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Process of Elimination: Casting the Next Batman

Even though the rumors of Armie Hammer’s casting were quickly debunked, the stove is getting hotter. It’s time to put a system in place to pick the new Caped Crusader. We consider Stephan James, Trevante Rhodes, Lakeith Stanfield, John Boyega, and others.

A row of Batmans Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Bat-Signal arrived prematurely Monday night, when fan site Revenge of the Fans reported that Armie Hammer was in final talks to be the next Caped Crusader in Matt Reeves’s upcoming stand-alone Batman movie. That was quickly debunked by reporters from The Wrap, The Hollywood Reporter, and Variety—and then by Hammer himself—leaving us in the same place we were in January, when Ben Affleck was officially relieved of his duties in the DC Extended Universe. (We thank you for your service. I’m sorry you seemed so sad, and I’m especially sorry about the back tattoo.)

But Hammer or not, a new Batman film is imminent—and so is the casting of a brand-new Batman. Reeves’s project is slated for the summer of 2021, so even though neither the studio nor the director reportedly has a Batman short list yet—outside of scant rumors about the likes of Hammer and Jake Gyllenhaal—this whole thing’s gotta get moving sooner rather than later. I’m sympathetic to the difficulty of this process: There’s a plethora of solid actors who’d relish the opportunity to play one of the most popular superheroes on the planet, and the pressure of picking the right one is astounding. Affleck wasn’t necessarily bad, but the studio will presumably want more—in terms of both commercial success and longevity—from whoever puts on the suit next. In many ways, choosing the next Batman will be one of the most important decisions for the next five to 10 years of superhero movies.

Though Warner Bros. isn’t paying us any commission, we’d like to fast-track the Batman casting through a process of elimination. We’ll start with a list of 25 viable actors, and from there refine the criteria through a series of pointed questions, whittling down the pool of prospective Batmen until we have the One True Bat-King. Got it? Good. Let’s find the next Batman.

The Pool: Armie Hammer (I mean, why not?), Mahershala Ali, Stephan James, Jon Hamm, Ryan Gosling, Chris Pine, Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jack Huston, Tom Hardy, Richard Madden, Kit Harington, Michael Fassbender, Matthew Goode, Henry Golding, Jamie Dornan, Steven Strait, Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Ansel Elgort, Lakeith Stanfield, Nicholas Hoult, John Boyega, Timothée Chalamet

Question No. 1: Have They Already Starred in a Superhero Movie/Superhero-Adjacent Franchise?

While actors have crossed over into multiple superhero franchises (see: Chris Evans), we won’t be considering any actors who’ve previously starred in one—regardless of whether they’ve played a hero or a villain. Warners will likely opt to start this new era of Batman with a clean slate, free from any preconceived notions that an actor who’s already donned a superhero suit might carry. (Affleck, for instance, was marred by his role in the spectacularly bad Daredevil movie.) This rule knocks off a decent portion of actors in our pool—which certainly speaks to the overwhelming power of superhero franchises in the current blockbuster space—but not all of them.

A couple of quick notes: We have chosen not to eliminate Ali for his work as Cottonmouth in Luke Cage’s first season, since it was a half-season role in a TV series; Ali will also not be eliminated for his voice-over work in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, because it was an animated film. But we are going to eliminate Jake Gyllenhaal; though it hasn’t come out yet, he’s playing the villain Mysterio in the new Spider-Man movie this summer. Roles in superhero movies that are going to be released will count against our actors. Now, let’s see what that’s done to our group.

The Remaining Pool: Armie Hammer, Mahershala Ali, Stephan James, Jon Hamm, Ryan Gosling, Jack Huston, Richard Madden, Kit Harington, Henry Golding, Jamie Dornan, Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Ansel Elgort, Lakeith Stanfield, John Boyega, Timothée Chalamet

Question No. 2: Are They Young?

This designation is coming straight from the source, as even before Affleck was formally axed, there were multiple reports suggesting that Reeves wanted to cast a younger iteration of Bruce Wayne. And when The Wrap film reporter Umberto Gonzalez was debunking the Armie-as-Batman rumor Monday, he tweeted that, even though a short list hasn’t been established yet, Reeves and the studio were looking for an actor who is “younger.”

