Joker Director Spent One Year Convincing Warner Bros To Make Film R-Rated

by : Cameron Frew on : 29 Aug 2019 15:19
Joker Director Spent One Year Convincing Warner Bros To Make Film R-RatedWarner Bros

Todd Phillips spent a year convincing Warner Bros executives to let him loose with his R-rated vision for the upcoming Joker movie. 

The film will see Joaquin Phoenix – acclaimed for character-focused work in Inherent Vice, The Master and You Were Never Really Here – take on the mantle of the Crown Prince of Crime.


Phillips’ feature looks to be a dark, twisted odyssey through the origin of the iconic Batman foe – it’s been rated R in the US for ‘strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language, and brief sexual images’.

Check out the latest trailer below: 


Joker is a key component of Warner Bros’ revamped DC Black initiative: they’re ditching the MCU-esque focus on a larger narrative and concentrating on making solid, individual films.


The prospect of R-rated movies has been in frequent conversation ever since the huge success of 2016’s Deadpool – a sweary, cartoonishly violent superhero flick that pulled in $783 million at the box office, making it the second highest-grossing R-rated film of all time (behind Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ).

Check out the first trailer for Joker below:


However, Warner Bros’ own R-rated horror triumph, IT (which made just over $700m), wasn’t even enough to convince the studio to allow Phillips to make the edgy drama he had in mind.


From the script’s completion, Phillips – who directed The Hangover series and War Dogs – has revealed it was a ‘year-long process just to get the new people on board with this vision’.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Phillips said:

There were emails about: ‘You realize we sell Joker pajamas at Target.’

There were a zillion hurdles, and you just sort of had to navigate those one at a time… at the time I would curse them in my head every day. But then I have to put it in perspective and go, ‘They’re pretty bold that they did this.’

While Joker may be R-rated (the UK BBFC rating hasn’t been confirmed, but expect a 15 or higher), it doesn’t channel the same gonzo, fourth-wall breaking energy of Deadpool. 

Joker 2019 2Warner Bros

From the trailers, it’s easy to suss out Phillips’ reference points: for example, there’s major Martin Scorsese nods to Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.

Phillips explained: 

The movies that I grew up loving, these character studies from the 70s, you couldn’t get those movies made in this climate. I said to myself, ‘What if you did a movie in that vein, but made it about [comic book] characters?’


The director eventually won the execs over, and there’s a big reason: the budget. Joker cost $55m to produce – which is roughly a third of the cost to produce DC’s last big release, Aquaman.

Joker 2019 3Cameron Frew

Producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff said that at the end of the day, Phillips got to make the movie he wanted.

As reported by IndieWire, Koskoff explained: 

There were some hiccups trying to get the green light and there were some concerns about some of the content. But once we locked and loaded our budget, they really gave us a tremendous amount of space to do what we needed to do.

The passion Todd has for this movie is palpable, and when he starts talking about it he’s hard to say no to. At the end of the day, he got to make the movie he wanted to make.

Joker 2019Warner Bros

The role has seen many a famous face over the years: Jack Nicholson’s portrayal in Tim Burton’s Batman is chaotically and blackly comic, while Heath Ledger’s Academy Award-winning turn is, for my money, the greatest performance the world has ever seen.

The film is set to kick off its Oscar trail at the Venice Film Festival, with the event’s artistic director Alberto Barbera telling Variety: ‘It’s the most surprising film we’ve got this year… this one’s going straight to the Oscars, even though it’s gritty, dark, violent. It has amazing ambition and scope.’

Put on a happy face: Joker hits cinemas on October 4. 

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Film and TV, Film, Joker, News


Los Angeles Times and 2 others
  1. Los Angeles Times

    In ‘Joker’ the stakes are life and death, and comic book movies may never be the same

  2. IndieWire

    ‘Joker’ Director Spent One Year Convincing Warner Bros. to Say Yes to R-Rated Vision

  3. Variety

    ‘Joker’ Leads Films Primed to Kick Off Oscar Season at Venice