Joker Director Reveals the Real Life Inspiration for Gotham City

In any Batman or Batman-adjacent story, Gotham City is very much its own character. Far more than just a backdrop for the action, the city and its soul is central to any of the characters who reside there and that's true in the case of Todd Phillips' Joker as well. Now, in the special features of the film's digital release Phillips reveals the real-world city that this living, breathing Gotham was based upon and it may not come as much of a surprise that it turns out that it's New York.

"Even though we don't really say when and where the movie takes place, in my mind, it was always New York City, 1981, what did that look like and what did that feel like from my memory of it," Phillips said. "I was only 11 or 12-years-old, but my memory was kind of what you see in the movie. A very run down, broken down city on every level."

As was said above, the idea of Phillips' Gotham inspiration being that very specific time in New York City isn't a surprise. Even before the film hit theaters, Phillips was candid about having taken inspiration from a crop of mostly 1970s-era character studies, including the film Taxi Driver and others when putting together Joker.

“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.”

In the special features, Phillips went a bit further and explained though that just because it is based on a New York circa 1981 and looks like New York circa 1981, it isn't necessarily set in that time and place.


"We purposely set the movie in the past to kind of remove it from anything else anybody knows," he said. "And it's not even really set in the past. It's sort of set in an alternate universe in a way."

Joker is now available on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray.