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There are few characters in film that capture the public’s imagination like The Joker has. Deranged, diabolical, and riddled with anarchistic tendencies, Batman’s greatest foe is a representation of what happens to a person when Gotham City manifests itself in ways that are in stark contrast to the Caped Crusader’s own morally questionable behavior.

As result, the character has attracted Academy Award winners/nominees like Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and Jared Leto who all took the character in different directions. But if there were one unifying trait, it’s that the bulk of their Joker depictions relied on who this person became, not who he was before he decided to paint his face and torment the public.

When a new standalone Joker movie was announced in July of this year, there was renewed interest in the character following a tepid reception to Leto’s “Hot Topic” portrayal in Suicide Squad. This was due in large part to the film being billed as the definitive origin story for the clown prince — supposedly rooted in gritty character studies like Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Optimism further increased when another Academy Award nominee, Joaquin Phoenix, landed the Joker role.

While Heath Ledger’s portrayal remains the gold standard of who this man became, Phoenix hopefully answers the question, “why?”

With a multitude of questions looming, and leaked footage coming fast and furious, here’s everything we know so far about the standalone Joker movie coming in 2019.

The Joker casting: Who is in it?

Joaquin Phoenix’s casting as the iconic Batman villain was met with near universal praise thanks to his acting pedigree which includes three Oscar nominations and two Golden Globe wins for films like The Master, Walk the Line, and Gladiator. While this fits a similar trend as the decision to cast Jared Leto in Suicide Squad, the hope is that Phoenix will elevate the character beyond a make-up clad face, and an overall psychotic disposition.

Since this film will explore the depths of his origins without a superhero as his nemesis, the ancillary characters are of vital importance. In those roles are Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Bill Camp, Frances Conroy, Glenn Fleshler, Douglas Hodge, Marc Maron, Josh Pais, and Shea Whigham.

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The Joker plot: What is it about?

According to the official synopsis, the film will be an exploration of Arthur Fleck, a man disregarded by society, and beyond a gritty character study, it’s also a cautionary tale.

The film is confirmed to be set during the 1980s which adds another dimension to the film that we haven’t seen before and begs the question, “how bad was Gotham City before Batman showed up?”

The Joker director: Who is in charge?

Although his name is most prominently mentioned in the comedy genre — thanks to his work on films like Road Trip, Old School, and The Hangover trilogy — Todd Phillips is helming the dark origin story and serving as co-writer with Scott Silver (8 Mile, The Fighter).

Phillips is said to be inspired by Martin Scorsese’s, The King of Comedy, which told the story of Rupert Pupkin, a man obsessed with fame.

The Joker main character: Who is Arthur Fleck?

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The government name/alias most commonly used in reference to The Joker has been Jack Napier — appearing in Batman: White Knight, Tim Burton’s Batman, and an episode of Batman: The Animated Series.

Arthur Fleck has no roots in comic book lore. Thus, Phillips and co-writer, Scott Silver, can seemingly create an origin story that people can’t predict based on source material. However, there’s the pervasive rumor that Fleck is a failed stand-up comedian who ultimately spirals into psychosis (which follows the comic The Killing Joke).

Who is Zazie Beetz’ character?

Atlanta’s Zazie Beetz figures prominently in the film. As Sophie Dumond, she’s a single mother who sees how the lower classes struggle beneath the wealthy.

The other competing Joker projects

By now, most people are aware that the DC Entertainment Universe is in shambles. Their Justice League film was the lowest-grossing film in the expanded universe, Ben Affleck dropped out of directing the standalone Batman film (and is perhaps done with the character himself), and despite being a huge financial success, Suicide Squad was eviscerated by critics.

Adding to the sense that the characters are being mishandled is the fact that there are several other Joker-utilized films in the works with Jared Leto. In addition to Suicide Squad 2, DC has committed to a standalone film, and a twisted romcom involving Joker and Harley Quinn which one Hollywood insider described as, “When Harry Met Sally on benzedrine.”

The Joker film budget: How much are they spending?

Whether it’s DC or Marvel, anything usually associated with the superhero universe usually means a budget north of $100 million. But in this instance, the studio has allotted Phillips a more modest $55 million. While it’s certainly not an indie budget, it does suggest that the film may rely less on spectacle and CGI in favor of a more grounded character study.

Film veteran Kevin Smith thinks this is a good thing, saying, “I think what they’re doing is smart. This is a cheap movie, it’s $55 million. They’re not spending — $55 [million] for a comic book property? That’s very inexpensive. They’re going Logan model, which is keep it low-budget and make it more adult.”

The Joker release date: When is it out?

Barring any production setbacks or reshoots, the film should be out on October 4, 2019 which is usually reserved for films that studios believe have Oscar potential. According to The Ringer, October and November releases have produced 29 of 48 Big Four Oscar winners since 2005.

The first Joker footage

Besides the official first look at Arthur Fleck on Todd Phillips’ Instagram, footage also emerged of the character getting into an altercation with a clown outside of a place called Amusement Mile.

A look at Joker in makeup

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Camera test (w/ sound). Joker.

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Director Todd Phillips showed The Joker in full-on makeup and set the footage to The Guess Who’s 1969 song “Laughing.”

The Joker subway footage

With production in full swing, additional footage showed a transformed Arthur Fleck in full Joker makeup and garb as he gets off a crowded subway train in a clown mask, only to reveal a similar look underneath. With a rust brown and orange suit, green hair, and circus-style makeup, his character feels like a composite of Jack Nicholson’s and Heath Ledger’s take on the classic villain.

The Joker in full clown garb

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While plot details continue to be sparse, there is a pervasive rumor (as previously mentioned) that the film will be inspired by Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke which portrayed The Joker as a failed stand-up comedian who let one bad day completely transform him.

In his latest Instagram post, Phillips shows Joaquin Phoenix in a complete clown outfit — down to the red nose and comically big shoes. But what does it all mean? Is The Joker in that form, or is it simply a down-on-his-luck comedian who has been forced to demean himself to make end’s meet.

The first Joker trailer

The first official trailer reveals a twisted origin story unlike anything we’ve ever seen before — leading many fans to speculate that Joaquin Phonenix’s version could rival Heath Ledger’s depiction.

Check back for more updates they occur.

Words by Alec Banks
Features Editor

Alec Banks is a Los Angeles-based long-form writer with over a decade of experience covering fashion, music, sports, and culture.