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Joker: 7 films that have influenced director Todd Phillips' gritty-sounding comic book movie


It’s been something of a strange year for comic-book films thus far. Marvel continues to thrive, with Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel and Spider-Man: Far From Home all scoring highly with audiences and critics, while X-Men: Dark Phoenix sadly sank like a stone.

What we haven’t had is anything new from Warner Bros/DC since last year’s blockbuster Aquaman, but that’s more to do with the "change of direction" at the studio. They’ve now decided to mix their big-budget fare such as Wonder Woman 1984 (arriving next summer) with smaller, more character-driven movies such as Birds of Prey and Joker, the latter of which is now mere months away.

Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix takes on the iconic super-villain role with Todd Phillips (War Dogs, The Hangover) on directing duties. The film is set to be very different from any Joker movie seen before, drawing influences from a wide range of films from across the last few decades and painting a grounded, unsettling portrait of a descent into madness.

So scroll down to discover seven movies that have likely left their mark on the new Joker movie...

Joaquin Phoenix Joker movie poster

=1. Taxi Driver (1976)/The King of Comedy (1983)

Two of the defining Martin Scorsese movies of their respective decades, one can immediately see the parallels with Joker.

Taxi Driver, set in post-Vietnam War era New York City, stars Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle. A veteran who has become alienated and disillusioned from the world, Bickle slips further into a state of insanity by preparing to assassinate a local pimp and a presidential candidate.

And in The King of Comedy, a satirical look at the culture of celebrity and the media, De Niro again stars as Rupert Pupkin, an aspiring stand-up comedian who is desperate for his big break and kidnaps successful comedian Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) to try to kick-start his career.

The comparisons with Joker are clear: Phoenix’s character begins life as failed stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck who is continually beaten down by his hard-scrabble existence. His continued persecution hastens his mental decline and eventual transformation into the dreaded Clown Prince of Crime, and one of those responsible for destroying Fleck’s aspirations is a smarmy chat show host, played by the aforementioned Robert De Niro.

Scorsese was initially set to produce Joker but stepped aside, and his regular collaborator Emma Tillinger Koskoff took over.

3. Falling Down (1992)

Directed by Joel Schumacher (yes, he of Batman & Robin fame), Falling Down is a Los Angeles-set drama starring Michael Douglas as William 'D-Fens' Foster.

He’s a man who is trying to get across town to his daughter’s birthday party but who becomes increasingly hostile to the people he meets along the way. An army vet who feels out of place and time, he has become increasingly disillusioned at changing social, political and economic issues, and his anger and frustrations begin to rise to the surface as he loses control of his sanity.

And while he doesn’t smear clown make-up on his face during his darker moments, the core of Foster’s ever-increasing anger bears parallels with Phoenix’s Joker portrayal, a man who sets out with good intentions but who finds himself out of step with an increasingly cruel world.

4. American Psycho (2000)

Based on the hugely controversial 1991 novel by Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho took nearly a decade to make it to the big-screen with Leonardo DiCaprio initially set to star (interestingly, DiCaprio almost took on the Joker role in the new film).

After much to-ing and fro-ing, Christian Bale was hired in what is arguably his signature role. The film, if you have never seen it, sees Bale play Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street investment banker who, in his darker moments, is a violent serial killer. Or is he?

While Ellis's book is much more graphic in its depiction of the grisly violence that Bateman inflicts, the themes of isolation and alienation are rife and, to some degree, Joker may well take its cue from this, especially given what we have seen in the trailer (Arthur being tormented and abused, for example).

5. One Hour Photo (2002)

Perhaps one of the most underrated performances of recent times comes from the late, great Robin Williams in Mark Romanek’s dark, creepy thriller.

The film depicts the effects of loneliness, isolation and sadness through the story of a shy, socially awkward photo dispenser (Williams) who is consumed by his work aiming for perfection every time, soon becoming obsessed with a local family who frequently use his services. He ultimately steps over the line from a man desperate for human interaction to a stalker whose sickness threatens to spill over.

And this is what happens in Joker, as Arthur Fleck’s dreams and ambitions curdle into villainy and destruction, emphasising the fine line between sanity and madness.

6. The Dark Knight (2008)

Now, this one is perhaps a little bit of a cheat given that this has The Joker in it (Heath Ledger’s iconic, Oscar-winning performance will be a tough act to follow, but if anyone can live up to it, Phoenix can). That said, the influence of Christopher Nolan’s genre-redefining epic is surely felt in Phillips’ movie, inasmuch as it’s exerted a powerful influence over every comic book movie in its wake.

Forget the obvious comparisons between the two actors in the same role – both Joker and The Dark Knight are comic book movies that were constructed outside of the box, movies that freed themselves from genre conventions.

Whereas The Dark Knight is essentially a Heat-style crime movie masquerading as a superhero blockbuster (even Nolan himself admits the influence of Heat director Michael Mann), Joker pitches itself as less a comic book movie and more an unsettling study of mental illness with a classic comic book villain at its centre.

Such ambition is, however, only possible thanks to Nolan’s extraordinarily progressive vision, which made everyone rethink what was possible in the comic book movie realm.

7. You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Joaquin Phoenix has a plethora of exciting and magnetic performances under his belt, from Gladiator to Walk the Line and The Master. But his turn as tormented hitman Joe in Lynne Ramsey’s magnificent You Were Never Really Here may offer the biggest clue as to his Joker portrayal.

The film itself is more akin to the story of Bruce Wayne/Batman, in that Phoenix plays a loner who seeks to rescue those who cannot fend for themselves – however, it's the deeper story of Joe’s relationship with his mother and his violent upbringing at the hands of his father that makes us understand his motivations.

From what we have seen in Joker trailer thus far, Arthur has a similar relationship with his parents, tenderly caring for his invalid mother (American Horror Story’s Frances Conroy) in the apparent absence of a father figure. It's just the repercussions that are different: Joe enacts vengeance for the greater good, Joker less so...

Joker is released on 4th October, so tweet us @Cineworld with the movies that you think have acted as an influence.

Scott J. Davis is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.