By October 2014, it was clear that Warner Bros. and DC were not planning on taking it slow with their expanded universe. On a shareholders call, Warner Bros. announced nine new movies to go alongside Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, including two Justice League movies as well as solo outings for Wonder Woman, Aquaman and The Flash. While it wasn’t confirmed, sources close to Warner Bros. revealed that Man of Steel 2 was still in development along with a solo Batman film, rumoured to be released in 2019. In January 2015, Mark Hughes of Forbes claimed that Batman would feature in Suicide Squad after The Joker escapes from Arkham to kickstart his new franchise. “This would set up the Joker as a possible/likely antagonist in the solo Batman movie that’s planned in the next few years,” he wrote. “Which I’ve heard will take some inspiration from Frank Miller’s comic book series The Dark Knight Returns – the third issue of which is a story about Batman facing off against an escaped Joker.”
In April 2015 the first trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice landed online, and the reaction was not good. Most of the dislike thrown towards the movie was for its dark and drab tone, something Affleck praised in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. ““[DC] is more mythic, it is more grand in that way, and it is a little more realistic,” he said. “Just by their nature, these films can’t be as funny or as quick or as glib as Marvel movies.”
The following few months saw the rumour mill start to churn out news about Affleck directing The Batman. Latino-Review noted in June that Affleck would be in the director’s chair on a movie based on a script by Chris Terrio, which made sense as the pair worked together on Argo and Terrio had re-written David S. Goyer’s script for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as well as Justice League Part 1. However Deadline corrected the rumour in July, stating instead that The Batman would be written by Affleck and Geoff Johns and in August Den of Geek reported that a screening of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had gone down so well that Warner Bros. wanted a trilogy of Batman movies directed by Affleck. “Look, if I could make it work, yeah, obviously it would be like a dream,” Affleck told Total Film in October. “The trick is, as to any movie, is to make sure that you – if you’re going to direct it – that you can make it good. You’ve got to have the right idea and the right take on it. Broadly speaking, it’s something I’d be open to, for sure. It’s a very exciting idea.”
By November 2015, the pressures of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were beginning to show in interviews that Affleck gave. However he stayed the course, and even guaranteed that Warner Bros. and DC were set to have a great year in 2016 following the release of the first meeting between World’s Finest and the debut of Suicide Squad. “They have started to exploit that and you are going to see that blossom,” he told Variety. “And, when it does, it’s going to be massive. We are a very kind of instant gratification culture when it comes to analyzing the film business. And there is a lot of hyperbole involved. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of pressure on it.” In a terrifying piece of foreshadowing, Affleck stated, “If it doesn’t do well, that will be extremely disappointing.”
As 2015 became 2016 and the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was just around the corner, journalists began to grill Affleck about the possibilities of him directing The Batman. “I’ll just say going through the process, I would never have imagined that I could or would direct a movie like this,” Affleck told USA Today. “And in working with [Zack Snyder] and seeing what he did and watching him every day, I got really inspired by that and by seeing the scope on which he was telling the story, by seeing what he was able to do with this kind of mythic story on a grand scale.” While he had been praising of Snyder and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice up until this point, one report in February 2015 suggested there was something terrible on the horizon. A rumour from US Weekly claimed that Affleck wasn’t “thrilled” with the script and in fact re-wrote his scenes while on set in his costume. “[He] would go into wardrobe and get all suited up for the day in his Batman suit [and then] would sit around reworking the script,” the report stated.
On March 25th 2016, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released to a drumming from the critics and movie goers. Flickering Myth’s Oli Davis called it “crushingly disappointing” and a sea of one and two star reviews flooded magazines, websites and blogs. Joe Morgenstern of Wall Street Journal called it, “Underdeveloped, overlong and stupendously dispiriting” while Jonathan L. Fisher of Slate wrote the film was, “Blunt, humorless, and baffling.” By the time the dust had cleared and all the reviews were in, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice boasted a worse Rotten Tomatoes score than The Room, thought to be the worst movie ever made. It also scored lower than Affleck’s previous comic book outing Daredevil. Even one of the film’s stars, Jeremy Irons, said the bad reviews for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were “deserved“. He added: ““I mean it took $800 million, so the kicking didn’t matter but it was sort of overstuffed. It was very muddled.” Reports before the films release suggested Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice needed to make over $1 billion worldwide in order to simply break even; it managed $873 million.
Following all of his talk about the pressure of the movie, and saying it would be “extremely disappointing” if it failed, it’s clear why an interview with Affleck and his co-star Henry Cavill where they found out about the poor reviews went viral. In the filmed interview, the host asked if they had seen the reviews, to which the pair reply they haven’t. When the interviewer tells them it’s not good news, the wind is visibly taken out of Affleck’s sails, made all the clearer when someone on YouTube underscored it with Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence’.
The following May, just over a month after the film’s initial release, Devin Faraci of Births.Movies.Death reported that Affleck felt “humiliated” by the whole ordeal. “My sources have told me that Affleck was incredibly unhappy about the reception of [Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice],” Faraci wrote in May 2016. “He felt humiliated after spending so much of the press tour saying how much better this film would be than Daredevil.” This anger and frustration had only been made worse when, the month previous, Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara announced Ben Affleck as the director of a standalone Batman movie while negotiations were still ongoing.
This news came at a really bad time for Warner Bros. and DC Films, who were also battling against other rumours surrounding their projects. Following the dismal critical performance of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it was reported that Snyder was fighting with the studio over Justice League and Aquaman director James Wan was feeling trepidation about taking the project on, while it was confirmed that director Seth Grahame-Smith had left The Flash.
Some good news was needed, and that would come in the form of Ben Affleck’s The Batman.