ugly reminder for how quickly the geek-o-sphere can rush to judgment, not to mention the bigotry which still lurks in some corners of the world.
3. Former Human Torch Chris Evans is cast as Captain America
When the original Iron Man proved a hit for fledgling movie studio Marvel, the company announced a very ambitious plan that would introduce all the leading players from the Marvel Comics (or those they had the rights to, anyway) for an epic team-up cinematic adaptation of The Avengers. All eyes fell to one role in particular: Captain America.
Since Cap is considered the first Avenger, casting the part appeared crucial to creating an effective team-up for the movies. When actor Chris Evans scored the part over other finalists Mike Vogel and Garret Hedlund, a collective grunt erupted from the internet.
Evans, of course, had already played a superhero: the Human Torch in the widely-hated Fantastic Four movie and its sequel. While even the fiercest critics conceded that Evans did look the part, his previous role as a Marvel character should have disqualified him from the part, even if no fan wanted to remember those awful films. Those outraged geeks fell silent upon the release of Captain America: The First Avenger, as Evans did a faithful job in bringing Cap to life. Given that he just made his fifth appearance in the role in Captain America: Civil War, the actor appears to have won over his naysayers.
2. Hugh Jackman is too tall for Wolverine
Perhaps more than any other role leading up to production of the X-Men big-screen adaptation, Wolverine had the most people talking. Who to cast? At the time, Mel Gibson’s name appeared in a lot of dream castings, as did Jack Nicholson’s. Rumor persisted that then-unknown actor Russell Crowe contended for the role, while actor Dougray Scott was announced, only to be dropped shortly thereafter. When Aussie Hugh Jackman landed the part — an actor with no movie experience — the nerds of the world let out a collective “huh?”
Granted, Jackman had the right hair and beard, and his build fit the character well, but at over six feet tall, the actor would tower over the comic book incarnation, who stands about 5’3. And the geeks began to wail: Jackman was totally wrong for the part! Much as would later happen with Gal Godot’s casting as Wonder Woman and her physicality, fans seized on the detail of Jackman’s height as a symptom of a terrible film, as a divine premonition that X-Men would be a terrible movie altogether.
Of course, from the moment Jackman first appeared on screen as Wolverine, those critics became cheerleaders for one of the best castings in the history of the genre. Jackman is about to film his ninth outing as the character over a 16 year period, suggesting that the outrage from the geeks came a bit prematurely. We’ve actually come to the point where it’s difficult to imagine anyone but the now-47 year old in the role.
1. Grant Gustin cast as The Flash
Fans of Arrow rejoiced as the CW began to plan a spinoff show, based around the popular speedster The Flash. The show would feature a lighter tone, while still emphasizing the comic book action that made Arrow such a hit. When Grant Gustin — best known for a stint on the musical series Glee — won the part, the geek-o-sphere began to moan. How could a star of a musical sitcom carry a superhero show?
Geeks derided Gustin as too young for the part, as looking nothing like the comic version of Barry Allen, and as a downright bad actor. Not long after all the negative hullabaloo, The Flash debuted to outstanding ratings and strong reviews. Gustin’s may not have looked like the blond, 30-something of the comics, but longtime Flash fans praised his performance and embodiment of the character’s spirit. Ironically, many of the same voices which railed against Gustin’s casting would later lament the casting of Ezra Miller in the big screen adaptation of The Flash, wishing that the part had gone to Gustin, regardless of the huge narrative and logistical problems it would create. Not only would the filming process take several months, and likely derail The Flash on TV, it would invite horrible continuity issues in terms of story and character.
What’s your biggest unwarranted moments of nerdy outrage? Sound off in the comments.