There are lots of reasons Joker is a different kind of comic book movie. It’s centered on the bad guy, rated R, and powered by an absolutely demonic performance by Joaquin Phoenix that you’d never find in a Marvel movie. It also feels different because it’s not part of a larger narrative that spans across multiple films, at least not yet.
But just because it feels separate doesn’t mean that the filmmakers could do whatever they wanted. Director and comic book devotee Kevin Smith recently revealed on his podcast how the film originally ended, and it’s obvious why the studio pushed for a different ending.
As a refresher, the film as it was released reaches its climax when Arthur Fleck kills Murray Franklin, the talk show host played by Robert De Niro, inciting a riot in Gotham. Thomas and Martha Wayne are killed by a rioter, kickstarting Batman’s origin story.
In Smith’s telling there are two main differences between the ending he saw and what made it into the final film. The first is that instead of a nameless rioter it was Fleck himself who shot and killed the Waynes.
This is a deparature, to be sure, but it’s one that’s still pretty consistent with the path we know Bruce Wayne sets out upon. It’s actually how the Waynes die in Tim Burton’s Batman and if anything, it would make Batman’s antipathy for the Joker later even more palpable.
The much crazier difference is that originally Fleck also killed Bruce. Let that sink in for a moment. Instead of serving as the catalyst for Bruce Wayne’s transformation into Batman, one of the most famous characters of all time, director Todd Phillips originally just had the Joker murder him as a child before cutting to the credits.
“What the fuck, man? This world has no Batman,” Smith said his reaction was, channeling what everyone would have said if that ending had been kept. Warner Bros., likely wanting to keep its options open for future takes on the character, nixed that idea and we ended up with the still-bonkers ending to the film that played in theaters and the possibility that Batman meets Phoenix’s Joker in a future film.