Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight is the stuff of legend. Jack Nicholson originally played the comic book character in Tim Burton’s playful Batman (1989), but Ledger’s take on the anarchic villain added a new level of depth.
For years, no actor wanted to play the role for fear they would never measure up to Ledger’s take on the deranged comedian. Enter Jared Leto. The actor played the legendary Batman villain for 2016’s Suicide Squad to mixed reviews, with TIME’s Stephanie Zacharek calling him “so textbook twitchy that he barely comes off as menacing.”
But now, Warner Bros and DC are in the midst of an onscreen superhero crisis. Justice League was the lowest-grossing movie in the DC Entertainment Universe. Ben Affleck dropped out of directing a Batman solo film and has been cagey on whether he will continue to play the caped crusader.
Though Wonder Woman remains DC’s main breadwinner (her sequel is due out in 2019), the studio has greenlit a slew of other movies they hope can buoy the ailing franchise. Several of those movies involve the Joker with two different actors playing the iconic villain: Leto, reprising his Suicide Squad role, and Joaquin Phoenix as a young Joker. Here’s everything you need to know about the many Joker movies.
Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker Origin Movie
Joaquin Phoenix has signed on for a Joker origin story set to be released on Oct. 4, 2019. Todd Phillips (The Hangover movies) will direct the ’80s-set movie and Martin Scorsese will produce. The film is meant to be a standalone entry in the DC universe with no connection to the Leto or Ledger films.
The studio has said the origin story will be “darker” than the Justice League films, though that’s hard to imagine given the grimness of Batman v Superman. The studio has also called the story a “gritty character study” that serves as a “broader cautionary tale.”
The studio has not confirmed whether it will be pulling elements from the Joker’s controversial comic book origin story, The Killing Joke. In that comic, the Joker reveals that he was a failed comedian who cracked up after something terrible happened to him. He then sets out to prove to Batman that “one bad day” can turn any good man evil: He sexually assaults and paralyzes Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) to taunt his nemesis.
In August 2018, Alec Baldwin dropped out of the film just days after Warner Bros. announced his participation. In September, Phillips posted the first look at Phoenix as “Arthur” on his Instagram account.
Phillips also posted the first image of Phoenix as the Joker on Instagram. He later added a picture of co-star Zazie Beetz.
On April 3, DC released its first teaser trailer online for Phoenix’s turn as the Joker. The trailer, set to Nat King Cole’s “Smile,” shows Arthur Fleck wandering the streets of Gotham sporting the signature Joker makeup.
On Aug. 28, a new trailer was released. The trailer depicts Phoenix’s Joker feeling repeatedly victimized by the world, misunderstood by a social worker and by strangers with whom he attempts to have positive interactions, until the dark forces within him gradually begin to take hold. First he dons a clown mask, then graduates to the character’s signature face paint. Watch below:
Suicide Squad 2
Earlier this year, Variety reported that a Suicide Squad sequel will happen, and that Leto will return as the Joker for the movie, along with Margot Robbie and Will Smith. Despite bad reviews, Suicide Squad brought in $745 million at the global box office. Warner Bros. has not yet revealed details about the film, and it does not yet have a release date.
Jared Leto’s Suicide Squad Spinoff
Despite all of the hype around Leto’s portrayal of the Joker in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (At Comic-Con, Will Smith revealed that Leto apparently sent a live rat to Robbie’s trailer), Leto was barely in that film. Ayer has said if he could remake the movie, he would restructure it with Leto’s Joker as the main villain.
Apparently Warner Bros. agrees since they green lit a Joker spinoff of Suicide Squad. The movie would presumably expand on the villainous universe.
A Harley Quinn and the Joker Rom-Com
Yes, seriously. Warner Bros recruited Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who helmed Crazy Stupid Love, to make a “twisted” romance movie starring Harley Quinn and the Joker, played by Suicide Squad actors Robbie and Leto. One insider described it as “When Harry met Sally on benzedrine” to the Hollywood Reporter.
Suicide Squad offered a preview of their backstory: Quinn was treating the Joker and fell for him. She voluntarily dived into acid to prove her love. Twisted indeed. Warner Bros. hasn’t offered any updates on the story since 2017 but presumably it’s still in production.
Birds of Prey
Robbie has been pushing for a Harley Quinn spinoff with an all-female crew ever since Suicide Squad premiered. At first, it seemed Suicide director David Ayer would tackle the project under the name Gotham City Sirens. But Warner Bros. seems to have dropped that project and instead picked up Birds of Prey.
The movie will be written by Bumblebee screenwriter Christina Hodson and helmed by Dead Pigs director Cathy Yan. Batman villains Black Canary, Cassandra Cain, Huntress, and Renee Montoya will be among the women to terrorize Gotham in the film. No word yet on whether Leto will make a cameo as Joker, but given his ties to Harley Quinn throughout the films, anything is possible.