This week the DC fandom got a bit of a shock when Ben Affleck revealed late Tuesday night that he has decided not to direct Warner Bros.’ The Batman – a film that whose hype so far has largely been grounded in the impression that it will be an auteur project for Affleck as writer, director, producer and star. In a statement, the actor explained that to he no longer feels up to the task of working both in front of and behind the camera on the feature.
The film is under a lot of pressure for months now, its development regarded as a centerpiece of the studio’s ongoing efforts to keep the DC Extended Universe project on track in spite of an overwhelmingly negative response (and box-office shortfall) for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – a development said to have caught executives totally by surprise. Affleck himself had avoided formally committing to the production for months prior, and recently suffered a career blow with the box-office failure of his latest director/star turn, Live By Night.
With Affleck out (at this time, he still plans to star in the film and has already completed most of his scenes as the character in Justice League), the hunt will now be on for a new director and – possibly – a new direction for the damaged but still enormously-anticipated feature. Here are 15 filmmakers who could be up to the task of helming the Dark Knight’s next big solo outing.
15. SAM RAIMI
The now-legendary director of Evil Dead and Darkman effectively laid down the template for the successful modern superhero movie with Spider-Man in 2002, ultimately setting the colorful, character-focused tone that the Marvel Cinematic Universe would pick up and run with years later. Raimi hasn’t directed a film in the genre since Spider-Man 3, but his geek-cinema credibility remains stronger – thanks in part to the success of Evil Dead spinoff series Ash Vs. Evil Dead. Raimi’s hiring would bring (along with his immense filmmaking talents) a surplus of goodwill to reassure fans that someone with a proven record and an established understanding of the genre is now steering the ship. Plus, Raimi tends to bring a crew of fan-favorite actors along with him as guest stars, including his brother Ted, former Xena star Lucy Lawless, and Bruce Campbell.
14. JOHN MCTIERNAN
John McTiernan was one of the great action filmmakers of the ’80s and ’90s, the blockbuster helmer of smash hits like Die Hard, Die Hard With a Vengeance, Predator, The Hunt For Red October and The Thomas Crown Affair. But his long career hit an ignominious wall in 2006 when he became embroiled in one of the many bizarre criminal cases surrounding infamous Los Angeles-area private investigator Anthony Pellicano, whom McTiernan was accused and found guilty of hiring to illegally wiretap the producer of his 2002 feature Rollerball during a dispute over the creative direction of the film. McTiernan was ultimately sentenced to a federal prison in 2013 for 328 days – during which time he filed for bankruptcy status. Now that he’s been released, however, he’s already earning fresh raves for directing a live-action cinematic commercial for the video game Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, and could be primed for a later-life Hollywood comeback. One major roadblock, however? He’s said to despise comic-book movies.
13. GARETH EVANS
The only action film of the last decade that can compare to The Raid in terms of pure action filmmaking was its own sequel, The Raid 2. The latter film married the original’s mind-blowing fight scenes (built around the Indonesian martial arts technique of Penchat-Silat, which Batman star Ben Affleck trained on for The Accountant) with a sprawling, complex organized crime drama, featuring brutally-realistic gangland action and colorful characters like an assassin who uses baseballs and a baseball bat as his primary weapons, and an unassuming blind girl who fights with a pair of claw hammers. The blend of action and memorable players is exactly the kind of recipe many fans have been asking for in a Batman movie. Evans directed both films, and has been topping action fans’ “best director” lists ever since. There’s never been a superhero movie that felt like The Raid did (certainly not in the West, at least) – maybe it’s about time to fix that?
12. STEPHEN CHOW
When Hong Kong action cinema broke big in the U.S. in the late-1990s, mainstream American action fans finally got to see what the “big deal” was about international superstars like Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Chow Yun-Fat. During that same period, all of those established stars were being eclipsed in their home country by the rise of an ambitious actor/producer/director triple threat named Stephen Chow, who later made his own breakthrough into the global mainstream with hits like Shaolin Soccer and Kung-Fu Hustle. Considered to be among the most (or possibly the most, period) powerful individual entertainment forces in the all-important Chinese film market after recent smashes like The Mermaid and the Journey To The West films, the cinematic world has been eager to see which Hollywood studio will attempt to sign Chow for a U.S.-produced tentpole. Taking over The Batman would be a grand-stage debut for a filmmaker who likes to make an entrance.
