In 2017, Warner Bros. and DC revealed that they were developing a Joker origin-story movie that would be entirely separate from Jared Leto’s portrayal of the character in 2016’s little-loved Suicide Squad. It appears that approach wasn’t confusing enough, because Variety reports that the studio is now pursuing another standalone Joker film — only this one will star Leto in the title role.
According to the report, the actor will star in and executive produce the film, which is said to be “paving the way” for additional Suicide Squad spin-offs. Warner Bros. had a film focused on Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in development before Suicide Squad even landed in theaters, but the Joker news suggests that the studio’s efforts to turn Squad into its own mini-cinematic universe are solidifying.
The new plan isn’t going to make things any clearer for the average moviegoer. Originally, DC and Warner Bros. attempted to mimic the strategy Marvel Studios has used building its cinematic universe, by introducing characters in individual films, then building to a big crossover story. But the dark, dour vision of films like Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice failed to ignite moviegoers’ interest, and when Justice League finally arrived — with Joss Whedon taking over as director after Zack Snyder was reportedly fired — it was considered a disappointment. Like so many DC films, it made significant money — more than $650 million in worldwide theatrical release — but still lagged significantly behind Marvel, which made more than $1.5 billion in worldwide theatrical on Whedon’s 2012 film The Avengers alone.
The big exception to the “DC disappointments” rule was Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, which made nearly as much as Batman v. Superman with far less promotion, a smaller release, and a budget that was $100 million lower. Wonder Woman was a critical hit and a fan favorite, and after its release, it appeared that DC was planning to lean away from its dark, interconnected cinematic universe altogether. Under that strategy, newer films might share continuity, but not be so slavishly linked narratively. Leto and Robbie’s standalone movies are presumably part of this effort, along with the upcoming Aquaman, and sequels to both Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman.
That would be easy enough to parse, but the studio is simultaneously developing an entirely different slate of films. That’s where the previously-revealed Joker origin story, which reportedly will be directed by Todd Phillips, fits in. This second series, which will be released under a separate brand, will be completely unrelated from the other films, and will be a sandbox for different filmmakers and actors to come in and offer their own takes on DC properties. However, asking audiences to keep track of multiple movie Jokers at the same time seems like a recipe for disaster. And with the recent box-office performance of Solo: A Star Wars Story, it’s unclear whether audiences are all that interested in watching multiple takes on the same roles in the first place — or in seeing theaters overstuffed with attempts to milk a given franchise for as many movies as possible.