“I used to think that my life was a tragedy. But now I realize, it’s a comedy.” Todd Philips’ Joker (2019) was one of the biggest films of last year. A psychological thriller that is not just a spin-off from the comic franchise, Joker was a film that completely stripped itself from the glitz and glamour of computer-generated imagery (CGI) and perfectly choreographed, epic action scenes, it focused entirely on the character development of Arthur Fleck to Joker.” This movie requires a certain amount of participation from the audience,” Phoenix has commented. “It’s up to you how you want to interpret it and experience it. It’s less you being kind of presented with the facts than you being presented with the possibilities.”

Boasting an incredible performance by Joaquin Phoenix, made memorable by Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Joker traces the transition of an individual who becomes a threat to the society, turning into a despicable villain. Philips described his film is “about the act of kindness” in a world where there can be a “lack of love”. Joker (2019) became the first comic book film from the DC franchise to win the Golden Lion at the 76th Venice International Film Festival. At this year’s Academy Awards, Joker became the most nominated film with 11 nominations, winning 2- Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix and Best Original Score for Hildur Guðnadóttir. If you loved Joker, you can definitely check these 10 films.

10. Naked (1993) | Director: Mike Leigh

films like joker (2019) 1 Naked

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

Mike Leigh’s black comedy-drama film might be his most underrated work, but it possesses a raw, brutal force, unlike his other works. At the center of it is Johnny (David Thewlis) who flees Manchester to avoid a beating and heads south to find his ex-girlfriend Louise (Lesley Sharp). It seems initially an irrationally excessive and reactionary step to take but as the film progresses we realize this is a man who runs instinctively.

Arguably Leigh’s fiercest and most unforgettable film, Naked may also be the best British film in recent memory, artfully capturing the zeitgeist of the 1990s, tapping into the anxiety in a manner that evokes the anger of Gotham City in Joker. Leigh described Naked as a film…” about masks, it’s about the thing we are forced to be, that society expects us to be. The tension between that and what’s behind the mask. All the characters in my film are dealing with pretentiousness.” 

9. Christine (2015) | Director: Antonio Campos

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On July 15, 1974, reporter Christine Chubbuck pulled out a revolver during a live evening newscast in Sarasota Florida, and as her coworkers looking on in horror, shot herself in the head. Based on this real-life story, Antonio Campos’ film centers around a sensational performance by Rebecca Hall as the titular protagonist, who sympathetically churns out the realistic agonies of coping with depression. In a moment alone during a work party, her station’s lead anchor, George Ryan (Michael C. Hall), leans in and tells her “You’re not always the most approachable person, Chubbuck.” Christine’s static brows, acting surprised, tightly knit. “Oh, I am approachable,” she immediately rejoins. “Maybe you just don’t know how to approach me.”

The abiding question here is never flirtatious, and entails an underlying set of questions within- why don’t you know how to approach me? What am I doing wrong? It is this interrogation of the self along with tracing the ruthlessness of the work environment and how it can permanently affect an individual’s state of mind, where Christine toes along with the thematics of Joker.

8. Dog Day Afternoon (1975) | Director: Sidney Lumet

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This neo-noir crime drama is about a bank robbery gone haywire. Sounds like a comedy, but Sidney Lumet’s film starring Al Pacino in one of his finest screen performances is a severe critique of America that was reeling in the wake of a devastatingly unpopular war and numerous assassinations.

Related: Lookback on  Lumet: The Offence (1973)

It shares the individual sense of hopelessness akin to understanding Joker (2019) and understands American democracy for what it is: not only a right but an interrogation. Both the films share the anger, and the hard-boiled critique of the landscape their protagonists inhabit- NYC to Gotham. Todd Philips has cited the inspiration from a film like Dog Day Afternoon because of “how the anti-heroes become embraced.”

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7. The Shining (1980) | Director: Stanley Kubrick

Much like the hotel central to the film’s narrative, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has an unsettling legacy. The Shining’s story is a classic haunted house one, in which recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) move into the ominous Overlook Hotel where Torrance takes a job as the winter caretaker while trying to work on his novel, but the hotel has a dark past that resurfaces.

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What ties the horror film with a psychological film like Joker is how both give us, the audience, a chance to deal with our paranoia about the outside world as well as the terrors which lurk within us. The real fears in The Shining arise out of the mental state of the characters, another trait that it shares with Joker. What is the place doing to them and they to each other? Is marriage too ordinary, too every day to become the motivation for murder?

6. The Man who Laughs (1928) | Director: Paul Leni

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Cited by numerous critics and historians as one of the last great examples of true German Expressionist filmmaking, The Man Who Laughs is not as well-remembered as it must be, excluding the make-up effects. An adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name, and starring Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine, Paul Leni’s silent film centres around a clown (Veidt) who is made to become a pawn at the hands of royalty.

