On Oct. 7, Joker director Todd Phillips headed into Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich’s office, buoyed by the film’s $96.2 million opening-weekend haul. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter he proposed an outsized idea — the rights to develop a portfolio of DC characters’ origin stories.
Emmerich balked. After all, Warner Bros. is very protective of the DC canon. And all other DC deals have been for one film, and one film only. But Phillips did emerge from the meeting with the rights to at least one other DC story, sources say. And now that Joker has crossed the $1 billion mark, a sequel is on the way. As the movie keeps raking in money overseas, Phillips is in talks to reprise his role as director for a second Joker outing (he and Scott Silver, who penned the gritty Joker screenplay, will write the follow-up), THR has learned.
Warners has sequel options in place for Joker star Joaquin Phoenix, who has emerged as a strong contender in the Oscar best actor race. The studio and Phillips’ reps at CAA declined to comment.
Joker marks the fourth DC title to cross $1 billion, following in the footsteps of 2018’s Aquaman ($1.15 billion), 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises ($1.08 billion) and 2008’s The Dark Knight ($1 billion). But its $60 million budget is far less than those previous films, so it is almost assured of generating profits of more than $500 million (Warners has a 50 percent stake, while Village Roadshow and Bron Studios each have 25 percent).
The unexpected bounty also is generating a huge payday for Phillips, 48. Sources say the director will earn close to $100 million when the dust has settled (he deferred his upfront salary in exchange for a bigger slice of the adjusted gross). In fact, the deal is similar to one he struck with Warners before the first Hangover movie, which went on to earn a surprise $467.5 million worldwide in 2009 off a $35 million budget (the trilogy took in $1.42 billion).
With Joker, Phillips already toyed with the idea of Bruce Wayne’s origins (a letter written by the mother of Arthur Fleck, aka Joker, implies that the two are half-brothers. But Penny Fleck might not have been telling the truth, given the Fleck family propensity to imagine things that haven’t taken place).
Still, he won’t be exploring Batman’s backstory. That task is already in the hands of writer-director Matt Reeves, whose The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson, is coming to theaters June 25, 2021. Ditto Wonder Woman, whose adolescence on the hidden island of Themyscira was laid out by screenwriter Allan Heinberg in Patty Jenkins’ 2017 film that grossed $821 million. (The sequel starring Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman 1984, is due out June 5, 2020.)
As for a DC villain origin story that could be mined next, Phillips would be well suited for either Darkseid, a tyrannical ruler who is worshipped by some as the god of evil, or Metropolis’ power-mad one-percenter, Lex Luthor.
A version of story first appeared in the Nov. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.