What's next for Batman after 'The Dark Knight Rises'?

Warner Bros.Confirming what many have suspected for months, actor Christian Bale recently told The Philippine Daily Inquirer that he thinks 2012's “The Dark Knight Rises” will be his final outing as the Caped Crusader. “I wrapped a few days ago, so that will be the last time I'm taking that cowl off," Bale told the newspaper, adding that he believes that “The Dark Knight Rises” is the end of the Christopher Nolan Batman era.
Bale has been quoted in the past as saying he would be up for a fourth Batman film if director Christopher Nolan asked him to be involved, but no such word has passed the British director’s lips, at least publicly. The secretive director has always maintained that his Batman films were meant to be a trilogy.
But while Bale and Nolan may be out, it’s probably pretty safe to bet that “The Dark Knight Rises" will not be the last time audiences see the world’s greatest detective on the big screen. Nolan’s first two Batman films, “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” raked in a combined $1.4 billion (US) for Warner Bros., and the third film in the series is sure to add a significant sum to that tally. That kind of success almost guarantees a post-“Dark Knight Returns” film featuring Batman in some form. Are you ready for Super Friends: The Movie?
Here are a few possibilities for what a future Batman film could look like:
‘The Dark Knight Returns’
The title alone would certainly be an appropriate follow-up to “The Dark Knight Rises.” Where Christopher Nolan’s latest Bat-movie picks up some eight years after the events of the last film, “The Dark Knight Returns” would take place decades later. Frank Miller’s original comic book series features a retired Bruce Wayne growing sick and tired of the crime and violence that continues to plague Gotham City. Wayne decides to once again don the mantle of Batman, but immediately faces resistance from the police, his old foes, and even Superman, now acting as a stooge for the U.S. government.
“The Dark Knight Returns” is an emotional and violent story, one that actually provided at least some of the inspiration for Nolan’s dark and gritty Bat-verse. Not only would the story make for an amazing film, it would also act as a perfect epilogue to the Nolan trilogy.
‘Batman vs. Superman’
Batman’s brains and Superman’s brawn have always combined in entertaining ways on the comic book page, so why not pair two of DC Comics’ most iconic characters together on the big screen? Easier said than done, it would seem.
Warner Bros. struggled for years to bring “Batman vs. Superman” to the big screen. They even enlisted director Wolfgang Petersen (“Air Force One,” “The Perfect Storm”) and “Se7en” screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker for the film. While that particular version of the film was ultimately shelved in favour of separate Batman and Superman films, Warner Bros. revisited the team-up idea after the success of Nolan’s “Batman Begins” (the studio even inserted a poster for the non-existent film into 2007’s post-apocalyptic “I Am Legend”). However, the disappointing box office showing of Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns” derailed the project once again.
With “The Dark Knight Rises” hitting cinemas in 2012 and Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” in 2013, perhaps 2014 is ripe for that long-overdue superhero tag team. The Bat and the Big Blue Boy Scout continue to be the most prominent heroes in the DC roster; it’s high time Warner Bros. convert on that popularity.
‘The Justice League of America’
For those not dorky enough to know better, the Justice League is a super team whose line-up usually includes Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman. A “JLA” film would be DC’s logical response to rival Marvel’s upcoming big budget superhero ensemble “The Avengers” and would make for a great follow-up to “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Man of Steel.” Unfortunately, as Marvel has already demonstrated, that kind of big screen team-up requires a great deal of “universe-building” to even be feasible.

For Marvel, it involved producing five films with plots threads and shared characters that connected the world. It’s something that DC has expressed interest in doing, in fact the script for the recent “Green Lantern” film allegedly featured cameos from both Superman and Batman during pre-production, but those plans were eventually dropped once filming began. The critical and box office failure of “Green Lantern” now makes any sequel (and any potential crossover cameos) uncertain at best.

Warner Bros. is wise to steer clear of any potential “Aquaman” or “Wonder Woman” feature films, as the characters are likely too niche to be commercially viable. And while there is a film version of “The Flash” in the works, without the proper lead-in, any ensemble film simply would not work. Could Batman and Superman films be enough to set up a “Justice League” movie?