Comic Book Casting: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS Movie

2546_20071013133255_largeIt’s garnered the most reviews of any comic book series of all time. Time called it one of the 10 best English graphic novels ever written. It’s become a seminal text for Batman since its debut in 1986, and was a major influence in virtually every Batman movie from Tim Burton to Joel Schumacher through to Christopher Nolan. So why hasn’t anyone attempted a direct movie adaptation?

Truth be told, they have. But the subject matter’s always been too frightening for the execs at DC’s parent company Warner Bros., but with them now being pushed into a more encompassing cinematic universe for their characters it could be the most opportune time ever. Imagine a big-screen, live-action version of The Dark Knight Returns working within the continuity of the existing movies as a coda to everything taking place in the modern day.

With the recent release of a two-part animated adaptation you can see Warner Bros. is a little more comfortable with the material, so imagine if the sales there went well enough for them to try the next logical step. Here’s how we’d do it.

The Concept:

As I hinted at earlier, for this to work at it’s best this needs to be an in-continuity story, taking the threads from Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy as well as the forthcoming Man of Steel movie and extrapolate a movie DCU 20+ years in the future. You know what that means — bring back the original actors.

You can either wait 15 years or so to film this, or start dealing with make-up and physical acting techniques to age actors like Christian Bale and Michael Caine to their 55 year old and 80 year old selves from The Dark Knight Returns. It might be a hard thing to do, but remember — Nolan’s Batman movies have an uncommonly good caliber of actors, and Bale especially is known for making drastic physical changes to his body for roles. And this could be his crowning achievement.

Story-wise, a live-action version of The Dark Knight Returns couldn’t — and shouldn’t — be a literal panel-by-panel translation. You already have Nolan taking snippets of Frank Miller’s story to use in his trilogy, but you also have some scenes you could omit or simplify — such as the Joker’s appearances — due to Heath Ledger’s death but also to make a more concise story. For this I’d push Two-Face, the Mutant Leader and the U.S. Government as the villains of the piece.

The Director:

He’s been attached to numerous super-hero movies over the years, but ended up dropping out of each one. But Black Swan‘s Darren Aronofsky remains the ideal choice to take Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy into the future for this definitive story. Aronofsky was actually the first to see Christian Bale as Batman; years before Nolan was working on his first Batman movie, Aronofsky worked with Miller and Bale on a potential adaptation of Batman: Year One that was killed by WB execs. Imagine him returning to the character now to tell this unique futuristic coda to the modern-day Batman movies.

The Cast:

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Christian Bale: When asked about starring in more Batman movies, Bale has famously been reticent to commit to more. But with his penchant for difficult roles and his propensity to work with acclaimed directors, doing an Aronofsky-helmed Dark Knight Returns could be the perfect combination to unlock Bale for one last movie. People who have seen The Machinist and The Fighter can vouch for Bale’s ability to make drastic physical changes to himself for role; so imagine if he were to take on a 55 year old Bruce Wayne with all the injuries he’s accumulated over the years.

The President – James Brolin: James Brolin’s already played Ronald Reagan once, but imagine if he stepped into the role — but being more sinister, more faceless — as the President ruling over an America twenty years in our future.

Harvey Dent / Two Face – Aaron Eckhart: Eckhart’s role in the The Dark Knight was over-shadowed by Heath Ledger’s Joker, but I think he’d still be a good pick to reprise his role as Harvey Dent for The Dark Knight Returns. You say he died in the Dark Knight? That could actually play into his return in Frank Miller’s comic story, w here instead of coming out of imprisonment he returns from the grave — reborn and whole — as a slightly messianic-figure returning in Gotham’s darkest hour.

Carrie Kelley / Robin – Elle Fanning: One of the greatest additions Frank Miller made to the Batman mythos, Carrie Kelley is a sparkplug of a character whose unique vantage point put Bruce Wayne’s return to the spotlight in a whole new light. I appreciated Fanning’s role in Super 8, and I think she’d be a perfect counter-balance to Bale’s aging Batman.

Alfred – Michael Caine: It’s Michael Caine. ‘Nuff said.

The Mutant Leader – Kevin Durand: Far more than your typical muscle-bound actor, Kevin Durand has shown some impeccable timing and acting chops in his various roles through television and film. Currently filming Aronofsky’s Noah, Durand could be an excellent casting as the Mutant Leader in someone who can look the part and play it more effectively than some extra from WWE.

James Gordon – Gary Oldman: It’s Gary Oldman. ‘Nuff said, again.

