With the recent news of Ben Affleck being cast as Batman in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman (a surprising choice that I did not have on my list of out left field Batman candidates). This had me looking at previous actors that were almost cast in Batman movies.
Please keep in mind that this is a very casual blog where I don't even cite my sources. I basically just looked at Wikipedia, notstarring.com and called upon my knowledge of geek rumors and urban legends. Many of these may just be rumors and I doubt many were ever close to being cast in a Batman movie, but it is interesting to look at how different
Bruce Wayne, Batman (1989)
Who Was Cast?: As many have pointed out in the past few days, the comedic actor Michael Keaton was the original controversial Batman actor that ended up surprising people. Many still consider him to be the definitive Batman.
Who Was Considered?: A lot of movie stars of the time, with Mel Gibson having been the top choice. Other names attached included Kevin Costner, Alec Baldwin, Pierce Brosnan, Tom Selleck, Jeff Bridges and Charlie Sheen. Other comedic actors considered were Kevin Kline, Steve Martin and Bill Murray who could have all given Keaton like turns. Rumor has it that sometime during the long development in the eighties Adam West was turned down.
Who Could Have Done It Better?: I think that pretty much any of the previously mentioned actors would have been able to do a decent job, but they would not have been as perfect fit for the film as Keaton. Although I think that Baldwin circa 1989 would have been my second choice.
How Bad Could It Have Been?: Sheen seems like a terrible choice now but from my understanding of the eighties he was actually a respected actor. Although he had too much of a youthful appearance at the time. Murray wouldn't have had the physique needed although his Bruce Wayne would have been interesting.
The Joker, Batman (1989)
Who Was Cast?: Jack Nicholson got paid an insane amount of money to basically sell the movie as Keaton and Burton were huge gambles and a superhero movie like this had not been attempted before. Nicholson is one of the best actors of his generation, but it is my least favorite interpretation of the characters.
Who Was Considered?: There are a variety of actors who auditioned or were considered:Tim Curry, David Bowie, Willem Dafoe, John Glover, John Lithgow, James Woods, Robin Williams and potentially Peter O'Toole.
Who Could Have Done It Better?: Robin Williams was the only box office draw out of the list, which was Jack's primary function. However Tim Curry (who was the original voice in B:TAS before being replaced by Mark Hamill) and David Bowie are much more physical and idiosyncratic performers that could have created a really interesting Joker.
How Bad Could It Have Been?: As much of a fan as I am of Robin Williams I think that he would have been too over the top and distracting in the role.
Vicki Vale, Batman (1989)
Who Was Cast?: Kim Basinger plays a really good damsel in distress and helps elevate the movie.
Who Was Considered?: A lot of other ladies in the Hollywood hype machine of the time such as Michelle Pfeiffer, Melanie Griffith, Annie Potts, Sharon Stone, Debra Winger and Sela Ward. Interestingly Sean Young was actually cast, but had an accident on the horse.
Who Could Have Done It Better?: As good as a lot of these actresses are Kim Basinger ended up being the best choice (especially since Michelle Pfeiffer was such a perfect fit for Catwoman). Debra Winger is always great, but I think that Sela Ward (Fugitive, House) would have been my pick.
How Bad Could It Have Been?: Melanie Griffith had an amazing shot to stardom the year prior in Working Girl, but she did not end up working as a movie star.
Catwoman, Batman Returns (1992)
Who Was Cast?: Michelle Pfeiffer is near the top of the list of the many sexy ladies who have played Catwoman.
Who Was Considered?: The role was going to Annette Bening but she was pregnant. A lot of others were considered or rumored including Ellen Barkin, Cher, Geena Davis, Bridget Fonda, Jodie Foster, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Madonna, Demi Moore, Lena Olin, Susan Sarandon, Brooke Shields, Meryl Streep and Debra Winger. Of course Sean Young was famously the one who wanted it the most.
Who Could Have Done It Better?: As I have mentioned with Keaton and Basinger, Pfeiffer was the best choice. But a lot of the others would have been interesting. Susan Sarandon can play sexy and intimidating well and although I doubt she was ever seriously considered Jodie Foster would have had a unique edge to her. But I can never get enough of Geena Davis and would be interested in seeing her in a big superhero movie.
