You may not have heard, but next month’s The Dark Knight Rises is director Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film, and he wants everyone to know it. And while Sean Connery taught us never to say never, we here at ComicBook.com are reasonably willing to believe that the filmmaker has no particular intention of coming back in the foreseeable future.
Still, Batman is a thriving property responsible for some of the highest-grossing films in the history of cinema. Assuming The Dark Knight Rises does anything like the money The Dark Knight did, there’s a next-to-zero chance the studio lets five years go by without taking another swing at the ol’ piñata, so we were thinking: Who could take over the franchise?
One of the things that Nolan taught us is that a filmmaker who brings his own distinctive voice and style to a movie—even a big summer tentpole movie full of explosions—is a good thing. The Batman mythology is full of those; every director since Tim Burton has left a very distinct visual mark on the franchise (even if a couple of those can be more accurately described as “welts” or “scars” rather than marks), and it seemed important to understand that the next director will be starting anew with the series. The likelihood of Nolan—who’s producing and consulting on the next Batman film, according to IMDb—allowing someone to waltz in and tell stories in his Dark Knight universe is pretty small and so chances are good that whoever takes over the franchise will have to create a new continuity, a new universe, a new voice and a new visual style more or less from scratch. So we’ve tried to come up with a group of directors whose previous work has shown them capable of doing that.
These are not in order of preference, although we’ll say this: the first five are fantasies. There’s virtually no way you would see them doing a Batman film, but they’re mentioned because of what they could bring to the table and because they aren’t the Steven Spielberg-David Lynch style of fantasy where it could never happen in a million years. They’re theoretically plausible, albeit extremely unlikely, candidates. The latter five are more in line with what Warner Brothers is likely looking for, and they’re candidates who would probably enjoy the job—or at least the offer.
David Cronenberg – The last comic book adaptation he did—A History of Violence—is one of our favorite R-rated comics movies of all time, and Cronenberg is the kind of filmmaker who could reinvent this or any franchise from the ground up. Sticking him on Batman would be not entirely unlike putting Terry Gilliam or David Lynch on the film, with the notable exception that Cronenberg has shown a track record of being able to work with studios rather effectively.
The downside? His most recent film stars Robert Pattinson, and there would be an outright revolt if that young man found himself anywhere near a Batman film.
Robert Schwentke – The director of RED is arguably the least Bat-friendly on this list, but the one most likely to take the character in a direction that would be better-suited for an eventual Justice League movie, which you have to think Warner is considering as they being to pick up the shattered pieces of the Bat-franchise in the wake of both Nolan and stars Christian Bale and Gary Oldman leaving. Both RED and R.I.P.D., his upcoming Dark Horse Comics adaptation, are films with as much heart and humor as action, and that’s probably not a general vibe that most people would associate with Batman in the wake of the Tim Burton-Christopher Nolan approach.
Remember, though, that there’s still a fair number of fans out there who know Batman best through animated television series and/or the Adam West show, and those people won’t be particularly put off if we were to get a film version where Robin wouldn’t feel hideously out of place.
Guy Ritchie – If there’s anyone who knows stylish violence, it’s Guy Ritchie. The filmmaker behind works like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Sherlock Holmes would be interesting to see taking on the Batman mythology if only because he’s proven that he can do a detective story or two that deteriorate into chase scenes and fighting but don’t lose the mystery at the film’s heart. If one were so inclined, they could take a “Detective Comics’ approach to doing a Batman film and put Batman through the paces to prove his “world’s greatest detective” mettle.
There’s also the fact that Ritchie has a wonderfully demented history of cinematic villains on his resume, and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine him bringing a decidedly anarchic perspective to Batman’s rogues gallery.
The Coen Brothers – There was a point not long ago when Joel and Ethan Coen were the first name off the tongue of anyone who was trying to pitch “the director for” anything. The pair, who have worked on content as varied as Blood Simple and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Have incredible directorial range, a great ear for characterization and dialogue and a unique visual style all their own that’s just as effective in a dark and rage-filled movie like No Country for Old Men as it is in The Big Lebowski.
I’d love to see the Coen Brothers take Batman back to a more noir-influenced style, without going quite as campy and gothic as Tim Burton. If someone could talk them into it, I could see it working quite well.
