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Joaquin Phoenix in Joker

For all the monumental success Joker has had, it seems that its creators had no idea it would be a hit. In fact, the film’s director had a serious fear about the film’s ability to connect with audiences. And now he’s able to reflect on why that fear seems so laughable now.

Todd Phillips has been clear about the reasons he made Joker. He meant for the film to be a commentary on the consequences of living in a world without compassion. While those themes are definitely relevant, they’re not exactly what you can usually expect to find in a comic book film.

And Joker’s director was well aware of that. In a conversation with Variety, he discussed the mindset he had as they got ready to film the movie. He made it clear that while he was ready to shake up the comic book genre, he was also aware that he was treading a thin line when it came to fans:

Comic-book movies are humongous around the world, and quite frankly most of them are bigger than Joker, so our biggest fear was coming off as boring to that crowd that is used to some pretty spectacular action. But it felt like they’ve become such a big thing that we could use that space and do something a little bit different in it. We wanted to create something meaningful, that really stayed with you after you left the theater. There’s so much work involved. No movie is easy. So you want something that really lasts.

While Joker doesn’t feature any complicated gadgets or a massive fight for humanity’s survival, there’s definitely plenty of tension and violence. Still, Todd Phillips and his creative team were right to be wary of the change in tone. Though there have been plenty of “dark” comic book films, there has never been one that addressed isolation and mental illness quite as directly as Joker. Despite being aware of how easily their approach could backfire, though, Todd Phillips says they dove into the challenge head on:

One of the mandates we had on this movie was when in doubt, let’s just be bold. Let’s make a bold choice here, let’s do the more-outside-the-box thing. And it just felt like people were ready for something different.

That’s a bit of an understatement. Though Joker has been one of the most divisive films in recent memory, that hasn’t kept moviegoers away. To date, it’s the highest grossing R-rated film of all time, having made more than $1 billion at the box office. Though it’s hard to say how many of those viewers are die-hard comic book fans, it’s clear that the movie’s impact can be felt well beyond the genre.

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