A frequent topic within LRM lately, which you’ve likely heard spill over onto the LOS FANBOYS Podcast (assuming you listen to it…which you should!!!!), is Ben Affleck’s current career trajectory. We’re all fans of his and I- in particular- have been very happy to see him return tothe top of the mountain in the last seven years. I’ve been rooting for the guy since 1997 when Good Will Hunting came out and made him and Matt Damon household names. So no one was happier when he bounced back from being the butt of many a joke to suddenly being an artist that demands respect.
Remember, he started hot in 1997 and then, while Damon went for smaller, more intimate, character-driven movies, Affleck went big. He leapt from the indie darlings that brought him to prominence towards big-budget popcorn flicks like Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Paycheck, and Daredevil. And when he did make a sort-of return to the kinds of films that made people love him originally, they were crap like Gigli and Jersey Girl. So he bottomed out around 2004, only to rise like a phoenix with his directorial debut three years later with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone. His return became real when The Town came out in 2010 and cemented him as a serious filmmaker.
That comeback continued into 2012 with Argo, and he also found great success as merely an actor when he starred in David Fincher’s Gone Girl in 2014. Since then, though, things have started to look a little like deja vu…
In 2014, Affleck made the surprising decision to sign onto Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And he wouldn’t just be playing a one-off character, but rather he was signing on to play Hollywood’s favorite comic book character Batman for the next several years. It was a move that stunned a lot of us, considering he’d just reclaimed his spot as “Hollywood Golden Boy.” Why risk losing that clout and respect to go running around chasing clowns while dressed like a bat? Christian Bale pulled that off, sure, but the Dark Knight movies he starred in were high-class, top tier movies made by a man everyone trusts and respects, Christopher Nolan.
This was a gamble. And it didn’t pay off.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice came out in 2016 and was a major critical failure, and even rabid fans were divided by Snyder’s film. The film also didn’t hit the financial numbers many had hoped/thought it would for Warner Bros. While Affleck’s individual work within the film received plenty of praise, he was now part of a movie that was destined to be nominated for eight Razzies- including Worst Picture of The Year. Uh oh.
But then everyone turned their attention towards Live By Night. While he couldn’t be blamed for the mess BvS was, he’d have full say over every aspect of Live By Night and would therefore be able to redeem 2016 for himself.
Then that film opened to reviews that were almost as harsh as the ones BvS received, and it tanked at the box office. The modestly-budgeted $65 million project has made $16 million to date. Variety is now reporting that when all of the costs for the film are tallied (including promotional expenses), Live By Night is destined to cost Warner Bros. a whopping $75 million.
That may not sound like much, but considering the studio thought they’d be getting another Awards Season darling from Affleck, it makes the entire Live By Night production a fail for the studio. It was virtually shut out of every award show, save for a nomination for Best Production Design at the Critics Choice Awards. So Warner Bros. got literally nothing out of this movie. No money, no prestige, and no respect. And their Golden Boy suddenly looks very vulnerable and no longer like a “Sure Thing.”
Sandwiched by the big splashy critical failures of BvS and Live By Night in 2016 was the mediocrely-received The Accountant, by the way.
This leaves Affleck limping into 2017, looking very different than he did when he roared into 2016.
And the outlook doesn’t look much better. He’s currently set to appear in Snyder’s next DC movie, Justice League, which entered production mere weeks after BvS came out and had very little time to actually address the issues people had with that film. Then there are all of the reports and indications that Affleck is having cold feet about directing The Batman, a film that everyone in the world is asking him about.
If you’re an Affleck fan, like me, you are fascinated right now. It’s going to be an interesting couple of years as we watch him navigate through his next few choices while avoiding flushing his career down the drain for a second time. His career has been so bipolar, with such extreme highs and such notable lows. Can’t wait to see what happens next!