In August 2013, just a few months after Man of Steel hit theaters and under a year after Christian Bale hung up his cape and cowl in The Dark Knight Rises, it was announced that Ben Affleck would take over as Batman in the second DC Extended Universe movie, a.k.a. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. However, had things not worked out with Affleck, director Zack Snyder had a replacement in mind for Gotham City’s Dark Knight: The Old Guard actor Matthias Schoenaerts.
Zack Snyder’s had a busy couple of months; first, his definitive vision for Justice League dropped on HBO Max, and now his latest movie, Army of the Dead, is playing on Netflix. While discussing about the latter project and his filmmaking career as a whole on MTV’s Happy Sad Confused podcast, Snyder was asked if he had a “Plan B” with casting Batman had Ben Affleck not agreed to the role. The director answered:
Matthias Schoenaerts. I was talking to him a lot about it. He never got in the suit, but I did do a bunch of mock-ups of him, because Ben was on the fence. And I don’t blame him. Everyone should be on the fence when you’re asked, ‘Do you want to play Batman?’
Picking Matthias Schoenaerts to play Batman certainly would have been a sharp turn from casting Ben Affleck as the character. While Affleck has been famous in Hollywood for decades now and already had one superhero outing in 2003’s Daredevil, Schoenaerts isn’t nearly as well known. His biggest movies around the time Man of Steel coming out being Loft, Bullhead and Rust and Bone, the former two being fully Belgian productions and the latter being a French/Belgian collaboration. In other words, it’s safe to say not a whole lot of United States moviegoers knew who he was.
Cut to 2021, Matthias Schoenaerts is more famous domestically, having appeared in movies like The Danish Girl, Red Sparrow and The Laundromat, not to playing the immortal Booker in Netflix’s The Old Guard. But if Ben Affleck hadn’t signed on to play Batman, it sounds like Zack Snyder was ready to line up Schoenaerts as the Caped Crusader instead, and that definitely would catapulted the actor to worldwide fame. He also would have been the most “unknown” actor to play Batman in a live-action feature film, with Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney and Christian Bale all having starred in high-profile projects before they wore the mask.
Alas, unless one of you readers has the means to travel to a parallel universe where Zack Snyder’s casting unfolded differently, we’ll just have to imagine what Matthias Schoenaerts playing Bruce Wayne in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice would have looked like. As things stand now, we’re in an unusual situation where there’s not one Batman actor currently lined up in the live-action cinematic realm, but three. In addition to Ben Affleck reprising the role for The Flash, he’ll be joined by Michael Keaton’s version of the character, while elsewhere in the DC multiverse, Robert Pattinson is leading Matt Reeves’ The Batman.
As for Matthias Schoenaerts, he’s next appearing in Terrence Malick’s The Way of the Wind and David O. Russell’s Canterbury Glass, neither of which have release dates yet. It’s also likely he’ll be back for The Old Guard 2, which is reportedly in development, although Netflix hasn’t confirmed this.