Everything We Know

Everything We Know About Todd Phillips' Joker So Far

Who's in the cast? What do the Waynes have to do with it? How are they playing with DC mythology?

by | August 28, 2019 | Comments

Will Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker Bring Home an Oscar?

Joaquin Phoenix is already drawing Oscar buzz for his role in Joker Movie – here’s everything we know about the upcoming film.

Posted by The Rotten Tomatoes Channel on Thursday, August 29, 2019

This October, one of the odder and, in some ways, most ambitious projects in Warner Bros. Pictures’ attempts to turn DC Comics characters into feature films will debut: Joker. Directed by Todd Phillips  (The HangoverOld School) from a script he co-wrote with Scott Silver, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix in a new origin story for the typically origin-less Clown Prince of Crime. It will also be the first of Warner Bros. Pictures’ recent DC Comics-based films to completely eschew the notion of an interconnected film universe. Here is what we know about the project so far. [Updated on 8/28.]

Joker Stands Alone

Despite Warner Bros’ efforts to create a cohesive film universe for its superheroes and assorted villains, Joker will not be part of the same story continuity as Man of Steel, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, or Shazam!. Instead, it will stand alone as its own separate reality. The concept is not unlike DC Comics’ own Elseworlds brand. Though long discontinued, Elseworlds told remixed superhero stories featuring such concepts as the Waynes finding the infant Kal-El instead of the Kents or Batman as an actual vampire. Though published before Elseworlds became a formalized concept, The Dark Knight Returns was considered one of these tales. In the years since, DC returned to the idea with the “Earth-1” line and “DC Black Label,” which could be a very good name for a line of films separate from the Justice League continuity.

Meanwhile, the Joker of that universe, Jared Leto, is developing his own Joker feature film.

He Has a Name This Time, And It’s Arthur Fleck

Heath Ledger’s Joker was nameless in The Dark Knight (Photo by © Warner Bros. )

There might be a punchline embedded in that name, but Joker is dispensing with the mystery surrounding the character’s real name. This sets it apart from previous Joker tales like The Dark Knight and The Killing Joke, the defining Joker comic book story by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. In each, the character is treated as unknowable – even in The Killing Joke, the extended flashbacks of a failed comedian embarking on a life of crime are later revealed to be unreliable – with his name obscured. In 1989’s Batman, he was given the name “Jack Napier,” which became the character’s real name in comic-book continuity for a time. But in giving Joker this new name, Phillips and Silver boldly announce the movie will not be as ambiguous about the character’s background as The Dark Knight. Which is probably a good idea as The Dark Knight was the definitive screen take on the unknowable, force-of-nature character.

In the film, Arthur (Phoenix) will be a “man disregarded by society,” in a story the studio considers both a “gritty character study” and a “broader cautionary tale.” Marc Maron, who also appears in the film, echoed the sentiment when asked about the project, adding that the story is more “intimate” and specific in scope than superhero films he made fun of in the past. Additionally, the studio made clear Arthur is a failed comedian who, through the events of the film, becomes the infamous criminal mastermind. And as the recent trailer suggests, his swing toward crime will come after a rather public humiliation.

Joker poster
(Photo by @ Warner Bros. Pictures)

According to Maron, Phoenix lost himself in the role, as often seems to happen when actors play the Joker. Prior to Phoenix, Leto made headlines with pranks “perpetrated” by his Joker on the set of Suicide Squad. Heath Ledger’s iconic take on the character was lauded with an Academy Award, but decompressing from the role left him unable to get more than an hour’s sleep in the months leading up to his tragic and untimely death.

Maron said Phoenix remained in character between takes. He added that he respected the actor’s process and left him alone to maintain the character.

It’s a Big Departure for the Director

In fact, the “gritty character study” phrase used by the studio has been floating around since the time Phoenix confirmed his participation in the project. According to the actor, part of the film’s appeal is its $40 million “low budget” nature. The modest spend is both a departure from the tentpole sort of films Joker appears in and even the sort of films Phillips makes.

