There are now officially two Jokers in town. Joaquin Phoenix has reportedly closed his deal to play The Joker in a standalone Warner Bros. film, which now has the greenlight to start production in September, per THR. Word first surfaced about a year ago that Warner Bros. was developing a Joker origin movie from director/co-writer Todd Phillips that would not be part of the established DC Extended Universe, but would instead offer a unique spin on the comics character in a one-off feature. Phoenix entered talks to take on the role this past February, but this was far from a done deal as the Oscar-nominated actor had previously been in prolonged talks to lead Marvel’s Doctor Strange before ultimately backing out.
But now Phoenix has reportedly finalized his deal to play Joker in this untitled standalone, which Phillips—the filmmaker behind The Hangover trilogy and the crime film War Dogs—will direct from a script he co-wrote with Scott Silver. The film is described as “an exploration of a man disregarded by society [that] is not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale.”
The project’s budget will be in the $55 million range, which is significantly lower than most superhero movies and suggests a more risky take on the comic book adaptation a la 20th Century Fox’s R-rated Deadpool and Logan. It’s unclear if this Joker film will indeed be R-rated, but the film is said to be darker and more experimental in tone and content, likened more to a crime drama than a traditional superhero movie.
Warner Bros. has also not yet announced a release date, but THR says there’s a chance the film could be ready for release as soon as late 2019. It’s possible the studio makes a confirmation at its Comic-Con panel a week from Saturday, but it’s also possible the studio keeps things under wraps for now. Under new leadership, Warner Bros. is reportedly moving away from announcing a slew of superhero release dates far in advance, which some thought crippled the launch of the DCEU with rushed productions.
The studio is also separately developing a Joker standalone film with Jared Leto reprising his role from Suicide Squad, but clearly Phoenix’s movie is going first. There’s no guarantee that Leto film actually happens, and indeed the Oscar-winning actor recently signed on to lead Sony’s Spider-Man spinoff Morbius, so he’s not exactly sitting around waiting for his next DC turn.
When this Joker standalone was initially announced, it was revealed that Martin Scorsese might be onboard as a producer. That’s not happening at this point in time, but The Wolf of Wall Street producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff is producing this film with Richard Baratta serving as an executive producer. Phoenix will next be seen onscreen in Gus Van Sant’s drama Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.