While both Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix have made it clear that their version of the Joker in his new origin movie bears no resemblance to past iterations of the character in films and comics, the movie still contains shout outs to past Jokers. For instance, a reference to Jack Nicholsons's portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime in Tim Burton's Batman movie can be found in the new film. Warning: Heavy Spoilers ahead.
When Arthur Fleck gets the chance to appear on a talk show hosted by his favorite comedian Murray Franklin, he dresses up carefully for the occasion, putting on his iconic Joker outfit for the first time. While sitting in the waiting room at the studio in preparation for his appearance on the show, we see a strange poster behind Joker, of Murray Franklin, played by Robert de Niro, wearing a particularly leery smile while staring straight ahead.
This image bears a striking resemblance to the look of Jack Nicholson as Joker in Tim Burton's movie, and what makes the fact particularly chilling is that it is hung on the wall a few feet away from the present-day Joker as he sits calmly in his chair smoking a cigarette and planning the greatest joke of his life: shooting himself in the head in front of the show's live audience. It is almost as if the spirit of Nicholson's Joker is guiding his actions from that point onwards, as Phoenix's Joker changes his plans at the last minute and shoots Murray instead.
Clearly, Todd Phillips might not have been inspired by past Jokers, but he wanted to acknowledge the contribution of all the other actors who have come before who have played a part in making the role of the supervillain one of the most iconic in cinema history. A similar reference has been inserted into the movie regarding Heath Ledger's Joker. Near the end of the movie, when the police is taking Arthur Fleck AKA Joker away in a police car, he looks outside and sees people rioting in the streets, inspired by his call to bring down Gotham's one percent through violent means.
Seeing the violence and destruction he caused, a blissful smile appears on Arthur's face and he leans into the window of the car to have as good a view of the carnage as possible. This scene is very similar to the moment in The Dark Knight where Ledger's Joker makes his escape from the police station in a police car and pushes his head out of the window in ecstasy at having made his escape while leaving the station in ashes behind him.
Thanks to these little shout-outs, the latest Joker movie feels like it in the tradition of the earlier films, telling the tale of the character before he became Batman's greatest nemesis. It remains to be seen whether this latest incarnation of the Joker will ever be seen in future films, or, like Nicholson and Ledger before him, Phoenix's dalliance with the character will have been a one-off thing. This news originated at Screen Rant.