6 Batman casting decisions that turned out to be surprisingly brilliant

Batman V Superman

Written by Jacob Murray

As trailers and set photos for the still-too-dang-far-away Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice film continue to make their way into the hands of hungry comic book fans, the heated debate concerning Ben Affleck taking up the mantle as the Dark Knight continues.

While the book on Batfleck is yet to be written, today we take a look back at previous incarnations of Batman to remind ourselves that snap judgments may not best prepare us for awesomeness to come, and that sometimes, even choices that in retrospect still seem odd live fondly in our hearts. Here are 6 times Batman casting decisions turned out to be completely brilliant.

1. Michael Keaton as Batman

Michael Keaton as Batman

Once upon time, Batman fans were furious that Michael Keaton was cast as the Caped Crusader. Only hearing of this now? It’s true! The backlash was so bad it hit the cover of the Wall Street Journal.

Wall Street Journal

The story goes that in response, producer Jon Peters rushed the first film trailer into thousands of theaters over the Christmas holiday. A simple montage of scenes without music, it created enormous anticipation for the film. In the following months leading up to the film’s release in June 1989, “Batmania” swept the nation, and Batman hit theaters with a record-breaking $100 million in its first ten days of release. So here we are today, left shaking our heads at the folly of the fans of yore. Hey, if you were one of those people, I get it. Keaton was a comedian and Batman is no joke. The term “eating crow” was made for situations like this, and the 50,000 fans who sent angry letters to Warner Bros. had full plates of black feathers to enjoy.

2. Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn

Arleen Sorkin as Harley Qunn

Harley Quinn artwork by Cason Pilliod

Harley Quinn has become a staple of the Batman universe, but in one of the stranger origin stories, it’s all thanks to Paul Dini’s affection for soap opera. Arleen Sorkin, whose voice acting of Harley perfectly embodies the character, actually inspired the character herself.

Perhaps if the internet had existed in it’s current state back in 1995, there would have been some serious WTFs bandied about, because if you tried to cast a Batman cartoon today with actors from Days of Our Lives, sarcastic memes would be sure to work their filthy magic. Let us all be thankful Paul Dini didn’t have the democratized environment of the internet interfering with the creation of Harley Quinn.

3. Heath Ledger as The Joker

Heath Ledger being cast in the role of The Joker is the most well documented example of initial fan outrage leading to a love affair. After questioning the heartthrob taking on the role of Batman’s most psychotic foe, the late Ledger turned in what would become a career-defining performance.
Shockingly, it turns out that sometimes the people who cast movies for a living have a knack for casting movies, whereas fans often incorrectly typecast actors based on previous roles the actor has taken. But a past body of work can not define an actor’s abilities, particularly deep method actors as Heath Ledger, or Daniel Day Lewis. Note to self: convince Warner Bros. to cast Daniel Day Lewis as an aging Joker in the next Batman movie.

4. Mark Hamill as The Joker

Mark Hamill as the Joker

Sticking with Joker castings for a moment, 20 years ago who would have guessed Mark Hamill would absolutely kill it as The Joker? Whereas Luke Skywalker could not have been a more wholesome hero, and a role Hamill will forever be associated with, taking on The Joker required him to become the antithesis of the young Jedi. Nevertheless, as the pipes of the Clown Prince Hamill was and still is wonderfully creepy, perfectly viscous in tone and timbre, and I look forward to him reprising the role in the upcoming ‘Killing Joke’ movie. I grew up with The Batman: Animated Series Joker, and in many ways that still defines the character for me. It wasn’t until much later in life I learned Hamill voiced The Joker (hey, I was 10 when the series aired.) But it’s probably for the best, as I don’t think my brain could have computed back then that Luke Skywalker was also The Joker. Childhood trauma averted.

5. Anne Hathaway as Catwoman

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman Another Christopher Nolan casting choice fans were wary of once upon a time was Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. After Michelle Pfeiffer and Julie Newmar, Hathaway had some mighty purr-fect shoes to fill, and she managed to do what neither of her iconic predecessors had before. While Pfeiffer and Newmar played a seductive Selina Kyle with aggressive sex appeal and violence, Hathaway lent Catwoman a much more human vibe. Grounded in Nolan’s dark and gritty but more realistic universe, she was the first Catwoman to focus on true affection for Bruce Wayne as a person.

6. Danny Elfman as Composer

So you don’t find Danny Elfman surprising? Of course you don’t. Danny Elfman and Tim Burton go together like crayons and freshly painted white walls. But according to this interview with The Post, there was plenty of doubt surrounding Elfman’s work for the 1989 film. “Nobody but Tim wanted me on the movie.”

Can you imagine Batman without Elfman’s haunting and exciting theme music? Me neither. It’s practically become a character of Gotham City unto itself, yet if popular opinion had it’s way we never would have heard it. But what is more surprising is Elfman’s own self-doubt. “I had no [film] experience,” he told The Post. “I was hoping I didn’t ruin this guy’s movie…” Further proof that directors are there for a reason. While they can’t all be as visionary as Burton was in this case, when they are, listening to them is a wise move. Just…listen.

Whether history repeats itself with Ben Affleck as it did with Keaton, Ledger and Hathaway remains to be seen. However as we get ready to celebrate Batman Day, we should rest a little easier knowing that it’s usually when we worry most about Batman that he turns out the best. Fear not the Batfleck. Fear the night without a Batman.