The great success story of 2012, in the blockbuster world, has been "The Avengers," the superhero team-up movie that was the culmination of Marvel's multi-year plan since they started producing their own movies. As you might expect, the film's success means that Marvel's arch-rivals Warner Bros./DC Comics are pressing ahead with a movie of "Justice League," their own superhero team-up property. DC are owned outright by Time Warner, and as such, they have the advantage of having all of the characters — Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman et al. — under the same roof. But outside of the success of Christopher Nolan's standalone Batman movies (they won't be crossing over into any future efforts), Warner Bros. hasn't had much success with their own comic book movies.
"Superman" reboot "Superman Returns" was a damp squib six years ago, and 2011's "Green Lantern" was an outright flop, which set the franchise back, while an attempt at a fresh-faced "Justice League" movie directed by George Miller a few years ago was cancelled only weeks before shooting was meant to begin. But with Nolan's trilogy complete, a new Superman on the way (2013's "Man of Steel") and "The Avengers" proving a huge success, the studio is moving swiftly ahead with their plans. With a writer, "Gangster Squad" scribe Will Beall, hired last year, the studio was reportedly courting Ben Affleck to direct (he seems to have expressed little-to-no-interest in the idea, but it gives an idea of the kind of person that they're after). Only last week, Warners won a legal bout with the heirs of "Superman" creator Joe Shuster, which overcame one of the last major hurdles to the film. And the studio has pencilled in the movie for a 2015 release, putting it on a collision course with "The Avengers 2," which is already slated to come out that May.
Which begs a number of questions, even when you put aside the question of who'll actually direct the thing (do they go A-list, to a Guillermo del Toro or a Brad Bird, or do they gamble with an unlikely Marvel-esque pick like Joss Whedon or James Gunn?): Who are Warners going to cast as the heroes that make up the "Justice League"? Marvel's approach had its own risks, in terms of rolling the dice and hoping that Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth et al. would be able to draw audiences to relatively unknown characters, but Warners have a whole different headache on their hands (arguably as difficult a casting job as a tentpole movie has ever faced) as they essentially have to launch a half-dozen or so franchises simultaneously, with all of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the line-up likely to have their own solo pictures in development. And one wonders if they need to hire a Whedon and/or Kevin Feige-type person first, just to oversee the crucial development and storylines for what the studio is hoping will be the start of a huge multi-threaded franchise.
Overtures to Affleck as director suggest that Warners aren't necessarily going to be lowballing potential participants financially in the same way that Marvel did (though who knows), but at the same time, casting five or six A-listers would be prohibitively expensive for a film that needs to have as much of its budget up on screen as possible. So you're obviously not going to see Tom Cruise as the Flash, or Johnny Depp as Batman (especially as top-tier stars would be more reluctant to sign restrictive multi-year contracts), and you're probably not going to get Michael Fassbender or Chris Pine in there either. We can see them pushing out for a big name for one role, maybe (Batman, perhaps, or even a villain), but it's not going to be the cast of "Ocean's Eleven" either.
Ideally, what Warners is probably after are recognizable names and faces ready to make the leap up to the A-list and carry a movie on their own. Batman and Superman are draws on their own (hence the essentially unknown Henry Cavill), but they have to compete with "The Avengers" in the same year, which probably means not stacking the film entirely with a "Muppet Babies"-style cast like the George Miller one had (with hardly a single actor over the age of 25, including Jay Baruchel of all people as the villain). They're likely going to aim for more of the Chris Evans type (fairly well-known at the time and not overly expensive) than say, Chris Hemsworth (totally unknown at the time). Although it's worth noting that Hemsworth has perhaps had the biggest career boost, bar Downey Jr., of all the Marvel leads.
