Ben Goes “Batman”?

Gotham City, it seems, still needs a hero. Ben Affleck, currently seen in “Dogma” and the upcoming “Boiler Room,” is the latest name to be linked with the “Batman” movies.

According to gossip columnist Liz Smith, Affleck is a “major contender” to play the Caped Crusader in Warner Bros.’ latest “Batman” film. The franchise bottomed out in 1997 when Joel Schumacher‘s “Batman and Robin” earned a (relatively) disappointing $107.3 million at the box office. Batstar George Clooney joked that he may have killed the series.

But au contraire: Warner Bros. is reportedly considering two concepts for the latest sequel: One based on the animated WB show “Batman Beyond,” in which an older Bruce Wayne passes his Batsuit to a teen-ager, and another based on the comic miniseries “Batman Year One,” which traced Wayne’s initial transformation into the Dark Knight. Affleck likely wouldn’t fill the job if the first concept flies, since he’s too old to be the teen-ager and too young to be a middle-aged Batman. Still, at 27, Affleck would be the youngest of the new-wave Batmen — Michael Keaton was 37 when he first donned the cowl, Val Kilmer was 35 and Clooney was 36.

HELMING ‘TOMB RAIDER’: The name Lara Croft doesn’t mean much in the movie world — yet. But the video-game heroine soon will, thanks to Paramount’s push to bring her to the big screen. According to Variety, the studio is in advanced talks with Simon West (“Con Air“) to direct “Tomb Raider,” based on Eidos Interactive’s best-selling video games of the same name. Croft’s buxom sexiness is the force behind “Tomb Raider’s” popularity, and names such as Elizabeth Hurley and Sandra Bullock have been tossed around as possible candidates. The film, on Paramount’s fast track, has yet to announce a start date.

COSTNER’S DARK SIDE: Kevin Costner, the quintessential American hero, looks to play a baddie in the indie film “3,000 Miles to Graceland” for Franchise Pictures. According to the Hollywood Reporter, director Demian Lichenstein has been courting Costner to play the killer role for some time, and Costner‘s reps are trying to fit the picture into his schedule.

IT’S ALL GREEK TO MANN: Golden Globe nominee Michael Mann (“The Insider“) is in negotiations to direct “Gates of Fire” for Universal Pictures. Based on Steven Pressfield’s Greek epic novel, the film follows the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. when 300 Spartan warriors held back rampaging soldiers from the Persian Empire for six days before being massacred. No start date has been set.

SICK DAY: Nicolas Cage‘s new film “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” is currently minus a director. Roger Michell (“Notting Hill“) has dropped out of the production due to illness. The drama, based on Louis de Bernieres’ 1994 novel, is about an Italian captain, played by Cage, who has a tumultuous affair with the local doctor’s daughter. Universal Pictures and Working Title Films have set the production to begin in April and are now courting director John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love“) to helm the film.