How Bad Could It Have Been?: I am sure most people would say Sean Young, but I really don't understand how showing up dressed like a character you want to play is that crazy. But as much as I would not want Cher in the role she would have at least been more interesting than Madonna. Brooke Shields would have been awful too.
The Penguin, Batman Returns (1992)
Who Was Cast?: I think that this was pretty clearly written for the great Danny DeVito. This is not one of the better received Bat-performances, but I would say that has more to do with the direction the story went rather than the actor. DeVito plays the grotesque character they wanted, even though the gentleman from the comics would have been much better.
Who Was Considered?: The names I found associated with the part were Dustin Hoffman, Christopher Lloyd and even Marlon Brando.
Who Could Have Done It Better?: I think that Dustin Hoffman would have been a great choice, could have brought some more subtleties to it. Although I would be fascinated to see Christopher Lloyd's take, would have been nice to see the talented actor break out of typecasting.
How Bad Could It Have Been?: Brando had been impossible to work with since his second Oscar and would have made odd comments and escalated tension on set. As much fun as I would have reading about his wacky antics it would not have serviced the film.
Bruce Wayne, Batman Forever (1995)
Who Was Cast?: Keaton would not return because he did not like the new light direction that WB was moving in. Joel Schumacher cast Val Kilmer who Bob Kane actually thought was a great Bruce Wayne. And to be completely honest, I still like him in the role and see this movie as a huge guilty pleasure.
Who Was Considered?: William Baldwin seems to be the second choice, having worked with Schumacher in Flatliners. The other names I ran across were very varied including Ralph Fiennes, Johnny Depp, Daniel Day-Lewis, Tom Hanks, Kurt Russell and the Superman of the time Dean Cain. I doubt pretty much any of them were ever seriously considered or would have agreed to even audition.
Who Could Have Done It Better?: Again I like Kilmer in the role, but a lot of great actors were considered. Tom Hanks would have been similar to Keaton, but most of the rumored actors would have been too serious for such a goofy movie. Kurt Russell as Batman however would be awesome in any movie. He can be ridiculous and could have actually improved the movie considerably with his likability and badassery.
How Bad Could It Have Been?: Daniel Day-Lewis would have just been a terrible fit, highly doubt that he would have even wanted it.
Dick Grayson, Batman Forever (1995)
Who Was Cast?: Chris O'Donnell who I have never been a fan of (terrible in Scent of a Woman and The Chamber). Although I do like Batman Forever's take on Robin, he did not help out Batman & Robin at all though.
Who Was Considered?: A lot of future big stars tested including Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Dourif, Mark Wahlberg (who recently mentioned that he dodged a bullet with this movie) and yes, Christian Bale.
Who Could Have Done It Better?: All of them are much better actors than Chris O'Donnell but they all really grew into actors through working with great directors (Martin Scorsese, Gus van Sant, Steven Spielberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, etc.). Aside from Dourif this would have had a negative effect on all of their careers as it would have made them stars too soon and that would have had a snowball effect on their great indie work. I am going with DiCaprio (who was the most experienced) as possibly the best choice for 1995, but I don't really know who would have been able to elevate Robin.
How Bad Could It Have Been?: Even though he is currently an exciting actor having given great performances in Boogie Nights, The Departed, The Fighter and Ted Mark Wahlberg has trouble in big action blockbusters and was not a great actor right away.
Dr. Chase Meridian, Batman Forever (1995)
Who Was Cast?: One of the few things that everybody likes about this movie was Nicole Kidman who was able to give a good performance without going over the top.
Who Was Considered?: It was greenlit with starlet of the time Rene Russo. Sandra Bullock, Cindy Crawford, Linda Hamilton and Robin Wright Penn also were considered.
Who Could Have Done It Better?: This is one that they got right, but Robin Wright would have been able to do a good job. Russo would have been fine too.
