DC Films is making Joker, a non-DCEU canon origin story about Gotham's clown prince of crime, starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Todd Phillips. The movie boasts an impressive supporting cast, including Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, and Marc Maron.
Not part of the DC Extended Universe but instead the start of its own banner (likely to be denoted as "DC Dark" or "DC Black,") the film promises to explore the origins of the Clown Prince of Crime in a decidedly new manner, inspired by Martin Scorsese's 1982 film The King of Comedy.
Here's everything we know about the Joker prequel.
- Release Date: October 4, 2019
- Cast: Joaquin Phoenix
- Director: Todd Phillips
- Writers: Todd Phillips and Scott Silver
The Joker "Origin" Movie Explained
Joker will provide an origin story for Gotham's most infamous villain. That idea alone is intriguing given the character's steadfast refusal to establish a reliable origin for himself. The story is expected to use elements from Alan Moore's highly influential one-off comic, The Killing Joke, where a version of the character is shown as a failed comedian who turns to crime and falls into a vat of chemicals. That Joker narrative is familiar to anyone who saw Tim Burton's film, with Jack Nicholson in the role. What The Killing Joke smartly does is deny the authenticity of that story by having the Joker admit, "If I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!"
That idea would give Joker license to experiment with various narratives and play around with the concept that there is no such thing as a true origin for this character. The failed comedian angle is also an intriguing one given its echoes of the Martin Scorsese film, The King of Comedy. The film will also be set in the 1980s, just like the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984.
Joaquin Phoenix Is Playing The Joker
It was made clear from the earliest reports that Warner Bros. wanted a big star for the role. Initial rumors suggested that Leonardo Di Caprio was the studio’s top choice, which certainly would have been a high-profile selection. Instead, the alleged joker is three-time Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix.
Phoenix, who was last seen in You Were Never Really Here (for which he won Best Actor at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival), has wanted to play a comic book villain for a long time, but thought The Joker would be off limits because of Heath Ledger's iconic performance.
Landing Phoenix is a major get for the studio. He's flirted with joining big-budget epics and franchises, and was very close to playing the lead in Doctor Strange, but backed out over fears of committing to a multi-film contract. He certainly has interest in the genre and the chops to pull off a very difficult role that’s been made iconic by more than one actor before him. It may be that the prospect of a one-off film with no future commitments is what drew him in.
The Joker Is a Struggling Comedian Called Arthur Fleck
In summer 2018 it emerged that Joaquin's Joker starts out as a struggling comedian called Arthur Fleck. Set photos and behind-the-scenes peeks have shown Phoenix wearing a traditional clown costume - complete with over-sized shoes, a red nose, and a green wig - indicating that he has a day job as a children's entertainer, while aspiring to be a real comedian. As the Joker begins to lead an uprising against the 1% in Gotham City, he keeps a semblance of his clown make-up, but trades in the tattered costume for a dapper red suit.
Joker's Supporting Cast Includes Marc Maron and Robert De Niro
In addition to its star, Joker has attracted an impressive supporting cast. Robert De Niro will be playing a successful talk show host, while GLOW's Marc Maron will be playing his producer. Deadpool 2's Zazie Beetz will be dressing down for the role of a Lower East Side single mother called Sophie Dumond. Brett Cullen will be playing Batman's father, Thomas Wayne, while young Bruce Wayne himself will also be in the movie (played by Dante Pereira-Olson), as will his faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth (played by Douglas Hodge). Shea Whigham and Bill Camp will play two Gotham P.D. cops.
Todd Phillips (The Hangover) Is Writing and Directing The Joker Origin Movie
Todd Phillips, director of The Hangover trilogy, has signed on to direct, co-produce and co-write the Joker origin movie. While best known for The Hangover, Phillips has spent the past 25 years working in film and documentary. He got his start with Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies, a critically acclaimed documentary on the infamous punk rock musician. His work in comedies includes Road Trip, Old School, Starsky & Hutch, and Due Date, with his most recent release being 2016's War Dogs.
Co-writing the film will be Scott Silver, an Oscar nominee for The Fighter. He's the only one of the pair to have experience in the world of comic book movies, having done an uncredited rewrite on X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The pair have never worked together before.
Martin Scorsese is Not Involved in The Joker Origin Movie
Rumors that the legendary Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese was involved in the Joker origin movie initially raised as many eyebrows as it has delighted smiles. While more auteurs have become involved with the superhero and comic book adaptation genres, it seemed inconceivable that someone of Scorsese’s stature would take such a step. Early reports indicated he would be a co-producer alongside Phillips for Joker. After the movie was officially confirmed, Scorsese's name was nowhere to be found
That doesn't mean he wasn't involved in getting it off the ground, though. Comparisons made to Scorsese films like The King of Comedy and rumors that the studio was looking to cast Leonardo DiCaprio, who has collaborated with Scorsese a number of times, give the rumor more credence. Whatever his involvement before it got the green light, he will not be involved in the actual production.
The Joker Origin Movie Has A Modest Budget
Reports suggest that the film will be budgeted at $55m. For a comic book movie in this era of cinema, that’s very low. It’s not uncommon for a superhero franchise film these days to go past $200m before it even gets to the marketing stage. For contrast, Avengers: Infinity War is estimated to have cost $316–400 million. Even Deadpool, which is widely positioned as the lower budget example in the genre, cost about $58m.
A lower budget seems like the best route to take for such a film. It allows for greater creativity and a grittier feel, and it would give the filmmakers more room to experiment without major studio pressures. One of the biggest hurdles for the DCEU as it stands has been the gargantuan cost of its films. The most conservative estimates place Justice League’s budget somewhere in the region of $300m. A smaller budget also means an opportunity for a greater profit boost. To make a profit on a $55m film, this would need to make about $137m, which seems simple enough given the massive name recognition of the character. The film is also expected to be rated R, making a smaller budget a savvier move.
The Joker Origin Movie Will Release in October 2o19
Joker's release date is October 4, 2019, marking the first time DC has released 3 films in the same year. While Joker won't be a part of the DCEU, an R-rated gritty Joker origin movie could make for interesting counter-programming to 2019's other DC releases, Shazam and Wonder Woman 1984.
The Joker Movie Will Start The 'DC Dark' Franchise
Joker will be the first movie released under DC's non-DCEU movie label, which will focus on darker, more adult films outside of the central universe. The idea is that DC Dark (or DC Black, which is another name being suggested) would work in the same way a comic book imprint does, offering another side of the world and characters for creators to experiment with.
An offshoot from the DCEU like this would offer immense creative opportunities for DC and Warner Bros. alike. It is suggested that DC Dark/Black could focus more on the many illustrious DC villains who have not found their way to the big screen so far. It gives DC a route, unlike anything Marvel is doing with their expanded universe, to tell stories that aren't beholden to an interconnecting central narrative. As Deadpool and Logan have proved, there is an audience for more adult comic book adaptations.
The Situation With Jared Leto's Joker
Leto’s take on the Joker in Suicide Squad was less than warmly received, and his screen-time barely added up to 15 minutes. Still, he remains the Joker of the DCEU, and Phoenix’s Joker will have nothing to do with the stories Leto is in. Leto is reportedly getting his own Joker movie within the DCEU as well as one with Harley Quinn, as played by Margot Robbie. It is Leto who has the more traditional franchise contract, not Phoenix, and it seems that Warner Bros. are keen to make good use of him.
The Is No Joker Origin Movie Trailer or Poster Yet
There is nothing yet in terms of promotional materials for Joker, understandable given how far from production we still are. It is possible that concept art or a teaser title card could be unveiled if the film is given a major announcement at Comic-Con, but it will be a long wait until we get to see Phoenix in the makeup.
Other Upcoming DC Films
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020