When the second Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer dropped a few weeks ago, fan theories and speculation ran wild. Who was it that wrote "you let your family die" on the newspaper article and mailed it to Bruce? Why the hell is Superman kneeling before Lex? Did Batman seriously snap that guy's neck? But of all the trailer's mysteries, none inspired as much controversy as that quick glance we were gifted at a desecrated Robin costume in a display case. You know the one...
The Joker graffiti that covers the suit, along with its charred-over quality, seemingly validates longstanding whispers that Jim Starlin's famed A Death in the Family story arc—in which the Joker captures and kills Jason Todd, the second Robin—will factor into the DC Expanded Universe.
While a dead Robin could simply serve as additional reasoning behind Ben Affleck's "older, more broken, kind of f***ed up Batman," fans have been quick to point out that it could also set up one of the most popular (and cinematically-viable) Batman stories ever told. Under the Hood, a 2005/2006 comic written by Judd Winick, depicts Todd returning from the dead as the antihero Red Hood to face off against his former mentor and take control of Gotham once and for all. A successful comic in itself, it inspired an animated adaptation—starring Jensen Ackles, Jason Isaacs and Neil Patrick Harris (!) in voice roles—that was released a few years later to widespread acclaim.
Why should DC choose to adapt Under the Hood?
If DC is strongly considering featuring a Red Hood story in the upcoming Batman solo film, it would be a popular decision to say the least. A recent poll (with an admittedly small sample size) conducted by a certain MP creator revealed that over 57 percent of fans want to see the Bat Family feature heavily in the next Batman movie. That may not seem like much at first glance, but keep in mind that the poll pitted a Bat Family story against any other story in the Batman mythos. The Dark Knight has over 75 years of material under his belt, so for fans to agree to such a high degree on anything pertaining to a live action adaptation is it's own little miracle.
It’s also a smart way to introduce Dick Grayson and Jason Todd, two fan-favorite characters that could make for excellent spin-off films, should DC be interested in expanding their cinematic universe somewhere down the line. Grayson is well-known for leading his own smaller-scale superhero teams like the Outsiders and the Teen Titans, while Todd could play a role in the DCEU for years to come, as either an antihero or an outright villain.
But it wouldn't all be fan service. A Red Hood story line could peel back layers of Bruce Wayne’s character that have not been explored in film before. Such a film would force Bruce to confront his greatest mistake as a crime fighter, as well as explain why he doesn’t ever “cross that line” and kill the criminals he wars against. It would prove to be a deeply personal movie for Affleck’s Batman while simultaneously filling the comic book movie action quota to the brim with awesomeness. The new Batman is apparently a really screwed up person. This film would help illustrate why.
Again, it's still unclear if the Bat Family have become priority characters for DC or if Robin's supposed death is simply backstory for Affleck's tortured Batman. We don't even know if there'll be multiple Robins featured in the DCEU. Perhaps the Joker killed the first Robin and Batman learns his lesson, never again allowing a sidekick to fight at his side.
Yeah, forget that. Let's take a quick peak at what we're looking for from these actors before we get into possible candidates.
How old should Nightwing and Red Hood be?
The preferred ages of the actors playing the roles actually makes for an interesting debate: just how old should Grayson and Todd be in the DCEU? While the Robins of the comics are commonly thought of as adolescent sidekicks, these iterations of the characters will (and should) be depicted as fully-grown adults. This would help dispel one of the principal arguments against the cinematic inclusion of the other half of the Dynamic Duo: why the hell would DC’s biggest badass ever allow a child to fight alongside him in his war on crime?
Logically speaking, it would make the most sense for the actors to be roughly 25-35 years old, with the Nightwing actor preferably being a bit older (but not necessarily; more on that in a bit). If they're older than that, they could never have been Batman's sidekicks. If they're any younger, would the Red Hood be deemed a serious threat to Batman?
