The Joker is the kind of comic book character who never gets old. Everyone from Heath Ledger to Jack Nicholson to Jared Leto has had their own spin on Batman's grinning nemesis, who's almost as old as Batman, having made his comics debut in 1940.
This year, Joaquin Phoenix offers his own version of DC Comics' laughing psychopath in the upcoming Warner Bros. Joker movie. It's out in October, but it's already getting rave reviews from critics and film festival audiences. On Sept. 7, Joker took home the Golden Lion top prize at the Venice Film Festival. That's no surprise since a week earlier, it got an eight-minute standing ovation from festival audience members who watched an early screening.
Early reviews are saying Joker has "a riveting, fully realized and Oscar-worthy performance by Joaquin Phoenix" (Jim Vejvoda, IGN) and "dark, disturbing, brutal and sad, it's about an abused man who doesn't start living until he's dead inside" (Erik Davis, Fandango).
Now playing: Watch this: Joker character coming to life in final trailer 2:24
But initially when the Phoenix was asked to portray the Joker, the Oscar-nominated actor said he hesitated.
"There was a lot of fear; but I always say there's motivating fear and debilitating fear," Phoenix said in the August 2019 issue of Total Film magazine. "Now, when I look back, I don't understand why. There's the fear where you cannot make a step, and there's the kind where it's like, 'OK, what do we do? That's not good enough.' And you're digging deeper and deeper. I love that kind of fear. It guides us, makes us work harder."
Everything we know about the Joker movie
Warner Bros. described the film to the Hollywood Reporter as an "exploration of a man disregarded by society [that] is not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale."
"I wouldn't quite classify this as like any genre," Phoenix said in an interview with ComicBook.com in 2018. "I would not say it's a superhero movie, or a studio movie. Underneath the excitement of these films, and the size of them, there are these incredible characters that are dealing with real-life struggles."
With the film confirmed via Instagram by director Todd Phillips to have an R rating, an adult version of the Clown Prince of Crime will take center stage.
Now playing: Watch this: First Joker trailer has a gritty, dark tone 2:24
Is it based on a comic?
"We didn't follow anything from the comic books, which people are gonna be mad about," writer-director Todd Phillips said in the August 2019 issue of Empire magazine. "We just wrote our own version of where a guy like Joker might come from. That's what was interesting to me. We're not even doing Joker, but the story of becoming Joker. It's about this man."
Phillips also revealed the film's story will be completely original, and won't follow any previously published comic books that feature the Joker.
Is Batman in it?
It doesn't look that way. The movie is not connected to the DC Extended Universe series of movies, so it's a different version of the Joker than appeared in Suicide Squad. Bruce Wayne will appear, along with his trusty butler Alfred, and Wayne's ill-fated father, proposing the movie is set before Bruce Wayne was orphaned and set to become Batman.
This movie is unconnected to the Gotham TV show, which also recounts the younger days of Bruce Wayne. Gotham will have its own, very different version of the Joker appearing in its upcoming final episode.
Who made it?
What we know about the plot
On April 2, Warner Bros. Gave a presentation at industry events CinemaCon 2019 in Las Vegas that included a first look at some footage. Phillips then added a cryptic message about the movie.
"There's been a lot of chatter about what this film is and what it is not," he said. "When the marketing department at Warner asked me the other day to describe the movie, I said 'I can not.' They said at least tell us the genre, and I thought about it for a minute and said, 'It's a tragedy.'"
The first trailer suggests this is an original story for the Joker, whose real name in this version of the story is Arthur. The new video footage shows Arthur in therapy, talking about his mother.
"My mother always tells me to smile," says Arthur in voiceover. "She told me I had a purpose, to bring laughter and joy to the world."
When Arthur is attacked in the street, he decides to fight back. "Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?" Arthur says.
We then see Arthur slowly transforming into the Joker as he tries different clown looks. He goes from a green clown wig to dying his real hair green. Soon he donates to strikes and struts into the world.
"I used to think my life was a tragedy," he says. "But now I realize it's a comedy."
Now playing: Watch this: Joker: Everything we know (so far) 1:52
When will Joker hit theaters?
Joker will be released in Australia on Oct. 3, 2019, and then worldwide on Oct. 4.
Meet the cast
- Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck/Joker
- Marc Maron as Ted Marco
- Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin
- Alec Baldwin
- Shea Whigham
- Zazie Beetz as Sophie Dumond
- Brett Cllen as Thomas Wayne
- Dante Pereira-Olson as Young Bruce Wayne
- Douglas Hodge as Alfred Pennyworth
- Frances Conroy as Penny Fleck
- Glenn Fleshler
- Josh Pais as Hoyt Vaughn
- Bill Camp
The Joker: See all the actors who've played the DC Comics villain 14 Photos
This article was originally published on April 3, 2019, and will be updated as news rolls in.