Clint Eastwood – The fact that he’s now retired from acting and is committing himself to directorial and musical duties only would make it even more attractive, as we wouldn’t be stuck in a world where Alfred seemed oddly angry and potentially able to beat up Batman.
In all seriousness, though, if you don’t think he could make a Batman film work, then you really need to re-watch Mystic River. With a penchant for making smart, complex crime stories and a long history with the strong, silent type of protagonists, Clint Eastwood directing a Batman film would be a bizarre and potentially amazing combination.
Patty Jenkins – She may not be directing Thor 2 anymore, but that’s no reason to count Jenkins out as being fully capable of writing a superhero movie. And making a great Batman movie with Jenkins at the wheel could be a kind of turnabout-is-fair-play thing for when DC spiked Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman feature, only to have him turn around and make the highest-grossing comic book adaptation of all time for Marvel.
Her work on The Killing (she directed both the series’ pilot and its emotionally-charged season two finale) was some of the best TV direction since Twin Peaks—and that’s saying something when you consider that more and more TV directors are getting into the features game these days (Joe and Anthony Russo, who work primarily on network TV series like Community, will direct the next Captain America movie).
David Fincher – As the director behind Fight Club, Se7en and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the real question for Fincher isn’t whether he can do the dark, brooding and brutal world of Batman—it’s whether he could manage to do it as a PG-13 movie.
That said, he’s one of the best directors in Hollywood and has a strong enough grasp of cinema that it seems unlikely he would put his own “take” ahead of the overall success of the project. Fincher would likely turn down the film before he’d take the job and then run it into the ground, which is a nice thing to feel confident about when the adaptation in question is one of the most sacred of cows.
Frank Darabont – There are any number of projects in his career that you can point at and say, “That’s all you really need to see, to know Frank Darabont can do whatever he sets his mind to.”
Still, the director of The Shawshank Redemption and onetime showrunner for AMC’s The Walking Dead is one of the least likely names on this list to take on the Caped Crusader. He’s got a pilot in the works for TNT, after all, and after the way he was blindsided by AMC last year, it seems likely he’ll be pretty hands-on with his next project, hoping that keeping his head in the day-to-day will prevent a collapse like what happened at The Walking Dead.
That said, if he could be persuaded, the end result would likely be amazing. As a filmmaker, he has a great sense of light and dark, effectively using shadows and silence to convey dread and tension. On top of that, the pilot he’s working on—set in the 1930s and shot in a “film noir” style—is actually a perfect primer for a moody, Tim Burtonesque take on Batman if that’s the way he wanted to go.
Ben Affleck – Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that he was involved with Daredevil, one of the most maligned superhero movies of the last decade or so. Focus instead on his work as a writer (he won an Oscar for Good Will Hunting) and director (The Town and Gone Baby Gone were terrific, and Argo is getting great buzz).
Affleck, in spite of the star power attached to his name as an actor, probably has as much in common with Nolan as anyone on this list in terms of his approach to storytelling and filmmaking. His films tend to be more grounded in visual reality than narrative reality, with over-the-top characters being brought down to earth by their surroundings, lighting and characterization. He also works a lot with characters who exist on the fringes of society, from the criminal element to the borderline criminal element, to spies and even occasionally people with some connection to comic books.
Take that, sprinkle in his own interest in the source material and blend with the potential for a Kevin Smith dialogue polish of the film and you’ve got what could be a pretty promising movie—assuming he didn’t cast himself as Batman.
Robert Rodriguez – In the years since his creation, Batman has been a lot of things to a lot of people in the comics, on TV and in movies, and there’s not a single interpretation of the character I wouldn’t trust Rodriguez to take on.
The director of El Mariachi, Spy Kids and Sin City has done action in just about every “voice” you can think of, so the biggest challenge for him wouldn’t be to tell it well, but to decide up front which iteration of Batman he wants to tackle.
He would also bring with him the cache of his friends and connections; imagine a Batman film that has Frank Miller actually contributing to the script, or one where Quentin Tarantino could do brush-ups on the dialogue? Even if neither of those things came to pass, the number of great actors who line up around the block to work with Rodriguez would make this an interesting proposition.