11. LEXI ALEXANDER
Director, stuntwoman and former mixed-martial arts competitor Lexi Alexander has seldom played nice with Hollywood’s boys club (to the extent that she’s already said to have rejected or been rejected for several prospective big-league “name” superhero projects), but she’s also delivered modern action cult-classics in Green Street Hooligans and Punisher: Warzone, the latter of which came closer than any other adaptation of the famed Marvel Comics vigilante to capturing the unique energy of the original 80s comics that made him so durable. Though today best known for her outspoken activism and media comments on the subject of sexism and feminism within the film industry, Alexander is famed among action fans for her brutally-violent fight scenes and gritty, hard-bitten storytelling. She’s also no stranger to the “extended” part of the DC Extended Universe, having already helmed one of the more memorable (and action-heavy) episodes from the first season of Supergirl.
10. BONG JOON-HO
South Korea has been producing some of the most vibrant and innovative action cinema in the world over the last decade, and much of that innovation can be credited to a generation of genre-defying filmmakers like Bong Joon-ho. After breaking big globally with the politically-charged monster-on-the-rampage hit The Host, he switched gears for 2009’s pitch-dark revenge drama Mother. But it was the international action-smash Snowpiercer (about an underclass uprising in a post-apocalyptic future where the last of humanity lives inside a massive perpetually-moving train divided into a rigid caste system) that made him one of the most sought-after international action helmers in the business. Currently seeking a new project after wrapping the eccentric Okja for Netflix, his presence as director on The Batman would immediately draw eyes to a project whose studio is eager to find a more positive business narrative going forward.
9. MICHELLE MACLAREN
As many television series have embraced ever more cinematic levels of production value, a rising crop of formerly-overlooked action filmmakers have stormed to the forefront of the genre – and few have done so more forcefully than Michelle MacLaren. Best known to “prestige TV” devotees for helming fan-favorite episodes of Game of Thrones (including “Oathkeeper,” “First of His Name” and “The Bear and The Maiden Fair”) and Breaking Bad (“Madrigal,” “Buried,” “Shotgun” and various others), MacLaren was originally slated to direct the first Wonder Woman movie but departed the project due to creative differences. A return to the DCEU to get the Batman franchise firmly on track could be a welcome chance to repair that rift, while also granting a big theatrical platform to a rising star filmmaker who’s expected to land a major feature sooner than later.
8. JUSTIN LIN
Justin Lin’s “official” speciality? Directing action films featuring large casts of colorful characters, with a light tone that keeps everything fun while not detracting from the suspense, and the excitement necessary to drive a successful blockbuster. Justin Lin’s unofficial speciality? Rescuing action franchises in danger of going sour. His work on The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift breathed new life into the series after the poor critical reception 2 Fast 2 Furious, and he followed it with a trilogy of sequels that reunited the extended cast of the entire series and defined the franchise as the ultimate post-modern action team-up property. He was then brought in to perform similar services on Star Trek Beyond after the previous sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, was met with a potentially franchise-scuttling negative reception. While Beyond wasn’t as big a hit as the Fast films, Lin’s “fixer” reputation has endured. If Warner Bros. is indeed looking for a fresh new spin on the Batman ideal, they could certainly do a lot worse than this increasingly in-demand superstar.
7. GEORGE MILLER
Way back when Christopher Nolan was still in pre-production on The Dark Knight Rises, Warner Bros. surprised film fans with the announcement that an entirely separate Justice League movie featuring a younger cast of actors would be going into production, under the watch of Australian director George Miller. Ultimately titled Justice League: Mortal, the project fell apart thanks to a combination of studio politics and changes in Australian tax law, leading Miller to rededicate his resources to his passion project of reviving the Mad Max franchise. The resulting film, Mad Max: Fury Road, became a global sensation and one of the best-reviewed action films of the last several years – and has turned Miller (who has not officially chosen a follow-up project) back into one of Hollywood’s hottest potential hires. His varied skillset (he also directed Lorenzo’s Oil and was the creative force behind the Babe and Happy Feet movies) would make him a welcome fit for the growing DCEU canon.
6. ANTOINE FUQUA
Antoine Fuqua isn’t the type of director whose personality tends to outweigh his films, but even if you don’t immediately know his name you definitely know his work in action hits like Training Day, Tears of The Sun and The Equalizer, hard-hitting macho dramas like Brooklyn’s Finest and Southpaw, and recent successes like The Magnificent Seven. An old-school grown-up action specialist who hasn’t dipped his toes into sci-fi or superheroics all that often, he could bring a distinctive style to Batman that might well compliment the “prestige” vibe Warner Bros. seemed to be hoping for out of Affleck in the first place. Whether or not he’d want the job is anyone’s guess (Fuqua recently had to drop out of directing the remake of Scarface in order to focus on the fast-tracked sequel to The Equalizer), but he’d be the kind of reliable technician that studios often turn to for difficult, time-sensitive productions.
