The Real Reason Joker Was a Hit: The Contrasting Clown Theory

If 2019 taught us anything about clowns, it’s that they’re not always as simple as they look. Anyone that wasn’t familiar with this concept was given a crash course courtesy of Todd Phillips and Warner Bros. With almost every other comic book character’s backstory being told on the big screen in recent years, we finally got to see behind the Joker’s face paint. As disturbing and, at times, tragic as it was, the movie was a hit in every sense of the word. Financially, Joker grossed more than $1 billion in worldwide sales. However, it was the portrayal of Arthur Fleck and his alter-ego, the Joker, that really won the movie critical acclaim.

Joaquin Phoenix picked up the Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role at the Oscars. Alongside that, he received the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, as well as Best Leading Actor at the BAFTA Awards. In fact, the honours didn’t stop there. Everyone from Phillips and screenwriter Scott Silver to costume designers, editors, stylists and musicians were either nominated for or won awards. Then, of course, you’ve got the general public. Perhaps the harshest critics of all, movie watchers around the world seem to agree that the comic-to-movie creation was great.

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Joker Scores Highly in All Areas

After more than 780,000 votes, Joker now has an IMDb score of 8.5/10. Although the Rotten Tomatoes crowd was a little less impressed, 68% on the Tomatometer and an 88% audience score suggest people loved the movie. With plaudits raining down from all angles, the natural question is: why was Joker so popular? Yes, the story was both terrifying and moving at the same time. Yes, the acting was superb and the cinematography second-to-none. And, yes, it’s a character we’ve come to know over the years thanks to Batman. However, even with all these factors in play, there are other reasons Joker was a hit.

The question, in essence, is why did DC choose the Joker? The answer is clowns. Clowns have been entertaining audience since 2500 BCE. Back then, Pygmy clowns made Egyptian pharaohs chuckle. Over the years, their role as proverbial court jesters has seen clowns become circus performers and party pranksters. However, there’s also a dark side to clowns. Behind the makeup and smiles, there’s always a sense that they’re are impish in nature. Yes, they’re playful but they’re also mischievous and prone to erratic behaviour. This contrast is one that conjures up ideas of intrigue and fear. That, in turn, has become part of popular culture.

The Culture of Clowns

For example, game lovers can experience Fire Joker at LeoVegas and sample the sweet and sour nature of clowns. On the one hand, the clowns bring a sense of colour and life to the three reels, with three matching clowns will unlock a prize. However, the fact balls of fire appear behind them suggests there’s a darker side. This idea is something we also get with characters such as Pennywise and, of course, the Joker. Indeed, we can go a step further and look to music hits such as Tears of a Clown and the idea that, behind the laughter, is sadness.

On the surface, clowns are spreading love and joy. But, deep inside, they’re hurting. When we get a sense of this, it makes them all the more interesting. Creative types have used this to their advantage over the years. Whether it’s bringing a slot game to life or putting movie fans on the edges of their seats, clowns have a special place in entertainment.

That, in essence, is why Joker was a success. Although it wouldn’t have received critical acclaim if it were poorly made, the groundwork had already been done. Thanks to our love/hate relationship with clowns, Phoenix was able to tug on our heartstrings, make us laugh and then tie them around our necks in one fell swoop. That’s something only a clown could do.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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