4 Controversial Movie Castings That Ultimately Resulted In Triumph

In two years time, Ben Affleck will become the sixth man to play Batman in a movie.  For the first time ever, the comic book legend will be appearing with Superman in the follow-up to this year’s Man Of Steel remake which is due in 2015.  Kudos to the two-time Academy Award winner for snagging this iconic role.  He’s part of an elite group now.

Unfortunately, there are many who are so appalled by this, a petition is underway to have Warner Bros., the distributor of the movie, to force him off the project.  Why are people so upset about Affleck playing Batman?  One word:  Daredevil.

While I’m of the belief that you shouldn’t judge a casting until you see the performance, I can understand why fans would rather see someone else play The Dark Knight.  (Daredevil did suck, after all.)  And I wouldn’t be surprised, as I noted on Twitter, if Affleck ultimately walks away from the project because of all the grumbling.  (You can just imagine him saying that he’s become a “distraction” and therefore can no longer comfortably participate.  Then again, maybe he’ll ride the wave of hatred all the way through production.  I’ve been wrong many times before.)

Now before Batmaniacs lose their shit over all of this, a history lesson is in order.  Over the years, there have been numerous movie casting controversies leading to a lot of public, premature anxiety and disappointment.  But, in some cases, when the finished films were released, curiously, a lot of the criticism for those same “miscast” actors was replaced with effusive praise.  Here are four such examples:

Michael Keaton as Batman (1989)

Long before the Affleck controversy, there was the Keaton backlash.  Tim Burton had just finished directing the Mr. Mom star in Beetlejuice and wanted him to play The Caped Crusader in the first Batman movie in more than 30 years.  Fans at the time were so deeply angered by this, they waged an old-school letter-writing campaign hoping to persuade Warner Bros. executives to change their minds.  They didn’t.

Although much darker visually and in tone than its 1966 Adam West predecessor, the film still maintained the franchise’s campy sense of humour in places and went on to become the biggest commercial hit of 1989, earning over 400 million globally.  With the notable exception of Roger Ebert, critics liked the film, especially Keaton’s dual role as Batman and alter ego Bruce Wayne, as well.

Keaton reprised the role three years later in Batman Returns which made almost 270 million worldwide and also received positive critical notices (except from Ebert).  Many even thought it was better than the first one.  Although Val Kilmer and George Clooney would take over for him in Batman Forever and Batman And Robin, respectively, Keaton would continue to earn praise in high-profile studio pictures like The Paper, Jackie Brown and Out Of Sight during the rest of the 1990s.

Recently, after taking it easy for a few years following his voice-over work in the Cars movies and Toy Story 3, the 61-year-old actor is slated to have a busy 2014.  Look for him in the Robocop reboot, one of three upcoming releases he’ll be appearing in.

Tom Cruise as Lestat in Interview With The Vampire (1994)

After nearly two decades of delays, this adaptation of the 1976 novel of the same name was finally going into production.  Coming off the success of The Crying Game, director Neil Jordan was ready to get this long dormant project completed for a fall 1994 release.  There was one big problem.  Anne Rice, the author of the original novel, wasn’t happy about the actor who was playing the lead:

“I was particularly stunned by the casting of [Tom] Cruise, who is no more my Vampire Lestat than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler,” she told The Los Angeles Times in August 1993, speaking for many of her fans who were also upset.

Later, during an interview in the January/February 1994 edition of Movieline Magazine, she went further:

“The Tom Cruise casting is so bizarre, it’s almost impossible to imagine how it’s going to work…I have one question: Does Tom Cruise have any idea of what he’s getting into? I’m not sure he does. I’m not sure he’s read any of the [Vampire Chronicles] books other than the first one…”

However, after seeing the finished film on VHS in late September 1994, Rice took out an $8000 ad in Daily Variety to say this about Cruise:

“The charm, the humor and the invincible innocence which I cherish in my beloved hero Lestat are all alive in Tom Cruise’s courageous performance…”

She later offered this assessment of his performance in another Daily Variety ad (which was also published in an Anne Rice fan club newsletter) in early January 1995:

“From the moment he appeared Tom was Lestat for me…The sheer beauty of Tom was dazzling, but the polish of his acting, his flawless plunge into the Lestat persona, his ability to speak rather boldly poetic lines, and speak them with seeming ease and conviction were exhilarating and uplifting.  The guy is great…That Tom DID make Lestat work was something I could not see in a crystal ball.  It’s to his credit that he proved me wrong.”

