Jun 05 2012

Warner Bros. Wanted Leonardo DiCaprio as the Riddler

Published by at 9:41 am under Comic Book Movies

According to Yahoo News, Warner Bros. originally pushed for the Riddler as the villain in The Dark Knight Rises. “WB’s top executives said, according to [screenwriter] Goyer: ‘Obviously it’s gonna be The Riddler, and we want it to be Leonardo DiCaprio.'”


Sometimes I wonder about the decision-making process at Warner Bros. when it comes to DC adaptations. DC/WB’s non-Nolan movies have averaged 38.7% on Rotten Tomatoes since 2000 and 29.5% over the past 5 years (Green Lantern, Jonah Hex, Watchmen, and The Spirit). RED, the only DC property which was made by a different studio, succeeded both creatively (71% on Rotten Tomatoes) and financially (grossing $199 million against a production budget of $58 million). It has a sequel slated for next year, which will make it the only DC property since 2000 to survive to a sequel without Nolan’s involvement.

23 responses so far

23 Responses to “Warner Bros. Wanted Leonardo DiCaprio as the Riddler”

  1. Chihuahua0on 05 Jun 2012 at 10:39 am

    It could be possible they know about this trend, yet they’re ignoring it.

  2. St.on 05 Jun 2012 at 10:52 am

    Since it’s the darkness and humanity of Batman that Nolan brings out in the movies, I think the Riddler might have been successful if they did a “Hush” like characterization of him. I think it’s the camp and lack of things at stake that destroy DC movie adaptations. I was bored out of my mind with Green Lantern and Jonah Hex was a rolling dialog of one-liners. Watchmen did better simply because the drama matched the action. Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach was awesome and it was generally a good movie despite Zach Snider’s habit of absolutely obliterating the personality of his female characters (Ugh, Sucker Punch).

    Some of the straight to DVD features such as Batman: Year One show that audiences need grit. We love Adam West, but we have matured past his incarnation of Batman. So, I think that if Warner Bros. were willing to keep things dark and brutal, the Riddler’s demented need to mindf* everyone while stringing Batman along would’ve been interesting.

  3. aharrison 05 Jun 2012 at 11:19 am

    I know that diCaprio can act. I do know that, but in my mind, I actually prefer Nolan making Batman movies that are more like Batman movies and less like simple star vehicles. That was one of the downfalls of the old franchise. It started to be a game to guess which star was going to play the next villain more than wondering which was going to be the next villain.

  4. Richard S.on 05 Jun 2012 at 11:42 am

    I think that the riddler would have been an interesting villain for the batman movie, as long as it was done well. The concept itself fits in with the previous work: a man with a high iq, dilusional mind and an obsessive compulsive desire to create and solve problems. This would have left a lot of creative potential.

    Could DiCaprio have been a good riddler? I don’t know. There is no doubt that he is a good actor, so it would probably have depended on what kind of character they wanted him to portray: a darker, manipulative one or a crazy Jim Carrey style riddler.

  5. B. McKenzieon 05 Jun 2012 at 11:57 am

    He’s, ahem, not the first guy that comes to mind when I think of cerebral villains. If I HAD to slot him into the Batman series, he might have been okay as Harvey Dent if Aaron Eckhert had not been available. But I think somebody like Edward Norton would destroy him as the Riddler.

    For some reason, my severely sleep-deprived brain just screamed “THE BEST RIDDLER WOULD BE MICHAEL CLARKE DUNCAN.” Uhh, no, brain. Vetoed. (Although, as a Chicagoan, I do award him full points for city of birth).

  6. St.on 05 Jun 2012 at 12:09 pm

    B. McKenzie — That’s a hilarious image. It’s the Riddler, but he’s the size of Killer Croc. And MCD is awesome. It’s a shame he didn’t do more Marvel features as the Kingpin.

  7. B. McKenzieon 05 Jun 2012 at 12:21 pm

    In terms of acting performance, his Kilowogg was one of the only bright spots in Green Lantern. (I also liked Mark Strong’s Sinestro).

  8. aharrison 05 Jun 2012 at 8:22 pm

    After thinking about it all day, I’d love to get Wayne Pygram, give him a Riddler script and see if he could nail it as well as he nailed the role of Scorpius on Farscape. I know it was a TV show, but Scoprius still remains my favorite cerebral villain to this day.

  9. Edgukatoron 05 Jun 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Hmmm… loading Watchmen into the list is a little bit problematic, as it actually scored above 50%, unlike the other 3. As for the Dark Knight trilogy, this one is always a bit hard. I LOVE the Riddler, and I love the Dark Knight series, but it’s kind of like eating orange juice after brushing your teeth. DiCaprio could well have done a good job… despite trash like Titanic he has some really good pieces in his portfolio.

