Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Todd Phillips|
by DC Comics
|Music by||Hildur Guðnadóttir|
|Edited by||Jeff Groth|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$1.074 billion|
Joker is a 2019 American psychological thriller film directed and produced by Todd Phillips, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver. The film, based on DC Comics characters, stars Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker and provides an alternative origin story for the character. Set in 1981, it follows Arthur Fleck, a failed clown and stand-up comedian whose descent into insanity and nihilism inspires a violent counter-cultural revolution against the wealthy in a decaying Gotham City. Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, and Marc Maron appear in supporting roles. Joker was produced by Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, and Joint Effort, in association with Bron Creative and Village Roadshow Pictures, and distributed by Warner Bros.
Phillips conceived Joker in 2016 and wrote the script with Silver throughout 2017. The two were inspired by 1970s character studies and the films of Martin Scorsese (particularly Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy), who was initially attached to the project as a producer. The film loosely adapts plot elements from Batman: The Killing Joke (1988) and The Dark Knight Returns (1986), but Phillips and Silver otherwise did not look to specific comics for inspiration. Phoenix became attached in February 2018 and was cast that July, while the majority of the cast signed on by August. Principal photography took place in New York City, Jersey City, and Newark, from September to December 2018. Joker is the first live-action theatrical Batman film to receive an R-rating from the Motion Picture Association.
Joker premiered at the 76th Venice International Film Festival on August 31, 2019, where it won the Golden Lion, and was released in the United States on October 4, 2019. The film received generally positive reviews, but some aspects polarized critics. Although Phoenix's performance, the musical score, and the cinematography were praised, the dark tone, portrayal of mental illness, and handling of violence divided opinion and generated concerns of inspiring real-life violence; the movie theater where the 2012 Aurora, Colorado mass shooting occurred during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises refused to show it. Despite this, Joker became a major box office success and set records for an October release. It grossed over $1 billion, the first and only R-rated film to do so, becoming the sixth-highest-grossing film of 2019 during its theatrical run.
Joker received numerous accolades. At the 92nd Academy Awards, the film earned a leading 11 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, winning Best Actor for Phoenix (who became the second actor to win an Oscar for portraying the Joker following Heath Ledger in 2009) and Best Original Score for Hildur Guðnadóttir. Phoenix and Guðnadóttir also won at the Golden Globe and BAFTA Award ceremonies.
In 1981, party clown and aspiring stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck lives with his mother, Penny, in Gotham City. Gotham is rife with crime and unemployment, leaving swaths of the population disenfranchised and impoverished. Arthur suffers from a medical disorder that causes him to laugh at inappropriate times, depending on social services for medication. After a gang of delinquents attacks Arthur in an alley, his co-worker Randall gives him a gun for protection. Arthur pursues a relationship with his neighbor, single mother Sophie Dumond, and invites her to his upcoming stand-up routine at a nightclub.
While entertaining at a children's hospital, Arthur's gun falls out of his pocket. Randall lies that Arthur bought the gun himself, and Arthur is fired. On the subway, still in his clown makeup, Arthur is beaten by three drunken Wayne Enterprises businessmen; he shoots two in self-defense and wounds the third before pursuing him off the train and executing him on the stairs. The killings are condemned by billionaire mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne, who calls those envious of more successful people "clowns". Demonstrations against Gotham's rich begin, with protesters donning clown masks in Arthur's image. Funding cuts shatter the social service program, leaving Arthur without his medication.
Sophie attends Arthur's stand-up routine, which goes poorly; he laughs uncontrollably and has difficulty delivering his jokes. Arthur's idol, popular talk show host Murray Franklin, mocks Arthur by showing clips from the comedy routine on his show. Arthur intercepts a letter written by Penny to Thomas, alleging that he is Thomas's illegitimate son, and berates his mother for hiding the truth. Arthur goes to Wayne Manor, where he meets Thomas's young son Bruce, but flees after a scuffle with the family butler Alfred Pennyworth. Following a visit from two Gotham City Police Department detectives investigating Arthur's involvement in the train murders, Penny suffers a stroke and is hospitalized.
Arthur sneaks into a private event and confronts Thomas, who tells him that Penny is delusional and not his biological mother. In denial, Arthur visits Arkham State Hospital and steals Penny's case file; the file says Penny adopted Arthur as a baby and allowed her abusive boyfriend to harm them both. However, Penny claims that Thomas used his influence to fabricate the adoption to hide their affair. Distraught, Arthur returns home and enters Sophie's apartment unannounced. Frightened, Sophie tells him to leave; their relationship was merely a figment of Arthur's imagination. The following day, Arthur kills Penny at the hospital.
