Could Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker Change the Comic Movie Landscape?

The Joaquin Phoenix led Joker movie was just recently announced, but the star has already gone on record about the role and now we know when we’ll actually get to see it. Firstly, according to THR, the deep dive character study will be titled simply Joker and the Gotham villain will get the spotlight next October.

While the title may be somewhat predictable, it speaks to an interesting trend. Batman Begins flew into theaters in 2005 establishing the Nolan standard for superhero films. Iron Man followed three years later launching the lighter, but tightly orchestrated MCU. The Dark Knight starred a revolutionary Heath Ledger as the grimacing criminal, yet the film was still named for the hero. Even Suicide Squad starred a collection of DC adversaries, but they were working on behalf of the good guys. As we’ve seen, superhero films rule the box office and show no signs of slowing down, but could there be a shift on the horizon?

Some thrilling comic villains have emerged, but they rarely persist for more than a single film after suffering a crippling defeat. If they do make it to sequels, they’re partially reformed i.e. Thor’s pestering brother, Loki. Yet now, Thanos holds Avengers franchise in his grip, dangling the fate of every character from his bejeweled fist. The film was still named for the Avengers, but Thanos was inarguably the main attraction and lives to see another sequel. Where we usually wash our hands clean of villains who provide mere petty nuisances, everyone is eager for more Thanos.

The next step in the darkening of the comic universe on screen has begun to emerge alongside the youngest Avenger. Spider-Man villains host a complicated corner of comics where glimmers of light wrestle in the darkness. Films starring and named for Venom and Morbius are both coming, flagging the potential starring role antiheros will take. Both have had redeeming storylines in the comics, but are decidedly more twisted – and toothier – than any hero we’ve seen. Sure, Tom Hardy and Jared Leto both have Hollywood good looks, but their fully fleshed characters are far from leading man material. How their best and worst traits are portrayed could be very telling.

As villains become more thorough and layered, we are being drawn to their darkness. The bad guys may be entering a golden age of stardom, which puts all of their law-abiding counterparts at risk. What is the compelling ending here? Seeing total destruction of a character poisoned by madness, or see them actually prevail? Will comic movies soon be a ritual sacrifice of the greatest heroes ever written? If so, it’s an interesting reflection of the entertainment we crave. Welcome to the modern colosseum.

Joker opens in theaters October 4, 2019.

Featured Image: Actor Joaquin Phoenix attends a screening of the film ‘Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot’ during the Seattle International Film Festival at SIFF Cinema Egyptian on June 10, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Seattle International Film Festival)



Kelle Long

Kelle has written about film and TV for The Credits since 2016. Follow her on Twitter @molaitdc for interviews with really cool film and TV artists and only occasional outbursts about Broadway, tennis, and country music. Please no talking or texting during the movie. Unless it is a musical, then sing along loudly.