So many of these WTF happened to videos focus on a film that had behind the scenes issues or were catastrophic bombs in theaters and we dissect what went wrong, but every so often we here at Joblo like to examine what went right with a movie. In 2019, a movie that seemed to come out of nowhere became a cultural landmark, causing controversy and breaking records. Sit back and put on a happy face as we figure out just WTF Happened to Joker.
First appearing in Batman #1 in the spring of 1940, the character of The Joker, created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson, based off the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs, was originally meant to be a one off villain for the caped crusader who was going to die after his first appearance because Bill Finger thought that if there was a recurring villain, it would mean that Batman was an inept crime fighter. Editor Whitney Ellsworth, however, recognized the potential of the Joker and decided to include a final panel in the comic that showed he had survived despite his apparent fatal injuries. The Joker appeared in nine of the twelve first Batman comics, and became one of the most notorious bad guys in entertainment history.
Whether it was Caesar Romero’s mustached version of the character on the original TV series, Jack Nicholson’s crime boss version in 1989 blockbuster or Mark Hamill’s darkly comic animated version, Jared Leto’s much maligned Cyber Punk version, or Heath Ledger’s academy award-winning portrayal in The Dark Knight, the character The Joker is no stranger to our screen. Many internet message boards were filled with collective “why?” when the first rumor in 2017 was that Warner Brothers was developing a Joker Origin movie. Joaquin Phoenix told his agent in 2014 that after he turned down offers to play
The Hulk or Doctor Stupid as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe he wanted to do a low budget film about a comic character, specifically a villain. He didn’t even know which character it was and told his agent specifically that the Joker couldn’t be chosen because that character has already been done. Phoenix’s agent was going to set up a meeting with Warner Brothers for a general discussion, but he refused to attend because he didn’t like “general” meetings. He quickly forgot about the project and moved on to another project. Around the same time, Todd Phillips, who had become a household name by directing some of Hollywood’s biggest comedies, was being offered the chance to direct comic books. But he turned them down, as he was not interested in loud action films but wanted to create a more grounded look into the comic book world. He was intrigued by the Joker and said that he could create a new interpretation of the iconic character because the character had no clear back story. Phillips was disillusioned with comedy and turned his attention to more dramatic films, including the 2016 film
that would gross $86.2 million. Phillips was asked by the studio what else he could do after the success of the film. He decided to pitch a new take on a clown prince of crime. He pitched the idea to differentiate themselves from Marvel, allowing stand-alone films outside their own DC connected world of films. Phillips had only ever thought of Phoenix for the role, without knowing the conversation Phoenix had with his agent. The studio, of course, had other ideas. The studio gave Phillips the green light to write the script, along with writer Scott Silver, and Martin Scorsese as a producer. They had high hopes of getting Leonardo DiCaprio on board for the title role. But Phillips was adamant he only wanted Joaquin Phoenix in the make-up. Phoenix was elated to learn that a character analysis about a comic book villain would be made. Joaquin Phoenix, in typical Phoenix fashion, didn’t sign the contract right away. Jared Leto was furious when he heard about this new stand alone Joker film. He felt that it was a slap in the face to Warner Brothers’ promise of making a solo Joker project for him. Jared Leto, who originally starred as the Joker in Suicide squad was furious at the news of this new stand-alone film. He felt that it was a betrayal of the promise made by Warner Brothers to him. Phillips said that Hamada never understood what they were trying to do with the film. Phillips said that Hamada never truly understood what they were trying to do with the film.
Phillips would take inspiration from many places including films such as
Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, Serpico, Raging Bull, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, The Man Who Smiles as well as quintessential comic book stories such as Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke
and Frank Miller’s
The Dark Knight Returns which featured a a scene where the Joker murders everyone at a talk show. The story was influenced by real life, not a comic book or movie. Phillips said that he chose 1981 as the year to base the film on. This was for two reasons. One, it would distinguish it from the DC Extended Universe films that Warners were releasing. The other was that Phillips grew in the city during that time. New York was not the family-friendly entertainment hub it is today (that’s said with 100% sarcasm!) It was a pretty rundown area with people afraid to leave their homes due to the unregulated violence. On December 22, 1984, Bernard Goetz was riding the 2 train when four men approached him and flashed signals at each other. They demanded money. Goetz shot the four men but only severely wounded one. Goetz would receive widespread acclaim for his actions with people calling into radio stations in the direct aftermath of the shootings, before Goetz was identified and arrested, dubbing him The Subway Vigilante and praising his actions as people had grown fearful and frustrated with the rising crime in the city.The film would officially be announced in July 2018 with Phoenix confirmed to star as Arthur Fleck with the films official title finally revealed: Joker. Phoenix began his weight loss journey by eating only one apple per day, along with lettuce and steamed beans. He claims that Phillips would always have a bag of pretzels on his desk when he went to Todd Phillips’ office for a business meeting. Phoenix refused to watch other portrayals of Joker during the preparation for the film, saying that he did not want to be influenced. He wanted to create his character. Instead, he studied silent film stars like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin to understand their movements. He also studied the Scarecrow in Wizard Of Oz as well as Tim Curry’s performance from The Rocky Horror Picture Show
. Phoenix also says that he did extensive research on political assassinations, other killers and their motivations. He said that perfecting his laugh was the most difficult part of his preparation. However, he would study people with the real disease called Pathological Laughter. Phillips would then tell him that Arthur was more hurt by the laughter than anything else. The cast was soon filled in around Phoenix, with Bryan Tyree Henry and Shea Whigham joining, along with Glenn Fleshler and Leigh Gill. Bill Camp, Josh Pais and Douglas Hodge, as well as longtime Phillips collaborator Bryan Callen, were also added. Zazie Beetz, who played Arthur’s “perceived”, and I mean “perceived”, love interest, was also signed on. Frances Conroy will portray Arthur’s mentally-ill mother, after Frances McDormand declined the role. Brett Cullen will take on his second Batman Universe role after appearing as a Congressman in The Dark Knight Rises. This time Brett Cullen will play Thomas Wayne, a role originally meant to be played Alec Baldwin, who was forced out of the role just two days after accepting it due to scheduling conflict. Justin Theroux will appear in an uncredited cameo role as Murray Franklin’s guest who Arthur mimics to prepare for his own appearance. Robert DeNiro, who was shooting The Irishman at the time, signed on the dotted-line to join the film. That same film would be the reason Martin Scorsese would ultimately leave Joker as a producer as he felt he needed to put his full focus into making that film.Filming would kick off in September 2018 in New York City under the disguised title of Romeo and go through December 3. There were a few bumps in the road, including a moment of contention between Robert DeNiro & Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix hates table read-throughs where the cast gathers to read the entire script before filming and get a sense of what they are going to do. Phoenix says that he dislikes table reads because he wants his performance to be spontaneous. He also says that the anxiety he feels in the days leading up to filming is part of the character. DeNiro, on the other hand, enjoys table reads because he wants to see the entire movie before shooting. DeNiro told Todd Phillips he needed to be present for the read-through because Phoenix was an actor. Phoenix did not want to upset DeNiro, as DeNiro was one of the main reasons he wanted be an actor. This dates back to when River Phoenix brought home a copy
Raging bull. Despite the compromise, the pair didn’t talk much on set. Not because they were hostile towards each other, but rather out of mutual respect. DeNiro praised Phoenix’s professionalism and performance on set after the film was released. Phillips would explain to other actors that Phoenix simply needed a break from the intense scenes to compose himself. Background performers had to file complaints to their union SAG-Aftra for being forced to sit in subway cars without water or bathroom breaks for hours at a stretch. A union representative would then visit the set to resolve these issues. Sadly, it appears these issues are returning for the sequel as a recent article said that background performers on the film’s currently shooting sequel have had similar issues with reports that assistant directors have been screaming and berating the performers for requesting to use the bathroom.Speaking of bathrooms, one of the most iconic scenes in the film was completely improvised. Todd Phillips took a slightly different approach in how he shot the film. Most movies hire a music composer after the filming is completed so that they can view the footage and compose an appropriate score. Phillips hired Hildur Gudnadottir, an Icelandic composer, to write music based on the script before a single frame of footage was shot. She said that she worked on the score of this film while she was also composing the score of the acclaimed mini-series Chernobyl. Both scores were very different and it was challenging. Phillips would play parts of the score while filming to give actors the mood that he wanted in the shot.
