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The Truth Behind Jared Leto's Controversial Joker

Jared Leto allegedly tried to get Warner Bros. to stop the new Joker movie, but the problems surrounding his own version of the character go well beyond that. Todd Phillips' Joker movie is one of DC's most successful films, having already passed Justice League at the worldwide box office. And with a reported budget of only $55 million, Joker has become an enormous success, proving that it was indeed a good bet for the studio.

Joker broke multiple October box office records, won the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and is the subject of serious Oscar talk, especially for lead actor Joaquin Phoenix. It’s more than Warner Bros. ever could have hoped for, especially after their work with the DC franchise went through some major troubles - both critically and commercially. Some fans are hoping that Phoenix and Phillips will commit to more Joker adventures together, even though the film is explicitly a one-off non-canon venture.

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Related: Joker Finally Finishes What The Dark Knight Started

Whatever the case, there seems to be one man who’s decidedly unhappy with this development: Jared Leto. He, of course, starred as a version of the Joker in the DCEU, but in addition to having his scenes trimmed down, his portrayal wasn't too well received. So it's understandable that Leto wouldn't want someone else to take the role when he's barely had a chance to make his mark.

Leto Tried to Inflate Joker's Suicide Squad Role

When Leto signed onto Suicide Squad, becoming the first actor to take the role on in cinema since the late Heath Ledger, expectations were extremely high. How could they not be given the cultural magnitude of the role and the immense legacy left behind by Ledger and his Oscar-winning performance? He seemed like a solid fit for the part as an Oscar winner himself who enjoyed the transformative nature of acting. The general conversation around Suicide Squad implied that Leto’s Joker would at the very least be a prominent character in the narrative, and the promotional cycle surrounding it certainly helped to perpetuate that idea. The marketing campaign touted Joker as a major antagonist that the eponymous squad should be scared of.

It’s strange to think that, after all the hype, Joker is in Suicide Squad for only about 10 minutes. His role in the overarching story is so inconsequential that he could be removed from the movie and nobody would miss him, nor would his absence have any impact on the narrative. Given the messy behind-the-scenes drama that happened with the film, including reshoots, several different edits, and attempts to drastically change the tone through taped-on aesthetics, it's no surprise that Leto's Joker was a casualty of this process. Leto himself hinted that major Joker scenes hit the cutting-room floor and that, hopefully, they might release at some point in the future. That seems unlikely now.

Warner Bros Wasn't Thrilled With Leto's Joker

In fairness to Leto, he's such a non-entity in Suicide Squad that it can be tough and somewhat unfair to compare him to other cinematic Jokers such as Ledger, Jack Nicholson, and Joaquin Phoenix. It’s understandable why he may feel slighted by the studio that allegedly promised him so much. Plus it must be frustrating to be promised the title of being the one true Joker, only for Warner Bros. to make another movie that’s more successful than yours and preferred by audiences. However, Leto didn’t exactly do himself any favors when he was making Suicide Squad to endear the company or fans to his iteration of the Joker.

On top of the performance itself being ridiculed for its gangster aesthetic and unthreatening presence, Leto’s pseudo-method tactics for getting into character garnered him plenty of criticism. His most notable tactics included terrifying his castmates with "gifts" that included sending Margot Robbie a live rat, bullets to Will Smith, and a dead pig to the entire cast. Smith talked about how he never really met Leto during filming since he was so focused on the character, and that, coupled with actors claiming they had psychologists on set to help with the darker scenes, created a narrative of the movie being somewhat overblown and exhausting. When the film itself was recut and changed to be more colorful and comedic, all the hubbub over Leto's "dangerous" Joker felt even sillier. Audiences didn’t have much time for the committed method actor persona either and it only inspired further jokes. As THR noted, Warner Bros. allegedly "wasn't thrilled with these efforts."

Related: Joker Box Office Success Shows Marvel Isn't The Only Way

Leto Tried to Block Phillips' Joker Movie

Rumors had already swirled that Leto, who played the Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad, felt “alienated and upset” the news of Joker. Reportedly, Leto tried to stop the Joker movie in its entirety; he went to great lengths, even talking to his music manager about it. Leto's main complaints seem to have been that he felt Warner Bros. had strung him along with promises of his own Joker stand-alone title, only to shove it aside in favor of Phillips and Phoenix's effort.

Warner Bros., in turn, seemed disappointed with Leto's work in Suicide Squad as well as his behind-the-scenes antics. Leto has since changed talent agencies. It’s a messy end to a brief but tumultuous relationship that has only further emphasized Leto’s reputation as the worst version of Joker on the big screen. The studio wasn’t even 100% enthusiastic about Joker. Warner Bros. thought Todd Phillips' Joker movie was a big risk and one that wouldn't make much of a splash in terms of commercial viability or fan appeal, hence its small budget, which was actually meant to encourage Phillips to not make Joker. It’s doubtful they’re mad about its staggering success now.

The Joker Movie Likely Killed Leto's Time as Joker

Joaquin Phoenix Jack Nicholson Joker

It’s highly unlikely that Jared Leto will return to Warner Bros. to reprise his role as the Joker. On-set images from the production of Birds of Prey showed the shooting of a scene involving a stand-in playing the Joker for what will probably be a very brief flashback since the film focuses on Harley Quinn after their breakup. Indeed, Margot Robbie being the breakout star of Suicide Squad over Leto probably helped to grease the wheels on that transition, giving them someone to craft the series around over Leto himself. Plus, a core part of that film's story is Harley Quinn emancipating herself from Joker and everyone else that brought her down.

Even if Joaquin Phoenix never plays the Joker again (and it's hard not to imagine that the success of the film has them thinking about throwing some money at him until he agrees to a sequel), it's safe to say that Warner Bros. is highly satisfied with Joker. The reviews have been strong, the box office grosses even more so, the awards buzz unprecedented for such a title on their roster, and even the controversy surrounding it seemed to work out in their favor. There will be other Jokers, that's a guarantee, but the success of this film has given the character a stronger foundation for the future than Jared Leto's iteration ever could.

Next: Every DC Movie Coming After Joker

Key Release Dates
  • 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
  • The Batman (2021) release date: Jun 25, 2021
  • The Suicide Squad (2021) release date: Aug 06, 2021
  • Aquaman 2 (2022) release date: Dec 16, 2022
  • DC Super Pets (2022) release date: May 20, 2022
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