But then again, who would those people be? A list of actors poised on the B/C list who have a good chance of moving up across the next year or so include people like Joel Kinnaman (the new "RoboCop"), Charlie Hunnam ("Pacific Rim"), Joel Edgerton ("Zero Dark Thirty"), Jai Courtney ("A Good Day To Die Hard"), Alden Ehrenreich ("Beautiful Creatures"), Jake Abel ("The Host,"), Armie Hammer ("The Lone Ranger"), Justin Timberlake, Ben Barnes ("The Seventh Son") and Sam Claflin ("The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"), but how viable are any of them as "Justice League" characters — we can see names like Edgerton, Courtney, Hammer and maybe Timberlake (who was on the "Green Lantern" shortlist, alongside Bradley Cooper, who's probably too big these days), but not necessarily the others. And could they be too in demand by the time the film casts up (likely next summer)?
The alternative is to gamble more and go with names drawn from TV or relative unknowns (as the Miller version did), and thus bringing costs down. Ultimately, the history of the modern blockbuster has demonstrated that stars are less important than the property (see "Avatar," "Star Trek," et al.), although that has the risk of making the film look like a DTV knock-off of "The Avengers" if the films are in theaters at the same time. It's also risky because Warners' plans would mean that actors would have to not only fit into an ensemble, but then carry a movie on their own, and it's tricky to do both. So who would we cast? Well, head on over to page two, and you can find our picks — assuming a relatively stripped-down line-up that includes Superman, The Flash, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern (but probably not more out-there and obscure characters like Aquaman and Martian Manhunter). It'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out, and you can let us know your own picks in the comments section below.Superman – Henry Cavill
Whatever Zack Snyder has said to the contrary so far, one has to assume that the intention is for Cavill to reprise his role in "Justice League," and we suspect his contract probably covers that. While we've not been wildly impressed by what we've seen of him in other fare, he looks like a decent choice for the role in released footage so far, and assuming "Man of Steel" is a hit, would bring something of a known quantity to "Justice League." But what if it tanks, or even if the Nolan/Snyder approach, which seems to be fairly meditative so far at least, doesn't mesh with what the studio or audience wants for "Justice League"? We still think it would be ill-advised to recast, but there are options out there. Matthew Goode was Cavill's closest competition the first time around, and could make another run at it (as could Matthew Bomer, Armie Hammer, Joe Manganiello and Colin O'Donaghue, who were all in contention too), while Luke Evans ("Immortals") strikes us a reasonable physical fit for the role. Way back in the day before Cavill was cast, we liked the idea of relatively little-known TV actor James Wolk (the short-lived "Lone Star"), and he could be a cheap option if it goes that way. Also from the TV world, "Game of Thrones" star Kit Harington might be able to pull it off, though the punishing schedule for the show could well rule him out. And of the biggish names, Joel Edgerton and Jai Courtney are sort of feasible (Edgerton tested to play a villain back when Brett Ratner was directing a Superman movie), though not perfect fits.
Batman – Anson Mount
The most regularly stated fan-favorite for the role is Michael Fassbender, and while he'd obviously be great, he may be a touch too big these days, even if he's not a qualified A-list draw yet either (plus he's leading a rival superhero franchise in the "X-Men: First Class" series, which likely rules him out). So who else might be able to stand in Christian Bale's shoes (and no, it won't be Joseph Gordon-Levitt either…)? In internal discussions, we really liked the idea of "Game of Thrones" actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, but again, unless he's got a messy end coming on the show (don't tell us, we haven't read the books), scheduling would likely prove restrictive. Idris Elba would be terrific (if fanboy-enraging), but is probably tied to the "Thor" franchise these days, while if "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" didn't put people off casting him as a lead, Benjamin Walker might be interesting. Ultimately, we landed on Anson Mount. A one-time teenybopper heartthrob thanks to starring opposite Britney Spears in "Crossroads," Mount has a new lease of life these days thanks to starring on AMC's "Hell On Wheels." He looks a bit hobo-y thanks to that role, but give him a shave and a haircut and he's got the strong chin and piercing eyes that are advantages when it comes to playing Bruce Wayne, and the right kind of imposing physical presence and edge of Ivy League privilege. If "Hell On Wheels" is still going, there could again be scheduling conflicts, but we think he's a solid choice, particularly given he's got a high-profile role coming up opposite Liam Neeson in "Non-Stop." But if they want to go younger, there have been whispers that Armie Hammer is being eyed again (the actor was cast in the role in the George Miller version), or someone like Joel Kinnaman, Alexander Skarsgård, or Garret Hedlund might be feasible.