Arthur is invited to appear on Murray's show due to the unexpected popularity of his comedy routine's clips. As he prepares, Arthur is visited by ex-colleagues Randall and Gary. Arthur murders Randall but spares Gary for treating him well in the past. En route to the studio, Arthur is pursued by the two detectives onto a train filled with clown protesters. One detective accidentally shoots a protester and incites a riot, allowing Arthur to escape; the rioters brutally beat the detectives as Arthur leaves.
Before the show goes live, Arthur requests that Murray introduce him as Joker, a reference to Murray's previous mockery. Arthur walks out to applause, but starts telling morbid jokes, confesses to the train murders, rants about how society abandons the downtrodden and mentally ill, and berates Murray for mocking him on the previous segment. When Murray criticizes him and threatens to call the police, Arthur shoots him twice on live television, killing him; he is arrested for murder as riots break out across Gotham. One of the rioters corners the Wayne family in an alley and murders Thomas and his wife, Martha, sparing Bruce.[a] Rioters in an ambulance crash into the police car carrying Arthur, freeing him; he stands atop the car, dances to the cheers of the crowd, and smears blood on his face in the form of a smile.
At Arkham, Arthur laughs to himself about a joke and tells his psychiatrist she would not understand it. He runs from orderlies, leaving behind a trail of bloodied footprints.
Additionally, Brett Cullen portrays Thomas Wayne, a billionaire running for mayor of Gotham. Unlike in the comics, Thomas plays a role in the Joker's origins and is less sympathetic than traditional incarnations.Alec Baldwin was initially cast in the role but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Carrie Louise Putrello portrays Thomas's wife Martha, although the character has no lines nor is referred to by name.Douglas Hodge plays Alfred Pennyworth, the butler and caretaker of the Wayne family, and Dante Pereira-Olson plays Bruce Wayne, Thomas' son, who becomes the Joker's archenemy Batman as an adult.
Additional cast members include: Glenn Fleshler and Leigh Gill as Randall and Gary, Arthur's clown co-workers;Bill Camp and Shea Whigham as detectives Garrity and Burke in the Gotham City Police Department;Marc Maron as Gene Ufland, a producer on Franklin's show;Josh Pais as Hoyt Vaughn, Arthur's agent;Brian Tyree Henry as a clerk at Arkham State Hospital;Ben Warheit, Michael Benz, and Carl Lundstedt as bankers who harass Arthur;Gary Gulman as a comedian; and Bryan Callen as Javier, a co-worker of Arthur.Justin Theroux has an uncredited cameo as Ethan Chase, a celebrity guest on Franklin's show.
Between 2014 and 2015, Joaquin Phoenix expressed interest to his agent in acting in a low-budget "character study" type of film about a comic book villain, like DC Comics character The Joker. Phoenix had previously declined to act in the Marvel Cinematic Universe because he would have been required to reprise a role, such as the Hulk or Doctor Strange, in multiple films. Phoenix ruled out the Joker for his "character study" idea and tried to think of a different one. "I thought, 'You can't do the Joker, because, you know, it's just you can't do that character, it's just been done.'" Phoenix's agent suggested setting up an exploratory meeting with Warner Bros., but he declined and let go of the idea. Similarly, Todd Phillips had been offered to direct comic-based films a number of times, but declined because he thought they were "loud" and did not interest him. According to Phillips, Joker was created from his idea to create a different, more grounded comic book film. He was attracted to the Joker because he did not think there was a definitive portrayal of the character, which he knew would provide considerable creative freedom.
Phillips pitched the idea for Joker to Warner Bros. after his film War Dogs premiered in August 2016. Prior to War Dogs, Phillips was mostly known for his comedy films, such as Road Trip (2000), Old School (2003), and The Hangover (2009); War Dogs marked a venture into more unsettling territory. During the premiere, Phillips realized "War Dogs wasn't going to set the world on fire and I was thinking, 'What do people really want to see?'" He proposed that DC Films differentiate its slate from the competing Marvel Studios' by producing low-budget, standalone films. After the successful release of Wonder Woman (2017), DC Films decided to deemphasize the shared nature of its DC-based film franchise, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). In August 2017, Warner Bros. and DC Films revealed plans for the film, with Phillips directing and co-writing with Scott Silver, and Martin Scorsese set to co-produce with Phillips.
