‘Joker’: Could Its Success Kick Off a Series of DC Villain Origin Films?

No one saw the monumental success of Joker coming. Comic book movies, of course, are everywhere these days. But few are as dark and disturbing as this one. Miraculously, Joker — made for a reported $55 million — is well on its way to being the highest-grossing R-rated film in history.

That profit margin likely turned some heads at the studio level. Joker may not be the first successful R-rated film based on comics. Yet, it is one of the only ones to empathize with an infamous supervillain. Could Joker be the pioneer that starts a new trend in comic book films?

Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix
Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix | ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

What kind of impact will ‘Joker’ make?

Joker is just about as bleak and realistic as a film inspired by the larger-than-life world of superheroes could possibly be. Despite its connection to the Batman mythos, Todd Phillips’ film lacks essentially any optimism amid the chaos. Accordingly, the film is the first to ask mainstream audiences to completely surrender to the Joker’s anarchic nature.

Moreover, Joaquin Phoenix’s performance shows little of the unhinged glee that ultimately becomes the character’s trademark. Instead, Joker hones in on his loneliness, struggles with mental illness, and overall misery. There’s essentially no fun to be had in the film.

Whether this works for audiences is another question. Clearly, enough moviegoers were interested in seeing the Joker’s origin story to make a sequel increasingly likely. Beyond a direct follow-up though, we’re betting that Warner Bros. and DC Films are thinking bigger. Much bigger.

‘Joker’ could inspire a comic book movie revolution

Much like Arthur Fleck inadvertently sparks a turning point for Gotham City, so too may Joker have a lasting effect on how we think about comic book movies. The film’s bold creative choices take a more solemn look at a character audiences thought they knew all too well. But even more than presenting a tale from such a dark perspective, it subverts the industry-wide trend toward shared universes.

Over the last decade, Marvel Studios has led the charge in forming a single continuity wherein all its heroes can unite against a single threat. DC Films has mostly in vain attempted to rashly follow this same trajectory. In fact, the disappointment of Justice League likely inspired the company to take a different approach.

Rather than bring Jared Leto’s Joker back for a Suicide Squad spinoff, DC decided to set aside its DC Extended Universe for something different. Certainly, Marvel wasn’t about to try its hand at a truly standalone villain film, let alone one as dark as Joker. The Thanos-centric Avengers: Infinity War is probably about as dark as the Disney-owned franchise would dare go.

While Hollywood tends to always want to think bigger, DC Films tested the opposite approach. Tightening the focus to a single villainous character allowed Warner Bros. to gamble a relatively small sum in the process. Now that Joker proved there is a market for such projects, brace yourself for what might come next.

What’s currently in the works

If Warner Bros. is hungry to keep the Joker train rolling, the company couldn’t be in a better position to do so. Even if Joker 2 does happen, it might not be for a while. But that doesn’t mean fans have to wait until then for more DC villain films.

Dwayne Johnson has long been attached to star in a standalone film as DC villain-turned-antihero Black Adam. Per his tweet above, it sounds like that is finally about to happen. Given Joker, we wouldn’t be surprised if Black Adam bears no direct connection to the larger DCEU.

Then, of course, there’s talk that DC is quietly developing a film focusing on Lex Luthor. After Joker, Superman’s arch-nemesis is probably the second most ubiquitous DC baddie. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice star Jesse Eisenberg may want to come back. Yet, Warner Bros. will more likely turn to a new actor and a more traditional portrayal of the character.

A whole DC Universe of possibilities

Beyond those projects, the entire DC Universe beckons. Depending how dark and grounded Warner Bros. wants to go, the studio could consider films focusing on Sinestro, Reverse-Flash, or Brainiac. But these would lean into the cosmic side of things. In the meantime, DC could even pursue a series of films centered on other Batman villains.

Two-Face, Catwoman, and the Riddler could all easily be given the Joker treatment. Their stories don’t rely on supernatural forces, and like the Joker, these characters are well-known enough to leverage that for a boost in ticket sales. While the DCEU is still figuring itself out, Warner Bros. could be planting the seeds for an entirely new franchise focusing on DC supervillains.

We’ll see if they actually go for it soon enough, as Joker continues its meteoric rise in the record books.