Will Warner Bros. Confuse Fans With Two Joker Stories — and Its New DC Banner?

Jared Leto Joker
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Fans of DC Comics aren’t in a laughing mood about Warner Bros.’ plans to develop two new films based on the Joker.

Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the executive producers of NBC hit “This Is Us,” are in advanced talks to produce an untitled “Suicide Squad” spinoff based on Batman supervillains the Joker and Harley Quinn, played by Jared Leto and Margot Robbie. Then there’s a solo movie in development, possibly directed by “The Hangover’s” Todd Phillips, that dives into the Joker’s backstory, except Leto won’t play him here.

Potentially even more confusing: These Jokers won’t have anything to do with each other. That means two actors will be putting their own spins on Batman’s archnemesis. Educating audiences could prove tricky.

After all, the approach is radically different from how Marvel has comprehensively planned its cinematic universe under studio president Kevin Feige. Marvel films feature a consistent “house style,” making it difficult for directors to leave their unique imprint on a movie. Director Edgar Wright dropped out of helming Marvel’s “Ant-Man” over creative differences.

Phillips’ planned Joker film would be the first under a new, untitled DC banner that won’t be constrained by the continuity that holds together DC’s extended universe, featuring Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and other characters. The banner is intended to give the studio the chance to expand the canon with unusual story angles, according to those with knowledge. A spokesman for Warner’s declined to comment for this story.

DC’s approach appears to be more in line with Warner’s reputation as an auteur-driven studio that has spawned distinctive superhero adaptations like Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight.” As the studio has labored to distinguish itself from Marvel, it has been actively entertaining pitches from directors around town. The likes of James Wan and Robert Zemeckis have made the trek to Burbank to sell the studio on their vision for the spandex set. Or take the case of Joss Whedon. The “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator is now developing a “Batgirl” movie for DC; it’s one that the studio hadn’t planned on doing until Whedon confessed to his love of Barbara Gordon and her masked alter ego.

Whedon’s film, however, isn’t part of the new DC banner, which is expected to create one-off films set outside the larger-budget tentpoles of DC’s current cinematic universe.

Some DC fans are intrigued, but the new banner has also inspired some negative reactions, in part because DC’s critical and commercial film hits have been uneven. “Wonder Woman” became a cultural milestone this summer, topping $800 million worldwide and bringing the studio a much-needed smash that critics and audiences alike embraced. Meanwhile “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” grossed $873 million and $746 million, respectively, but suffered from scathing reviews. DC will try to build on the success of “Wonder Woman” with next fall’s “Justice League.”

“‘Wonder Woman’ catapulted the brand,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore. “Why not change the rules a little bit in an effort not only to create their own identity but to have even greater success in the marketplace?”

While Marvel has arguably set the gold standard, there’s a case to be made in going your own way rather than imitating the competition. By granting directors more control, DC is signaling that it’s less focused on creating an all-encompassing universe where films have to fit together like puzzle pieces and more concerned with keeping the genre fresh for audiences.

“‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Guardians’ all really confirm that it’s not just about putting something out,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “It’s more about taking a fresh approach.”

Directors may find themselves on a tighter leash if DC’s bets don’t play off. As Slashfilm.com’s Peter Sciretta notes, pleasing die-hard fans is great, but blockbusters are built by reaching the broadest possible audience. “Great performances, complicated writing — that’s what audiences want,” he said. “It’s maybe not what fanboys want, but I think that when we see more auteurs doing genre films at that level, we’re going to see bigger box office numbers.”

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  1. “‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Guardians’ all really confirm that it’s not just about putting something out,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “It’s more about taking a fresh approach.”

    So the WBs idea of a fresh approach is more Batman related movies & more Joker ? How is this fresh ?