According to Kim Masters and Borys Kit of The Hollywood Reporter, Jared Leto, who portrayed the Joker in the DCEU, was displeased by the existence of a project separate from his interpretation. In October 2019, Masters reported that Leto "felt 'alienated and upset'" when he learned that Warner Bros.--which had promised him a standalone DCEU Joker film--let Phillips proceed with Joker, going as far as to ask his music manager Irving Azoff to get the project canceled. Masters added that Leto's irritation was what caused him to end his association with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), as he believed "his agents should have told him about the Phillips project earlier and fought harder for his version of Joker." However, sources associated with Leto deny that he attempted to get Joker canceled and left CAA because of it.
Warner Bros. pushed for Phillips to cast Leonardo DiCaprio as the Joker, hoping to use his frequent collaborator Scorsese's involvement to attract him. However, Phillips said that Phoenix was the only actor he considered, and that he and Silver wrote the script with Phoenix in mind, "The goal was never to introduce Joaquin Phoenix into the comic book movie universe. The goal was to introduce comic book movies into the Joaquin Phoenix universe." Phoenix said when he learned of the film, he became excited because it was the kind he was looking to make, describing it as unique and stating it did not feel like a typical "studio movie." It took him some time to commit to the role, as it intimidated him and he said "oftentimes, in these movies, we have these simplified, reductive archetypes, and that allows for the audience to be distant from the character, just like we would do in real life, where it's easy to label somebody as evil, and therefore say, 'Well, I'm not that."
- Todd Phillips
Phillips and Silver wrote Joker throughout 2017, and the writing process took about a year. According to producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff, it took some time to get approval for the script from Warner Bros., partly because of concerns over the content. Similarly, Phillips commented that there were "a zillion hurdles" during the year-long writing process due to the visibility of the character. Phillips said that while the script's themes may reflect modern society, the film was not intended to be political. While the Joker had appeared in several films before, Phillips thought it was possible to produce a new story featuring the character. "It's just another interpretation, like people do interpretations of Macbeth," he told The New York Times.
The script draws inspiration from Scorsese films such as Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), and The King of Comedy (1983), as well as Phillips' Hangover Trilogy. Other films Phillips has cited as inspiration include character studies released in the 1970s--such as Serpico (1973) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)--the silent film The Man Who Laughs (1928), and several musicals. Phillips said that aside from the tone, he did not consider Joker that different from his previous work, such as his Hangover films. While the film's premise was inspired by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke (1988), which depicts the Joker as a failed stand-up comedian, Phillips said it does not "follow anything from the comic books... That's what was interesting to me. We're not even doing Joker, but the story of becoming Joker." Phillips later clarified that he meant they did not look to a specific comic for inspiration, but rather "picked and chose what we liked" from the character's history. Having grown up in New York, Phillips also drew inspiration from life in New York City during the early 1980s. The Subway shooting scene and its aftermath were inspired by the 1984 New York City Subway shooting, while Arthur Fleck is partially based on the shooting's perpetrator, Bernhard Goetz.
Phillips and Silver found the most common Joker origin story, in which the character is disfigured after falling into a vat of acid, too unrealistic. Instead, they used certain elements of the Joker lore to produce an original story, which Phillips wanted to feel as authentic as possible. Because the Joker does not have a definitive origin story in the comics, Phillips and Silver were given considerable creative freedom and "pushed each other every day to come up with something totally insane." However, they did try to retain the ambiguous "multiple choice" nature of the Joker's past by positioning the character as an unreliable narrator--with entire storylines simply being his delusions--and left what mental illnesses he suffers from unclear. As such, Phillips said the entire film is open to interpretation.
Following the disappointing critical and financial performance of Justice League (2017), in January 2018 Walter Hamada replaced Jon Berg as the head of DC-based film production at Warner Bros. Hamada sorted through the various DC films in development, canceling some while advancing work on others; the Joker film was set to begin filming in late 2018 with a small budget of $55 million. Masters reported that Warner Bros. was reluctant to let Joker move forward, and gave it a small budget in an effort to dissuade Phillips. By June, Robert De Niro was under consideration for a supporting role in the film. The deal with Phoenix was finalized in July 2018, after four months of persuasion from Phillips. Immediately afterwards, Warner Bros. officially green-lit the film, titled it Joker, and gave it an October 4, 2019, release date. Warner Bros. described the film as "an exploration of a man disregarded by society [that] is not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale."
