While Gunn has yet to confirm whether his 2025 film features Lex, the director revealed which previous on-screen version of Lex Luthor he doesn't like.
James Gunn's Lex Luthor Opinions
When first asked a Lex Luthor is in Superman: Legacy, Gunn acknowledged audiences are expecting that, but it's something that he's "never said:"
“Yeah… Everybody thinks there’s a Lex Luthor out there. But I’ve never said there was a Lex Luthor in there.”
Gunn went to tell Rosenbaum - who played Lex Luthor in Smallville - that "You are the best Lex. Let's admit it. we know you're the best Lex."
While Rosenbaum waved off the compliment, it's a point the Superman: Legacy director doubled down on, saying, "I'm not being funny. You're definitely the best Lex."
However, regardless of Gunn's appreciation for Rosebaum's villain, he claims the actor's version is still "Not right for mine," all before reminding him once again that, "I didn’t say there was even a Lex in the movie, so…”
While Rosenbaum acknowledged this, he still pressed a bit further, saying, "but if there were a Lex Luthor, promise me this:"
“I know, but if there were a Lex Luthor, promise me this… He’ll have gravitas. Or he’ll be Lex Luthor. He won’t be playing Lex Luthor, but he’s more acting like this character, or this, or goofy, or crazy. He’s gonna be something that’s grounded and real. I know you. I’m sure that’s–”
"Everything's grounded and real," Gunn assured him, "Yeah, everything’s grounded and real.”
While Rosenbaum claimed he's not saying any actor has done that, Gunn admitted that “Maybe somebody’s done that.”
"Maybe," said Rosenbaum, "Maybe that's happened."
Some fans interpreted Gunn and Rosenbaum's comments as a reference to Jesse Eisenberg, one of the most recent actors to play Luthor on the big screen.
On Twitter, @HeroesUnbound actually referred to the director's comments as a "diss to Eisenberg:"
"@JamesGunn what is with the diss to Eisenberg? He’s one of the best actors of our generation"
To which, Gunn responded by posting the following:
"I was not referring to Jesse."
The DC executive further clarified his comments in an additional tweet, explaining how he was referring to Gene Hackman's Lex, which is something he's "spoken out publicly" about before:
"In reading these replies, sometimes it seems like people are looking for things to get outraged about & have little sense of history. Although Donner’s Superman movies are some of my favorites, I’ve spoken out publicly before, & even written about it in EW back in the early 2000’s, perhaps unwisely, that Lex Luthor is not my favorite part of those films. The portrayal can lean campy & I wished he seemed like a greater threat & I wished he’d played it bald throughout. I regret having intimated that I didn’t like ANY Lex on Michael’s show, but there it is. For the record I think Hackman is one of the five greatest actors of the 70’s & 80’s, and he starred in some of my favorite movies, I just didn’t love him as Lex."
A Different Lex Luthor For the DCU?
While James Gunn's comments can now be attributed to Gene Hackman's somewhat cartoonish take on Lex Luthor, it's hard to know whether Michael Rosenbaum was also thinking of the classic actor.
After all, Jesse Eisenberg's version of Lex was also somewhat unhinged and dramatic, as well as unpopular.
Regardless of who the two were referencing, Gunn's answers do offer insight into his vision for the character and what Superman: Legacy may hold if the villain is truly part of the cast.
If he's not, and Legacy is a Luthor-less film, fans should be considering who Gunn has in mind for his Superman's first antagonist.
Superman: Legacy arrives in theaters on July 11, 2025.