    My question is what it would take to be able to get the Riddler into the modern Batman? I was really impressed with how Arkham City managed to blend many of the Batmen Villains into the grittier series, but even there Riddler is a little bit out of sorts. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason, he was just… there. In comparison, the Penguin was awesome. Nasty, gritty and vile, and the broken bottle monocle was awesome. How could you retcon Riddler to make him fit the modern vision of Batman?

  10. B. McKenzieon 06 Jun 2012 at 2:30 am

    Watchmen turned out pretty well creatively (65%), but it didn’t do much to balance out the Spirit (14%), Jonah Hex (13%), and Green Lantern (27%). I included it on the list so that readers could see all of the non-Nolan movies DC/WB have put out in the past five years.

    Incidentally, the Watchmen movie was not a great financial success. It grossed $185 million worldwide against a production budget of $130 million, which probably works out to a substantial loss after the theaters take their half of the ticket sales and marketing costs are factored in. Granted, R-rated superhero films are generally a tough sell, but I think it might have succeeded on a smaller budget. For example, Lionsgate’s Kick-Ass was profitable even though it only sold half as many tickets (grossing $96 million against a production budget of $30 million).

  11. St.on 06 Jun 2012 at 9:13 am

    Taking Watchmen into account, do you think that the success of these movies might have more to do with universal appeal rather than how well they are made? I might complain about how terrible Jonah Hex was, but my $9 is still in that profit pool. What does a studio do to attract audiences to the less popular characters?

    I can only partially fathom how hard these movies are to market when I can just mention a superhero story and non-comic-enjoying people’s eyes glaze over. Marvel and Disney might (because rumors are still brewing) announce that Black Panther is going to be the next stand-alone movie they are going to do, and I fear it’s not going to do well, simply because he’s not a household name to the non-comic-appreciators.

    Everyone knows Batman. People have been watching Spider-Man cartoons since the ’60s. X-Men had an awesome-sauce cartoon in the ’90s followed by some meh ones in the 2000s. The other failing franchises didn’t get the exposure that would pull in audiences, even if it is just to relive some part of their childhoods.

  12. B. McKenzieon 06 Jun 2012 at 3:17 pm

    “Taking Watchmen into account, do you think that the success of these movies might have more to do with universal appeal rather than how well they are made? … What does a studio do to attract audiences to the less popular characters?” Make a very good movie and it will almost certainly sell. Cases in point: Iron Man and The Incredibles were both wildly successful despite having little-to-no preexisting popularity.

    Across the board, there have been 13 superhero movies (released in theatres) to score above 80% on Rotten Tomatoes (Incredibles, Dark Knight, Spidey 2, the original Superman, Iron Man, Avengers, Spidey, X2, First Class, Hellboy 2, Batman Begins, Superman 2, and X-Men). Of these 13, at least 9 were box office behemoths. The only two that didn’t do very well financially were the two Hellboy films, and I think that’s more an issue of genre than it is the preexisting popularity of the characters. (Having an extremely unattractive titular hero didn’t help, though there have been cases of such protagonists selling well–e.g. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).

    Also, A-list actors can usually ensure that a movie does at least okay at the box office. For example, Will Smith’s Hancock grossed $625 million despite scoring just 40% on Rotten Tomatoes. (Off the top of my head, it’s the only superhero movie to do notably well financially without scoring at least 50%).

    Lastly, competent marketing really helps. I’m not an expert on movie marketing by any stretch and have only a bit of marketing experience, but my impression is that WB’s marketing is among the worst of the major studios when it comes to superhero movies. Green Lantern’s $100 million campaign was a 9-digit-plunge into “how the hell do you still have your job?” territory*. I’d contrast that with, among many other examples, Marvel’s methodical and extremely well-executed multiyear campaign for the Avengers. Or WB’s work on The Dark Knight.

    *There was also some behinds-the-scene drama on GL. The marketing team received the finished product much too late and one of DC’s executives pushed hard for aliens to be featured in the advertising to set up sequels, even though it wasn’t true to the product. If media accounts are remotely close to accurate, WB’s marketing team sounds like they either got absolutely screwed on GL and/or are incompetent.

    With a few exceptions (notably Dark Knight and possibly Kick-Ass), rated-R movies tend to struggle compared to their PG-13 and PG/G counterparts.

  13. Cuddleson 07 Jun 2012 at 12:10 am

    Don’t know why everyone hates The Spirit. I thought it was hilarious.