Scorsese's longtime associate Koskoff joined to produce, although Scorsese left his producing duties due to other obligations. Scorsese considered serving as an executive producer, but was preoccupied with his film The Irishman. It was also confirmed that the film would have no effect on Leto's Joker and would be the first in a new series of DC films unrelated to the DCEU. In July, Zazie Beetz was cast in a supporting role, and De Niro entered negotiations in August.Frances McDormand declined an offer to portray the mother of the Joker, and Frances Conroy was cast. At the end of July, Marc Maron, and Bryan Callen joined the cast. Alec Baldwin was cast as Thomas Wayne on August 27, but dropped out two days later due to scheduling conflicts.
Principal photography commenced in September 2018 in New York City,[b] under the working title Romeo. Shortly after filming began, De Niro, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Glenn Fleshler, Bill Camp, Josh Pais, and Douglas Hodge were announced to have joined the film, with Cullen replacing Baldwin.Bradley Cooper joined the film as a producer, and the director of photography was Lawrence Sher, both of whom Phillips had previously collaborated with. On September 22, a scene depicting a violent protest was filmed at the Church Avenue station in Kensington, Brooklyn, although the station was modified to look like the Bedford Park Boulevard station in the Bronx. Filming of violent scenes also took place at the abandoned lower platform of the Ninth Avenue station in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
According to Beetz, Phillips rewrote the entire script during production; because Phoenix lost so much weight for the film, there would not be an opportunity for reshoots. She recalled, "we would go into Todd's trailer and write the scene for the night and then do it. During hair and makeup we'd memorize those lines and then do them and then we'd reshoot that three weeks later." Phillips recalled Phoenix sometimes walked off-set during filming because he lost self-control and needed to compose himself--to the confusion of other actors, who felt they had done something wrong. De Niro was one of the few Phoenix never walked out on, and De Niro said he was "very intense in what he was doing, as it should be, as he should be."
Filming in Jersey City started on September 30 and shut down Newark Avenue, while filming in November, starting on November 9, shut down Kennedy Boulevard. Filming in Newark began on October 13 and lasted until October 16. Shortly before the Newark filming, SAG-AFTRA received a complaint that extras were locked in subway cars for more than three hours during filming in Brooklyn, a break violation. The issue was quickly resolved after a representative visited the set. That month, Dante Pereira-Olson joined the cast as a young Bruce Wayne. Whigham said towards the end of October the film was in "the middle" of production, adding that it was an "intense" and "incredible" experience. By mid-November, filming had moved back to New York. Filming wrapped on December 3, 2018, with Phillips posting a picture on his Instagram feed later in the month to commemorate the occasion.
Phillips confirmed he was in the process of editing Joker in March 2019. At CinemaCon the following month, he stated the film was "still taking shape" and was difficult to discuss, as he hoped to maintain secrecy. Phillips also denied most reports surrounding the film, which he felt was because it is "an origin story about a character that doesn't have a definitive origin." Brian Tyree Henry was also confirmed to have a role in the film. The visual effects were provided by Scanline VFX and Shade VFX and supervised by Matthew Giampa and Bryan Godwin, with Erwin Rivera serving as the overall supervisor.
One scene that was cut from the film depicted Sophie watching Arthur's appearance on Franklin's show. The scene was intended to show the audience that she is still alive (as the film otherwise implies that Arthur kills her), but Phillips decided it would disrupt the narrative, which is portrayed from Arthur's point of view.
The film's final budget was $55-70 million, considered by The Hollywood Reporter "a fraction" of the cost of a typical comic book-based film. In comparison, the previous villain-centric DC film, Suicide Squad (2016), cost $175 million. $25 million of Joker budget was covered by the Toronto-based financing company Creative Wealth Media, while Village Roadshow Pictures and Bron Studios each contributed 25%.Joker was also the first live-action theatrical film in the Batman film franchise to receive an R-rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, due to "strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language, and brief sexual images." In the United Kingdom, the BBFC gave the film a 15 certificate.
In August 2018, Hildur Guðnadóttir was hired to compose the film's score. Hildur began writing music after reading the script and meeting with Phillips, who "had a lot of strong ideas" about how he thought the score should sound. She worked on the Joker score alongside the score for the drama miniseries Chernobyl; Hildur said switching between the two was challenging because the scores were so different. Additionally, the film features the songs "That's Life", "Send In the Clowns", "White Room," and "Rock and Roll Part 2". The use of "Rock and Roll Part 2" generated controversy when it was reported that its singer Gary Glitter (a convicted sex offender) would receive royalties, but it was later confirmed he would not. The score was released on October 2, 2019 by WaterTower Music. Hildur's music won numerous awards including an Academy Award, a Satellite Award, a Saturn Award, the Hollywood Music in Media Awards (HMMA) and the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, with the latter making her the first woman to win as a solo composer in that category.
