With Joker having hit theaters around the globe over the weekend, millions of moviegoers finally got to discover what the endless hubbub surrounding Joaquin Phoenix’s titular villain was all about. After a lot of the dust has settled, the consensus seems to be that while Joker‘s narrative itself has an arguable number of flaws going against it, star Joaquin Phoenix delivers one of the best performances of his career, and he’s primed for awards season nominations.
Before playing the disturbed Arthur Fleck in Todd Phillips’ Joker, Joaquin Phoenix was probably best known for playing Commodus in Gladiator and Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. However, his career is full of nuanced characters placed in stressful situations in films like The Master, Signs, Inherent Vice and more. Joker has raised the bar in some ways, though, and it’s likely his next projects will be of the bigger-budget variety.
To that end, let’s look at some of the most iconic villains in fiction in terms of how hard Joaquin Phoenix would crush those roles if he got to play them in an upcoming movie (or TV project). My fingers are crossing pretty hard for a couple of these, too.
First introduced in Robert Bloch’s crime novel Psycho, Norman Bates reached infamy thanks to Anthony Perkins’ pitch-perfect performance in Alfred Hitchcock’s big screen thriller in 1960. Vince Vaughn took over the role for Gus Van Sant’s ill-conceived 1998 remake, which half-proved this character shouldn’t get portrayed again, but then Bates Motel came along and gave TV fans Freddie Highmore’s balanced performance.
If Hollywood ever decided to return to Psycho in feature form, Joaquin Phoenix would be the A+ choice to take the role. He’s perfectly fitted for introverted characters with grinding mental gears, with Norman perhaps sharing some of Joker’s sexual hang-ups, though with far deeper-reaching mommy issues.
With a new Matrix movie on the way, the creative team has a massive responsibility to deliver something new that fans will enjoy, while also paying respect to the trilogy that came before. (Or at least the parts of that trilogy that didn’t drag everything else down.) And while actor Hugo Weaving was inarguably pitch-perfect in the role of the digital antagonist Agent Smith, it’s probably time for an upgrade.
Though Joker relied a lot on Joaquin Phoenix’s loosened physical acting skills, the celeb is just as good at reining his talents in for more subdued and meticulous performances. And what’s better than one Phoenix in such a precisely malevolent role? A whole slew of them, obviously.
As the central protagonist and antagonist of American Psycho, Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ tension-soaked novel, Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman is caught in the struggle between professional candor and murderous temptation. At least, that’s what we’re led to believe, since the movie (and book) aren’t wholly invested in proving or disproving Bateman’s guilt.
As he’s proven both on screen and in real life – I’m Still Here, anyone? – Joaquin Phoenix gives 100% of his emotional energy when he needs to be convincing about something, whether it be realistically storming out of interviews or performatively cursing out crew members, making him perfect to portray Patrick Bateman’s duality. Though it’s doubtful anyone will be remaking American Psycho in the near future, the character does feature into Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park, which would make for a fantastic theatrical adaptation.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
A tale that has been adapted countless times across various forms of media, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is another entry that features a character appearing in multiple forms. However, there’s an entire moral spectrum between the science-driven Dr. Jekyll and the monstrous Mr. Hyde. Though decent versions of the story have been made in the last decade or so, the time is right for Universal’s disheveled Dark Universe to deliver the modern end-all, be-all take on the two characters. (Sorry, Russell Crowe, but your time in The Mummy didn’t cut it.)
Getting Joaquin Phoenix in another more straightforward horror movie like Signs would be a win for the genre, and while the actor would be fabulous as a new Dracula or a Victor Frankenstein, I can’t help but think that he would be ideal for Jekyll and Hyde. I can easily picture him as an overly fanatical and obsession-driven scientist as well as the more feral and evil character that comes from his transmutation.
No one is disputing that actor Robert Englund will forever be the idealized version of A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s dream-haunting antagonist Freddy Krueger. But I think horror fans would also welcome a new chapter of the Elm Street saga that is crafted more strongly than the 2010 remake starring James Earle Haley, possibly with one of horror’s recent wave of stellar filmmakers, including Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep), Ari Aster (Hereditary) or Jordan Peele (Us).
Joaquin Phoenix nailed the Joker’s laugh and voice for his latest part, so it’s not a huge leap to think that he could also lock down the raspy, guttural speech and laughs of A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Freddy Krueger. And like Robert Englund, whose sparkling eyes and convincing smile actually do embody Freddy with a more mirthful maliciousness, Phoenix is capable of being 100% frightening or 100% bemusedly charming, depending on what’s needed for a scene.
Even though Silence of the Lambs will forever be remember as the movie that truly perfected the relationship between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter, the most effectively frightening element in Jonathan Demme’s film is Ted Levine’s skin-crawling performance as the monstrous Buffalo Bill. Any real-life mentions of baskets, lotion, or skin immediately conjure up images of Bill and his victims, and it’s a lost more disturbing than thinking about Hannibal and his fava beans.
Buffalo Bill is obviously a role for actors who are completely confident with their physical and mental performance capabilities. Joaquin Phoenix in particular seems like the kind of actor who could find a way to bring new life to Buffalo Bill that doesn’t simply come off as copying Ted Levine. Admittedly, I don’t see Hollywood revamping Silence of the Lambs as a feature film just yet, but I know a lot of people are hoping desperately for Hannibal Season 4 to happen on TV with Bryan Fuller, who’d previously talked about tackling Clarice’s arrival with the then-planned Season 4.
Yes, you read that right. Joaquin Phoenix may have just finished playing the Joker for Todd Phillips’ feature, but given that Joker exists outside of the DCEU, the actor is certainly able to take on a villainous role within the proper cinematic Batman canon. And what better way to prove how truly different the Joker and the Riddler are than by having the same actor portray both villains?
This probably wouldn’t happen within Robert Pattinson’s first film as Batman, but perhaps in the follow-up sequel, the producers could line up Joaquin Phoenix to portray the conundrum-obsessed Edward Nygma, otherwise known to Gotham City’s authorities as The Riddler. It’s presumed that Phoenix wouldn’t be as wacky as Jim Carrey’s take in Batman Forever, but that he would still showcase the same energy, charisma, and eagerness to take down the big black bat. Also, I’m extremely down to watch the actor tell some hilariously punny riddles.
A high-caliber actor like Joaquin Phoenix will likely have a long line of memorable projects to come in the aftermath of Joker‘s headlines and its box office success, and the roles listed above aren’t the mostly likely offers to land on his lap in the near future. But even if just one of them became a reality, it could unleash a new era of top-notch remakes with A+ talent, or it could just give audiences another role for Phoenix to conquer.
Joker is currently tearing it up in theaters across the country.