    In all seriousness, though. I feel like the WB needs to either find people who give a crap about the rich history of the DC stable, or set up a sub-studio of people who do. Case closed.

  14. B. McKenzieon 07 Jun 2012 at 3:42 am

    “In all seriousness, though. I feel like the WB needs to either find people who give a crap about the rich history of the DC stable…” Three things.

    1. I think it would really help if the studios took the characters more seriously, rather than, say, producers insisting on giving Lex Luthor a space dog because “Chewie’s cuddly, man. You could make a toy out of him, so you’ve got to give me a dog.”

    2. The creators may need to make intelligent alterations to the source material (e.g. redesigning the X-Men uniforms, updating Spider-Man’s origin from radiation to genetic engineering, and making Thor’s voice a bit more comprehensible to modern viewers). However, on the other hand, I think it’s really important that the changes not detract from why the characters are popular to begin with. For example, looking at the Catwoman movie, it looks like the moviemakers thought that the only reason Catwoman was popular was that she’s really hot and wears tight leather. Umm, there are a lot of really hot women in comics. That’s not what is distinct about her. In her case, it’s moral ambiguity and personality. The studio should not risk its money on the character unless it is confident that it can sell viewers on what makes the character distinctive.

    3. More depth to the writing would also help. I think a superhero movie is unlikely to clear 50% in Rotten Tomatoes (let alone 75%), unless it covers something besides action scenes and sex appeal. Cases in point: Iron Man has some incredible comedy and Tony Stark’s dialogue alone is worth the price of admission. The Incredibles and the Avengers handle intra-team relationships/conflict really well. The Dark Knight is soaked with drama and suspense. The struggle for acceptance added some depth to Captain America and First Class. Except for a few notable exceptions at DC/WB, I think their superhero movies feel like they came from the 1990s (e.g. Catwoman and Green Lantern) in terms of writing depth and acting quality.

    I think Captain America is a good baseline for success on the Superman movie. The movie is very fun, simple and well-executed. It took relatively few risks (e.g. the plot is linear and the characters are archetypical, particularly the villains). The film scored 79% on Rotten Tomatoes and sold $368 million in tickets against a production budget of $140 million. If Superman can’t get into those neighborhoods, I think there are a lot of people at WB who should probably work for other lines of work. UPDATE: Another possibility is that the character is so fundamentally unworkable that they shouldn’t be making Superman movies, but I discounted this because there were a few Superman blockbusters in 1978 and 1980.

  15. aharrison 07 Jun 2012 at 7:38 am

    I think taking the source material seriously is a big factor. Yes, these are superheros and fairly non-sensical, but so are a lot of other things we see on the big screen that receive fairly wide box office draw. I think that Marvel has the right approach and has struck sort of the right balance in imagining a “What if” with their material. How do you make these characters workable in more realistic context (realistic being relative).

    I think the newest Superman was more or less on the right track, but they tarnished too many aspects of Supes’ character on the way. People weren’t expecting a dead beat dad.

  16. Edgukatoron 07 Jun 2012 at 10:41 pm

    I have to disagree on the latest Superman movie. The better things they did in that movie were to make him emotionally more vulnerable. The reality with Supes is that he is so physically invulnerable (even kryptonite doesn’t really make him vulnerable… we’ve been playing with that trope for 80 years and in hasn’t worked yet), so he needs the emotional conflicts to make him interesting. What the movie failed to do was make Lex Luther interesting. Even with an actor like Kevin Spacey playing the role, they wrote him like a Republic serial villain (the steal a phrase from Ozymandias).

    Compare that to, say, Lex getting elected President of the United States, so Superman has to struggle with his sense of patriotism vs his sense of justice. Or Superman realising that super powers have become the biggest threat, and so tries to press gang the entire hero community and Lex actually become an anti-hero.

  17. B. McKenzieon 08 Jun 2012 at 5:25 am

    “I have to disagree on the latest Superman movie. The better things they did in that movie were to make him emotionally more vulnerable.” The pace was a lot slower than most viewers have come to expect of a superhero movie. I think that using General Zod as the villain rather than Lex Luthor will give Man of Steel a better opportunity to excite viewers. Some other things I hope they handle more effectively: more consistent characterization (Lex Luthor bounced around from zany to murderous/threatening), casting a Superman with a better grasp of emotion, and accomplishing more with Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

  18. Paul A.on 10 Jun 2012 at 8:18 pm

    First of all, studio execs don’t know dick about ****. Their job is to make money, and so they will go for that in every way possible – frequently through name draw, but also through merchandising. They’re experts in marketing and business, but not much else. The upside? If it sounds like it’s good enough to draw ticket-buyers, they’ll green-light it. The downside? If it sounds good enough to draw ticket-buyers, they’ll green-light it. The only solution is to collectively, as a movie-going audience, not go to the really trash movies, even if we like the premise. A good start would be not going to sequels that are made for the sake of making sequel money. Even better would be a consultant that has some pull with studio execs that lets them know when they’re setting themselves up for failure.

