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What should the DC movies do with the Joker moving forward? It might seem like a strange question to ask, after all, Todd Phillips’ Joker is still in theaters, and despite all the controversy prior to its release, it has become an unmitigated success. So why worry about what’s next when we can revel in the Clown Prince of Crime’s triumphant moment? Because despite Joker’s success, what’s next for the character on the big screen is anything but clear-cut.
Once upon a time, it seemed like Jared Leto’s iteration of the character was destined to one day face off with Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight in a Batman movie, but a lot has changed since then. There’s a new Batman movie on the way, which will feature Robert Pattinson, not Ben Affleck, as Bruce Wayne. And for Robert Pattinson’s first outing as the Caped Crusader, he will be facing off with The Penguin, Catwoman and The Riddler, not The Joker.
Joker has been a massive success, but it is meant to be separate from the rest of the DC film universe and was intended as a one-off, not the start of a series. And finally, reports of Jared Leto’s feelings about Joker raise serious doubts about whether we will see him return to the character he played not that long ago in Suicide Squad. All these factors make The Joker's big screen future, who will be playing him in that future, and when, something of a mystery.
It’s a mystery befitting the enigmatic villain but there are a few logical directions that Warner Bros. and DC could go, each with their own pros and cons, and each with varying degrees of probability. So let’s dive in and discuss what should the DC movies do with the Joker moving forward.
A Joker Sequel
As mentioned earlier, by all accounts, Joker was intended as a one-off. There were no plans for a sequel and it wasn’t intended to be a backdoor pilot for a series of Joker films. Todd Phillips even set the film in the '80s to separate it from everything else at DC. Heck, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. gave the green light to the film with a small budget that some people at the studio hoped would dissuade Todd Phillips from making it altogether. So if you would have asked a few months ago, a Joker sequel might have been the least likely option for the character moving forward.
However, there is no more motivating factor in Hollywood than money, and Joker has made a lot of it. Joker had a record-breaking opening weekend, has experienced sub-50% week over week drops, and to date has made over $741.3 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. It is on its way to becoming the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time and could very well join the billion dollar club. It’s a massive home run for DC, so that's a lot of incentive to do a sequel.
We know that Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix have tossed around ideas for a sequel, but the director made it clear that that is not his plan and the movie is intended as a one-off. Still, surely a taste of that money can be thrown Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips’ way to bring them back for Joker 2. Although there are some real questions about where the story would go for a sequel, the first film was great, so it’s hard not to want to see what they could come up with for another movie.
Arthur Fleck didn’t fully transform into Joker until towards the end of the movie, so seeing a whole film with this agent of chaos would be interesting. Given the first film’s success, we can’t rule it out. Maybe Warners could even take a cue from CinemaBlend’s own Mike Reyes, who proposed that Joker be the first of a series of anthology films centered around the character.
A Jared Leto Return
Now we come to perhaps the least likely and least asked for path for Joker’s future on the big screen. Oscar winner Jared Leto played the Clown Prince of Crime just once in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Jared Leto had the unenviable task of being the first onscreen Joker since Heath Ledger’s iconic portrayal, and while there is a question of how much of Leto’s performance was left on the cutting room floor, there is no question that his take on the Clown Prince of Crime was largely rejected by the fanbase.
Still, there’s a case to be made that Jared Leto got an unfair shake and deserves another shot at the character. But like many fans, Jared Leto may also have no interest in seeing himself don the face paint again. Beyond his feelings about his trimmed-down role in Suicide Squad, in the wake of Joker’s success, a lot of reports about Jared Leto’s feelings about the solo film have come out, and they paint the picture of a Clown Prince scorned.
Jared Leto allegedly felt alienated and upset about the Joaquin Phoenix film and reportedly even tried to stop it from getting made. Even if only half of the reports concerning Leto’s feelings about Joker are true, it seems unlikely he will be returning. And the DCEU, or what’s left of it, has seemingly moved on without him given his absence in movies he would naturally fit in. It doesn’t seem as though he will be a part of James Gunn’s Suicide Squad, and in Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn, like in the DC Comics universe, has apparently kicked him to the curb.
