Joker is now out in theaters, and has managed to earn overwhelming praise from fans and (some) critics. Of course, Joker's main claim to fame is how director Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix strip away many of the comic book conventions to create a deep character study - which just so happens to feature a comic book villain. However, even though Joker may not wear a lot of obvious hats of being a DC Comics movie, there are quite a few DC Comics and/or Batman Easter eggs in the film. Moreover, Phillips packs quite a few non-comic book references into Joker, as well - everything from odes to other films, to references to some truly disturbing real-life figures.
Below you'll find a list of all of the Joker movie Easter eggs and references - let us know in the comments if we missed any you spotted!
It's never been a secret that Alan Moore's The Killing Joke had a big influence on Joker; in reality, Killing Joke comic has influenced just about every onscreen Joker since it was first published in 1988. The most direct references Joker makes to "Killing Joke" are the plotline of having Arthur Fleck be a failing stand-up comedian, as well as the pivotal scene between Arthur and his would-be love interest Sophie (Zazie Beetz), in which a deranged and distraught Arthur informs Sophie that he 'had a really bad day,' after finding out a terrible secret about his origins.
Killing Joke's entire point is that under the right circumstances (i.e. 'One Bad Day'), a downtrodden man could become infected with the madness of the Joker - a point Arthur Fleck thoroughly manages to prove.
There's a lot about Joker's story that is a direct import of Martin Scorsese's 1982 film, The King of Comedy. That film starred Robert De Niro as a struggling comedian named Rupert, who has a mental break and kidnaps his late night talk show host idol, in order to get his big shot at fame; in a nice winking reversal, Joker puts De Niro in the talk show host role (played by Jerry Lewis in King of Comedy). Several scenes of Arthur alone in his apartment (rehearsing a conversation or miming violent acts) are also odes to De Niro's breakout performance in Scorsese's Taxi Driver.
Joker comes with quite a few movie references, used in different ways. Zorro: The Gay Blade is the 1981 movie playing at the theater Thomas, Martha and Bruce Wayne leave before being shot by a Joker acolyte. It's a direct reference to Batman's classic origin, as the Zorro movie later inspires Batman's costume.
Joker also features several posters for other movies released in 1981, which are thematically linked to the film (like Brian De Palma's remake of Blow Out, or Dudley Moore's Arthur). The big turning point in the film features Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" from the 1973 film A Little Night Music, and Joker also features scenes from Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, which tells a similar tragicomic story of a man who breaks down from the crushing grind of living a working class life in an uncaring metropolis.
The same theater where the Wayne family is seeing Zorro is also showing the 1981 movie Excalibur. That was the same film that Zack Snyder used to frame his own version of the Wayne murders, as shown in the opening sequence of Batman v Superman.
Arthur Fleck's climatic appearance on the late night show Live! With Murray Franklin was a direct reference to Frank Miller's famous Batman story, The Dark Knight Returns. In that tale, Joker comes out of a ten-year catatonic state when Batman suddenly comes out of retirement, and gets booked on the David Endocrine late night talk show. Joker's therapist hopes to prove the villain is all cured of his madness - instead, Joker murders Endocrine, the show's previous guest (a female celebrity doctor, just like in the movie), as well as the entire studio audience. Joker simplifies that by just having Arthur kill Murray Franklin live on air.
Joker may be an origin story for Joaquin Phoenix's Joker, but the movie also manages to pay respects to many of the live-action Jokers that came before. Cesar Romero's Joker from the 1960s Batman series inspired the look of Phoenix's full-fledged Joker suit, while the scene of Arthur leaning his head on a cop car window is a touching ode to Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight. Jack Nicholson's Joker from Batman (1989) is referenced in a poster of Murray Franklin that Arthur transforms into a Jack Nicholson-esque Joker face, and the climatic moment where Arthur paints a Joker smile on his own face, using his own blood, is arguably an ode to Romero, Ledger, and Nicholson's Joker face paint designs, all at once.
