If years spent watching all those “making of” featurettes on our superhero DVDs and Blu-rays taught us anything it’s this: A whole heck of a lot of work goes into making comic book movies. Under the watchful eye of a talented director, legions of production designers, stunt coordinators and visual effects artists dedicate hours of their time bringing the exploits of our favorite comic book characters to life on the big screen.
But for all the hard work that goes into every aspect of the mise en scene, there’s one aspect of cinema that’s under constant scrutiny from fans: The casting of the actors who will embody the comic book legends we love so much. The characters of the DC Universe are mythic in scope and deed, demanding the best efforts of the cream of the Hollywood crop. From Christopher Reeve to Gal Gadot, the DC icons have been granted a new lease of life and a sense of dimension by dedicated thespians who respect the source material and the iconic status of the characters. There are some actors, however, who have (either deliberately or inadvertently) given the comic book giant DC and its parent company Warner Bros. more than a little embarrassment…
15. RYAN REYNOLDS
Looking back on Martin Campbell’s 2011 misfire Green Lantern, it becomes clear that Warner Bros. and DC were hoping for their own Iron Man. Second tier comic book character with untapped potential? Check! Promising director? Check! Charismatic and compelling lead? Check! There were even plans to follow the movie up with a Flash solo film. But hopes of Green Lantern launching a shared DC Universe were dashed when the movie was laughed out of theaters by audiences and critics.
Reynolds rolled with the punch with characteristic good humor, taking his talents across the road to Fox for their Marvel Universe. Thus, 2016’s Deadpool shows no restraint in throwing shade at Marvel’s Distinguished Competition. The line “Just don’t make the super suit green… Or animated!” is a clear meta reference to Green Lantern… Although, ironically, some parts of Deadpool’s costume are in fact animated.
14. JARED LETO
Picking up the baton after incredible turns by Jack Nicholson and the late great Heath Ledger must be a daunting prospect for even the most accomplished actor. Still, if anyone could pull it off it seemed that Jared Leto could coming off the back of an Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Club. Still, in honoring the legacy of the character and the caliber of the actors who came before him Leto went a little too far.
The actor spent all his time on set in character, and some of his zanier Joker stunts left DC and Warner Bros. uncomfortable. Gifting dead rats and pigs to his co stars provoked the ire of animal rights advocates who decried Leto as a “fake vegan” for his inappropriate use of animal carcasses as practical jokes.
13. MICHAEL KEATON
For younger readers, it’s probably tough to imagine a time without the capacity for self expression offered by the internet. Don’t worry though, back in 1988 fanboys still had an outlet to complain about superhero movie casting decisions. They just had to pick up a pen and a piece of paper and write their complaints down in longhand.
Nonetheless, when Michael Keaton was cast as the Masked Manhunter in Tim Burton’s Batman the negative reactions were vociferous and varied. Some complained that Keaton lacked the stature and musculature to play The Dark Knight while others were mortified that an actor with a background in comedy would don the cowl. One letter even accused DC and Warner Bros. of “defecating on the legend of The Batman”. Fortunately, Keaton proved the naysayers wrong with his epochal performance that many still consider “their” Batman. Good thing we’ve all learned our lesson now, right?
12. VAL KILMER
After the macabre urban fairy tale that was Tim Burton’s Batman Returns failed to strike a chord with audiences the execs at DC and Warner Bros. decided that some changes were in order. Thus, Burton’s dark sensibilities were replaced with the cheerful neon stylings of Joel Schumacher for 1995’s Batman Forever. While costumes were made for as returning Michael Keaton, he also bowed out to be replaced by Val Kilmer.
The animosity between Kilmer and Schumacher has been the stuff of myth and fan speculation for years. The legendarily difficult Kilmer was apparently unabashed in his lack of respect for Schumacher, resulting (rumor has it) in a shoving match between the director and his star. few were surprised when Kilmer was replaced by the infinitely affable Geroge Clooney.
