Joker Director Todd Phillips on Inspirations Behind His ‘70s-Style Character Study

Joker director Todd Phillips says he was inspired by a crop of mostly 1970s-era character studies that made him want to take a “deep dive” into the fractured mind of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix).

“There’s a ton of specific inspirations we had for this movie. Taxi Driver, obviously, is one of my favorite movies, but it’s not directly that,” Phillips noted during Joker’s press conference at the Venice Film Festival. “I think it’s more a time period of movies.”

Phillips pointed to the Milos Forman-directed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sidney Lumet’s Serpico, also naming multiple gritty city works directed by Martin Scorsese.

“Movies from these great character studies that they don’t do as much nowadays as they did in the late ‘70s, whether it was Cuckoo’s Nest, or Taxi Driver, or Serpico, or Raging Bull, of course, King of Comedy,” Phillips said. “Marty was doing a ton back then. And even things like [1928 silent film] The Man Who Laughs — I mean, we were watching a lot of musicals, Scott [Silver] and I, when we were writing it.”

Phillips, who is best known for helming the blockbuster comedy Hangover trilogy, said later he “never really saw [Joker] as that big of a departure for me, personally.”

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“It’s different tonally than a lot of the films I’ve done before, but ultimately to me, it’s kind of all storytelling, it’s all a beginning, middle and an end,” Phillips said. “But I was definitely influenced by the movies that I grew up on, these great character studies of the ‘70s. And kept thinking, ‘Well, why can’t you do a genre film in the comic book world like that, and really do a deep dive on a character like Joker?’ And if you get a great actor and great people behind it, we could really do something special.”

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy and Robert De Niro, Joker opens October 4.