The director came to prominence with The Hangover series, which started with a seemingly modest $35 million budget – granted, that figure is on the higher end for comedies of the time – but spending on Hangover films ballooned to $103 million by The Hangover 3. And though Joker appears to be a return to smaller budgets, the subject matter as described in interviews and press releases suggests Phillips will be leaving the zany comedy of Old School or Starsky & Hutch (and even the darker tinged action-comedy of War Dogs) behind for something much more contained and potentially serious.

Robert De Niro Is Part Of Joker’s New Origin

De Niro in The King of Comedy (Photo by © 20th Century Fox)

In the earliest reports on the project, legendary director Martin Scorsese was said to be attached as a producer. The scuttle around that report centered on Scorsese securing the participation of his frequent collaborator Robert De Niro. Though Scorsese’s name is absent from official press releases – in fact, he seems to have been replaced by Phillips’ old Hangover compatriot, Bradley Cooper – De Niro is a confirmed part of the film’s cast. He plays Murray Franklin, a Gotham City talk show host whose callous use of Arthur’s stand-up act during an opening monologue will lead Arthur toward his destiny. Many are seeing the casting as an inversion of his role in Scorsese’s 1982 film The King of Comedy, in which he played a man like Arthur who takes a talk show host (Jerry Lewis) hostage.

The trailer makes it appear as though Arthur and Murray will come to some accord. A seemingly cordial scene in a dressing room suggests the latter will invite the former onto his show to do a set. Then again, Arthur’s request to be introduced as “Joker” also suggests his appearance may not be as copacetic as it seems. Will Murray make it to the end of that night’s show alive?

The Wayne Factor, Plus A Deadpool Surprise

Other actors in the film include Deadpool 2’s Zazie Beetz as Sophie Drumond, a cynical a single mother who, as seen in the trailer, connects with Arthur in an unexpected way; American Horror Story’s Frances Conroy as Arthur’s mother Penny; and a wide group of performers including Bill Camp, Glenn Fleshler, Douglas Hodge, Maron, Josh Pais, and Shea Whigham.

Brett Cullen will also appear as Thomas Wayne, father of Arthur’s eventual nemesis, Bruce Wayne (Cullen also appeared as a congressman in The Dark Knight Rises). According to reports circulating at a time when Alec Baldwin was in early talks to play the part, Wayne will be re-envisioned as a spoiled 1980s land baron. The rather obvious pastiche of a role Baldwin regularly plays on Saturday Night Live may have led to the actor withdrawing from negotiations, though he later said scheduling was the primary cause. From his brief moment in the trailer, it is unclear if Cullen will play this vain version of Thomas, but a wild change to the charitable and caring Wayne patriarch would represent one of the great leaps in DC Comics mythology the film intends to make. It may also indicate more changes to the lore are on their way.

Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Joker is in theaters October 4, 2019


Joker (2019)

Adjusted Score: 94.498%
Critics Consensus: Joker gives its infamous central character a chillingly plausible origin story that serves as a brilliant showcase for its star -- and a dark evolution for comics-inspired cinema.
Synopsis: "Joker" centers around the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone fictional story not seen before on the big... [More]
Directed By: Todd Phillips

