Todd Phillips' billion dollar comic book movie, Joker, had something of a tumultuous time getting to the big screen, with the director opening up about how one particular studio head simply did not get it.

"When the regime changed on the Warner side, the regime also changed on the DC side. They put a guy in charge at DC, Walter Hamada, who had been running a small horror label at New Line. So he didn't have muscle to stop it, and I'm not saying he would have, but he didn't get it. And because On paper, it's crazy. [He] just stepped into this new job, and 'we just made Shazam! and Wonder Woman. We're doing okay; do we really want to mess with the formula?' And so I really understood his point.

But in some ways, I had enough weight behind me at that point - not overrule it, because they could have easily said no...but we just kept our foot on the gas, and the squeaky wheel gets the grease as you say. We just made a thing of it for a long time. Truth be told, the budget was so small - and I say so small in relation to other comic book films, not small.

We ultimately made the movie for $60 million, but at Warner Bros. or at DC, that's like an independent film to them. So we kept it so under the radar and so small that in some way, it felt like...not a can't-lose, but like, 'okay what could we really lose on this if it's a disaster and nobody wants to see it, if it's boring?' So they let us go and do it."

The sheer financial success of Joker has proven unequivocally that Hamada's lack of understanding could have lost the studio a lot of money, as well as deprived audiences of a phenomenal performance from headline star Joaquin Phoenix, had he been listened to. Thankfully, Phillips had just enough heft to convince them to make his movie, and though it may have divided critics somewhat, audiences have flocked to it.

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A sequel to Joker is reportedly in the works, with rumours abound that Phoenix's Clown Prince of Crime is not actually the same one that goes on to torment Batman. In any case, Joker centers around the iconic arch nemesis in this original, standalone story. Phillips' exploration of Arthur Fleck, who is indelibly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, is a man struggling to find his way in Gotham's fractured society.

A clown-for-hire by day, he aspires to be a stand-up comic at night...but finds the joke always seems to be on him. Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy and cruelty, Arthur makes one bad decision that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events in this gritty character study. The film also stars Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, and Marc Maron. This comes courtesy of Rumble With Michael Moore podcast.

Jon Fuge at Movieweb
Jon Fuge