5. NICHOLAS WINDING REFN
Filmmakers don’t come more stylish than Nicholas Winding Refn, who made his bones on low-key, slow-burn action dramas like The Pusher Trilogy, Fear X and Bronson before breaking big globally with Valhalla Rising, Drive and Only God Forgives. And all that was still before switching over to the world of slick, nightmarish pop-horror with 2016’s brain-melting shocker The Neon Demon. While there’s no telling how well he’d mesh with a heavily studio-managed feature like Batman, he could be the shakeup the genre desperately needs. Refn has sought out comic book adaptations before, pitching himself as a potential candidate to helm Wonder Woman (as a potential star vehicle for his frequent actress collaborator Christina Hendricks) for Warner Bros. while on the press tour for Drive. He’d definitely be an offbeat choice for a big-budget tentpole, but so was Tim Burton back when he landed the job on the original Batman.
4. WILSON YIP
In the eyes of many action fans, Hong Kong is still the global gold-standard for slickly-produced, innovative takes on the genre – an among such fans few modern filmmakers are as highly regarded as Wilson Yip. Breaking out in a big way with the cult-classic horror-comedy Biozombie in 1998, Yip came into his own as one of Hong Kong action cinema’s top filmmakers thanks to a series of collaborations with Chinese superstar Donnie Yen, which began with SPL: Sha Po Lang (credited with reviving the style of Hong Kong’s 1980s ultra-violent crime films) and earned international acclaim with the now classic Ip Man Trilogy of historical biopics. His films also frequently feature martial-arts choreography from the legendary Sammo Hung – an element that could add a wholly unique sense of style and combat-aesthetic to a U.S. superhero genre often criticized for over-edited, difficult to follow hand-to-hand fight scenes.
3. CHAD STAHLESKI & DAVID LEITCH
In terms of Hollywood starts, few filmmakers have a grimmer “origin” than Chad Stahleski, who was thrust onto the global cinematic stage as the man who doubled for his friend Brandon Lee in the remaining scenes of The Crow (his face replaced with Lee’s digitally) after the rising action star was killed in a freak on-set accident. Since then, Stahleski has worked as a stunt coordinator and second unit director, often alongside friend David Leitch, with the two becoming sought-after Hollywood talent as the second-unit action directors of the Russo Brothers’ Captain America movies. More recently they broke through big time with their own self-created passion project, the old-fashioned Keanu Reeves-starring action smash John Wick. Crafting Captain America’s fisticuffs and bringing Keanu back to the big screen is about the best resume a prospective superhero directing team could ask for, and few would disagree that Batman wouldn’t have felt right at home in John Wick’s stylized, one-step-into-fantasy universe.
2. LANA & LILY WACHOWSKI
To put it bluntly, the Wachowskis haven’t had a major box-office success since they first exploded onto the scene with the genre-redefining Matrix trilogy at the turn of the century. But in the intervening years they’ve used their box-office clout (and seemingly unshakeable good relationship with Warner Bros.) to assemble thoughtful, rule-breaking spectacles like Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas that remain some of the most innovative “big” movies of the decade, along with producing cult-classics like V For Vendetta. After the box-office disappointment of the Mila Kunis-starring space opera Jupiter Ascending, they may be looking for a more mainstream type of action project through which to stage a “comeback” and, whatever you think of their more recent films the Wachowskis remain incomparable visual stylists with a firm grasp on the genre and a brave willingness to experiment within it. Plus, “From the Directors of The Matrix” is still one hell of a screen credit.
1. JOEL SCHUMACHER
Having already been long considered an underappreciated visual stylist thanks to sleeper hits like Flatliners and Falling Down, Schumacher was hand picked by Tim Burton to take over the Batman franchise with Batman Forever. But while the eccentric filmmaker had big plans for where he hoped to take the franchise, he instead found himself at the mercy of a studio regime more concerned with casting big name stars in villain roles and creating new merchandise opportunities. What’s more, the personal touches he did end up bringing to the table (a lighter tone, a broader aesthetic palette, self-aware ribbing of comic book tropes) were thoroughly rejected by fans of the then-reigning “gritty” comic book mindset.
With the upcoming LEGO Batman expected to pull big box office while utilizing an aesthetic and tone not all that dissimilar to Schumacher’s live-action Bat-films, maybe it’s time for a rethink. However unlikely it would be, inviting Schumacher (who most recently helmed a pair of episodes from House of Cards) back into the Batman fold to showcase his full vision for the character would be a huge story – and maybe the kind of outside-the-box thinking that the ailing DCEU needs.
Next: Why Ben Affleck Stepping Down is Good For The DCEU
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