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Batman and Superman, Superfriends no more?

Warner Bros. has confirmed it's developing Superman vs. Batman, a film that could not only launch a new superhero franchise for the studio but also will cinematically answer one of the great bar bets of all time: Who would win a fight between the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel?

The movie will follow Superman and Batman as they join forces to battle as-yet-to-be determined villains. Along the way, however, the two A-list superheroes wind up butting heads over their varying approaches to crimefighting.

"They are the bright and dark side, which essentially is two sides of the same coin. That is the principle of the movie, which reflects what life is all about," filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen tells the Hollywood Reporter. "Superman stands for what is powerful, clear, bright, noble and just: Batman is dark, obsessive and vengeful. Because they are so different, they will inevitably end up clashing. It will be a battle of the titans."

Petersen, whose credits include The Perfect Storm, Air Force One, The Neverending Story and Das Boot, has been tapped to direct the project. He will also produce through his Radiant Productions outfit.

The director says he will begin the casting search for both superheroes, as well as three female leads, within the coming weeks.

Don't expect George Clooney, Val Kilmer or Michael Keaton to be asked to reprise the role of the Dark Knight. Petersen says he wants to go the route of Spider-Man and pick a less conventional actor to don the tights.

"We are not going to go with typical action stars, but great actors who will do an action-oriented part," he explains in the Reporter. The filmmaker tells Daily Variety that a good fit would be someone like Matt Damon, who, Petersen says, makes "an interesting action man and [is] a hell of an actor."

Warners and Petersen see Superman vs. Batman as resurrecting two once mighty franchises. Superman has been dormant since Christopher Reeve last wore the suit in the 1987 bomb Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and the Batman series flamed out with 1997's Batman and Robin.

Petersen says he was drawn to the project after reading an "amazing" script by Seven screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker.

"They both go through some kind of a crisis," Petersen tells the Reporter. "Superman has an unwavering belief in what is right and wrong, and it's just not that simple anymore in today's world, while Batman is on a path of self-destruction. He reacts to an act of incredible violence in a way that almost puts him over the edge."

Petersen also says the film will incorporate both Superman's hometown of Metropolis and Batman's Gotham City.

With the monster success of Marvel's X-Men and Spider-Man at the box office, Warners has been scrambling faster than a speeding bullet to get its DC Comics characters back on the big screen. (Both Warner Bros. and DC Comics are owned by AOL Time Warner.) The studio has several potential franchise films in the works focusing on the Superfriends and their hangers-on.

Before Superman vs. Batman was announced, the studio already had a separate Superman film on the drawing boards with Charlie's Angels director McG and Alias writer J.J. Abrams, as well as two different Batman projects--the noirish origin story Batman: Year One with Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) directing and the futuristic Batman Beyond with Boaz Yakin (A Price Above Rubies) writing and directing.

Those films will reportely remain in the pipeline along with Superman vs. Batman, with the chance that all could eventually be released and form their own franchises.

There are also Wonder Woman and Catwoman projects in various stages of development, and plans are even afoot for a Wonder Twins movie.

Meanwhile, Petersen says he will temporarily shelve his other Warners projects--the epic Trojan War and an adaptation of Orson Scott Card's sci-fi novels Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow--and will begin working on Superman vs. Batman.

The film is expected to start shooting in early 2003 and hit theaters as early as 2004.