Joker’s small budget was meant to stop it from being made. The new villain origin story marks a significant departure for director Todd Phillips from his sizeable resume of comedic hits. So far, the new direction is paying off in a big way.
Aside from the long gestating anticipation of DC Comics fans for the standalone Joker film, the real hype began shortly after Joker took home the Golden Lion for Best Picture at this summer’s Venice Film Festival. From that point on, critics as well as the general public were paying attention. Of course, as grim as it may sound, Joker’s box office prospects and popularity seemed to have been amplified by the controversy surrounding the film. In fact, judging by the extremely strong box office numbers over the past two weeks since the film’s release, it’s safe to say that the myriad of controversies plaguing Joker really had no discernible negative effect at all. Considering that the film is set to gross more that $700 million worldwide on a relatively small $55 million budget, it looks like Phillips will have the last laugh.
But of course, Phillips’ approach to the film seemed different from the outset. The notion that this was a comic book movie was consistently beat back and Phillips assured fans that Joker wouldn’t take anything from the comic books. Even budget wasn’t a factor for The Hangover director – regardless of the fact that, according to THR, Warner Bros. intentionally made the budget small. Apparently, this was done to deter Phillips from making the film, but Warner’s relatively small budget did nothing to keep the filmmaker from moving forward with his vision.
It does come off as strange that Warner Bros. would want to deter Phillips from making Joker, but THR reports that the studio was "nervous about its dark tone." This comes in addition to the news of Jared Leto’s alleged attempts to stop Joker from being made. The Oscar-winner was reportedly angered by Warner’s decision to not cast him in a standalone Joker film, despite the fact that he had recently played the character in 2016’s Suicide Squad. While Warner wasn’t willing to stop production altogether or insist that Leto be given the lead role rather than Joaquin Phoenix, the studio did what it apparently felt was the next best thing and gave the film a small budget. What it seems that Warner wasn’t aware of, however, was that Phillips had no need for the sort of giant budget typically associated with comic book movies because he did not intend to make a comic book movie.
Of course, $55 million is hardly a micro-budget, but it was small for a film that was making an origin story for the Joker, one of the most infamous fictional villains of all time. Beyond being a deterrent, the budget likely allowed Phillips a sort of freedom that bigger productions don’t have. For this reason, he made the film that he wanted to make and now, from both a financial and critical perspective, Phillips and Warner Bros. will continue to reap the success that despite the odds, Joker has managed to become.