Director David Fincher has criticised Todd Phillips' superhero spin-off Joker, calling the Joaquin Phoenix starrer a "betrayal of the mentally ill".
Fincher's remarks come and over a year following the release of the Oscar-winning film, which Warner Bros Studios billed as an "exploration of a man disregarded by society is not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale".
Phoenix's critically-acclaimed and unsettling performance as Arthur Fleck, a mentally-ill man who spirals into madness to become Joker, earned him his maiden best actor Oscar at the 2020 awards ceremony.
The film also generated controversy as reviewers claimed it aimed to humanise trigger-happy mass murderers and was exploitative of mental illness.
According to Fincher, Phillips' directorial didn't have a chance to fly if it was not preceded by the success of The Dark Knight, which saw the late Heath Ledger play Joker in the second part of Christopher Nolan's darker, realistic 'Batman' trilogy.
Ledger, who died in 2008 due to combined drug intoxication, posthumously won best supporting actor Academy Award for his performance.
"Nobody would have thought they had a shot at a giant hit with Joker had The Dark Knight not been as massive as it was," the director told The Daily Telegraph.
Fincher, who is awaiting the release of Mank, also suggested that the character of Joker was a mix of Martin Scorsese films leads—Travis Bickle, a lonely taxi driver who descends into insanity from 1976's Taxi Driver and Rupert Pupkin, a delusional and aspiring stand-up comic trying to launch his career from The King of Comedy (1982).
Incidentally, both these characters were played by Hollywood veteran Robert De Niro, who also starred in Joker.
"I don't think anyone would have looked at that material and thought, 'Yeah, let's take Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin and conflate them, then trap him in a betrayal of the mentally ill, and trot it out for a billion dollars," Fincher said.
Joker was made on a budget of about USD 55 million and went on to rake in USD 1.07 billion.
Fincher also discussed signing an exclusive deal with Netflix, which is releasing his Mank next month.
The director, known for films like Fight Club, The Social Network, and Netflix web series House of Cards and Mindhunter, said Hollywood studios don't want to invest in films that don't promise them a return of "billion dollars".
"The reality of our current situation is that the five families don't want to make anything that can't make them a billion dollars. None of them want to be in the medium-priced challenging content business. And that cleaves off exactly the kind of movies I make," he said.
"What the streamers are doing is providing a platform for the kind of cinema that actually reflects our culture and wrestles with big ideas: where things are, what people are anxious and unsure about. Those are the kinds of movies that would have been dead on arrival five years ago," he added.
Mank, based on the life of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz, will be released on the streamer on December 4.
The biopic, based on the script by Fincher's father, Jack before his death in 2003, centres around Mankiewicz and his battles with Citizen Kane director and star Orson Welles over screenplay credit for the 1941 cinematic masterpiece.
Starring Oscar winner Gary Oldman in the title role, Mank also features Tom Burke, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, and Tuppence Middleton.