Wonder Woman – Mary Elizabeth Winstead
We're not sure if it speaks well or poorly of the state of female leads in Hollywood that it felt easier to draw up a feasible list of names for Wonder Woman than any other character. Does it mean that there are more potential leading ladies out there than ever before? Or does it mean that the talented ones are stuck pursuing this sort of part? Either way, there's lots and lots of potential candidates, but it's hard to pick one out in particular, due to the particular demands of the quite literally Amazonian role. People like Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana and Nina Dobrev have the right mix of steeliness and exoticism for the part, but all are a touch diminuitive for more traditional interpretations of the role. Australian model/actress Megan Gale had the part in the Miller version, and certainly has the right look, but we're not sure about her leading a potential spin-off. "Lost" actress Evangeline Lilly is something of a fan-favorite for the part, along with Olivia Wilde and Gemma Arterton, and all are feasible if unexciting choices. Thinking outside of the box a little, there are some names from TV who could be more interesting. "Downton Abbey" stars Michelle Dockery and Jessica Brown-Findlay are both getting more and more attention these days, while winning contenders could be "Girls" star Alison Williams and "Mad Men" thesp Jessica Pare. Finally, many remain to be unconvinced by Olivia Munn's acting talents, but we thought she really impressed in both "The Newsroom" and "Magic Mike" this summer, and could bring a more comic spin on the character. But ultimately, our pick is someone who was actually in the running last time "Justice League" was in the works, in the shape of "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and "Smashed" star Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She's a good actor, has the right look for the character, and isn't yet out of the budgetary realms, plus she's on a real crest of the wave at the moment thanks to "Smashed." If rumors linking her to the female lead in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" are correct, that could rule her out, but for now, she seems to be the best pick of the bunch.
Green Lantern – David Oyelowo
The financial failure and general shittiness of "Green Lantern" means that should the character turn up in the new "Justice League" line-up, it likely won't be in the form of Hal Jordan, as played by Ryan Reynolds. And the easiest way to make a clean break would be to go with one of the other characters who've donned the green ring, namely ex-Marine African-American Lantern John Stewart (which would also have the benefit of adding some much-needed diversity to the mix). Stewart's featured in recent "Justice League" cartoons, so the target audience will be familiar, and rapper Common was set to play the character in the Miller version. He might yet be an option, but we've gone with someone else as our first choice — British actor David Oyelowo. The actor has been cropping up in big-name movies for the last half-decade or so, but he's been almost inescapable of late thanks to films like "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," "The Paperboy," "Lincoln" and "Jack Reacher." He's a brilliant actor, capable of bringing gravitas and humor to the part, and yet someone who could absolutely still benefit from a role like this from a career perspective. Other options out there: "Chronicle" actor Michael B. Jordan would be a fine choice, as potentially is "42" star Chadwick Boseman.
The Flash – Scoot McNairy
The Justice League are traditionally a rather more dour bunch than "The Avengers," and as the least known of the central quintet, The Flash (likely to be in the form of Barry Allen) is the obvious choice to bring in a touch of humor to the ensemble. That's likely the approach that George Miller was taking in his film, casting Adam Brody in the part, and the one that whoever ends up making "Justice League" would be well-advised to replicate. With that in mind — along with the super-speed nature of the character that doesn't necessarily require a supehero physique — we had a couple of thoughts, including "Community" star Joel McHale and "Breaking Bad" actor Aaron Paul, both of whom are looking to break into features in the near future. Even someone like Jason Sudeikis could be a viable candidate, but for some reason, we like rising star Scoot McNairy for the role. After breaking out properly a couple of years back with "Monsters," McNairy's had a great 2012, with scene-stealing performances in "Argo" and "Killing Them Softly," and with "Promised Land," "12 Years A Slave" and "Non-Stop" on the way. It feels like it's only a matter of time before he gets a big studio leading role, and something like The Flash could be a nice halfway-house for him; he doesn't have to carry the film at first, but would get a raised profile as a result. Plus, how do you resist the temptation to cast a guy called Scoot as a man who can run really fast?