Nevertheless, Jared Leto has said, perhaps diplomatically, that he’d definitely play Joker again. And it would be somewhat strange for him to never show up again, especially with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn continuing on. So there could be a curiosity factor there and perhaps with a different movie and a different script, he could change perceptions of his portrayal. But with the actor becoming a part of Sony’s Spider-Verse in next year’s Morbius, the smart money is on his time as Joker being at an end.
A New Joker In The Batman 2
The Batman will feature the villains Catwoman, The Penguin and The Riddler (at the very least), but that’s just the first movie. Batman is the most popular DC character and Warner Bros. is obviously intending The Batman to be the start of a franchise. Director Matt Reeves has said that he has ideas for a trilogy, so it is entirely possible that he could incorporate The Joker into a sequel film. But what Joker? We have no idea how tied in The Batman will be with the rest of the DCEU, if at all, but if Joker were to show up in a sequel film, unless Jared Leto surprisingly comes back, the Clown Prince of Crime would likely be played by a new actor.
Although our own Mike Reyes has argued that Joker could act as a prequel to The Batman, his theory would have the Joker being a mantle that a new person and actor would take up in a future Batman movie. And again, Joker and The Batman won't be crossing over. So overall, it seems likely that if The Joker shows up opposite Robert Pattinson’s Batman, someone new will be behind the face paint. There are pros and cons to Joker showing up with a new actor playing him in The Batman 2.
On the one hand, it would be a shame to never see Robert Pattinson’s iteration face off with Batman’s greatest nemesis. The Joker is popular for a reason, and who wouldn’t want to see a new Joker tormenting the new Batman. And as we’ve seen, allowing different actors to take on the character can lead to spectacular results. However, having a new actor take on the Joker so soon after Joaquin Phoenix might result in the portrayal being overshadowed, even if it turns out great.
While this may have more to do with Jared Leto’s performance itself, it was over a decade after Heath Ledger’s portrayal in The Dark Knight before audiences truly embraced another big screen Joker. If we presume The Batman 2 comes out two to three years after the first movie, that would put it at 2023-2024, only five years or so after Joker. That might be too soon, but given the Joker’s popularity, it’s not unreasonable to think he could show up in Matt Reeves’ Gotham City sooner rather than later.
Lastly, Warner Bros. could opt to simply wait and not do anything else with The Joker for the time being. Joker isn’t intended to get a sequel and Jared Leto’s Joker seems to be pretty much done, so why rush to put The Joker back up on the big screen? Instead Warner Bros could do nothing, for now. This may be the least likely possibility, but it also might be the most prudent.
As I think about all the possibilities, a Jared Leto return seems least likely while a new Joker in The Batman 2 seems most likely, with a Joker sequel falling somewhere in the middle. As previously stated, one of the problems with bringing Joker in to face Battinson is that it might be too soon. It would also rob other villains a chance in the spotlight to help tell new Batman stories. Batman is famed for his rogues gallery, and there are many villains who we’ve never seen brought to life in a live-action movie. Bringing Joker in for The Batman 2 might put a new twist on the Batman-Joker relationship, but it’s still a relationship we’ve seen before.
There is a lot of uncertainty about DC’s future plans, and recently WB has been having its greatest success by taking things one movie at a time, which is probably smart given how previous ambitious plans have collapsed. While I think we all want to see a new Joker in a Matt Reeves movie, there is no need to rush it. Matt Reeves can always plant seeds and pull the trigger on the Joker later in The Batman 3 or beyond.
With the future of The Joker so strangely unclear, it is perhaps best that Warner Bros. do nothing for now and carefully plan out its next move. This seems pretty improbable though. Warner Bros. has shown that when a character hits, the studio goes all in on them, as was the case with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Joker simply made too much money for DC not to try and figure out a way to put the Clown Prince of Crime back on the screen in some iteration as soon as possible.
There may be no one right answer for what Warner Bros. and the DC movies should do with the Joker next, and it’s entirely possible that it won’t just be one thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if two versions of the character existed on the big screen simultaneously. While The Joker’s future outings are unclear, what is clear is that he has once again asserted himself as one of the most captivating and popular characters in the comic book movie genre, and he isn’t going anywhere.
Joker is now playing. Check out our guide to keep track of all of DC’s upcoming movies.