Director Todd Phillip’s Joker has recently become the first R rated film to gross one billion dollars at the worldwide box office, making it the most profitable comic book film of all time so far. Joker has made over fifteen times what it cost to make.
Joker has been the subject of much controversy and has generated many discussions on various elements of the film – from the choice of music used to the effect that it might have on audiences. Joker has also generated mixed reviews from critics and audiences, with as many people calling it derivative as calling it a masterpiece.
But for the many that did enjoy Joker, there are a number of other films that would certainly be worth their time. Whether that is because of the feelings they evoke, the issues they raise or the performances within them – the following films are highly recommended for those who rate Joker as one of the best films of the year.
1. The King of Comedy (1982)
Mediocre aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin practises his act in the basement of his mother’s home to cardboard cut-outs of his favourite celebrities and believes that his chance at stardom lies in an appearance on the evening talk show hosted by Jerry Langford. When Rupert helps Jerry escape an amorous fan, he takes Jerry’s brush off as the promise of an audition and effectively begins to stalk Jerry. Continually rebuffed by Jerry, Rupert hatches a plan to kidnap Jerry, only offering his release in exchange for a guest spot on his show.
Martin Scorsese was originally supposed to be a producer on Joker but was unable to commit due to commitments on The Irishman. But director Phillips has made it clear that Scorsese is a major influence and inspiration behind Joker – if not the main influence.
The King of Comedy was one Scorsese film that inspired Phillips and to make the connection clear between the two, Phillips cast Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin which is a nod to the Jerry Lewis role from The King of Comedy. The reversal of roles makes for an interesting watch for those who are fans of The King of Comedy and the similarities between Pupkin and Arthur Fleck are an interesting parallel to the obsession for many to be on television and the fame that comes with it.
Trivia: In one scene Jerry Langford walks down the street and is stopped by a woman on the phone. when he refuses to talk to the person on the other end, the woman tells him “I hope you get cancer.” This incident actually occurred in real life and Jerry Lewis directed that segment himself.
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
The second film in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Dark Knight returns to Gotham City once again. Batman has been keeping crime rates low with the help of allies Lieutenant Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent. This newfound peace is threatened when a young criminal mastermind, known as the Joker, brings chaos to Gotham City and sends Batman down a dangerous path that will test him to the limit.
When it comes to the iconic character of the Joker, a much-discussed topic with film fans is who did it better – which actor has best embodied Batman’s arch nemesis? Some may say Jack Nicholson did it best, some may even say Jared Leto is their favourite (don’t scoff, they might). What cannot be denied however, is that Heath Ledger is someone who is undoubtedly at the top of a lot of people’s lists as the actor that has best embodied the villainy of the Joker.
Even winning a posthumous Academy Award, Ledger’s performance is incredible and one of the best performances of all time. Joaquin Phoenix has been tipped to score his own Academy Award nomination for his performance in Joker and so if you enjoyed his performance then watching The Dark Knight is a must to see the differences and compare the amazing performances by both actors. It is also interesting to see the comparison between the different takes that each actor has on the character and the different physicality’s they bring to the role.
Trivia: Heath Ledger directed both of the videos that the Joker sends to GCN. The first video was done under Christopher Nolan’s supervision, but seeing how well Ledger did with the sequence, Nolan completely trusted Ledger to do whatever he wanted with the second.
3. Taxi Driver (1976)
Ex-marine and insomniac Travis Bickle works nights, driving his taxi through a rundown New York City. Increasingly paranoid and unable to connect with anyone, chronically alone Travis decides to clean the city of its corruption.
As mentioned already, Scorsese was the main influence for the filmmakers behind Joker. There are several homages to Taxi Driver in Joker, including one scene where Fleck pulls out a gun and talks to an invisible guest echoing Travis Bickle pointing his gun at a would-be opponent in the mirror.
Both films have also been the subject of controversy. Many feared that Joker would inspire acts of crime and sadly Taxi Driver did actually inspire a terrible crime – the shooting of President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley Jr. Hinckley Jr. became obsessed with Jodie Foster after seeing her in the film and committed the act as a tribute to her.
Trivia: Between the time of signing a contract to do Taxi Driver for thirty-five thousand dollars and when it began filming, Robert De Niro won an Academy Award for his role in The Godfather Part II. The producers were worried that De Niro would ask for a large pay rise, but De Niro said he would honour his original deal.
4. The Man Who Laughs (1928)
Adapted from the novel by Victor Hugo, The Man Who Laughs follows the story of Gwynplaine. Gwynplaine is the son of an enemy of the villainous King. When the King kills Gwynplaine’s father, he also orders that Gwynplaine’s face be carved into a permanent, hideous smile.
This film is included for one main reason – it is the film that Joker’s director Todd Phillips says he and co-writer Scott Silver drew most from and were highly inspired by. Phillip’s said of The Man Who Laughs,
“I think you have to start with The Man Who Laughs, which is a silent film that really was a huge inspiration for us and oddly was a huge inspiration for the original creators of Joker, which we didn’t even know, believe it or not, as silly as that sounds. At the time, we were like let’s look at that.”
With such important links to the origin of the character of the Joker and now Joker, The Man Who Laughs is an essential film for DC and film fans to seek out.
Trivia: Part of the reason that the studio decided to make this film was because the works of Victor Hugo were royalty free outside of France.
5. Christine (2016)
Aspiring newswoman and reporter Christine, who has a keen interest in social justice, believes she is destined for greater things and relentlessly pursues an on-air position in front of a larger market. But being a career woman in the seventies comes with many challenges and soon Christine finds herself in a spiral of self-doubt following competition for a promotion and a tumultuous home life.
Like Arthur Fleck in Joker, titular character Christine is a character who is consistently ignored, made fun of and dismissed. And again, as in Joker, this film shows the devastating effects of what can happen when someone spirals into depression because of it. Christine also delves into the media’s obsession with portraying people in a certain way and with its need to vilify people, culminating in a shocking finale not unlike one of the scenes from Joker.
Trivia: The film’s yellowish tinge and muted colouration was a trend in the seventies and the filmmakers wanted to emulate this look as Christine is set in the seventies. This look used to occur naturally due to the type of film used but is now created digitally.