In this scene, which takes place immediately after Arthur has killed men on the subway. The script originally called for Arthur running into the bathroom to wash his face and hide the gun. Phoenix, who had studied the film The old soft shoewith Ray Bolger, became so inspired by a piece of music in the accompanying score album titled Bathroom Dance that he began to dance in a slow and almost intimate manner. This scene was one of the most talked-about scenes in the movie as it really conveyed the relief and release the character feels after killing for the very first time. Phoenix would improvise on the set a lot, including the scene when Arthur empties his fridge and gets inside. Phillips’ background in comedy made him a great director for these scenes where the performers would go off on their own while he always kept the camera rolling to capture these spontaneously genius moments.However one thing the production couldn’t make time for was reshoots. Phoenix’s strict diet and weight loss for the role made it difficult to do reshoots after production was finished. Zazie Beetz says that there were a lot of times she would be handed new pages of script just before filming as Phillips kept changing things up knowing that reshoots were nearly impossible but the cast was always great at adapting to the changes and Phillips would give the performers leeway to improvise.One of the hardest scenes to shoot in the entire film was actually the stair case dance scene towards the end of the film. The crew members said that New York City does not have Paparazzi laws. This meant that people would often interrupt filming by walking right through scenes. Phillips was annoyed when he saw grainy pictures of Phoenix on the stairs being posted on the internet. He decided to upload his own high-resolution picture on his Instagram account. Since the release of the film, those stairs have become so iconic that many people treat them as a tourist attraction much to the dismay and frustration of the actual residents in the Bronx. Shortly after the films release, if you typed in “Joker Stairs” on google maps, not only could you find the exact location, but it was also labeled a “religious destination.”
Other shooting locations would include Dangerfield’s, the oldest functioning comedy club in New York City, named after the legendary Rodney Dangerfield. The club is renamed Pogo’s Comedy Club in the film as a nod to John Wayne Gacy, who was known as Pogo The Clown as a professional circus clown. Even though the film was going well, Warner Brothers became frightened by the footage they received. Phillips was able to convince them to keep the film at its R rating as there is no way this movie would have worked as a PG13. Luckily Phillips was able to convince them to keep the film at its R rating as there is no way this movie would have worked as a PG13.
Phillips would fill the film with homages to other Batman stories such as the scene where Phoenix is dressed in a doctors uniform which is a reference to the scene in
The Dark Knight where Heath Ledger’s Joker dresses up as a nurse while many believe that the reason Arthur lets his pint sized pal Gary go free after he viciously kills Randall was a nod to the Joker’s first sidekick from the comics: Gaggy The Clown
. Fans have noticed that the film’s timing is 11:11. There were many theories on the internet as to why this was. Some suggested it was a reference to Jeremiah11:11
which says “Therefore, thus saith The Lord, behold, i will bring evil upon them that they shall not be capable of escaping; and though they will cry unto me I will not listen unto them.” Others said it’s proof that the entire film is set inside Arthur’s head. As we saw in the film several times, Arthur is a “unreliable narrator”. He has several delusions that are later revealed to be fabrications from his own mind. Could it be that Arthur was in Arkham Asylum all the time and his alleged revolution was nothing more than an elaborate story from his own mind? Personally, I hope not, but we should get some clarity on that when the sequel is released… hopefully!
