Joker Director Todd Phillips Explains His “Aggressive” Pitch for Villain-Focused DC Black Label

Following reports Joker director Todd Phillips approached studio Warner Bros. with a pitch for a new label called “DC Black,” specializing in origins or other stories focused on the villains of DC Comics, Phillips says he did once implore WB to back a new label that would have launched with Joker. Phillips’ idea was “a little aggressive,” he admits in hindsight, but the plan was for the R-rated Joker to be followed by more “down-and-dirty character studies” helmed by other filmmakers, allowing WB to have its mainline DC film universe — home to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and soon Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam — separate from the DC Black universe.

“I went to Warners because I knew that there would be concerns about, how do you separate it from the movies that they were making?” Phillips told Deadline’s Behind The Lens. “I knew they were going to go, ‘We’re going to confuse the audience if you have this Joker out there in these movies, and then you’re doing this whole other thing.’ So my pitch to them was actually to start a label, which was a little aggressive, I’ll admit, in hindsight [laughs].”

In his pitch, Phillips laid out plans for Joker to kick off a new line of filmmaker-friendly projects starring DC Comics villains. WB could then double dip, having the Joaquin Phoenix Joker in one universe and another Joker — played by Suicide Squad star Jared Leto or someone else — remain in the shared DCEU.

“I said, ‘This will be the first movie, and then we’ll get this director to do that, and this director to do this, and we’ll call it DC Black, and Joker will be the first film,’” Phillips said. “In a weird way, it gives you two bites of the apple, of these characters. You can do these kind of down-and-dirty character studies over here, and still do the DC Universe over there. To which they said, ‘Okay, calm down, you’re not starting a label here at Warners, but this is interesting. Go write this and tell us what you’re thinking.’”

Earlier this week, a report from THR claimed Phillips met with Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich about becoming shepherd of DC Black while returning for Joker 2. During an October meeting, the report claimed, Phillips requested but did not receive access to DC’s expansive library of villains.

Deadline disputed that report, saying a deal was not yet in place for Phillips to return as writer-director on a Joker sequel. The outlet further denied Phillips met with Emmerich to pitch a portfolio of DC villain origin stories, calling that claim “flat false.”

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Joker recently became just the fourth DC Comics film to earn more than a billion at the worldwide box office, behind The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and Aquaman.

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