Phillips promoted the film by posting on set photos on his Instagram account. On September 21, 2018, he released test footage of Phoenix in-costume as the Joker, with "Laughing" by The Guess Who accompanying the footage. At CinemaCon on April 2, 2019, Phillips unveiled the first trailer for the film, which was released online the following day. The trailer, prominently featuring the song "Smile" performed by Jimmy Durante, generated positive responses, with some commentators comparing it to Taxi Driver and Requiem for a Dream and praising Phoenix's performance. Writers described the trailer as dark and gritty, with ComicBook.coms Jenna Anderson feeling it appeared more like a psychological thriller than a comic book film. Actor Mark Hamill, who has voiced the Joker since the 1992 cartoon Batman: The Animated Series, expressed enthusiasm on Twitter. Conversely, io9s Germain Lussier said the trailer revealed too little and that it was too similar to photos Phillips had posted on Instagram. While he still believed it exhibited potential, Lussier overall thought the trailer was not "a home run." The trailer received over eight million views in the first few hours of release.
On August 25, 2019, Phillips released six brief teasers that contained flashes of writing, revealing the second trailer would be released on August 28. Filmmaker Kevin Smith commended the trailer, stating he thought the film "would still work even if [DC Comics] didn't exist" and praising its uniqueness. Overall, Deadline Hollywood estimated that Warner Bros. spent $120 million on promotion and advertisements.
Joker premiered at the 76th Venice International Film Festival on August 31, 2019, where it received an eight-minute standing ovation and won the Golden Lion award. It also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 2019. The film was released theatrically by Warner Bros. Pictures on October 4, 2019 in the United States, and a day earlier in Australia and several other international markets. On November 16, 2019 it was screened at the White House for President Donald Trump, who reportedly enjoyed the film. Following its nominations at various awards shows, the film was scheduled to be rereleased in theaters across North America, beginning on January 17, 2020.
On September 18, 2019, the United States Army distributed an email warning service members of potential violence at theaters screening the film and noting the Joker character's popularity among the incel community. A separate memo revealed the Army received "credible" information from Texas law enforcement "regarding the targeting of an unknown movie theater during the release." However, according to Deadline Hollywood, the FBI and the United States Department of Homeland Security found no credible threats surrounding the release of the film.
In an interview with TheWrap, Phillips expressed surprise at criticism of the film's dark tone, stating "it's because outrage is a commodity" and calling critics of the film "far-left". Phoenix walked out of an interview by The Telegraph when asked if the film could inspire mass shooters. He later returned to finish the interview, but did not answer the question. Following this, journalists were disinvited from the premiere at TCL Chinese Theatre, with only photographers being allowed to interact with the filmmakers and cast on the carpet. In a statement to Variety, Warner Bros. said that "A lot has been said about Joker, and we just feel it's time for people to see the film."
The film did not play at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater where the 2012 mass shooting occurred during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Three families of victims, as well as the mother of a witness, signed a letter to Warner Bros. with the request. Additionally, Landmark Theaters prohibited moviegoers from wearing Joker costumes during its run, while the Los Angeles and New York City Police Departments increased police visibility at area theaters, though they did not receive "any specific threat."
Joker was released on Digital HD on December 17, 2019, and on DVD, Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray on January 7, 2020. It debuted on HBO on May 16, 2020, and on HBO Max when it launched on May 27, 2020.
Joker grossed $335.5 million in the United States and Canada, and $738.5 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $1.074 billion. It is the sixth-highest-grossing film of 2019 and the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time, as well as the first R-rated film to pass the billion-dollar mark. In terms of budget-to-gross ratio, Joker is also the most profitable film based on a comic book, due to its small budget and little decline in week-to-week grosses during its theatrical run.Deadline Hollywood estimated the film made a net profit of $437 million, when factoring together all expenses and revenues.
In August 2019, BoxOffice magazine analyst Shawn Robbins wrote that he expected Joker to gross $60-90 million during its opening weekend in North America. Following the film's premiere, BoxOffice predicted Joker could open to $70-95 million domestically. Later updating to $85-105 million, Robbins suggested it could become the first October release to open to over $100 million, and surpass the record set by Venom in 2018. However, Comscore's senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian thought the film would open closer to $50 million because it is not a "typical comic-book movie." Three weeks prior to its release, official industry tracking projected the film would debut to $65-80 million, with some estimates going as high as $90 million. The week of its release, Atom Tickets announced pre-sale totals for the film were outpacing those of Venom and It Chapter Two ($91.1 million debut), and that Joker was its second-bestselling R-rated film of 2019 behind John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum.
