Michael Keaton remains, for many people, the definitive Batman. Thirty years after Tim Burton's 1989 classic Batman, fans still praise Keaton's performance, even if they might criticize other elements of the film. However, Keaton embodied Bruce Wayne/Batman in a way unlike any other actor that's come since. Many were disappointed when Keaton stepped down from the role, but there are still a lot of fans -- half in jest and half in earnest -- hoping to see Keaton return as an older Bruce Wayne.

Although the chances of Keaton returning seem less likely with each passing year, it might not be too late to see the actor once again take up the mantle of the Dark Knight.

Todd Phillips' Joker movie will exist outside the continuity of the greater DC Extended Universe, which itself triggered a lot of discussion, especially as Warner Bros. decreases its emphasis on shared universes. The studio was also, at one point, rumored to be working on an adaptation of Superman: Red Son, where the Man of Steel crashes down in Russia rather than Smallville. Furthermore, the CW has consistently used alternate universes in its Arrowverse shows, but the network's upcoming take on Crisis on Infinite Earths will see Brandon Routh -- who played the Man of Steel in 2006's Superman Returns -- playing Kingdom Come Superman.

DC and Warner Bros. seem open to alternate universe, and even the possibility of older actors returning to reprise roles they've held in the past. The idea that filmmakers could play with the DC's toy box without needing to worry about greater continuity is fascinating, and it might just be the studio is looking to greenlight more projects using older actors in alternate universes.

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In recent years, Keaton has had a bit of a resurgence, the beginning of which is hard to pinpoint. Most people would point to Birdman as being Keaton's big come-back. The film features an actor who became famous for playing a superhero (the titular Birdman), but tries to move past it, only to embrace the legacy of the hero in the end. It's a genuinely fascinating movie, and it's easy to draw comparisons between Birdman and Keaton's real-life experience of being Batman.

Keaton has done a lot since then. The Founder and Spotlight are great films. However, Spider-Man: Homecoming seems like definitive proof Keaton has indeed returned. Keaton also seems to have loved playing Batman, seeing as how he still presents himself as the definitive Batman, so there's some indication he'd be interested in reprising the role.

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One possibility is that Keaton might return in a Batman Beyond film. Batman Beyond is an alt-future where Batman has retired due to his age, yet still hopes to make a difference in the world. He finds and recruits Terry McGinnis to become the new future's Dark Knight, with Wayne as the man in the chair, guiding and training his successor to fight crime.

McGinnis's Batman has been incorporated into the comics since the beloved animated series that introduce him wrapped. Before Batman Begins was made, a Batman Beyond film was almost produced. It is unclear how far along this project went, but it seems to have had at least a first draft script. Regardless, any possible Batman Beyond film was canned for Christopher Nolan's genre-defining take on the Caped Crusader.

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Keaton, who might arguably be too young to play this Bruce Wayne, could definitely take on the role. Furthermore, a Keaton-Batman in this film might offer more commentary on how superheroes have changed, with the old-school hero and the new-school super having to interact. A Batman Beyond film could offer a proper response to the ever-changing superhero genre.

Batman Beyond isn't the only possible way Keaton could return as an older Batman. Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns also offers a take on an older Batman. Keaton is definitely around the right age to play that take on the classic character. Plot points from The Dark Knight Returns were used for The Dark Knight Rises and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but an Elseworlds-style take on tale could, instead of appropriating plot points from the comic to fit a new narrative, directly adapt the legendary comic for the big-screen.

An adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns could end up being incredible, especially if it took place in Tim Burton's old universe, with the potential for returns from Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, despite his seeming death at the end of Batman. The Joker is, after all, very hard to put down for good. Warner Bros would even need a Superman to bring the iconic battle between the two heroes to life, which could potentially use someone like Routh. Although a Batman Beyond film would definitely be great in how it treads new ground, The Dark Knight Returns isn't at all a bad option.

This is all just speculation, but Warner Bros.' continued efforts to explore more Elseworlds-style material and Keaton's continued enthusiasm for the Batman role mean that, at the end of the day, it's entirely possible he could bring an older, wiser Dark Knight to the big-screen one more time.

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