At the end of October, Joker became the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time. It beat out the previous highest-grossing R-rated film, Deadpool 2, by over $3 million.
Though the film is bringing in major cash at the box office, the critical response has been less than complimentary and wide-ranging. The movie has been controversial, to say the least, which may be contributing to its financial success. Everyone just has to see what all the fuss is about. The movie boasts an all-star cast and crew including Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role and Hollywood heavy hitters like Robert DeNiro in supporting roles, and Todd Phillips both writing and directing.
But you might not know that Todd Phillips was not always the behind the scenes powerhouse for the Joker project. When the project was first pitched years ago, behind the camera legend Martin Scorsese was attached to the film. To movie buffs familiar with Scorsese’s many derogatory comments about superhero movies, it probably seems odd that he was, at one point, attached to a supervillain movie. And in the end, that’s really why he walked away.
Scorsese’s Disdain For Superhero Movies
Martin Scorsese, a director whose IMDB page is the length of a Steinbeck novella, has been very vocal about his disdain for superhero movies. He even went as far as to write a NY Times opinion piece explaining his position.
Basically, Scorsese doesn’t believe that superhero movies, like the entire Marvel franchise, count as cinema. He compared them to “theme parks” saying that they provide a wonderful amount of amusement, but they’re not real movies. Scorsese has admitted to liking some of the Marvel movies but still insists that they should be viewed as a different category than real cinema. He believes that real cinema is art, and art the Marvel movies are not.
Given these strong opinions against superhero movies and the vehemence with which he defends these positions, it seems odd that Scorsese would ever be interested in the Joker movie. But at one point he was very interested. He even helped develop the project for a few years before it was officially picked up in 2018.
Walking Away From Joker
So, what happened? Why did Scorsese end up backing out of a project he’d once been so interested in? At first, Scorsese gave the very vague reason that he didn’t feel he had time for the project. While this is likely true given the constant demand for his brilliant work, it’s not the entire story.
In a recent interview, Scorsese gave a more detailed explanation as to why he walked away which makes a lot of sense given his strong opinions about the superhero genre. Scorsese explained that he was always more interested in the man that turned into the Joker rather than the supervillain himself. Anyone who’s seen a Scorsese film knows that he loves complicated, dark characters. So, it makes sense that he would be drawn to the story of a man whose life circumstances drove him literally mad.
But Scorsese ultimately decided that he couldn’t turn that man into a comic book character. He wanted to tell the story of the man, not the story of the supervillain. So, he quietly walked away from the movie, leaving it in the incredibly capable hands of Todd Phillips. Scorsese has spoken highly of Phillips and of Phoenix’s performance as the Joker. But, he’s still sticking to his convictions about superhero movies in general.
And though he admits Joker is closer to cinema than the Marvel movies, it’s still not the art he strives to make.
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