Joker opened in 4,374 theaters in North America and made $39.9 million on its first day, including $13.3 million from Thursday night previews, besting Venoms respective October records. It went on to break Venom record for the biggest October opening, finishing the weekend with a domestic total of $96.2 million. The film set career records for Phoenix, Phillips, and De Niro, and was the fourth-largest debut for an R-rated film of all time. It was also Warner Bros.' biggest domestic opening in two years. In its second weekend the film fell just 41.8% to $55.9 million, remaining in first and marking the best second-weekend October total (besting Gravitys $43.1 million in 2013). It made $29.2 million in its third weekend and $19.2 million in its fourth, finishing second behind Maleficent: Mistress of Evil both times.
Worldwide, the film was projected to debut to around $155 million, including $75 million from 73 overseas territories. It made $5.4 million from four countries on its first day and $18.7 million from 47 in its second, for a two-day total of $24.6 million. It went on to greatly exceed expectations, making $140.5 million from overseas territories and a total $234 million worldwide. Its largest markets were South Korea (a Warner Bros. record $16.3 million), the United Kingdom ($14.8 million), Mexico ($13.1 million) and Japan ($7 million). With this, it became the biggest worldwide opening for an October film. During its second weekend, the film made an additional $125.7 million worldwide, and $77.9 million in its third. By this point, industry analysts expected Joker to become the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time, with some suggesting that it could finish its run with over $1 billion. The film became the highest-grossing R-rated film in its fourth weekend, during which it grossed $47.8 million overseas, and passed the billion-dollar mark about a month into its theatrical release.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 68% based on 576 reviews, with an average rating of 7.30/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "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."Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 59 out of 100 based on 60 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews." Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it an overall positive score of 84% (with an average 4 out of 5 stars) and a 60% "definite recommend."
Mark Kermode of The Observer rated the film 4 out of 5 stars, stating that, "Joker has an ace card in the form of Joaquin Phoenix's mesmerisingly physical portrayal of a man who would be king." Writing for IGN, Jim Vejvoda gave Joker a perfect score, writing the film "would work just as well as an engrossing character study without any of its DC Comics trappings; that it just so happens to be a brilliant Batman-universe movie is icing on the Batfan cake." He found it a powerful and unsettling allegory of contemporary neglect and violence, and described Phoenix's performance as the Joker as engrossing and "Oscar-worthy." Similarly, Xan Brooks of The Observer--who also gave the film a perfect score--called it "gloriously daring and explosive" and appreciated how Phillips used elements from Scorsese films to create an original story.Varietys Owen Gleiberman wrote, "Phoenix is astonishing as a mentally ill geek who becomes the killer-clown Joker in Todd Phillips' neo-Taxi Driver knockout: the rare comic-book movie that expresses what's happening in the real world."
ComicBook.coms Brandon Davis acclaimed Joker as a groundbreaking comic book adaptation that he found scarier than most 2019 horror films. Davis compared it favorably to the 2008 Batman film The Dark Knight, praised the cinematography and performances, and called it a film that needed to be seen to be believed.Deadline Hollywoods Pete Hammond believes the film redefines the Joker and is "impossible to shake off." Hammond also praised the story and performances, and summarized the film as "a bravura piece of filmmaking that speaks to the world we are actually living in today in ways that few movies do."Peter Travers of Rolling Stone said he was lost for words in describing Phoenix's performance, calling the film "gut-wrenching" and "simply stupendous."
David Ehrlich of IndieWire was more mixed and gave the film a "C+." He felt that while "Joker is the boldest and most exciting superhero movie since The Dark Knight," it was "also incendiary, confused, and potentially toxic." Ehrlich thought that the film would make DC fans happy and praised Phoenix's performance, but criticized Phillips' direction and the lack of originality. A critical review came from Glenn Kenny of RogerEbert.com, who gave the film two stars out of four. Though he praised the performances and thought the story worked, Kenny criticized the social commentary and Phillips' direction, finding the film too derivative and believing its focus was "less in entertainment than in generating self-importance." In an analysis of the character Joker, Onmanorama's Sajesh Mohan wrote that the movie was cliché-ridden--the only original part being Joaquin Phoenix's acting. "The movie, with great pain and in detail, explains how Arthur Fleck turns into Joker dejected by the way the world treats him. Thanks to Phillips and Silver, Phoenix was able to bring out the king among the Jokers," the analysis read.
