A movie can’t just be a movie in 2019. It needs a familiar angle, if not a direct relation to existing intellectual property. It needs a backstory of gossip, casting what-if’s, and production updates that can be mined for clickbait well before and after its release. And if a movie plans on surviving in the minds of the mainstream past the hours of its initial press cycle, it needs the Internet to meme the shit out of it.
Director Todd Phillips’s standalone version of Joker, a pseudo-Scorsesean retelling of the iconic DC villain’s origins starring Joaquin Phoenix, has had all of that in spades. Not only is it a major financial success, now the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time, it was also thriving as a meme several months before it came out in the U.S.
For all the controversy surrounding the film in the immediate aftermath of its festival run, leading up to its October wide release — sprung from mounting concerns that the movie would inspire “incel” copycats and promote toxic masculinity, and further fueled by a Vanity Fair interview in which Phillips said he left comedy because it’s impossible to be funny in today’s “woke” culture — Joker may go down in history as the year’s most memed piece of entertainment.
You can always trust the Internet to breathe strange new life into a movie, TV show, or other pieces of filmed entertainment by untethering a line or image from its original context and repurposing it for the shared lolz. Take Pulp Fiction, which may end up being remembered as the source of Confused Travolta as much as it is for being Quentin Tarantino’s magnum opus. Or Baz Lehrman’s The Great Gatsby, which despite its initial success at the box office, has had virtually no legacy outside the enduring Leo toasting meme.
With one unexpectedly crazy news cycle and only a month in theatres under its belt, Joker has inspired a wealth of meme-ification almost instantaneously. Perhaps the early buzz around Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, combined with a slew of instantly memeable leaked set photos is to blame. Maybe the collective subconscious wanted to immortalize the Joker moment unfettered from the initial controversy and media backlash. Or perhaps a sea of memes is just the inevitable outcome of any big entertainment news story in 2019. In any case, almost all of the major trending Joker memes have been great.
So here are the 10 best and most memorable Joker memes currently taking over the Internet.
For Those Who Didn’t Catch the Reference
Pour one out for the poor bastard who decided to alert everyone to what might be one of the Joker’s most overt references to a past Joker — Heath Ledger’s Joker, that is — ‘cause it started a chain of memes that just gets funnier and funnier the longer it goes on.
Here’s the original, an earnest attempt to tip us all off to what might have been a passing reference to the iconic and equally memeable Christopher Nolan/Ledger Joker:
— Kevin J. (@__greys) October 6, 2019