11. DIANE LANE
If there was a guiding principal to all involved in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is was that this would not be your father’s Superman movie. Watching the film, you can sense a real effort to escape the trappings and tropes of what a Superman movie should be and approach the character and his world from the ground up. Just one example of this was the casting of the stunningly beautiful Diane Lane as an atypical version of Superman’s adoptive mother Martha “Why Did You Say that Name?” Kent.
While Lane did an admirable job in the role, she got some egg on a few faces at DC when she compared the then upcoming Justice League unfavorably to Marvel’s Avengers. Perhaps no film today could compare to Marvel’s lightning in a bottle success in 2012, but comparing yourself negatively to your biggest competitor is rarely a great strategy.
10. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER
Batman Forever‘s unabashedly family friendly brand of popcorn action resonated with mainstream audiences in the mid ’90s and a sequel under Joel Schumacher’s direction was inevitable. After Batman: The Animated Series showed audiences just what a tragic and dramatically rich character Mr Freeze could be, audiences were delighted to learn that he would be a villain in the upcoming Batman & Robin.
Patrick Stewart (who had more than demonstrated his acting chops to audiences across the world in Star trek: The Next Generation) was a popular fan cast for the fallen Dr. Victor Fries…instead we got The Governator camping it up under a layer of iridescent blue paint. While, in Arnold’s defense, the script did him no favors, Ahhhnold’s over the top delivery and endless puns made him the butt of fanboy jokes for years.
9. CHRISTIAN BALE
The road to Christopher Nolan’s epic Dark Knight trilogy was long and rocky. After eight years and a handful of failed attempts the Batman franchise was redeemed with Batman Begins and the fans were finally able to wash the sour taste of Batman & Robin out of their mouths. While the direction, production design, scripting and effects all played a part in the film’s popularity fans couldn’t be happier with it’s star Christian Bale. But while Bale is a phenomenal actor whose portrayal of Batman is one for the ages…he seems to have a bit of a temper.
He cause some uncomfortable squirming for DC leading up to 2008’s The Dark Knight after a very public altercation with his sister. Later, he underwent a full blown meltdown on the set of 2010’s Terminator: Salvation, where his potty mouthed tirade at the film’s DP was recorded and leaked online.
8. ALICIA SILVERSTONE
Now that proposed writer/director Joss Whedon has departed the upcoming Batgirl movie many fans are worried that we may never get to see a comic book accurate screen adaptation of the nocturnal adventures of Barbara Gordon. Of course we’ve already had a screen Batgirl…unfortunately the character we see in Batman & Robin is Batgirl in name only. Not only do her character and origin vary wildly from the source material, they do so in ways that don’t add to the film’s overlying theme of family in the way it was supposed to.
While the blame lies largely with the script, Alicia Silverstone’s bored and lackluster performance doesn’t help. Undoubtedly hired off the back of her performance in Clueless, she appears to have been cast for all the wrong reasons and spends the entire movie wishing she was anywhere else. Not that we can blame her.
7. CHRISTOPHER REEVE
Hopefully you’ve resisted the urge to spit your coffee at your laptop or throw your smartphone out the window. Just for the sake of clarity; we have nothing but love for the dearly departed Christopher Reeve and the indelible impression he left on the Superman mythology. Nonetheless, it was his unimpeachably noble intentions that led to the embarrassment that was Superman IV: the Quest For Peace.
After Superman III flopped, Reeve was lured back to the role on the condition that he would be granted some autonomy over the script. Seeing this as an opportunity to use the Superman formula as a parable for nuclear disarmament, he eschewed the comic book mythology in favor of his own personal vision. This noble sentiment resulted in a well intentioned but tone deaf and incomprehensible movie that was an embarrassment to Warner Bros., DC and the Superman character.
6. SEAN YOUNG
After her performance in Blade Runner it seemed a no-brainer that this raven haired beauty with a decidedly film noir, femme fatale look would be a good fit for Tim Burton’s Batman. While she was cast as Vicky Vale in Burton’s original movie, she tumbled off a horse in preparation for a scene that never made it in front of the cameras and was replaced by Kim Basinger….but Ms. Young would not be denied!
