Depending on the point of view – and where you are in your career – playing super popular heroes such as Batman and Superman can be a blessing or a curse. It can launch an actor into the dizzy stratosphere of fame and glory, and it can also mark him for life. Looking back through the always-fascinating archives of the HFPA, this ambiguity becomes very clear. Here’s what Batmen and Supermen of the past 38 years had to say about their double characters, their appeal, problems and, of course, THOSE suits. And capes. And boots.
Who: Christopher Reeve
What: Superman, dir. Richard Donner, 1978; (plus: Superman II, dir. Richard Lester and Richard Donner, 1980; Superman III, dir. Richard Lester 1983)
What’s it about? Origin myth: baby from another planet is taken in by a modest Earth couple and grows up to be an all-powerful superhero.
Memorable traits Marlon Brando as Kal-El. The sexy flight with Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Spinning the Earth in reverse to change history.
What he told us (on February 16 1979): “I went (to the test) and said: “Ho do you want me to play the character? How do you see it?” And (Richard Donner) said: “Kid, you show us.” Which I think is an extremely bold and generous thing for a director who’s carrying a multimillion dollar movie on his back, to let some unknown kid come in and do whatever he wants to do.”
Who: Michael Keaton
What: Batman, dir. Tim Burton, 1989; also – Batman Returns, dir. Tim Burton, 1992.)
What’s it about? Origin myth: traumatized gazillionaire boy becomes a tormented defender of justice. Villain #1: The Joker (Jack Nicholson); Villain # 2: The Penguin (Danny DeVito).
Memorable traits: Thick, rubbery Batman cowl that rendered Keaton deaf while wearing it; the iconic phrase “I’m Batman”, improvised by Keaton; Tim Burton’s POV: “It’s all a battle of freaks”.
What he told us (on June 7 1992): “ I’m not identified as Batman as much in the United States. I’m identified as this person who happens to be in these movies and I’m also Batman because Batman was so enormously popular. However, in most other countries, this is the only thing audiences are familiar with in terms of what I do for a living. So I guess in a worst possible world I’ll make a nice living and have a good career playing a lot of roles and in Europe and overseas I’ll only be known as Batman, and that wouldn’t be so bad.”
Who: Val Kilmer
What: Batman Forever, dir. Joel Schumacher, 1995
What’s it about? Batman (Kilmer) faces The Riddler (Jim Carrey) and Two Face (Tommy Lee Jones), has a complicated relationship with a psychologist (Nicole Kidman) and finds his Robin (Chris O’Donnell).
Memorable traits: Anatomically enhanced Batsuits, including nipples (Robin’s too).
What he told us (on June 10, 1995): “Innerly I was hysterical most of the time, so it’s fun.”
Who: George Clooney
What: Batman and Robin, dir. Joel Schumacher, 1997
What’s it about? Batman (Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’ Donnell) have relationship problems while Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) and Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) attack Gotham City.
Memorable trait: Batsuit with nipples, again. Lots of color, everywhere.
What he told us (on June 9 1997): “Look, this thing for me is a big coup, you know. My acting career has been kind of a very slow, strange, weird ride so the opportunity for me to be in a movie this size and this scope is the greatest opportunity in the world. (...) I think you have to know you’re in a no-win situation but, on the other hand, I get to play Batman.”
Who: Christian Bale
What: Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy: Batman Begins (2005) The Dark Knight (2008), The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
What’s it about? Origin myth, rebooted, expanded and closed with a tricky open-end.
Memorable traits: That raspy voice. And some choice villains: Ken Watanabe as Ra’s Al Ghul, Cillian Murphy as The Scarecrow, Heath Ledger as The Joker and Tom Hardy as Bane.
What he told us (on August 9, 2004, on set): “I was thinking, ‘Oh, they’re going to do Batman this way, it’s going to be Chris Nolan’. And I obviously love acting and I want to act, so I’m going to take the part. And then suddenly, sometimes, I sit back and go, ‘Oh my god! What have I done?’ It sort of seemed like a black shadow in the future that’s going to invalid me, and I’m just going to play it by ear.”
Who: Brandon Routh
What: Superman Returns, dir. Bryan Singer, 2006
What’s it about? While the Man of Steel is checking on Krypton (yup, still gone…) Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has hooked up with Perry White’s nephew and Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is out of jail and back to his usual shenanigans.
Memorable trait: Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor.
What he told us (on June 11 2006): “The first time I put the (Superman) suit on, it was little awkward because I was in a room full of costume designers and people kind of nitpicking the suit. But I never once felt awkward in the suit. I was really proud to be able to wear it. It’s very powerful especially with the cape and the boots. It’s very commanding. You feel very kingly so I was very proud of it.”
Who: Henry Cavill
What: Man oft Steel, dir. Zack Snyder, 2013 (Also: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, dir. Zack Snyder, 2016)
What’s it about? Origin myth rebooted, closer to the DC canon, with, according to Snyder, “no ties to any previous cinematic incarnation of the character.”
Memorable traits: Lots of product placement. Very suggestive spaceships.
What he told us (on June 13 2013): “Yes, I am British, but I am also an actor. I am going to play an American icon, who is in fact an invulnerable alien from the planet Krypton. So as soon as we find one of those, then perhaps he will be more suited to play the role.”
Who: Ben Affleck
What: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, dir. Zack Snyder, 2016
What’s it about? Batman blames Superman for the trail of destruction he leaves in his path every time he interferes with (and tries to fix) earthlings’ problems.
Memorable traits: Heavy religious overtones. Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Justice League is introduced. Intense psychedelic dream sequence.
What he told us (on March 16 2016): “As an actor, my focus is more playing Bruce Wayne, and so that the audience gets to know that character as a human being and kind of imagines and projects onto the guy in the suit, that person that they have seen walking around in plain clothes.”
Check our exclusive video with the cast of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. CLICK HERE.
Get all the important visual cues with this guided tour of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. CLICK HERE
All portraits: HFPA; except Val Kilmer- Getty.