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Todd Philips revealed at the press conference at Venice Film Festival how…” big [an] influence on this movie [had] and the thing that inspired the original creators of Joker was the silent film The Man Who [Laughs] which is really where this started,” adding how “it’s funny because the co-writer Scott Silver emailed me this morning, our first emails back and forth he was saying congratulations, this is exciting, and he sent me our first emails back and forth and I was reading them, and it was all about The Man who [Laughs].” Leni’s film was most certainly an early glimpse into the pain and horror and eventual cruelty that lay at the heart of clowndom.

5. Network (1976) | Director: Sidney Lumet

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Another Sidney Lumet film that influenced Joker was Network, an excoriation of the exponentially money-driven, bottom-feeding tendencies of television news that has only grown in contemporary time. What ties it so intrinsically with Joker is Howard Beale’s rabble-rousing “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore” speech, which has become something of an indictment for a generation that thrives on media consumption.

Related: Lookback On Lumet: Prince Of The City (1981)

Joker (2019) has Joaquin Phoenix’s character greatly admiring a television personality, but it’s precisely this obsession and the role television plays in the spread of information that factor into Arthur Fleck becoming Joker is what is the driving force of Network. But what is so great about Network as a piece of film is that it has not been some sort of a torchbearer critic of news media. In fact, with time, the film has shaped – even in ways disturbingly real– our political culture and the beliefs in the power of television.

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4. The King of Comedy (1982) | Director: Martin Scorsese

A film that has heavily inspired Joker would be Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy starring Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin, an aspiring stand -up comedian who becomes obsessed with a late-night talk show host.

Related Read: 10 Favorite Films of Martin Scorsese

In Joker, Phoenix’s character idolizes Murray Franklin to an extent that results in a spine-chilling confrontation sequence, and to make the inspiration as obvious as it can get, Robert De Niro stars as the talk show host. “There’s a connection, obviously, with the whole thing,” said De Niro about the influence, adding that “by making this type of film, it is connected in a way, as you’ll see.”

3. The Dark Knight (2008) | Director: Christopher Nolan

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It might be safe to say that Heath Ledger’s rendition of the joker is an unparalleled transformation. In his acceptance speech upon winning Best Actor at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Phoenix said, “I’m standing here on the shoulders of my favorite actor Heath Ledger.”

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It was a heartfelt tribute to the undying legacy of Ledger as Joker in Nolan’s The Dark Knight which was not an origin story like Joker (2019). It was an excellently told Batman tale as part of Nolan’s Batman trilogy in which Ledger’s Joker is a mercurial agent of chaos who inserts himself into Gotham’s underworld but mainly wants to watch the world burn.

2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Director: Milos Forman

Driven by a tour de force performance by Jack Nicholson, playing the anti-heroic character of McMurphy who runs away from prison only to find himself in a mental asylum, Forman’s films is necessary viewing for anyone who has loved Joker. At once a parable about society’s enforcement of conformism, it almost willfully overlooked the realities of mental illness to turn the patients into a group of cuddly characters ripe for McMurphy’s escapades. But it never becomes a flaw, because, like Joker, it is essentially about a free spirit in a closed system.

Related to Joker (2019): 25 Best Oscar Winning Performances (Male)

The character-driven film was a definitive influence on Todd Philips who would then go on to pitch Joker (2019) as a stand-alone film about a character story. He was quoted as saying, ” But I was definitely influenced by the movies that I grew up on, these great character studies of the ‘70s. And kept thinking, ‘Well, why can’t you do a genre film in the comic book world like that, and really do a deep dive on a character like Joker?’ And if you get a great actor and great people behind it, we could really do something special.”

1. Taxi Driver (1976) | Director: Martin Scorsese

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“Are you talkin’ to me? Well, I’m the only one here.” said Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, immortalizing the anti-hero desperate for human contact, wholly disillusioned with societal existence. Centered around a lonely New York City taxi driver who descends into insanity and plots to assassinate the presidential candidate, it is considered one of the greatest films ever made.

Must-Read: 10 Best Films of Martin Scorsese

As much a character study as it is a critique of the entire populace dying without a vision. In his review, Roger Ebert claimed how “Scorsese wanted to look away from Travis’s rejection; we almost want to look away from his life. But he’s there, all right, and he’s suffering.” This is perhaps the point of synthesis from which Joker can be understood. Arthur’s insanity is manifested slowly but inevitably, just like Bickle’s, and the descent into irredeemable violence was a catastrophe for the entire generation to reflect upon.

Joker (2019) Links: IMDb, Wikipedia

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