Ellen Yindel – Maria Bello: Another great addition Frank Miller made for DC was bringing in Ellen Yindel, the police captain tapped to take over from James Gordon. For this film, I’d tap TV veteran Maria Bello. While she hasn’t had the best of luck keeping a series going, she has some tough acting chops and could be an ideal adversary for Batman before coming over to his point of view.

Green Arrow – Billy Bob Thornton: Worst pick? Or best pick? On a good day, Billy Bob Thornton can absolutely take over a movie with his screen presence. I’d love to see him play the slightly conniving, chauvinistic and bitter Oliver Queen.

Superman – Henry Cavill: Probably the hardest thing for WB to sign off on for a Dark Knight Returns adaptation is putting Superman in a role as an adversary. But played right, it could add nuance to the character and show him as more than just a big blue boy scout. And seeing Henry Cavill film an aging Superman in the future here could work as an excellent goalpost for his assumed run of standalone Superman films.


  1. I hope it never gets made. It would turn out like Watchmen, decent but ultimately disapointing. Also, there’s no way it could do justice to the book the way the animated movie did. A perfect adapatation already

  2. Okay… this is going to sound a tad rude, but this was a rather lazy casting. I usually really like these because you guys put thought and effort in and, many times, end up making casting choices that in hindsight were obvious… these ones were just too obvious.

  3. Ollie has to be Jeff Bridges. I can only ever read the character in his voice.

  4. You forgot david letterman as david endocrine

  5. Id bring back Micheal Keaton and jack back they both older now and would fill in The roles imo. The rest of your cast Id keep

  6. I can’t really see the point in this. You listed good reasons for why it should be made, but there’s already an animated adaptation that translates the story and “The Dark Knight Rises” already had an aging Bruce Wayne come out of retirement to save Gotham. Him coming out of retirement (and back from the “grave”, which would upset all those people who confused the movie with “Inception”), would just seem old hat. The casting is of course, great. One thing you’ve overlooked is how/why John Blake would create the need for Bruce to come back if Blake is protecting the city as the new Batman (or Robin, if you wanna be like that), that would be an important detail to cover in a sequel. Also, I don’t think having Superman vs Batman would count against the movie. People point to that pairing all the time as their favorite hero vs hero scenario, plus if WB is so nervous about a JL movie they should have Superman appear in the top single hero movie franchise (I would prefer World’s Finest btw) to build hype for the DC pantheon to appear together.

  7. Hey Michael Caine how old is Carrie Kelley?

  8. I would suggest you omit Two-Face since his character actually died, and since it’s so far into the future and Joker is changed, why not have him as the villain with someone capable.

  9. Not feeling this Nolan-arc version. Events of the Nolan films vs. comic book events, Batman Year One, etc, don’t fit well enough together.

    If you’re going to film this book, its got to be Robert Rodriguez shot for shot graphic novel to film a la Sin City.

    Also – I still don’t see Superman as a villain or adversary in in DKR.

    • I think Superman trying to arrest Batman at the behest of the President of the United States seems adversarial. My 2 cents.

    • I think to Batman, Supes is much more of a means to an end. Batman doesn’t want to beat him – he uses Supes to fake his death so that he can start anew.

    • That’s beside the point I think. Superman is trying to bring in Batman for being an “outlaw”, for making the suits nervous, he is actually trying to arrest him. The fact that Batman anticipates this and plans around it is irrevelent. They conflict at the end of the book, and this can be interpreted/tweaked as such in a movie vis-a-vie two heroes fighting each other for different reasons. If the whole thing was staged and both parties knew about it the whole time, I would agree with you.

    • Eh. Superman knows Bruce can never beat him – Batman is no more an adversary to Supes than a gnat is an adversary to a man. While Bruce “enjoys” beating up on Supes, he knows its not permanent and only a matter of time before he is put down – Superman is a tool to Batman, a means to an end.

    • I guess the kryptonite napalm in the DKSA was a one-off occurrence.

    • Only read the first 2 parts of DKSA, never finished it and never went back and reread it, so if that occurs in the 3rd part, I never read it, and if it occurs in the first 2 parts, then I don’t remember.

    • Well, that was in part one and it ended with Superman crawling out of the Batcave. Winner: Bats.

  10. Agree totally that it should not tie to the Nolan universe, so in doing so we should try to pick different actors for roles beside the one’s we have already seen. Sure they did great in the Nolan films but to keep the universes different we need different actors from the ones already in the movies. I do like the people you picked for roles outside the Nolan Universe as I can now see old Billy Bob as an age Oliver Queen.

    There is one other thing though. How do we forget the second most important role in the film? The Joker. My pick Javier Bardem. His character in Skyfall playing a bad guy who is almost in love with the hero (Bond) could easily play in how the Joker is presented in TDKR.