You shoulda been a superhero: Some inspired ‘Batman’ casting choices

It’s a guessing game – a match game of sorts – that comic book fans have been playing for decades. Who should play their favorite superheroes and villains in a movie?

With Marvel Comics movies, the casting game is going on, officially and unofficially, in Hollywood and in Everytown, all the time these days. With a couple of Marvel movies in the works, including “Iron Man 3” and “The Wolverine,” and a couple more in the offing – “Guardians of the Galaxy,” maybe? – somebody’s being cast as a Marvel character every few days.

With “The Dark Knight Rises” coming out soon and Warners and DC Comics planning a reboot for the Batman character, I got to thinking about ideal or almost-happened casting for Batman movies in the past. Only one of these falls into that “almost happened” category, though. The rest are just random thoughts that popped into my head over the past couple of decades.

Michael J. Fox as Robin. Okay, wait a minute, wait a minute. Remember the controversy when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman” in Tim Burton’s 1989 movie? Keaton was primarily a comic actor with a receding hairline and not enough chin. But he did a great job.

I know from reading an early draft of the script – more about that another day – that Robin was originally meant to be a character in the movie. So, given the late-1980s period, why not cast 80s star Michael J. Fox as Dick Grayson/Robin? Fox had the right stature, both physically and Hollywood-wise, for the part. He’s quite capable of pulling off a dramatic scene and he might have brought a Burt Ward-style energy to the movie.

Marlon Wayans as Robin. Early in the history of the Tim Burton “Batman” movies, there was talk of a street-wise, “urban” actor being cast as Dick Grayson. There’s a Dick Grayson character in that early script and Wayans, who was 17 when Burton’s movie was released, was set to play the part. Wayans even said in 2009 that he got paid for the role but Burton didn’t include the character. As we all know, Dick Grayson didn’t show up until the third “Batman” movie and by that point was played by future “NCIS” TV star Chris O’Donnell. I wish we’d gotten the chance to see Wayans in the role.

Ray Liotta as the Joker. Liotta is familiar to most of us from “Goodfellas” and other films, but take a look at him above from the 1986 Jonathan Demme movie “Something Wild.” Jeff Daniels plays a mild-mannered guy who falls in with a wild woman played by Melanie Griffith. It’s all fun and games until the woman’s homicidal ex-boyfriend shows up, played by guess who? I remember sitting in the theater in 1986 seeing Liotta’s crazy and scary expressions and thinking, “Damn, this guy would make a good Joker.” He sure would have been more physically intimidating than Jack Nicholson.

Willem DaFoe as the Joker. I liked DaFoe as Norman Osborn in Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” movie. I wasn’t crazy about the Goblin outfit, but that’s another story. Anyway. Osborn wasn’t DaFoe’s first opportunity to play a bad guy. Here’s how he looked in Walter Hill’s 1984 action musical “Streets of Fire” as the murderous leader of a biker gang. Look at that face and tell me he wouldn’t be ideal as the Joker.

Armie Hammer as Batman. Or Superman. Everyone knows that DC and Warner Bros. are struggling to get their superhero film franchises off the ground – other than the very standoffish “Dark Knight” movies. They’re planning to reboot the Batman character almost immediately and want to jump-start a “Justice League” movie. (Of course, they’re only about $1.5 billion behind the box office take for “The Avengers.”)

But as fans know, Warners almost got a “Justice League” movie off the ground in 2008. A script was completed, casting had begun and apparently some costume tests were done. I’d like to pause right now to wonder how it’s possible that none of those costume photos have ever been leaked to the web. Anyway. Armie Hammer, later known for “The Social Network,” was cast at Batman before the movie got derailed. Hammer, who’s like seven feet tall, would have worked very well as a young Bruce Wayne. Or a young Clark Kent, for that matter. With Henry Cavill coming next year in “Man of Steel,” it’ll be interesting to see if he figures into future “Justice League” movie plans, if Hollywood will circle back to Hammer or find some virtual unknown for the role. That tactic worked very well with Christopher Reeve.

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