How Bad Could It Have Been?: Linda Hamilton would have been weird to see and I don't think I have ever seen a Cindy Crawford movie. But as much as I love her I don't think that this was the movie for Sandra Bullock. In 1995 she starred in While You Were Sleeping which used her spunk and energy, that would have worked against her in this movie which had Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey chewing the scenery. Part of what made Kidman great was that she actually was a supportive actress.
Mr. Freeze, Batman and Robin (1997)
Who Was Cast?: Arnold Schwarzenegger which we have heard every possible joke about how bad this movie and performance is.
Who Was Considered?: They also considered buff actors Sylvester Stallone and Hulk Hogan and bald actors Patrick Stewart and Anthony Hopkins. They decided to go with buff Schwarzenegger and shave his head as a compromise.
Who Could Have Done It Better?: Patrick Stewart and Anthony Hopkins hamming it up is infinitely better than Schwarzenegger hamming it up. Either of the two British stage veterans would have been a lot of fun and may have given the movie some moments worth watching.
How Bad Could It Have Been?: It is hard to say if Stallone and Hulk Hogan would have been not as bad as Schwarzenegger or worse, either way the movie was doomed.
Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins (2005)
Who Was Cast?: After losing out on Robin Christian Bale ended up gaining recognition from this role which helped out his great indie work.
Who Was Considered?: A lot of people. Jake Gyllenhaal was the second choice (but don't worry Bale was the second choice for Jarhead). Also associated with the role were Billy Crudup, David Boreanaz, John Cusack, Hugh Dancy, David Duchovny, Josh Hartnett, Joshua Jackson, Ashton Kutcher and Guy Pearce. Man of Steel Henry Cavill also auditioned before he auditioned and lost Superman Returns. Cillian Murphy also auditioned for this before Nolan gave him another role.
Who Could Have Done It Better?: Honestly, I would have gone with Cillian Murphy. Christian Bale gives a great performance in Batman Begins, the only live-action Batman movie that is really about Bruce Wayne. But the lead character lost focus in Dark Knight and became a selfish idiot in Dark Knight Rises (seriously you could have made that movie without Batman). But even if the writing moved the focus away from Bruce Wayne Cillian Murphy would have been able to stand out. This does not take anything away from Bale of course who makes one of the best superhero origin movies work.
How Bad Could It Have Been?: It could have been pretty bad. But even more than Ashton Kutcher or Josh Hartnett, I am surprised that John Cusack was considered. Way too old and is just a boring actor in blockbusters. I do need to see Say, Anything and High Fidelity yet, but outside of Being John Malkovich I really get bored with Cusack.
James Gordon, Batman Begins (2005)
Who Was Cast?: Gary Oldman ended up surprising everyone and became the ensemble darkhorse for the franchise, making Jim Gordon the necessary supporting character that he should be.
Who Was Considered?: Chris Cooper was the original choice. If I am not mistaken Oldman was originally considered for Ra's al Ghul before Cooper couldn't do it (Oldman switched roles because Nolan wanted him and Neeson to play against type). Also considered were other proven middle aged actors Kurt Russell and Dennis Quaid.
Who Could Have Done It Better?: I don't know if any of them would have have been better but all four choices for Gordon would have worked out great. I am surprised that we have not seen Kurt Russell and Dennis Quaid in a superhero movie (Sky High aside), seems like a natural fit for them.
How Bad Could It Have Been?: It wasn't going to be bad. Gordon was well written and they knew the right direction to go with the character in casting.
The Joker, Heath Ledger (2008)
Who Was Cast?: The late Heath Ledger in his Oscar winning performance.
Who Was Considered?: The other names considered were Paul Bettany, Adrien Brody, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell and again Robin Williams.
Who Could Have Done It Better?: Again, I can't say better but Sam Rockwell would have been the one who could have come up with a different approach that would have worked for the character. Rockwell can do no wrong and this role seems perfect for his build and unique brand of giddiness.
How Bad Could It Have Been?: Steve Carell and Robin Williams are extremely talented, but they would have brought expectations of this being a comedy. Would have ended up harming the movie even if they did a good job and played it scary rather than goofy. Audiences would have just not accepted it.