Todd Phillips Thought Warner Bros. Might Cancel Joker Amid Criticism

In the weeks leading up to the release of Joker, Warner Bros.' psychological thriller based loosely on the DC Comics character of the same name, filmmaker Todd Phillips worried that the media narrative surrounding the film could lead Warner Bros. to cancel its release entirely. The issue came up while he was doing a long-form interview with Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore, which touched on the pair's shared history of having previously had one of their films shelved (for Moore, it was Fahrenheit 9/11, which Disney/Miramax refused to release; for Phillips, it was his early documentary Frathouse, which ran into snags with the releases signed by people in it).

Philllips appeared on Moore's new podcast Rumble With Michael Moore, a daily (and usually much shorter) podcast that Moore suggests he will run through the 2020 election cycle. On day six, he brought in Phillips, after having posted to Instagram how much he loved Joker early in the film's run.

"I thought we might have been over on Joker, just where the narrative on Joker started heading in the media," Phillips said. "I started thinking 'Jesus, is this going to be one of those things where Warners -- because it's owned by AT&T and WarnerMedia, it's a much bigger thing than Joker will ever be -- do they just go 'This isn't worth the headache?' There was a minute there."

Moore added that he had similar suspicions in the month leading up to the theatrical release of Joker.

"They started right in, certain media people describing what this film was," Moore said. "And I thought 'No, really? He made Hangover! Come on.' The media just picked it up and all of a sudden the fear levels started rising."

Moore and Phillips claimed that the film was about the polar opposite of what people thought it was, and blamed the media and theater owners for creating an environment of fear around the film. Even after the movie was a success, Phillips said, the crew of the film was still worried about the fallout.

"We had a massive weekend but we were still white-knuckling it because to be honest with you, you start to think that these reports become a self-fulfilling prophecy," Phillips said. He claimed that news vans in New York were there hoping for something to happen and were likely disappointed when the weekend went off without a hitch.

Joker is a grounded, R-rated origin story for Batman's arch-nemesis, the Joker. Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, who descends into madness and emerges as the clown-faced killer known as the Joker. The film also stars Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, and Marc Maron.


The film proved polarizing with critics.'s Brandon Davis calls the film a masterpiece is his 5-star review, writing, "Whether or not Joker is a social commentary on issues such as poverty or mental illness, a new and mysterious take on the best known DC Comics villain, or just another unforgettable piece of cinema which producer Martin Scorsese [was] attached to, you’ll need to see to believe it and, even then, you still might not believe it."

Upcoming DC Films 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, 2022.