Stephanie Zacharek of Time magazine, in a negative review, labeled Phoenix's performance over-the-top and felt that while Phillips tried to "[give] us a movie all about the emptiness of our culture... he's just offering a prime example of it." She argued the plot was nonexistent, "dark only in a stupidly adolescent way," and "stuffed with phony philosophy." Meanwhile, NPR's Glen Weldon thought the film lacked innovation and said its sympathetic take on the Joker was "wildly unconvincing and mundanely uninteresting." Weldon also described Joker as trying too hard to deviate from the comics and, as a result, coming off as an imitation of films like Taxi Driver.Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called it "the most disappointing film of the year." While praising Phoenix's performance and the first act, he criticized the film's political plot developments and overall found it too derivative of various Scorsese films.
Joker generated positive responses from industry figures. DC Comics chief creative officer Jim Lee praised it as "intense, raw and soulful," and said that it remained true to the character despite deviating from the source material. Actor Mark Hamill, who has voiced the Joker in animation and video games, thought the film "brilliantly" reinvented the character and gave it "[two] thumbs up." Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore called Joker a "cinematic masterpiece" and said it was a "danger to society" if people did not see it. Actor Josh Brolin, who portrays Thanos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, found the film powerful: "To appreciate Joker I believe you have to have either gone through something traumatic in your lifetime (and I believe most of us have) or understand somewhere in your psyche what true compassion is." Actor Vincent D'Onofrio, who portrays Wilson Fisk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, vocally commended Phoenix's performance in the film via Twitter, stating that he "deserve[d] recognition for this performance," while actress Jessica Chastain agreed, replying, "it's one of the greatest pieces of acting I've ever seen." Actress and screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge also praised the film, stating: "I think the reason people got so uncomfortable is because it feels too true, too raw. I was watching it and thinking to myself, God, if this came out a year into Obama's time in office, I don't think we'd be feeling as worried about it".
Joaquin Phoenix's performance in the film won him multiple awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actor, a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, a Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Actor, a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role.
Joker won the Best Actor (Phoenix) and Best Original Score awards at the 92nd Academy Awards. It received overall eleven nominations (including Best Picture) from the ceremony, breaking the record of eight held by The Dark Knight for the most nominations received by a film based on a comic book, comic strip or graphic novel. At the 73rd British Academy Film Awards, the film won Best Actor in a Leading Role (Phoenix), Best Casting and Best Original Score out of a leading eleven nominations including Best Film. The film was nominated for four Golden Globe Awards for the 77th Ceremony, winning the awards for Best Original Score and Best Actor (Phoenix). The film was nominated for seven awards at the 25th Critics' Choice Awards, winning Best Actor (Phoenix) and Best Score, and was included in the American Film Institute's top 10 films of 2019
Having won an award at the 26th Screen Actors Guild Awards for Phoenix's performance, Joker also received nominations from other guilds including the Writers Guild of America Awards and the Producers Guild of America. It won a Best Period and/or Character Make-Up in a Feature-Length Motion Picture award from the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild. An American production, the film won the Golden Lion at the 76th Venice International Film Festival.
Joker deals with the themes of mental illness and its effects. Its depiction of the Joker has been described as reminiscent of those who commit mass shootings in the United States as well as members of the online incel community. Vejvoda, Hammond, and The Guardian Christina Newland interpreted the film as a cautionary tale--society's disregard of those who are less fortunate will create a person like the Joker. Stephen Kent, writing for The Washington Examiner, described Arthur Fleck as blending shared aspects of mass shooters, and interpreted its message as a reminder that society is riddled with men like the Joker. Writing in People's World, Chauncey K. Robinson said the film "walks a fine line between exploration and validation" of Joker's character, and is "ultimately an in-your-face examination of a broken system that creates its own monsters."
