Over the weekend, conflicting reports surrounding Ben Affleck’s Batman hit the Internet. On Friday, a source told The Hollywood Reporter that “the studio is working on plans to usher out Affleck’s Batman – gracefully, addressing the change in some shape or form in one of the upcoming DC films.” One day later, Affleck himself squashed those rumors while at San Diego Comic-Con, saying: “Let me be very clear. I am the luckiest guy in the world. Batman is the coolest f—ing character in any universe — DC, Marvel — and I’m so thrilled to do it.”
This is not a knock against Affleck whatsoever; he was undeniably the best part of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and his rumored solo Batman flick will likely be badass. This is more an observation on the direction of superhero movies. Batman will always be a big money IP title at Warner Bros. and perhaps the crown jewel of DC Films. But as we’ve seen in recent years, audiences are more than willing to turn out in droves for niche characters with positive word of mouth while somewhat ignoring marquee names that aren’t generating the type of buzz that was expected.
Guardians of the Galaxy ($773.3 million worldwide), Deadpool ($783.1 million) and Wonder Woman ($779.4 million and counting) all vastly outperformed expectations despite their lack of established big screen history thanks to strong reviews and a cool newness factor. Movies featuring familiar characters that have already been rebooted several times, however, are not faring nearly as well. Man of Steel ($668 million), Dawn of Justice ($873.2) and Spider-Man: Homecoming (will be lucky to cross $800 million) are all profitable hits, but did/will not necessarily meet expectations. Affleck’s The Batman, directed by Matt Reeves whose War for the Planet of the Apes is disappointing at the box office despite rave reviews, could follow a similar path even if its a high quality movie.
While it sounds like the reports that Affleck wants out were a bit premature, losing Batman would create an interesting opportunity for WB. Instead of The Dark Knight, the studio could fill the Gotham-sized hole by ramping up the emphasis on the planned female-led Batgirl and Gotham City Sirens films. A Nightwing movie has long been in the works, but an Affleck exit could put Dick Grayson front and center in his first real live action appearance (the DCEU has already established that Bruce Wayne has had at least one Robin). These interesting supporting characters would provide a lot of creative leeway that could avoid the wrath of angry fanboys who feel cheated every time a filmmaker deviates from the source material. They also provide the opportunity for more diversity in the blockbuster superhero genre. These alternatives could feel different than the deluge of Batman content that preceded them.
WB and moviegoers obviously don’t want Affleck to drop out as the Caped Crusader as he’s done a great job with the character in limited opportunity. But it wouldn’t be a death knell to the DCEU if Affleck did walk. In fact, it might be just the challenge and unique opportunity Warner Bros. needs to separate themselves from Marvel.