Hammer is 32, so we’ll make 30 years old the cutoff age for this role. If the DCEU and Reeves really want to set up The Young Bat, well, that’s their prerogative.

The Remaining Pool: Stephan James, Trevante Rhodes, Ansel Elgort, Lakeith Stanfield, John Boyega, Timothée Chalamet

Question No. 3: Who Actually Has the Time for This?

While we (sadly) have no say in who will be cast as Batman, we should be realistic about this exercise and whittle the list down to actors who’d have room in their schedules to commit to the DCEU for an extended period of time. (It’s officially only one movie for now, but DC is clearly aiming for the new Caped Crusader to star in multiple Batman movies, and probably another Justice League team-up down the road.)

With that in mind, and with a little help from IMDb, let’s break down the forthcoming schedules for our six remaining actors—and see who’d have enough time for this commitment.

James: He has only one project on slate in 2019: 17 Bridges, which is already in post-production. He’s free.

Rhodes: No announced projects since being featured as the apocalypse’s most jacked man in Netflix’s Bird Box. He’s got time.

Elgort: Currently tapped to star in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming remake of West Side Story, plus a crime thriller with Zendaya and Jake Gyllenhaal called Finest Kind, set to be released next year. He’s too busy.

Stanfield: He’s got three projects out sometime in 2019—Uncut Gems, Knives Out, Someone Great—but they’re all in post-production. He’s also just signed on to star alongside Daniel Kaluuya in a Ryan Coogler–directed film about Black Panther activist Fred Hampton. The movie doesn’t yet have a shooting schedule, but will presumably go into production in the next couple of years. And while Stanfield will eventually have to film the third season of Donald Glover’s FX series Atlanta, that shouldn’t preclude him from starring in a superhero franchise: Atlanta’s Zazie Beetz pulled double duty in the second season and Deadpool 2. Stanfield’s just free enough.

Boyega: He just finished production on a little indie project called Star Wars: Episode IX, out in December. Boyega’s got nothing else lined up beyond that, so he’s available; though considering his immense talents and the fact he just finished starring in one of the biggest franchises in the world, he probably won’t be for long.

Chalamet: He’s currently filming The French Dispatch and is going to headline the star-studded reboot of Dune in 2020 alongside Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, and a mind-numbing number of other A-list stars. With any luck, director Denis Villeneuve will be able to turn Dune into a successful franchise after David Lynch spectacularly failed with the first big-screen adaptation in the ’80s. But even if that doesn’t happen, Chalamet is on course to star in one Oscar hopeful a year for the next decade or so. Timmy is too tied up.

The Remaining Pool: Stephan James, Trevante Rhodes, Lakeith Stanfield, John Boyega

Question No. 4: Does the Actor Look Good in a Suit?

Being cast as Batman doesn’t just involve wearing a Batsuit, using fancy gadgets, and beating the crap out of Gotham’s seedy underbelly. The person also has to fully embody Bruce Wayne. And while Wayne moonlights as Batman, he has to maintain the front that he’s a billionaire playboy spending the majority of his time throwing extravagant parties. That, of course, means he must look good in fancy, immaculately tailored suits.

This is imperative and—oh crap, all four of these guys look good in a suit. Well, that didn’t help at all. Let’s just move on.

The Remaining Pool: Stephan James, Trevante Rhodes, Lakeith Stanfield, John Boyega

Question No. 5: Has the Actor Literally Said He Would Like to Be the Next Batman?

Wouldn’t it be helpful if an actor straight-up came out and said he wanted to play the next Batman? Boyega has been mum on his post–Star Wars plans, while Rhodes has previously addressed rumors that he could be playing the next Green Lantern in the DCEU—which would make him unable to be Batman. Stanfield, meanwhile, would like to be in a Batman franchise—except he’d rather play the Joker. (I approve, even if it means more Jokers.)

As for James? Well, while promoting If Beale Street Could Talk in December on the Canadian morning show Your Morning, he made his intentions very clear. Yes, he’d be down to play Batman.

So there you have it, Warners and Matt Reeves. He’s young, he’s never starred in a superhero franchise, his schedule is open, he looks damn good in a suit, and he’s on the record expressing enthusiasm for the role. Your search is over: Make Stephan James the next Batman.