    How to make Superman films better? I think BMAC, as usual, is spot on with his comments. Personally, I think Lex should have more motive than “Superman stands in my way of accomplishing Evil Scheme X.” Rather, Lex should see Superman as a threat to humanity – or, rather, a threat to Lex’s opportunity to lead humanity to a brighter future. That what Lex Luthor is – brilliant enough to change the world, vain enough to believe he’s fit to lead it, and twisted enough to divert his resources to remove this obstacle no matter the cost.

  19. B. McKenzieon 10 Jun 2012 at 10:41 pm

    “They’re experts in marketing and business, but not much else.” I would not take this on faith and do not see much evidence for it in WB’s work on DC adaptations. How many of DC’s adaptations actually HAVE turned a profit? Using my simplified formula (the box office totals must at least double the production budget for the movie to break even*), the results are pretty grim.

    *Theatres take about half of the box office, so breaking even at just the box office would require about doubling the production budget. Please note that this does not account for DVD sales, merchandising, miscellaneous revenues (e.g. re-releases and TV distribution rights), or non-production costs like marketing. The tables below use data from The Numbers.

    “They’re experts in marketing and business, but not much else.” Aside from WB’s kickass marketing work on the Nolan movies, I’ve been sort of underwhelmed by WB’s marketing efforts on DC works overall. For example, this Green Lantern trailer makes the movie look rather mediocre, whereas this TDK Rises trailer does a much better job establishing what’s at stake and why it’ll probably be interesting. And bonus points for bombing Ben Roethlisberger, which pretty much makes it the feel-good movie of the year.

  20. Paul A.on 11 Jun 2012 at 7:17 am

    I was saying studio execs in general – generally, they’re experts in marketing and business, that’s where their background lies. Yes, WB’s work on the DC franchise is overall poor. They might be better off selling away the film rights (while keeping the television/animation/merchandise rights). But the rest of their films they seem to do fine on. According to The Numbers, WB grossed over $313m this year so far, even if their top film so far is Journey 2 (faith in humanity? Get that **** out of here!)

    The real question is, how good was WB’s marketing for Batman Begins? That might provide more insight into how they operate. WB might spend the time marketing for proven winners (after BB, lots of anticipation for TDK, plus the added publicity surrounding Ledger’s death). If that’s the case, they’re leaving a lot of films to sink or swim on their own.

  21. B. Macon 11 Jun 2012 at 7:38 am

    “The real question is, how good was WB’s marketing for Batman Begins?” Very uneven. For example, this trailer would have been okay enough to maintain the interest of people who were already looking forward to the movie, but is a lot less convincing than the trailers for TDK and TDK-Rises.

    Also, they ended up spending about as much marketing Batman Begins ($44 million) as they did on V for Vendetta ($38 million) or Constantine ($33 million).

    They spent significantly more on Green Lantern ($100 million). That strikes me as a misallocation of resources and is one of the reasons that GL is among the biggest money-losers in the history of cinema. Also, Green Lantern’s trailers were notoriously bad. For example, if you hadn’t heard of GL, would this have given you any idea of who he is or why you’d want to watch his movie?

    Green Lantern by ThePlaylist

    PS: Oh, also, Superhero Nation was #2 on Google Image searches for “Green Lantern” in the month leading up to the release of the movie. Unless there’s something I’m missing, their digital marketing team should murder me on every vaguely-economically-relevant search term related to their impending $300 million dollar project.

  22. Brianon 18 Jun 2012 at 5:14 pm

    The Watchmen movie is underrated. 65% on Rotten Tomatoes and they give the likes of The Avengers 90% (not that the movie was bad…but come on), wtf? I dare to say the Watchmen’s movie ending was even better than that of the original.

  23. L0ST 80Yon 03 Jul 2012 at 10:55 pm

    I think, if they were going to do a Batman against Riddler film, they would have to have someone other than Leonardo DiCaprio playing him. I respect his acting ability, but I think he wouldn’t suit the role as well as some others. Take Jonny Depp.
    Furthermore, I agree that it’s the camp, family-friendly style of a lot of Warner Bros. DC films that ruin them, so if they did it, they should have Riddler portrayed as much darker, like that from the Hush storyline.

    P.S: But I don’t have anything against the Adam West incarnation of Batman.

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply