When it comes to casting big screen and live-action adaptations of our favorite characters, the discussions can heat up quickly as to which actor should be playing which character. We each have our own versions of which actor should be playing which character in our minds. We extrapolate what they would be like in real life from their images, and their voices from the comic books. So the versions of these characters we hold so near and dear become so personal to us. Thus, the casting of these roles is a high stakes game, especially for long running fans. As a result of this high stakes game, casting rumors spark intense discussion, fears, dreams, complaints and celebrations when they reach the public. Often fans are wrong in their uproar, like we saw when Tim Burton cast Michael Keaton as Batman, or when Christopher Nolan gave us Heath Ledger as the Joker, but sometimes we are right in our uproar, like when we feared Topher Grace owuld be horrible as Eddie Brock.
Fans have been armchair casting characters since the beginning, and that’s because of our connection to these characters and our desire to protect them and see what we imagined when they finally show up on our screens. So of course, casting rumors for the multiple Batman cinematic universes are going to bring some hot takes. Being Batman fans, we compiled 10 casting rumors that would have been better than what we got on-screen, and 10 that would have been worse.
20 BETTER: OSCAR ISAAC AS BATMAN
Ben Affleck no doubt has the dark and broad look often associated with the billionaire playboy under the mask and cowl. But his performance as Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and onward had a distinct lack of presence and on-screen chemistry with the rest of his co-stars.
When it comes to chemistry with co-stars, few come close to what oozes from Oscar Isaac. He has slipped his way into important fandoms, bringing a presence otherwise unmatched. His ability to act as a “Han Solo -type,” would certainly have leant to a spot as Bruce Wayne, and he would have been an incredible bat.
19 WORSE: EDDIE MURPHY AS THE RIDDLER
A lot of us Batman fans have a soft spot for The Riddler. Never quite nearing the fame of The Joker, the green and purple clad villain also relies on quips and tricks, though somewhat limited to the clowning of mysteries and puzzles.
So the casting of such a character is close to a lot of fans’ hearts. Jim Carrey so excelled in the role, looking back at the comics, it almost seems like they were drawn in his image, whether or not they pre-date him. As we have said, the balancing of camp and darkness has been associated with all the Batman films, and Eddie Murphy would have been, well, too funny.
18 BETTER: WILLEM DAFOE AS THE JOKER
Having to share the same universe as the Suicide Squad meant the Justice League had a lot of limitations, one being that Jared Leto is the canon Joker. What did that mean for the Snyder adaptations of the DC heroes? Well, we ended up with not a Joker in sight. Now that the Worlds of DC seems to be leaning in favor of standalone films, including a Joker project, we can’t help but feel slighted that we lost out on some potential rumored castings, including fan favorite Twitter thread suggestion, Willem Dafoe.
Dafoe’s sharp cheek bones, crazy smile (as showcased in Spider-Man), and frightening voice made him the fan cast of dreams, and arguably would have been better than the “no Joker,” the movie ended up with.
17 WORSE: ASTHON KUTCHER AS BATMAN IN BATMAN BEGINS
Kutcher was pushed out by the studio for the same reason we don’t think he would have been right for the role: it would have read as too campy. When Michael Keaton was cast in Burton’s adaptation, the uproar was due to the fact that Keaton had, until then, been known as a comedic actor, which isn’t what people wanted to see as the Dark Knight.
So, it is possible any Kutcher feelings would have been as a result of the same sentiments, but there is no question that Nolan’s adaptations are a marked departure of the campy films of old. With a more serious tone and an attempt to pivot from camp, Kutcher would not have been the right man for the cowl.
16 BETTER: NICOLAS CAGE A THE JOKER
In the same category as Willem Dafoe, is the Joker iteration we never got that could have been Nicolas Cage. Cage gets a bad rap having played unintentionally humorous versions of action characters, and a vision of him that is not self-aware. But what is often ignored is Cage’s incredible sense for high camp, as showcased in Mom and Dad, as well as his bonkers and heavy dramatic abilities, showcased most recently in Mandy.
Say what you will about Cage, the guy has talent, a talent that balances scary, campy, funny, and straight up nuts into fun characters, something that would be invaluable in a character like the Joker.
15 WORSE: BRAD DOURIF AS THE JOKER
The fact of the matter is that no one could have been more successful at playing The Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman than Jack Nicholson. But Brad Dourif would have come close. The Burton take on the Caped Crusader was revolutionary for finding a perfect balance between camp and darkness, something superhero films have grasped at ever since.
In doing so, the performance of the lead in The Shining brought the balance of fear and “crazy.” This was a departure from the cartoony but dark performance of Mark Hamill, who voiced the character in The Animated Series. Dourif, the voice of Chucky, would have been too similar to that performance, which might have worked, but could not have topped what Nicholson did.
14 BETTER: MARLON WAYANS AS ROBIN
The casting of comedians in Batman roles was a hot button issue right out the gate, as we discussed when Keaton was given the spot as Batman. But ultimately, Keaton stole the show with his balance of camp and “grit,” in the role. So when Marlon Wayans ended up the first thought for Robin in Batman Forever, the same fears resurfaced.
Ultimately, after the usual uproar, Chris O’Donnell was granted the role as the Bat’s sidekick. But the movies ended up more campy than fans expected, even compared to the Burton films, and a comedian would have been a very welcome addition to alleviate the tension between the high camp and the serious tone it was borrowing from.
13 WORSE: SAM ROCKWELL AS THE JOKER
Sam Rockwell deserves the spot as a villain. He gave us a taste as Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2, but his quirkiness, acting ability, and dance moves are all just part of why we are so eager for him to be let loose as a villain character.
But there is simply no arguing that when Heath Ledger was given that chance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, he excelled beyond what could be expected of anyone, even a guy like Rockwell. So, while the dude could probably have done a very fun adaptation of the Clown Prince of Crime, there is simply no dream casting that could rise above what we got.
12 BETTER: JAKE GYLLENHAAL AS RICK FLAG
With Batman having nothing more than a cameo, Suicide Squad had many flaws including the relationship between Rick Flag and June Moon. Unfortunately, the relationship was difficult to get invested in, especially as a result of the dry performance we got from Joel Kinnaman.
What’s strange is that Kinnaman played a similar role, wherein his relationships were the emotional center, in Altered Carbon, and he managed to sell it well. But, no doubt, that the once rumored Jake Gyllenhaal would have done a better job. His pedigree and acting ability would have made him perfect for selling a doomed relationship. Rumor is, he was the first choice for the role but wanted no part in the DC Universe.
11 WORSE: JULIA ROBERTS AS CATWOMAN
Michelle Pfeiffer’s portrayal of Selina Kyle and Catwoman in Tim Burton’s second Batman film was flawless. Full stop. From her start as a nervous assistant, to the meowing cat suit wearer, she absolutely excelled. There is just no way that "America’s Sweethear" could have given us the “Hell Here,” scene quite like the vixen we got in Pfeiffer. She completely embodied the role and realized Burton’s vision, even being invested enough to decline reprising the role without Burton’s involvement.
Julia Roberts can and has done a lot on-screen, and didn’t get where she is by accident. But the Mona Lisa Smile star just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to convince us she sewed a catsuit real quick with what she had lying around.
10 BETTER: RENEE RUSSO AS DR. CHASE MERIDIAN
Dr. Chase Meridian had big shoes to fill in Batman Forever as the previous films had strong love interests. So the casting of the woman who would dance with both the bat and the man under the cowl was important, as it stood for Bruce Wayne’s growth and conflicted feelings about dressing up as a bat and balancing his life as a philanthropist and business man.
So, it’s not to say that Nicole Kidman didn’t excel in the role, but her performance was not her most dynamic. Rene Russo has played opposite many a strong character, for instance, in the Thomas Crown Affair opposite Pierce Brosnan, and could have absolutely sold the character and held her own.
9 WORSE: BRADLEY COOPER AS LEX LUTHOR
Before he was the only person who believed in Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper was famous for being the bully type as showcased in Wedding Crashers. But his version of a villain has thus far been limited to the “bro-type” comedy realm.
It’s hard to imagine any performances could have been worse than Jesse Eisenberg’s, but we think Cooper might be able to top it. A bald-headed version of Cooper finally being let loose to go full villain in a major comic book flick would have been a self righteous performance that almost feels like it would tell you he was in Oscar nominated films.
8 BETTER: KURT RUSSELL AS BATMAN
Kurt Russell’s name has been thrown around for multiple variations of big screen Batmans. In one iteration, he was rumoured for a stint as the Frank Miller version of an older Batman, and also, as the lead in Batman Forever.