The film would be edited by the soon to be Oscar Nominated Jeff Groth who says that producer Bradley Cooper, yes
Bradley Cooper, who stepped in as a Producer after Martin Scorsese departed the project, would be heavily involved in the editing of the film. Groth said that Cooper would often be the first person to call if they were stuck and he’d come to the editing room immediately to help them figure things out. One shot that was cut was the scene where Zazie Beetz was still alive and watching the aftermath of a murder on TV. The film leaves it ambiguous whether Arthur killed her. The first trailer for the film was released on April 2, 2019, at Cinemacon and online the next day. The internet chatter changed from “this movie will suck” into “holy crap, this trailer was amazing,” with its brilliant use of the Charlie Chaplin “Smile” song. Warner’s spent as much as $120,000,000 on marketing costs. Many people were afraid that a copycat would emerge because this film was a more realistic portrayal of the character with its hard R violence. News reports were published across the country warning of increased security in movie theaters. Even the United States Army warned its service members of the potential for violence in movie theaters. The email stated that the Joker had become a popular character among the Incel Community, a group of men involuntarily celibate, who have been linked with many violent and fatal acts in support their quote unquote causes. Deadline conducted their own investigation and found the FBI and Department of Homeland Security had not found any credible threats prior to the release of this film. The theater in Aurora, Colorado, where the The Dark Knight Rises-shooting occurred did not screen the movie after the family members of those who died asked them to. While in New York and Los Angeles, Landmark theaters would not allow anyone dressed as the Joker to enter.The fear may have been warranted, yet on October 4, 2019, Joker was released to the masses and there was no violence, no shootings, no fights. It ended up opening at $96.2 million, making it the best opening in October of all time. Four weeks later it became the highest grossing R-rated film ever and is currently sitting at $1.074,458,282. It would have made all that money even without a China release, which is where most films make their bulk of their worldwide gross. Of the 51 films to gross over a billion dollars worldwide, only 5 have done it without a release in China:
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, The Dark Knight, Top Gun: Maverick, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Joker
. PornHub reported that nearly one million searches were made for “Joker” within a month of its release. I guess… it’s up to you! Some critics praised the film as flawless, saying it would have been equally engaging if it had not been tied to a pre-existing property. Others found the film to glorify violent acts, saying that it almost felt like the film was validating people who have committed heinous crimes of violence in our societies. Phoenix said you wanted the film feel real. He said that if you watch a movie like
The Avengers where tens thousands of people are killed, you become numb to violence and death, they have no effect. He would say that anyone who thought the film glorified what Arthur does was probably wrong. Everyone agreed that Joaquin Phoenix was a great actor. Josh Brolin, Vincent D’Onofrio and Jessica Chastain were among the actors who took to Twitter to praise the performance Phoenix gave. Even after Heath Ledger won the post-humous Oscar for his portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight, and many people felt the film was over-looked for a best picture nomination, no one really expected
Joker to be a huge awards darling. When the film premiered at Venice Film Festival, it received an 8-minute standing ovation and won the Golden Lion award. Everyone started paying attention. The film received 239 nominations, including 14 JoBlo Golden Schmoe Awards, and became the most nominated movie at the 2020 Academy Awards, with 11 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Director. Todd Phillips was the first director to be nominated for a Oscar for a Comic Book film. Hildur Guonadottir won the Grammy for Best Original Score and Joaquin Phoenix was awarded the Oscar for Best Actor. The film was also nominated for a Razzie Award for “Worst Disregard for Public Property and Human Life” but lost out to Rambo. Face painting stations were set up in Beirut during the October 17 revolution to allow people to have their faces painted like the Joker. The films ambiguity is one of its greatest strengths. Did we just witness the Joker revolution, or was it part of a mans delusions. The film’s ambiguous ending was a big hit, so Todd Phillips released the official cover of the finished sequel script on his Instagram page on June 7, 2022. It featured the title:
Joker : Folie a Zwei and an image of Joaquin Phoenix smoking a cigarette reading it. It wasn’t long before the title of the film became clear, Folie A Deux translated to Madness for Two when it was announced that Lady Gaga would be joining the cast as Harley Quinn, and the movie would actually be musical. Phillips has teased us with several official images, just as he did for the original. He’s also given us an official release date: October 4th, 2024
… five years exactly to the day after the original film. Joker was a film that no one seemed to want when it was announced, yet two creative forces, completely separate of each other, desired to make a low budget film set in the world of comic books that really took a deep dive into the character. Warner Brothers, Todd Phillips, and Joaquin Phoenix decided to take a big risk by presenting the world with a new vision in an age where comic book movies that are based on continuing universes have become stale. The result was one of the most successful films ever made.
And that is WTF Happened to Joker!