Their exact age is entirely dependent on how long ago the filmmakers choose to place Todd’s death in the timeline of the DCEU, and how old he was when he was killed. For instance, if the supposed Robin death occurred in the last few years, and this is a fresh wound for Affleck’s Batman, fans should expect the actors chosen to be in their early-to-mid twenties. If the tragedy is ten years or more in Batman’s past, the two actors will likely be around thirty years old, or at least capable of convincingly portraying a character that’s roughly that age.
The answer to the timeline question may not even come in BvS. Should director Zack Snyder include a throwaway line specifying that Todd’s death occurred five years ago, then the actor chosen to play the Red Hood couldn’t be much older than 25. Conversely, should the characters in BvS be intentionally vague about how recently Todd died, then the part could be adjusted accordingly to the actor they find best suited for the role somewhere down the line. They would essentially be keeping their options open.
Furthermore, the actor chosen to play Jason Todd doesn’t have to be years younger than the Dick Grayson actor, just like the latter doesn’t have to be exactly 5’10 like he is in the comics. The only truly necessary trait for the two is their ability to suspend the audience’s disbelief. A combination of movie magic, excellent genes, and talent has had movie audiences believing that Tom Cruise is a normal-sized man in his thirties who's capable of kicking your ass for over three decades now (Cruise is 5’7 and just celebrated his 53rd birthday). The point being that as long as the actor possesses the requisite talent, audiences can be convinced of just about anything.
One last note: you'll notice that some of the actors on this list may seem a bit on the small side and would need to pack on 20+ pounds of muscle in order to play Dick Grayson or Jason Todd. Just keep in mind that this article prioritizes talent over everything else, including appearance.
Now, with all that out of the way, let’s take a look at the candidates, starting with the first Boy Wonder, Dick Grayson.
Controversy right out of the gate. But before you flip out about unnecessary changes to the Batman mythos, ask yourself this: Does it make sense that all of Batman’s principal, in-canon sidekicks were white? More importantly, is Dick Grayson’s character defined by his race? The answer to both of those questions is a resounding no. DC is off to a fantastic start in their attempt to form a cinematic universe that properly represents the modern world (read: it's ethnically diverse) so Yeun would be a logical choice in that respect. But all that takes a back seat to Yeun’s abilities as an actor and the fact that he may just be a perfect fit for Dick Grayson. When all is said and done, DC wants to cast the best actor for the part, and they would be hard-pressed to find a better candidate than Yeun.
Log this one in the category of obvious candidates. Harrington has HBO's Game of Thrones to thank for making him a household name, but the show has also restricted his burgeoning film career in some respects. The brutal shooting schedule that each season of Thrones necessitates limits the number of other projects its actors can participate in, and the contracts they sign are as solid as a Valyrian steel sword. But with his character’s future still uncertain after that insane season finale, Harrington could be looking for his next big project. Fans have been clamoring for him to become Dick Grayson for some time now, and for good reason. Harrington may just be the total package.
If the minds behind the DCEU decide to feature a younger version of Nightwing, O'Brien will likely be considered a major contender. He’s been a fan-favorite choice for several franchise-leading characters—namely Spiderman—since he first appeared on the acting scene in 2011. Affleck’s Batman will be in his mid-forties when he makes his first appearance in BvS, so a Dick Grayson that's 20 years his junior would be pushing it a bit. O'Brien will be 26 by the time the Batman solo project starts filming though, so he might be just what the doctor ordered. O'Brien appears destined for stardom though, with or without a superhero franchise headlining his resume.
Here’s another softball from Obviousland. Of all the candidates for Dick Grayson, Hedlund may be the most natural/least controversial fit. The 30 year old has been in the business for over a decade, racking up solid performances in nearly every genre imaginable. He'll next be seen chewing up the scenery as a young Captain Hook in Joe Wright's Pan, which is due out later this year. He has the look and the acting chops for the role, so all he needs is the opportunity.
Better known as Viserys Targaryen, Daenerys' vile older brother from the first season of Game of Thrones, Lloyd actually sports an incredibly well-rounded resume. The 31 year old has appeared in a trio of Oscar-nominated films (Jane Eyre, The Iron Lady, The Theory of Everything) and even did a guest spot on a few episodes of Doctor Who way back in 2007. The great-great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens himself would make for a great Dick Grayson.