Val Kilmer's performance wasn’t exactly lauded, so maybe there is a low bar for who would have been better, but we think Russell would have been way better. Russell has more cult classics under his belt than almost anyone, save for the director who trusts him the most, John Carpenter. His ability to play a strong lead with a balance of humor, and chameleon tendency in multiple character types make him an ace candidate for the role.
7 WORSE: BILLY CRUDUP AS BATMAN
Billy Crudup has a chronic inability not to look like he is just about to laugh. As the IMF suit in Mission: Impossible III, he could barely turn off his laugh face when the full weight of Ethan Hunt’s team came down on him. So we were naturally worried when he was in contention to play Batman.
Among Billy Crudup, there were rumors of Jake Gyllenhaal, Joshua Jackson, Heath Ledger, and Cillian Murphy. On why he went with Bale, Nolan said “he has exactly the balance of darkness and light that we were looking for.” That checks out. Luckily, Crudup was able to cover that up with blue glow when he stepped into the role in Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen.
6 BETTER: MATT DAMON AS ROBIN
Damon manages to look a foot shorter than he really is by the end of The Departed, is a mess in Dogma, and a needy sidekick in the Ocean's trilogy. This, combined with some aerial training onto his combat skills would have made him a much better Robin than what we got.
5 WORSE: DON JOHNSON AS HARVEY DENT
There is no denying that Miami Vice left an indelible imprint on pop culture and Don Johnson is forever a pop culture staple as a result. And when it came to casting who ultimately would be the one and only Harvey Dent in the Batman films (well… for one of them anyway), the man for the job was Lando Calrissian himself, Billy Dee Williams.
But this wasn’t always the plan. In an earlier version of the script, Harvey Dent was a confidant of commissioner Gordon and Batman, and was to be played by Don Johnson. The film made the right turn, leaving all of that behind. We will see if Johnson delivers in his big comic book role in the upcoming Watchmen series.
4 BETTER: KANE HODDER AS BANE
The thing about Batman & Robin is, well, it wasn’t the most favorite installment in the iterations of the bat on-screen. A villainess like Ivy is almost impossible to upstage, and as a result, Bane became her sidekick for the film, devoid of lines and personality.
But there’s a man who has played silent brutes before, better than anyone else and that man is Kane Hodder. Known for his portrayal of Jason Voorhees in multiple Friday the 13th films, and later as Victor Crowley in the Hatchet films, Hodder is the standard in playing quiet menacing masked giants, something we associated with, at the very least, this version of Bane.
3 WORSE: ANNETTE BENING AS CATWOMAN
We have already discussed at length that there is no other fathomable casting of Catwoman that could have been better than Michelle Pfeiffer -- but we were really close to getting another potentially great performance. Annette Bening was the initial first choice for the vinyl clad villainess, but had to back out of the role when she got pregnant.
Annette is no slouch. She could have been incredible in the spot, but we can’t imagine anyone topping the performance we got. So, the world got more Beatty/Bening children and we got Michelle Pfeiffer’s flawless performance as Catwoman. We’d call it a win-win.
2 BETTER: ADAM DRIVER AS LEX LUTHOR
Jesse Eisenberg has the successfully rich jerk down, and he absolutely nailed his version of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, which should have made him a shoe-in for a similar enough character in Lex Luthor. He really leaned into the quirkiness baddy thing here, and really gave it his all in the “Clark Kent meeting Bruce Wayne,” party scene, but, ultimately fell flat.
Hearing that Driver was once rumored for Lex swells us with disappointment. The guy has worked with some of the most renowned directors in the game and blew everyone away with his performance as the bratty but crazy member of the Dark Side, Kylo Re in Star Wars, and could have played Luthor in his sleep.
1 WORSE: MATTHEW BRODERICK AS THE RIDDLER
Joel Schumacher’s first installment in the Batman franchise went through a lot of different castings and possibilities. At one point, the first choice for the role of bright green villain, The Riddler, was being handed to the incomparable Robin Williams.
According to rumors, when Burton left the project and the role was offered to Williams, he was still put-off by being used as bait to get Nicholson to commit to the role of Joker, and turned down the role. So Matthew Broderick started to campaign for the role. But soft Broderick couldn’t get the role which ultimately, luckily, went to Jim Carrey.