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When Nicholas Hoult and Robert Pattinson were floated as frontrunners to take on the role of Batman in director Matt Reeves’ planned trilogy, some not particularly positive reactions greeted the news of the Twilight star donning the cape. But if Warner Bros. can take some consolation for its Pattinson pick, it’s that younger Americans clearly prefer the actor over Hoult as the new Dark Knight, a new Hollywood Reporter/Morning Consult poll finds.
Some 42 percent of those in the 18-29 age bracket are in favor of the casting as opposed to 30 percent in the same group that prefer Hoult, already known to superhero movie fans in Fox’s X-Men franchise. (The number spikes further, reaching 48 percent, if the age range is limited to 18-22.) Yet Hoult manages to outrank Pattinson slightly among older audiences, including in the 45-54 and 55-64 demographics.The survey was conducted among 2,201 adults between June 6 and 9, just days after Pattinson had officially been named the next big-screen Batman.
Both actors screen-tested for the role, and if Warners found it difficult to make a decision, those taking part in the poll were equally split, with Pattinson and Hoult each receiving 30 percent total support across all age groups.
Indeed, Pattinson’s Twilight movie experience may explain the preference among the younger moviegoing set. “Twilight fans are totally on board. I think their dedication to Rob is the kind that means fans who weren’t Batman fans before are now going to devour all things Batman, in support of Rob,” says Bekah Decker, co-founder of Robert Pattinson fanzine LettersToRob.com. “Bruce Wayne is dark, [Pattinson’s Twilight character] Edward [Cullen] is dark. There is a vigilante quality in Edward — more in the books — that is an obvious tie to Batman.”
Pattinson’s casting in The Batman comes as Warner Bros. and DC are at a crossroads. The studio is moving away from the Zack Snyder era, which saw Ben Affleck don the cape and cowl for poorly received films that yielded diminishing returns at the box office. While 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was a hit with $873.6 million worldwide despite bad reviews, the following year’s team-up film Justice League earned just $657.9 million.
Now, the studio and Reeves are plotting a trilogy of Batman films that doesn’t aim to build toward a DC universe-wide crossover and reflects the philosophy of Warners executive Walter Hamada, who oversees the DC properties. While Warner Bros. foundered when it tried to imitate competitor Marvel Studios’ model — in which all of its films advance a larger narrative, and characters regularly appear in each other’s installments — it has since found success putting out films that are a return to the traditional franchise format.
DC found its first $1 billion hit since the Christopher Nolan Batman movies with 2018’s Aquaman ($1.14 billion), and the studio’s current slate includes October’s Joker, as well as next year’s Wonder Woman 1984 and Suicide Squad spinoff Birds of Prey (and the Fabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn).
Can Reeves and Pattinson keep up the trend? Although awareness that Pattinson had recently taken the role of Batman was low — only 29 percent of respondents said that they’d heard either “some” or “a lot” about the news — 57 percent have positive expectations of his performance, with 11 percent expecting it to be excellent. He’ll be dealing with some fierce competition; respondents were also polled on past cinematic Batmen, and both Christian Bale and Michael Keaton came out of the experience particularly well.
Bale was the Batman of choice for those polled, with a net favorability of +60 and a “very favorable” rating of 39 percent, with Keaton close behind with +59 net favorability and a 38 percent “very favorable” rating. (“Net favorability” combines the scores from both favorable responses in the poll, then subtracts the value of the negative responses.)
Surprisingly, the least popular Batman wasn’t George Clooney, despite what he might claim; both Affleck and Val Kilmer polled lower. But that wasn’t the only surprise when looking into the history of the larger Batman franchise.
Curiously enough, while Batman Returns’ Michelle Pfeiffer is viewed most favorably of all the best big-screen Catwomen in terms of net favorability — she polled at +62 — Halle Berry’s portrayal of the character from the much-maligned 2004 solo movie scored higher in terms of those describing her performance as “very favorable.” Forty-two percent of those polled described Berry’s take in those terms, against 41 percent for Pfeiffer’s Batman Returns villain; in terms of net favorability, Berry scored +53. Both outperformed Anne Hathaway’s The Dark Knight Rises character, who enjoyed a net favorability of +45 and 26 percent “very favorable” rating. “I think the only explanation is that this comes down less to the actual films and more to people’s opinions of the actors,” notes filmmaker and critic Patrick H. Willems of the poll’s results.
Far less unexpected, the title of most popular Joker is a two-man race that could be considered a draw. Heath Ledger’s version of the character from The Dark Knight wins in terms of “very favorable” answers, with 60 percent of respondents choosing that option, compared with 58 percent for Jack Nicholson’s character in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. In terms of net favorability, however, Nicholson edges it +74 to Ledger’s +72. Jared Leto’s take on the character from 2016’s Suicide Squad was much less beloved; he only managed +18 in terms of net favorability, and 18 percent “very favorable.”
The fact that the two highest net favorability scores belonged to Jokers undoubtedly reflects the fondness audiences have for the character, which is what motivated Warners to green light Todd Phillips’ upcoming Joker. Perhaps it was the trailer that did it, or maybe it’s just that audiences prefer villains, but excitement for Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the character far outstripped that for Pattinson’s Dark Knight: 68 percent of those polled expect him to be “excellent” or “good” in the role.
Chris Begley, who founded the fan site Batman-News, notes that Ledger’s performance as the Joker gives him confidence in Pattinson’s future as Batman — albeit in a roundabout way. “Ever since Heath Ledger’s casting in The Dark Knight, I think fans have been a little more open to out-of-the-box choices. I know that I definitely have been.”
—Kyle Kizu and Aaron Couch contributed reporting.
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