Who's you favorite pick for Nightwing?
Next up, five candidates for Jason Todd, a.k.a. the Red Hood...
Probably the biggest name on this list, Gyllenhaal has shown reluctance towards the idea of playing a comic book character in the past, though he may be softening on that stance. During a recent interview on Mike and Mike in the Morning, the 34 year old was quick to name Batman as the superhero he would be most interested in playing, though perhaps he would settle for sharing the screen with the Dark Knight. Some fans might view Gyllenhaal as a better fit for the role of Nightwing, but if his recent work is any indication, the actor would almost certainly be more interested in the darker, more emotionally complex of the former Robins. He may one of the oldest actors in consideration, but he’s definitely capable of pulling off characters five+ years his junior. All things considered, Gyllenhaal is one of the most talented actors working today, and would undoubtedly embody the ferocity and vengeful spirit of Jason Todd. Make the call, DC.
Kitsch may have crashed and burned in his first attempt at being a Hollywood leading man (see: Battleship and John Carter) but it's his recent work in the second season of True Detective that proves his true abilities as an actor. His character's dark, tortured past shines through in every scene, a talent that would lend itself well to the Red Hood. While Kitsch has played a superhero before—he gave a very forgettable performance as Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine way back in 2009—he definitely seems ready to give it another crack. Expect far better results this time around if he is afforded the opportunity.
Who says every candidate has to be a former GQ model? Plemons is landing huge roles left and right, from playing a mobster alongside Johnny Depp in Black Mass to an appearance in the upcoming Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks collaboration Bridge of Spies. The 27 year old has a growing reputation as an acting chameleon, and he'll put those skills to the test this October in the second season of Fargo on FX. Plemons is a star on the rise, and Warner Bros. would be wise to snatch him up while they can.
Driver's primarily known for his Emmy-nominated role on HBO's Girls, but he's been far more active in the acting arena than you might think. With appearances in This Is Where I Leave You, Lincoln, and Inside Llewyn Davis already under his belt, Driver is really starting to come into his own as an actor. But it's his upcoming starring turn in J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens that could end up making or breaking his career. Expectations are indeed sky-high for the man tapped to play one of the film's principal villains, Kylo Ren. If his performance is well-received, Driver should expect offers for villainous film roles to roll in by the truckload. Assuming Driver isn't too salty over being passed on for the Lex Luthor role in BvS, he could make for an excellent Red Hood.
Let's call a spade a spade: the fans want this one. Ackles has a massive following thanks to his long-running CW show Supernatural, which has become one of the longest-running sci-fi series in television history. As previously mentioned, he even provided the voice for Todd in the animated movie Batman: Under the Red Hood. At 37 years old, Ackles is the oldest actor on this list by a healthy margin, though he certainly doesn't look it. He hasn't appeared in a live action film since 2009, supposedly due to Supernatural obligations, but surely he'd make time to square off against the Caped Crusader, right? There's no denying that Ackles is the fans' choice for the role, so DC should at least bring him in for an audition. Just cool it a bit on the duck face, will ya Jensen?
How would you like to see as the Red Hood?
And finally, let's take a look at a few actors that could play either Dick Grayson or Jason Todd.
The third Thrones alum to appear on this list, Madden has mostly kept a low profile since his brutal exit from the HBO phenomenon at the end of season 3. The 29 year old Scotsman stormed back into the mainstream this year, however, appearing as Prince Charming in Disney's critical/commercial smash hit Cinderella. Next year, he'll be seen alongside Idris Elba in Bastille Day, an action/thriller from the director of The Woman in Black, James Watkins. A return to high-profile roles is a welcome one for Madden, whose talent and charm are unquestionable. He could make for an excellent Dick Grayson, and would certainly be an interesting choice for Jason Todd.