When Arthur's reign of terror as the "Clown Mask Killer" becomes a new media headline, it inspires a social discourse that eventually has Thomas Wayne make an offhand comment about "All the Clowns" in Gotham's destitute citizenry. That comment becomes inspiration for a wave of rioters and rebels to start acting out, all hidden behind clown masks or face paint. This is a pretty clear ode to the various iterations of Joker's gang of henchman that have existed in Batman lore (comics, shows, movies, games) for decades.
Yes, even LEGO Joker from the LEGO Batman movie gets an obscure shoutout in Joker. A character named Ethan Chase appears on Murray Franklin's show before Joker does - that name is a callback to Todd Phillips' 2010 film Due Date, and the character played by Zach Galifianakis in that film. Galifianakis also happens to be the voice of LEGO Joker.
Arthur Fleck's neighborhood in Gotham City is quickly becoming as famous as the character himself. As it turns out, Arthur's section of Gotham City isn't just 'Anytown, USA,' it is an Easter egg in and of itself. Joker casually drops the neighborhood name as being "Amusement Mile," which is also the name of the old amusement park that Joker uses for his plan to drive Commissioner Gordon insane in "The Killing Joke."
The famous Gotham City asylum makes an appearance in Joker, this time as a state hospital where mentally ill patients are treated. Arkham plays a pivotal role in the film, as it contains the secret of Arthur Fleck's true origins - a discovery that sends the man on a inescapable path towards becoming the Joker.
This movie is all about the Joker, but that doesn't stop some other Batman villains from being referenced. Since this film takes place in the formative days of Gotham's supervillain era, there aren't actual villains that appear - but a news report about "Super Rats" popping up in Gotham's streets is being taken as an ode to the villain Ratcatcher, while some question mark graffiti in the Arkham State Hospital elevator is seen as a reference to Riddler's early days.
One of Joker's most pivotal scenes sees Arthur Fleck travel to Wayne Manor to investigate his possible connection to Thomas Wayne. Upon arriving at Wayne Manor Arthur finds a young Bruce Wayne playing on his play set outside - a set that includes a pole Bruce can slide down to exit the fort. It's a small but nice little head-nod to the famous Batpole that Adam West and Bert Ward routinely used to go from Wayne Manor to the Batcave, in the 1960s Batman series and movie.
Arthur's social worker therapist (Sharon Washington) is named "Debra Kane" which is an ode to Batman creator Bob Kane. Debra appeared in the novel Batman: The Ultimate Evil by Andrew Vachss, where she was also a social worker.
Actor Douglas Hodge plays Batman's caretaker Alfred Pennyworth in Joker - but don't expect to hear his iconic name dropped during the film. When Arthur has a disturbing encounter with a young Bruce Wayne outside Wayne Manor, it's Alfred who shows up to chase away Arthur and protect Bruce. It's also Alfred who first drops the hard news on Arthur that his presumed connection to Thomas Wayne is complete fantasy.
The comedy club where Arthur Fleck tries out his stand-up routine is called "Pogo's," which is one of the show names used by infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Gacy is best remembered for dressing up in a clown persona while committing some of his grisly murders.
The set for Live! with Murray Franklin features a title logo for the show that has a particularly unique font - one taken from the title cards and logo for Batman: The Animated Series.
Some people are mistaking supporting casting (Brian Tyree Henry, Marc Maron) as "cameos," but they are not the same thing. The actual cameos in Joker include director Todd Phillips voicing a comedian heard but not seen at Pogo's Comedy Club before Arthur's set; The Leftovers star Justin Theroux as a guest on Murray Franklin's show before Arthur's appearance; and Mad TV / The Hangover actor Bryan Callen as an aging party guy working at the company that provides Arthur with his clown gigs.
That's it for the Joker Easter Eggs we found - any you would like to add? Let us know in the comments!
Joker is now in theaters. Upcoming DC Movies include Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) on February 7, 2020, Wonder Woman 1984 on June 5, 2020, The Batman on June 25, 2021, The Suicide Squad on August 6, 2021, and Aquaman 2 on December 16, 2020.