  2. Timely Comment says:

    It’s certainly WARNER BROS optimally moneytising their Joker DC brand in these DC Films Universe entries…

    It’s cinematically sad to have Martin Scorcese lend his name to a superhero™ movie that’ll draft on his cinematic accomplishments of MEAN STREETS/THE GODFATHER 1 & 2/GOODFELLAS, and lend a “Joker” movie some of his Gangster gravitas. I suppose after his later RC/personal films… a comicbook movie is next in his cinematic dotage? (I hold film hope in that Scorsese’s just Producing the Joker film.)

    So the two movies may/may not be in the DC Extended Universe, may have/ not have Jared Leto portraying the Clown Prince of Crime, may feature/not feature Batman in it?

    The promise of lucrative returns on the WB investment on the hundred(s) of millions to make and promote these Joker movies effectuated the decision to above-boardroom their existence— it’s corporate DCFU reality.

    • Maaz Kalim says:

      I guess your acronym “DCFU[sic]” stands for: Detective Comics® F@#k Up?.

      • Timely Comment says:

        Uh, um…

        “DCFU” stands for the DC FILMS Universe. It’s the live-action, cinematic version of MARVEL’s “MCU”… and distinguishes it from the DC CW Universe tv shows, the DC Comics Universe being printed monthly (or more), and the DC Animated Universe of direct-to-dvd/bluray movies— ALL of which are part of what corporate suits at WARNER BROS call the “DC Extended Universe” to link the comicbook IPs together.

        Just calling the DCFU to uh, extend what THEY called “DC Films” headed by Geoff Johns— it’s THEIR terminology I’m just using marvelously.

        And DC comicbooks are the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful comments comics I’ve ever read in my life!

        (Funny you [sic] THIS— and NOT the deliberate Scorsese misspelling, nor the GODFATHER 1,2 misattribution. Would’ve expected more from VARIETY readers, but that’s the DC fanboy focus, I guess…)

      • Dave C says:

        His entire comment is a [sic]

  3. JR says:

    Fantastic idea. Opens the door to more creativity. Who says they all have to be connected anyway? Just because that’s what Marvel did? Allowing stand-alones offers freedom that can attract top directors without their work having to be approved by legendary filmmaker Geoff John’s. Perhaps more mature stories, since DC is not under the Disney “family-friendly thumb. Leave that for the “Johns-verse.”

    • Maaz Kalim says:

      While I mostly manage to keep my ‘prejudices’ at bay, but in your case: I assume you must be strictly talking about contemporary slate of various films under the Disney®’s (Touchstone® dead, for sure?) “☂️.” Because I’m sick-and-tired of this “Disney®’s the [most-active] “family-friendly”” c@#p. The only fact that isn’t contaminated is that Disney® is a rapacious company [like any other corporate-entity], sometimes more than the rest. So why does it matter if their objective is achieved through the “family-friendly” farce?*

  4. Jimmy says:

    Will Marvel movies continue to get worse? After boring Civil War and the downright painful to watch Guardians 2, what’s next?

    • Timely Comment says:

      ^^ DC fanboy much?

      Just more examples of a ‘Determined Commentator’ and ‘Dedicated Contrarian’ writing Internet remarks to DISTRACT from the topic being discussed…

      vv Aaaand they sure draw in the bleating echo chamber, too! (DC Millennial nu-comicbook fan?)

    • Dave C says:

      After Infinity War and Avengers 4, I’m finished with MCU movies. They’re boring.

    • So what says:

      Guardians 2 is an all around black eye, there’s no doubt there. But Civil War? The issue is, we just get older and it doesn’t do the trick anymore. Marvel’s not getting any worse, I assure you. It’s us.

      • Dude, im 19 and even I can say that Marvel movies are getting old, Doctor Strange was an Iron Man rip-off, and Civil War which is way overrated btw was only made because MCU wanted to challenge DC. Truth is they’ve gotten too comfortable with their same style of movies and are afraid to take risks. I mean, DC released Wonder Woman to massive acclaim but even before that its greenlight three other female projects, Marvel still only has Captain Marvel despite the fact they are much more establish and in a better position to do so. Marvel’s getting lame, and its starting to show.

