Joker director Todd Phillips says his R-rated character study was never meant to compete with Marvel Studios' blockbuster superhero fare.
"I don't know about competition with Marvel and that thing, I've never been in the comic book world," Phillips said during a Venice Film Festival conference Saturday when asked if DC's approach to director-driven cinema could be a "useful tool" in the studio's competition with Marvel. "When we originally conceived this idea, it was very much about this sort of genre, of taking a different approach with it."
Phillips wanted to do something "completely different from the comic book movies that have come before" in his first foray into the diverse genre, treating Joker like a '70s-era character study inspired by such seminal classics as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Taxi Driver.
"I don't know what sort of effect it will have with other filmmakers. I think the comic book movies have been doing really well, and they don't necessarily need a change," Phillips said. "We just thought it could be an exciting approach to this genre. I'm not sure what it means for DC, or Marvel, how they'll change the way they'll do it."
Convincing studio Warner Bros. to sign off on its hard R-rating — given for "strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images" — was one of the biggest challenges in bringing the iconic Batman villain to screen with an authentic look at the mentally disturbed Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix).
"I know it was a hard movie for us to get made and to convince DC and the studio at first, but we kind of just kept pushing because we felt like it could be really special," Phillips said. "And in fairness, the studio really took a bold swing with the movie and let us do exactly what we wanted, so we're very grateful for that."
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy and Robert De Niro, Joker opens October 4.