Tag Cloud

Tomatazos OWN toy story TCA Oscars Winners singing competition NYCC 24 frames Warner Bros. Mindy Kaling Pet Sematary Acorn TV Musical Lionsgate Action spy thriller politics Pirates Film Festival Arrowverse E! talk show X-Men video MSNBC Dark Horse Comics Country unscripted San Diego Comic-Con Writers Guild of America Lucasfilm 007 versus true crime sag awards blockbuster war cults cancelled Anna Paquin American Society of Cinematographers TNT Vudu Nickelodeon 2017 zero dark thirty Awards Tour PBS WGN USA IFC Films Shondaland Marathons Netflix theme song PaleyFest Holidays thriller adventure Trivia Masterpiece transformers AMC ratings movies Freeform foreign 2020 TCA Winter 2020 Disney streaming service Mystery Polls and Games dceu travel joker police drama Biopics CMT christmas movies Cannes Comedy Central cancelled television Kids & Family Logo VICE festivals anthology YA comics HBO Pride Month Rock HBO Max Chernobyl Trophy Talk natural history Summer Fox News FX Creative Arts Emmys The CW USA Network The Walking Dead History hispanic doctor who romance Classic Film halloween directors Hallmark Valentine's Day Crunchyroll Martial Arts Character Guide anime crime drama crime quibi BBC Mary Tyler Moore TV Land MCU television Heroines Comic Book sports dc diversity miniseries strong female leads YouTube See It Skip It Netflix Christmas movies YouTube Red Chilling Adventures of Sabrina spinoff OneApp WarnerMedia The Arrangement TCA 2017 Captain marvel aliens Disney Plus revenge Starz Paramount Network DC streaming service ABC Family Calendar Spring TV Reality Turner GLAAD BET harry potter game of thrones New York Comic Con RT21 composers Box Office Nat Geo Sneak Peek game show Infographic Fantasy Premiere Dates book indie TruTV sitcom vampires zombie green book SDCC rotten movies we love discovery Ghostbusters Election Tubi spider-man Cartoon Network Disney+ Disney Plus cops romantic comedy Emmy Nominations Spike BBC America space Photos Apple TV Plus ghosts Apple Epix Sci-Fi Bravo award winner DGA Women's History Month witnail cats Teen NBC Spectrum Originals south america independent TLC Toys Crackle Syfy comiccon Best and Worst Super Bowl Certified Fresh Sony Pictures Adult Swim Quiz President APB Paramount screen actors guild Superheroes DC Universe LGBTQ The Witch hist Sundance TV Shudder Stephen King crime thriller Trailer science fiction Disney stand-up comedy DirecTV cancelled TV shows Ellie Kemper series Emmys Food Network Hallmark Christmas movies VH1 mutant supernatural Britbox Fall TV Brie Larson Amazon Prime Video cancelled TV series GoT Nominations CW Seed Lifetime Christmas movies Columbia Pictures Mary Poppins Returns slashers Extras Black Mirror First Look historical drama breaking bad Opinion Thanksgiving blaxploitation A&E Interview adaptation cooking DC Comics ITV Television Academy Peacock Comics on TV LGBT Cosplay TCM Grammys Avengers mockumentary canceled TV shows GIFs FOX Amazon Esquire robots elevated horror Video Games streaming Lifetime Mary poppins Endgame casting Reality Competition facebook Disney Channel based on movie comic SXSW renewed TV shows Watching Series Rocketman tv talk Amazon Prime children's TV Year in Review nature Rom-Com medical drama cartoon Pop sequel Discovery Channel reboot 21st Century Fox ABC YouTube Premium TBS Music FXX Baby Yoda RT History National Geographic kids screenings IFC 71st Emmy Awards SundanceTV werewolf what to watch serial killer 45 technology name the review justice league TV The Purge Red Carpet Showtime Marvel Studios period drama ESPN binge spanish language Mudbound psycho Western cars Pixar CNN A24 Hulu dramedy El Rey Schedule boxoffice Apple TV+ Walt Disney Pictures Family Holiday social media docudrama CBS Star Wars dragons free movies teaser golden globes crossover TIFF Countdown Elton John batman Drama CBS All Access political drama Tarantino Animation First Reviews Film disaster Sundance psychological thriller Winter TV Awards Comedy richard e. Grant Tumblr canceled biography Rocky Set visit spain Musicals cinemax 20th Century Fox TV renewals Universal Superheroe 2018 2019 Ovation Star Trek finale Marvel latino animated jamie lee curtis zombies Podcast Marvel Television Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt 2015 Turner Classic Movies MTV E3 2016 Christmas Sundance Now Song of Ice and Fire Academy Awards Binge Guide Horror