Joker vs. Harley Quinn: Which Movie Will Reign Supreme?

Joker vs. Harley Quinn: Which Movie Will Reign Supreme?


As the controversial Joker film starring Joaquin Phoenix hits theaters today, may we remind you that Harley Quinn has a standalone film of her own?

In many ways, the contrast between the two movies about this iconic on-again, off-again couple is a perfect illustration of what Hollywood gets wrong about the battle between the sexes.

How the Public Turned on ‘Joker’

Joaquin Phoenix in 'Joker'
Vanity Fair

While it was initially hailed as a critical triumph when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival in August, the tide has turned on Joker. A month ago, we were debating the Oscar chances for star Joaquin Phoenix.

Now, we’re mostly concerned about whether the film will inspire violence.

That’s not a pearl-clutching overreaction, at least according to families of the victims of the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. Sandy Phillips, whose daughter was killed in the shooting, called the film “a slap in the face.”

Experts familiar with the case insist that the rumor James Holmes was inspired by the Joker to open fire on a theater screening The Dark Knight Rises has no basis in fact.

However, it’s tough to stop a rumor once it’s started.

George Brauchler, the Colorado district attorney who prosecuted Holmes, told Vanity Fair that ultimately it doesn’t matter whether the rumor is true or not–people believe it, “perception is reality.”

Brauchler shares the concern that misguided people might latch on to the legend of the Joker and James Holmes as an excuse for copycat violence.

The film reportedly portrays the Joker as a frustrated man who can’t stand being ignored and disrespected by both women and the audiences at the comedy clubs where he tries to perform stand-up.

That story is strikingly similar to the complaints lodged by so-called “incels” on message boards like Reddit. (A similar storyline in the 1976 film Taxi Driver inspired John Hinckley Jr. to shoot Ronald Reagan.)

Multiple mass shootings have been carried out by incels over the last decade, prompting the Army to issue a warning about possible extremist violence during Joker screenings.

As for Joaquin Phoenix and director Todd Phillips, they have the difficult task of promoting their prestige comic book flick in a storm of negative press and tough questions. In fact, journalists were banned from the glitzy red carpet premiere of the film.

However, Phillips told reporters at the New York Film Festival that it’s a good thing the film’s violence is so realistic. He said it seemed “very responsible to make it feel real” so that the audience felt the real-world consequences of the Joker’s actions.

Harley Quinn Goes Solo

Harley Quinn v Joker Who Will Come Out on Top

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we have Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). The bold, girl-power, candy-colored trailer for the movie–which you can check out below–is the total opposite of Joker.

In the film, Harley is a single woman for the first time. She and “Mistah J” broke up, and as part of her healing process, she’s spending some quality time with her girlfriends.

As far as we can tell from the trailer, the movie is all about Harley reclaiming her power and figuring out who she is outside of her abusive relationship with the Joker.

Screenwriter Christina Hodson (Bumblebee) and director Cathy Yan are giving the eccentric anti-heroine a chance to shine in her own film, but Harley is supported by a diverse cast of strong women. That includes Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, and Jurnee Smollet-Bell as Black Canary.

This is the second time DC has hired a woman to direct one of their feature films–the first was, of course, Patty Jenkins who knocked it out of the park with her version of Wonder Woman.

But it’s interesting to note that we’re not having the same intense conversations about Birds of Prey as we are about Joker. Maybe that will change as the film gets closer to the release date, but for now, it seems that the Joker movie deserves endless think pieces while Harley’s film is mostly written off just another comic book flick.

Nobody is floating Margot Robbie’s name for an Oscar or praising the trailer as the best thing since sliced bread–even though, if you compare them side by side, it’s not that different from the first trailer for Joker.

Is it because she’s a girl? Are audiences and critics just primed to view moody films about angry white men as prestige cinema while dismissing movies about women?