One of the biggest up-and-comers in Hollywood, Huston has been a rumored candidate for several big projects over the last few years, including Marvel's Doctor Strange. The actor could be taking the next step in 2016 with two major releases—Ben-Hur and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies—due out next February. Huston could very well be a household name by this time next year, and would be an excellent fit for either of Bruce Wayne's former sidekicks.
Best known for his work on Downton Abbey, Stevens caught a huge break last March when he was cast as Prince Adam (the Beast) in the Beauty and the Beast live-action film. That won't be released until 2017 however, so curious minds will have to settle for re-watching Stevens' thorough display of badassness in The Guest in the meantime. Anyone who's seen that knows how natural a fit Stevens is for the Red Hood, but the talented Englishman could easily pull off Nightwing as well. Don't sleep on this guy.
Another fan favorite actor, Hoechlin's name has mentioned in connection with several DC roles, namely Batman. The 27 year old was reportedly considered a candidate by director Zack Snyder before the latter decided to utilize a much older version of the Dark Knight in BvS. Hoechlin's work on MTV's Teen Wolf currently serves as his claim to fame, but an upcoming role in Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some could be his ticket to bigger and better roles. The director of Dazed and Confused and Boyhood has an excellent eye for young talent, so the other members of the ensemble cast (Blake Jenner, Tyler Guzman, Glen Powell, etc.) should be on your watch list as well. Hoechlin has the look to play either of the former Robins; he would be wise to audition for both parts.
At 5'8, O'Connell is a bit undersized for Todd, perhaps even for Grayson, but his magnetic screen presence and talent land him the list's final slot. The movie magic that's aided in the believability of Tom Cruise's characters for so many years could easily be applied to O'Connell, and it would almost certainly be worth the effort. The 25 year old Brit won a number of awards for his starring performance in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken, and has quickly become one of the most sought-after actors working today. He could just as easily convey the boy-ish charm of Grayson as he could the ferocity of Todd, though an extensive gym commitment would be necessary for the latter.
Which of these five actors would you most like to see play one of Batman's former sidekicks?
A collection of the poor souls that were deemed unworthy; welcome to the fancast graveyard.
Luke Evans- In another world, Evans would have made for an excellent Bruce Wayne. Back in the real world though, he’s 36, and looks it. He’s bit old for Todd, and he simply doesn’t seem to be a great fit for Grayson. Fear not, Evans fans, as there are plenty of other roles for him in the DC Universe. Sinestro, anyone?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt- As long as Levitt is attached to Sandman, there’s simply no point in naming him as a candidate for superhero roles, no matter how perfect a fit he would be for Nightwing.
Aaron Taylor Johnson- Two words: superhero fatigue. Having completed work on three comic movies to date, with two turns as Kick Ass and one as Quicksilver under his belt, Johnson has surely tired of the tights.
Andrew Garfield- Garfield is likely still reeling from the sting of learning that he’s no longer Spiderman, and few could blame him. He simply couldn’t portray such a major comic book character so soon after playing perhaps the biggest one of all. Which is a shame, because if you can pull off Peter Parker, chances are you can knock Dick Grayson out of the park.
Sung Kang- Kang is way outside the age range, but is an otherwise ideal candidate for Grayson. The shock of Googling his name and learning that he’s 42 cannot be understated; he looks much younger. But all talk of actors being capable of playing younger characters would go flying out the window once fans learned that Affleck’s former sidekick is actually a few months older than him.
Robert Pattinson- The internet wouldn’t simply explode if Pattinson were cast as a major comic book character; it would form a singularity that would eviscerate the entire planet and everything on it, killing us all. Fan reactions to Ben Affleck’s Batman casting would pale in comparison to the news that the guy from Twilight is going to star in a superhero movie. It’s pretty sad too, because the 29 year old is a legitimate talent nowadays, and could be great as either Grayson or Todd.
Milo Ventimiglia- Not so much of a near miss as a purposeful exclusion. Ventimiglia simply isn’t good enough.
Ah, we have arrived at the end at long last. If I did miss someone, which I’m sure I did, please remember that all is not lost, and the world will spin on. But feel free to tear me a new one in the comments section below. Your feedback is much appreciated; it makes me feel important.