It’s easy to forget now, but Ben Affleck had quite a lot of experience playing superheroes before he donned Batman’s cape and cowl in the DCU‘s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Firstly, he played Daredevil in the ill-advised Marvel movie from 2003. But even less well-known is that he played Superman (kind of) in a 2006 drama movie called Hollywoodland.
Hollywoodland is a crime mystery thriller movie in the Film Noir style, starring Adrien Brody as private detective Louis Simo. Simo starts investigating the death of George Reeves (Affleck), the Superman actor in TV series Adventures of Superman (1952-1958). Reeves’ death has been ruled a suicide, but many people suspect it was actually murder.
There are substantial flashbacks, in which we see Reeves with his lover Toni Mannix (Diane Lane, who would go onto play the Martha who is Superman’s Mom, not Batman’s Mom, thankfully), the wife of MGM’s general manager Eddie Mannix (Bob Hoskins). We also see the start of his relationship to a younger woman, Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney). Hollywoodland is a movie based on a true story, but speculates about the three main theories surrounding how Reeves died.
The 2000s were very much a mixed bag for Ben Affleck movies – there were some decent thrillers (Changing Lanes, The Sum of All Fears, Paycheck). The turkeys (Daredevil, Gigli, Surviving Christmas), and the more critically-acclaimed drama movies (Hollywoodland, State of Play, The Company Men). More importantly, Affleck made his directorial debut with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone, and followed it up with 2010’s The Town – both of which were well received by critics.
The tragedy of the real George Reeves reflects how far the culture has changed regarding superhero movies and shows. Reeves was depressed at doing television, and especially a TV series for kids – which was how superheroes were viewed in those days. By the time he was 40, he also felt he was too old to be playing Superman. Affleck didn’t start playing Batman until he was 44.
Reeves wanted to be taken seriously as an actor and get drama movie roles – although he did have small supporting parts in the Best Picture winning Gone with the Wind and From Here to Eternity. Hollywoodland is a fascinating look into the early days of Superman-on-screen, and you should check it out if you haven’t seen it.