He may not have been there in person, but on-set photos of Jared Leto’s Joker in Birds of Prey indicate that the DCEU may not be done with him yet. Leto's depiction of the Joker in Suicide Squad was brief and mostly derided by fans and critics alike. Given how the torrid past few years of the DC movie universe have put the oft-maligned franchise in a state of flux and the recent departure of Ben Affleck, it was generally assumed that the Oscar-winning actor's time in the role would be cut short. Suicide Squad 2, to be helmed by James Gunn, will reportedly feature a new assortment of characters as well as a new Deadshot, and we haven't seen much in terms of development regarding the multiple Joker-led projects Leto was supposed to be leading, including a solo movie and one with Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn. Now, with the non-canon Joker movie starring Joaquin Phoenix set for release this October, it's no wonder many people have viewed Leto's tenure as the Clown Prince of Crime as cut short.
Now, however, it seems that there may be a future for Leto’s joker in the DCEU, after all. Recent on-set images from the production of Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey revealed a man who looks suspiciously like Leto’s iteration of the Joker flinging clothes out of a window for Harley Quinn to catch. It looks like the standard rom-com breakup scene moment and had many people raising their eyebrows and wondering what Leto’s role in the film would be. After all, he wasn’t present in Birds of Prey’s teaser and he’s not listed in the film’s credits. It was especially confusing because we know that Joker wasn’t actually Leto since the actor was several thousand miles away in Europe at the time - filming Sony's Morbius movie. He did, however, tease his fans with a Snapchat image of a clown emoji, possibly hinting at his return to the role.
The Joker in the Birds of Prey images is clearly a body double, with his face heavily obscured by the set. It could be that Leto simply wasn't available for production and this was a solution to that problem, which will allow him to do some pickup shots later in the year and ADR in a few lines. There is certainly room for Leto to put the tattoos back on, get a green wig and tap in for a brief hello, not unlike Affleck’s very brief appearance as Batman in Suicide Squad. Whatever the case and however brief this cameo may be, it’s still way more of Leto’s Joker than audiences have had since Suicide Squad released and more screen-time than most people were expecting him to have following the endless gossip cycle that alleged his future departure from the role.
Of course, this may not be a sign of his future so much as the franchise putting a full stop on Leto's time as the Joker. The film's full title, after all, is Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), suggesting that Harley is free of the Joker and living her best life. Robbie's Harley was one of the few undisputed successes of Suicide Squad and the actress has become one of the DCEU's greatest assets. Birds of Prey was a project she pushed Warner Bros. to make and one she has a producer credit on. This is her movie, not a joint Joker-Harley film, and if the franchise does indeed want to bring in a new Joker, this would be as good a place as any to let Leto go with a definitive ending (something Affleck won’t be getting).
Even if this is the end for Leto's Joker - and given the actor's upcoming appearance in a different comic book franchise, it wouldn't be a shock - it seems the DCEU wants to, at the very least, remind audiences that he is part of this series. Whether he’s getting a fitting ending or his shelf life is being extended, it seems that Warner Bros. wants Leto’s Joker legacy to be a little bit longer than 12 minutes of screen-time. But the Birds of Prey images are merely potential for a future. Given how much the DCEU is currently working to shake off its old and highly divisive image in favor of a more vibrant and knowingly goofy tone (from Aquaman to Shazam! to the party girl camp aesthetic hinted at in the Birds of Prey teaser), it wouldn't surprise many to hear that Harley Quinn’s emancipation was an opportunity for the franchise to end the chapter on Leto’s reign.
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
- Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
- Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) release date: Feb 07, 2020
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
- DC Super Pets (2022) release date: May 20, 2022
- The Batman (2021) release date: Jun 25, 2021
- The Suicide Squad (2021) release date: Aug 06, 2021