When the trades announced that Catwoman would be a featured villain in the sequel, Young dressed in a homemade Catwoman costume and stalked her way through the Warner Bros. lot. Her adventure culminated with her bursting into the office of producer Mark Canton during a meeting with Michael Keaton and shouted “I am Catwoman!”. Sean Young was not cast as Catwoman. The role went to Annette Bening. Then Michelle Pfeiffer. But not Sean Young.
5. GEORGE CLOONEY
Look up “affable” in the dictionary and you’ll find a big ol’ photo of gorgeous George. While he’s a well regarded and eminently respected actor and director and all round Hollywood darling, he’ll forever be marred by the mantle of…Worst. Batman. Ever. But after Batman & Robin was laughed out of theaters Clooney escaped the ire of Hollywood by taking ownership of the failure and laughing at it with the rest of us.
Though this ultimately made Clooney even more endearing to audiences, it did nothing to salve the black eye that the movie gave DC. Years later he would even joke that he and former co-star Arnold Schwarzenegger “ruined Batman together”. Although Clooney was not offered a return ticket to Joe Schumacher’s neon saturated Gotham City, it clearly didn’t hurt his career any.
4. JESSE EISENBERG
Though it has a dedicated core of devoted supporters, Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor was not well liked by most. Eisenberg’s performance, which channeled both Mark Zuckerberg and Max Landis, baffled many critics and enraged many fans who were hoping for a John Byrne/Superman: The Animated Series version of Lex which we have still yet to see on the big screen.
Even the film’s many defenders will concede that Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was not the runaway critical and commercial success that DC and Warner Bros. were hoping for and Eisenberg’s performance is among the most derided elements of this divisive film. Fortunately, the film was redeemed by an extended cut exclusive to home video and fans around the world are holding their breath in the hope that Justice League will get the same treatment some day.
3. UMA THURMAN
Poison Ivy is an intriguing Batman villain who desperately deserves to show up in a contemporary Batman movie. Not only have the comics given her added layers of depth and pathos in recent years but as more and more people realize the damage we’re doing to our planet; buying hybrid cars and adopting veganism her eco-terrorist motif is timely. Unfortunately, Uma Thurman’s performance in 1997’s Batman & Robin did little to enhance the character’s reputation among mainstream audiences.
Everyone agrees that Uma Thurman could have been a great Poison Ivy. She’s a phenomenal actress and plays vengeful and empowered women superbly (though this was some years before her Kill Bill swansong). Unfortunately, even a great actor can’t elevate an awful script and misguided direction. Thurman’s performance, which channels Marlene Dietrich with notes of Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns was overblown and camp…even by this film’s standards.
2. BEN AFFLECK
We don’t…not like Affleck! Seriously, though, Ben Affleck is a fine actor and director as well as being one of the best Batmen to don the cowl before a camera. Unfortunately, the last few years have seen him endure a series of misfortunes that have (if rumors are to be believed) compromised his relationship with DC and Warner Bros.
From his open upset and annoyance that led to all those “Sad Affleck” memes in the wake of Batman V Superman to the failure of his pet project Live by Night, Affleck has gone from Warners’ golden boy to a borderline pariah in just a few short years. He also peppered the faces of studio execs with egg after publicly announcing that he would write, direct and star in The Batman before ditching two of those responsibilities just weeks later and casting the whole project into uncertainty.
1. TOM CRUISE (VIA HENRY CAVILL’S CGI TOP LIP)
Love or hate Justice League, even it’s staunchest defenders can’t deny that it wears its problematic production on its sleeve. Even before Zack Snyder left the production following the tragic death of his daughter, the consensus among the Warner/DC brass was that some re-shoots were in order. Among the new scenes would be a whole lot more Superman, which was great news for fans of Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel…or so we all thought.
Cavill was also filming the upcoming Mission: Impossible Fallout and had grown a mustache for the role which (if rumors are to be believed) Tom Cruise mandated that his co-star would not be able to shave for his Justice League re-shoots. The result is the lamentably rushed VFX job you see before you which provoked howls of ridicule among audiences.
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