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No one involved in Joker could have possibly expected the film to turn out as well as it has. With a worldwide gross of more than $1 billion, the latest DC Comics release has become the most successful R-rated film ever. Moreover, it is now poised to snag a whole bunch of Oscar nominations this awards season.

All that, of course, can be massively attributed to how popular the title character is. Yet, even buoyed by Joaquin Phoenix’s acclaimed performance, the film’s bleak, incessantly downbeat ending is anything but a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. As it turns out, Joker was originally supposed to be even more shocking.

[Spoiler alert: This article contains MAJOR spoilers for Joker. Read at your own risk.]

Joaquin Phoenix at the 'Joker' premiere
Joaquin Phoenix at the ‘Joker’ premiere | Rich Fury/Getty Images

The theatrical ending of ‘Joker’

The Joker we got in theaters culminates with Arthur’s (Phoenix) appearance on Live! with Murray Franklin. After going on a tirade against Murray (Robert De Niro) and society at large, Arthur executes the host on live television. From there, we follow Arthur into the streets of Gotham, where his crime spree has ignited a series of riots.

Propelled by his slaughter of three Wall Street professionals, Arthur’s acolytes are revolting against the city’s upper class. As the riots continue, one unnamed masked figure walks down an alley, killing Thomas and Martha Wayne (Brett Cullen and Carrie Louise Putrello). Meanwhile, Arthur revels in the chaos, drawing a bloody smile across his face.

Joker then cuts to Arthur locked up in Arkham Asylum, bursting into laughter during a therapy session. He explains the doctor wouldn’t get it, and then presumably kills her off-screen. As with much of the film, audiences are left to interpret for themselves how much of what they’ve just seen actually happened.

A world without Batman?

That’s the ending director Todd Phillips settled on. However, on a recent episode of his Fatman Beyond podcast, Kevin Smith shared some inside information. According to Smith’s unnamed but reliable source, Joker featured a much bolder ending, one that likely would have divided fans. Here’s what Smith had to say.

Originally, the ending in the hospital was different. He’s in the hospital and he laughs, chuckles, and he says, “I was just thinkin’ of something funny.” What was supposed to happen was you flashed back to the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne and it was him killing Thomas and Martha Wayne and the boy was screaming and crying and he turned to walk away and he turned back, shrugged, and shot the kid. Credits.

While Joker has always been positioned as separate from other DC films, this is definitely an extreme approach. The death of the Waynes is, ironically, the one ray of hope Joker offers viewers. Indirectly through Arthur’s actions, he’s creating his worst enemy because one day Bruce Wayne will become Batman. But Phillips’ original ending would have even robbed audiences of this, becoming the ultimate Elseworlds story in the process.

The silver lining behind the final cut

In addition to alienating purists who won’t accept such drastic deviation from the source material, Joker‘s theatrical cut dodged another problem. Now that the film has become such a major hit, Warner Bros. is itching to get a sequel off the ground. With the original, more conclusive ending, there’s no potential Batman and little room for growth.

As it stands, we still have no clue when — or officially if — Joker 2 is happening. But we’re willing to bet Phillips and his team are glad they chose to include a modicum of hope at the end. This leaves the door wide open for more of Arthur’s story and, perhaps, an expansion on this pitch-black approach to DC Comics.