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Joker, the upcoming standalone from Warner Brothers and DC starring Joaquin Phoenix, promises to be a comic book film unlike any other. Inspired heavily by the works of Martin Scorsese and co-starring his frequent collaborator Robert DeNiro, Joker presents the story of Arthur Fleck, a failed comedian with a troubled inner life who becomes the Clown Prince of Crime, the most feared figure in Gotham City's underworld.
More character study than superpowered smash-up, Joker is one of the rare comic book films to receive an R rating. With a property as iconic as its main character, getting clearance to push the film beyond the boundaries of your average superhero fare was not an easy task for co-writer and director Todd Phillips.
Talking with the Los Angeles Times, Phillips explained why he decided to use the character to tell a different kind of comic book story on the big screen, and what it took to get the green light to pursue his gritty, R-rated vision.
Phillips explained that the inspiration for the film came as he was attending the premiere of his 2016 dramedy War Dogs in August of that year. Taking it all in, he couldn't help but be distracted by a billboard for a big-budget superhero movie which loomed over the area. He didn't say which one, but as the Times noted, this was right around the time Suicide Squad opened, which happened to feature a supremely divisive turn by Jared Leto as the Joker.
Phillips may be known for comedies such as The Hangover, but he's also a Scorsese disciple, and said he had been disheartened by the last couple decades' lack of in-depth character studies for which the master filmmaker was known such as 1974's Taxi Driver and 1980's Raging Bull, both of which starred DeNiro. As he regarded the billboard, the seed of an idea was formed. Phillips said,
"I knew that War Dogs wasn't going to set the world on fire, and I was thinking, 'What do people really want to see?' The movies that I grew up loving, these character studies from the '70s, you couldn't get those movies made in this climate. I'm staring up at this billboard and I said to myself, 'What if you did a movie in that vein, but made it about one of those characters?'" Keep watching the video to see the agonizing process it took to make Joker R-rated