Saturday was Batman Day, a time for fans of the Dark Knight to toast their favourite costumed crime fighter. He’s had many faces over the years, both in print and most notably on the big screen. Ben Affleck is of course the latest cape-swishing incumbent but it all started back in 1943 with Lewis Wilson taking the role (pictured above, alongside Douglas Croft as Robin).
Bob Kane and Bill Finger‘s cowled creation has been brought to life by a range of actors, yet there has also been an eye-opening roster of potential stars who, for one reason or another, failed to reach the Batcave. In honour of Wayne Manor’s most mysterious resident, I shine a light on those meatier prospects who slipped through the DC Universe’s net…
In 2003 a story surfaced that caught the attention of comic book aficionados and movie buffs across the globe. Bombastic auteur Orson Welles had planned his own adaptation of Batman in the 1940s, which naturally would star himself as Bruce Wayne/the Caped Crusader. Basil Rathbone was set to play The Joker, James Cagney was The Riddler, George Raft was in the frame for Two-Face (though Welles wanted Humphrey Bogart) and Marlene Dietrich signed on as Catwoman.
The unearthed excitement proved short-lived, as this was all a heady confection dreamt up by writer Mark Millar (Kick Ass, Kingsman). He went to the trouble of providing conceptual sketches and as a capper devised a convincing reason as to why the project never went ahead. In Millar’s narrative Welles pulled out after the studio favoured Gregory Peck for the lead!
Watch a fan-made trailer for the fictional flick here.
It’s difficult to imagine the Batman TV show of the Sixties without the dry performance of Adam West at its centre. However it could have been a different series had alternate choice Lyle Waggoner won the role. Thankfully West was best, though the audition reel for Waggoner (seen with Peter Deyell, who was up against Burt Ward as The Boy Wonder) still exists, giving us an insight into what might have been:
The actor went on to have his own moment in the comic book sun, when he played Steve Trevor in the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series. Waggoner portrayed Trevor during the first season, which took place during World War II, and also in later runs as his own son for the retooled Seventies adventures.
Michael Keaton‘s Batman, under the direction of Tim Burton, changed the game for comic book movies in 1989. But it could have taken another road four years earlier, with a surprising choice of actor for the cowl. Ghostbusters helmer Ivan Reitman was hired to shoot Tom Mankiewicz‘s screenplay and he wanted Bill Murray to head up the action.
Despite Murray’s immense comedic credentials, he did have some form as a straight actor (The Razor’s Edge), so this isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. In fact it may have been a similar experience to Keaton, who was previously known for the likes of Night Shift and Beetlejuice… though as my favourite Batman I’m glad he got the part! Still, you can’t help but wonder how David Bowie would have fared as Reitman’s Joker of choice…
It wouldn’t have been so much a case of “Make my day” as “Make my night” had directing combo The Hughes Brothers gotten their way. Having successfully realized graphic novel From Hell on screen, they were offered the chance to helm Frank Miller‘s infamous The Dark Knight Returns, which saw an ageing Bruce Wayne emerge from retirement for one last roll of the dice wrecking wrongdoers.
None other than Clint Eastwood was on the Hughes’ hit list – surprising to some, as Eastwood was no spring chicken. However the idea made perfect sense. Miller’s hard-boiled sensibility would have been captured expertly by the veteran star, forever associated with the vigilante exploits of Dirty Harry Callahan. Christopher Nolan wound up taking the reins of the franchise for Batman Begins, but it’s thrilling to think how the actor’s grizzled presence would have filled the hero’s boots.
Ben Affleck‘s Batman will next be seen in Justice League, out Nov 17th.