Audiences and most critics agreed.  The film went on to make just over 100 million domestically, plus another 120 million internationally.  Cruise would end the 90s with 2 more Oscar nominations (Jerry Maguire, Magnolia) and thanks mostly to his Mission Impossible franchise, the 51-year-old remains just as popular today as he was 30 years ago.

Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

After breaking through as the single mom with the super smart son who falls for Cruise in Maguire, and later playing Meryl Streep’s reporter daughter in One True Thing and an obsessed soap opera fan in Nurse Betty, this Texas native was eager for a bigger challenge.  She got one when she landed the role of Bridget Jones.

Unfortunately, her casting was not universally loved.  Because the character in the original Bridget Jones’s Diary novel is British, there were complaints that Zellweger was too American.  And because on paper she was chubby, Zellweger was knocked for being too thin.

Determined to prove her critics wrong, she adjusted her diet to put on an extra 20 pounds and worked with a dialect coach to nail the accent.  (She even went so far as to work for three weeks in a UK publishing house just to make sure it was believable.)

When the movie was released in mid-April 2001, Zellweger won over her critics.  The film won rave reviews and made nearly 300 million worldwide, the vast majority of it overseas.  Even better, she received her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress the following year.

A supporting nomination for Chicago followed in 2003 as did an actual Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in Cold Mountain in 2004.  Although the Bridget Jones sequel was far less loved than the original, Zellweger continued to work steadily in respected, high profile pictures like Cinderella Man and Monsters Vs. Aliens throughout the rest of the Aughts.

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Casino Royale (2006)

Like Batman, only a select few have played the dashing, slutty British superspy.  After Pierce Brosnan’s successful seven-year run as 007 came to an end in 2002, it was time to relaunch the franchise with a new actor for the new millennium.  With plans to remake Casino Royale for a 2006 release (the 1967 original was more of a comedy and is not considered part of the official series), all eyes were on Brosnan’s replacement.

When relatively unknown British actor Daniel Craig was selected, the response was fiercely negative.  Like Michael Keaton some twenty-five years earlier, the Layer Cake star was not considered an appropriate choice.  For one thing, he was blond.  (All the other Bonds had dark hair.)  For another, some felt he was too short.  (He’s 5 foot 10.)  With protests and even threats of a potential boycott, the actor had his work cut out for him.

Thankfully, he had the full support of Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, George Lazenby and even Brosnan himself (even though he was hoping to return for a fifth time).  Unlike many in the world, the five surviving movie Bonds were standing by him.

After Casino Royale was released, the skeptics were silenced.  Craig won universal praise from reviewers as the new Bond and the film went on to become a massive hit worldwide.  Two years later, Craig returned as Bond in Quantum Of Solace, another big global hit that earned mostly positive reviews.

Then came Skyfall in 2012.  When all was said and done, Craig’s third venture as Bond was not only his most commercially successful picture to date, it’s also the biggest 007 movie ever madeCritics loved it, as well.  Adele shared an Oscar for writing its theme song.  With at least four more Bond films in the works, despite all that initial grief he received from antsy moviegoers and the prickly media (Britain’s Daily Mirror prematurely knocked him as “James Bland” back in 2005), he’s having the last laugh.

Take notes, Mr. Affleck.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, August 24, 2013
8:52 p.m.

CORRECTION:  I originally stated that Quantum Of Solace was released three years after Casino Royale.  Wrong.  It was actually two.  Solace was released in 2008, not 2009.  The correction has now been made to the original text.  My apologies for the mistake.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
2:01 a.m.

Published in: on August 24, 2013 at 8:52 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. […] talk about the movies.  Besides writing online essays like 4 Controversial Movie Castings That Ultimately Resulted In Triumph and the two-part series, The 5 Worst Film Franchises Of All Time, I continued to offer the […]

  2. […] it.  (No, I didn’t read the whole thing but I did save it.)  Another two-year-old piece, 4 Controversial Movie Castings That Ultimately Resulted In Triumph, only garnered one comment and 10 likes after it too was revised for HuffPo.  Although I […]

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