David Fincher Calls Joaquin Pheonix' Oscar-Winning Joker 'Betrayal of the Mentally Ill'

The “Gone Girl” director says the film would have never been greenlit were it not for the financial success of “The Dark Knight.”

Everyone knows that money talks when it comes to pretty much everything, but according to David Fincher, it’s pretty much all that talks when it comes to making films these days, which is why we’re seeing so many spinoffs, remakes and sequels.

The acclaimed “Mank” director went so far as to say Joaquin Phoenix’ billion-dollar juggernaut “Joker” film was only given a green light because Heath Ledger’s “The Dark Knight” portrayal had already proven successful.

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“Nobody would have thought they had a shot at a giant hit with ‘Joker’ had ‘The Dark Knight’ not been as massive as it was,” Fincher told The Telegraph.

And without that guarantee, Fincher is positive “Joker” would have never happened at all, because on paper it doesn’t look like a superhero blockbuster and Hollywood has no further interest in mid-tier films.

“I’m sure that Warner Bros thought at a certain price, and with the right cast, and with De Niro coming along for the ride, it would be a possible double or triple,” he said. “But I cannot imagine that movie would have been released had it been 1999.”

But he also appeared to take issue with the content of the film, and Phoenix’ character in particular, describing it as a mashup between “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy,” two Martin Scorsese classics that delve into issues with mental illness.

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Without “The Dark Knight” laying the foundation, Fincher argued, “I don’t think ­anyone would have looked at that material and thought, Yeah, let’s take Travis Bickle [‘Taxi Driver’] and Rupert Pupkin [‘The King of Comedy’] and conflate them, then trap him in a betrayal of the mentally ill, and trot it out for a billion dollars.”

The 2019 film not only went on to earn more than $1 billion at the box office (with an R-rating), it also dominated the Oscars for its year with a leading 11 nominations and a pair of wins, including for Phoenix, who followed Ledger to Oscar gold by portraying the classic Batman villain.

According to Fincher, that’s where streaming has really stepped up for filmmakers, becoming the go-to destination for those “medium-priced” projects theatrical releases have no further interest in.

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“What the streamers are doing is providing a platform for the kind of cinema that actually reflects our culture and wrestles with big ideas: where things are, what people are anxious and unsure about,” he said. “Those are the kinds of movies that would have been dead on arrival five years ago.”

As an example, he said he had to fight for his 2014 film, “Gone Girl,” saying the only reason he was able to convince studios to support “that discordant, evaporate ending” was to argue that the book was already atop the New York Times bestseller list.”

His latest project, “Mank,” is currently on a limited theatrical release (awards elegibility is still tied to theatrical presence in non-Covid circumstances), but is slated to hit Netflix next month. As for “Joker,” fans can catch that over on HBO Max.

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