Some writers have expressed concern that Joker sympathetic portrayal of a homicidal maniac could inspire real-world violence.Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair found the film was too sympathetic towards "white men who commit heinous crimes" and that the social-politics ideologies represented in the film are "evils that are far more easily identifiable" to people "who shoot up schools and concerts and churches, who gun down the women and men they covet and envy, who let loose some spirit of anarchic animus upon the world--there's almost a woebegone mythos placed on them in the search for answers." Jim Geraghty of National Review wrote he was "worried that a certain segment of America's angry, paranoid, emotionally unstable young men will watch Joaquin Phoenix descending into madness and a desire to get back at society by hurting as many people as possible and exclaim, 'finally, somebody understands me!'" Contrarily, Michael Shindler, reviewing the film in Mere Orthodoxy, while agreeing that Joker depicts a sympathetic wish fulfillment fantasy, contends (drawing on insights from Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan) that it is for precisely that reason that the film will, if anything, preemptively quell real-world violence by rendering "the Flecks of the world into meek somnambulists."
British neurocriminologist Adrian Raine was impressed by how accurate the film's depiction of the psychology of a murderer was. In an interview with Vanity Fair, he described it as "a great educational tool" and stated that he planned to present film clips during his classes. Psychiatrist Kamran Ahmed highlighted the factors in Arthur's childhood such as parental abuse and loss, and family history of mental illness in the genesis of his condition. American psychiatrist Imani Walker, who is known for her Bravo television series Married to Medicine Los Angeles and working with violent criminals with mental disorders, analyzed the Joker's apparent mental disorders and circumstances, but also notes that Arthur was trying to get help before his downfall. She says of Arthur and others in poverty who have mental illness: "We as a society don't even pretend that they're real people. And that's what this movie is about. He never had a chance."
Micah Uetricht, managing director of Jacobin, opined in a review published by The Guardian that he was shocked that the media did not understand the movie's message: "we got a fairly straightforward condemnation of American austerity: how it leaves the vulnerable to suffer without the resources they need, and the horrific consequences for the rest of society that can result." Ahmed also highlights the lack of funding for already-stretched mental health services worldwide being alluded to.
During a Five Star Movement event in October 2019, Italian comedian and politician Beppe Grillo gave a speech wearing the Joker's makeup. References to the character were also found in anti-government protests worldwide. During the 2019-20 Lebanese protests, a group of graffiti artists called Ashekm painted a mural of the Joker holding a Molotov cocktail, and it was also reported that there was a Joker facepaint station at the protests in Beirut. In Los Ángeles, Chile, during the 2019-20 Chilean protests, the phrase "We are all clowns", which is adopted by Gotham City protesters in the movie, was written at the foot of a statue. In Hong Kong, protesters challenged an emergency decree prohibiting the wearing of masks by wearing those of fictional characters such as the Joker. In France, during the Yellow Vest Protests, firefighters donned Joker makeup and set themselves on fire as they fought in the streets against the police.
One of the locations seen in the film, a set of stairs in the Bronx, New York City, has been dubbed the Joker Stairs. The stairs have become a tourist destination and the subject of Internet memes, with visitors often reenacting the scene from the film in which Fleck dances down the stairs in his Joker attire.
Joker was intended to be a standalone film with no sequels, although Warner Bros. intended for it to launch DC Black, a line of DC Comics-based films unrelated to the DCEU with darker, more experimental material. While Phillips said in August 2019 that he would be interested in making a sequel, depending on the film's performance and if Phoenix is interested, he later clarified that "the movie's not set up to [have] a sequel. We always pitched it as one movie, and that's it." In October 2019, Phoenix spoke to Peter Travers of possibly reprising the role of Arthur, centering around Travers' asking of Phoenix if he considers Joker to be his "dream role." Phoenix stated, "I can't stop thinking about it ... if there's something else we can do with Joker that might be interesting," and concluded, "It's nothing that I really wanted to do prior to working on this movie. I don't know that there is [more to do] ... Because it seemed endless, the possibilities of where we can go with the character."
On November 20, 2019, The Hollywood Reporter announced that a sequel was in development, with Phillips, Silver, and Phoenix expected to reprise their duties; however, Deadline Hollywood reported the same day that The Hollywood Reporter story was false and that negotiations had not even begun. Phillips responded to the reports by saying that he had discussed a sequel with Warner Bros. and it remained a possibility, but it was not in development. Phillips also confirmed that the upcoming film The Batman would not be set in the same continuity as Joker. During an interview with Variety at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, Phillips expressed interest in a spin-off focusing on Batman, saying, "It's a beautiful Gotham. What I would like to see someone tackle is what Batman looks like from that Gotham. I'm not saying I'm going to do that. What was interesting to me about the inclusion of Batman in our movie was, 'What kind of Batman does that Gotham make?' That's all I meant by that."
There's a connection, obviously, with the whole thing. But it's not as a direct connection as the character I'm playing being Rupert many years later as a host.