  5. Dalton Coon says:

    I honestly don’t understand why Dc fans are getting pissed about the non DCEU movies. DC’s comics have a multiverse (alternate earths and elseworlds stories) so why is this a big deal. If they were real fans they’d be siked were getting some elseworlds stories

    • tony says:

      ‘Doctor Strange was an Iron Man rip-off’

      blame stan lee for using the same kind of origin story for both characters.

      and ‘civil war’ was not about challenging d c.
      they were always going to use mark millar’s novel and it fitted how the marvel movie arcs were progressing with tony and steve at odds.

    • DC can not get the DCEU under control what makes you think they can get an Elseworlds Universe under control ?

  6. So what says:

    Yes. Or perhaps, no. The origin efforts from the Philips project should tie in / be heavily featured in flashback in The Batman solo movie as Affleck’s Bruce Wayne uncovers who he is, unraveling some mystery cliffhangers from the origin film. So origin film, Suicide Squad sequel, in addition to the spin-off, and also include him in The Batman – makes 4 films with Joker. But is this enough? He could also be featured as a fun wild card in the Justice League film, in a very hush-hush scene, but playing an important role. So there really should be five films with Joker on the horizon. Wonder Woman 2 and Man of Steel 2 could also revolve around Joker in a very organic way, if written properly.

  7. harry georgatos says:

    Martin Scorsese has to direct the JOKER film! If Scorsese can make a JOKER film with the sensibility of GOODFELLAS and THE DEPARTED terrain it will be the hit of the year!

    • $$$ says:

      After the box office dud SILENCE turned out to be Scorsese has a favour to repay, and that is to direct the Hell out of this Joker film and replace an ordinary stock film-maker that Phillips is.

  8. natalie says:

    Editing error in paragraph five – I think what you were trying to write was “The ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ creator is now developing a “Batgirl” movie for DC; it’s one that the studio hadn’t planned on doing until Whedon confessed to his love of having sex with the kind of young actresses who would play Barbara Gordon and her masked alter ego.”

  9. Bill Adams says:

    Comicbook fans are smart enough to know the difference in a one-shot and continuity books. I think movie fans are just as smart if not the same people.

  10. Maaz Kalim says:

    Unless there’s a connection to the source-material, WB® are making a ‘mountainous’ mistake yet again! Nope, definitely not “suicidal,” neither for WB® nor even DC®.*

    *Hint: I detest the term “fan[atic],” given the type of vast majority of people who associate themselves with it.

  11. Dave C says:

    The narrative surrounding Wonder Woman is interesting, considering Suicide Squad could have grossed as much or better than WW if it wasn’t blocked from a China release, making SS just as much of a “cultural milestone.”

    • Jacen says:

      How did China’s blocking have any affect on SS’s smaller domestic gross? (Final domestic SS gross: 325mil; final domestic WW gross: over 410mil.)

  12. Dave C says:

    It’s a nice alternative to the Marvel Studios model where filmmakers have to do things Feige’s way and Feige’s way only. It up to WB to not confuse audiences.

  13. LOL says:

    Pretty soon every film will be superhero-driven … in fact, ditch the pretty soon part.

  14. A so-called “fresh approach” by an auteur filmmaker sounds…fresh. But what does a new idea look like in a highly competitive marketplace where box office relies largely on international sales?

    And this “approach”….

    Theoretically, should we suspect two different actors (re: productions) of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. if this Joker thing makes a billion bucks in box office receipts? Will a “doppelganger” join
    or replace a sequel, prequel, triptych, reboot, remake, spinoff (ripoff) ?

    Is the studio vamping with millions of dollars and no clear plan or marketing strategy? Because without a clear and present fan base, Warner Bros simply has its fingers crossed.

    Or is the model that James Bond fiasco of the early 1980s when Roger Moore (Octopussy) and Sean Connery (Never Say Never Again) simultaneously played the character in two distinct films?

    That was JAMES BOND with a decades-old franchise and two internationally recognized stars.

    Whatever these Whiz-Kids are thinking, think again.

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