The Killing Joke is a fan-favorite Batman story, providing both an origin story for the Joker and telling the tale of how he tries to drive Commissioner Gordon crazy by giving him "one bad day." The story has influenced a number of Batman comics and has even had tie-ins featuring other heroes, and is now being developed into a feature-length animated film that rumor has it could see Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy return to voice the Joker and Batman, respectively.
This isn't the first time that The Killing Joke was up for adaptation, though. Artist Phil Bourassa recently posted concept art to Instagram that was created in 2009 for a Killing Joke feature that was cancelled a few weeks into development.
According to Bourassa, the film was being developed by Bruce Timm and was intended to carry an R rating. Unfortunately, this was about the time that Watchmen was in theaters and Warner Bros wasn't happy with how that film performed.
Two weeks into production of The Killing Joke, word came from on high to shut everything down because Warner Bros had lost faith in the profitability of R-rated superhero films. Though it isn't explicitly stated, Bourassa's comments suggest that Warner Bros may be moving forward with the previously rumored R rating for the new Killing Joke animated film. It was previously stated that an R rating was being considered but wasn't guaranteed, though given some of the subject matter it did seem likely. The recent success of Deadpool has shown that R-rated superhero content can do well in the modern comic book film genre, so an R-rated Killing Joke seems increasingly likely.
Bourassa has since deleted his previous Instagram but you can see the text that appeared originally in the former embed below.
In 2009 I started working on an animated adaptation of The Killing Joke under the supervision of legendary Animation artist Bruce Timm. Two weeks into the project we were told to stop development because The Watchmen had underperformed at the box office and WB had lost faith in R rated superhero movies. Happy to say that you guys are gonna finally get your animated Killing Joke adaptation in 2016. Apparently enough money has been made from superhero movies and adaptations of comics of every stripe that it now transcends the previously assumed limitations of the genre. It's a good time to be a comic geek! #dccomics #dcentertainment #wbanimation #killingjoke #joker #brianbolland #alanmoore #comics #animation
There's been a big push recently for comic book films to push into R territory, especially with more mature titles. The reasoning is that some characters and stories need the blood and language (and in some cases, even nudity) to honestly translate certain characters or storylines to film or animation.
While some of the characters that "have" to have an R rating actually stay pretty safely in what would be PG-13 territory in most of their comics, The Killing Joke is a good example of a film that would really benefit from an R rating. Elements from the story, especially those involving Barbara Gordon, might not translate as well to PG-13 without downplaying how horrifying everything that the Joker is doing to Gordon to try and make him snap.
While it's a shame that Bourassa's Joker never graced the screen, he doesn't seem bitter; instead, he seems genuinely excited to see The Killing Joke in production. It remains to be seen how well it will translate, but several of DC's past animated adaptations have been reasonably true to the originals so it should be a sight to behold. If they do go for the full R-rated experience, it may be a bit hard to watch at times, too.
Batman: The Killing Joke will be released in 2016.
Source: Phil Bourassa