The Joker movie isn’t all doom, gloom, and maniacal laughter. Scattered throughout are a series of lovingly-crafted Easter eggs that pay tribute to Batman’s storied history. There are even a couple of nods to director Todd Phillips’ back catalogue.
Whether it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo or a reference to the person who helped create Batman, you’ll find it all below in our thorough run-through of the biggest and best Joker Easter eggs – with spoilers aplenty, so make sure you have watched Joaquin Phoenix’s Crown Prince of Crime take centre stage before diving in.
A night at the movies
The Gotham uprising in the final act of the movie includes perhaps the most iconic moment in DC history: the shooting of Thomas and Martha Wayne. It’s before this, when they rush out of the theater with son Bruce in tow, though, where this Easter egg is found.
On the marquee of the theater is “Zorro: The Gay Blade.” Not only does that help pinpoint the year Joker is set – most likely 1981 – but it also harkens back to a key component of Batman’s origin. He takes on the cape and cowl and uses Zorro as part-inspiration, depending on which origin tale you read.
A fixture of the wonderfully silly ‘60s Batman series, the Bat Pole was maybe the last nod you'd expect to see in Joker. Still, it makes its way into the movie thanks to a shot of Bruce sliding down a pole in Wayne Manor’s playground before walking towards Arthur at the ground’s gates.
Speaking of that skin-crawling scene between Bruce and Arthur, Alfred is also present in that run-in. While never named (apart from the end credits), the British man roughed up by Arthur who leads Bruce away is none other than the stoic, loyal butler, Alfred Pennyworth, played by Douglas Hodge of Penny Dreadful fame.
A well-hidden Batman: The Animated Series reference
This is a deep cut for Batman fans of a certain era. Murray Franklin’s talk show has a set complete with plenty of homages to the Golden Era of talk shows – as well as Robert De Niro’s own performance in Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy. The skyline background, the way the stage is set up, and Franklin telling corny jokes – all straight out of the Late Night playbook. But it’s in the show’s logo itself where a Batman: The Animated Series Easter egg lies: the font for both ‘Live! With Murray Franklin’ and Batman: The Animated Series titles are exactly the same. Kudos to whoever pitched that.
One character shares a surname with the Batman co-creator
One of Arthur’s earliest interactions (other than the group of teenagers who beat him up and swipe his sign) is with his social worker, Debra Kane.
Not only is she a character taken from the Batman novel The Ultimate Evil (which also features a detective named Burke, something Joker also shares), her surname is a reference to Batman co-creator Bob Kane.
From Jack Nicholson’s smirk to Heath Ledger’s scarred lips, Joker has always put its own unique spin on the clown’s beaming smile. Joaquin Phoenix continues that lineage near the very end of the film, smearing blood all over his face to create a scarlet grin. If nothing else, it’s a neat nod to the Jokers that came before him, particularly Cesar Romero’s messy makeup, which mirrors Arthur’s final smile.
One bad day
Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke served as inspiration for more than a few thematic beats in Joker, with its depiction of the villain’s random and ruthless actions, but none more so than the final scene between Arthur and Sophie. He tells his (supposed) girlfriend that he’s had a “bad day.” In The Killing Joke, Joker has his own theory that he tests out on Commissioner Gordon: “All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy.”
Arthur’s words echo back through to the pages of the 1980s comic, with both moments marking a turning point leading to an increasingly erratic pattern of murderous events for the supervillain.
A stand-in for Arkham Asylum
Joker deals with mental health throughout its two-hour runtime, so it stands to reason that Arkham Asylum would be visited at some point. However, it’s the slightly more pleasantly-named Arkham State Hospital where Arthur looks for his mother’s record. It’s also the place he was committed at the beginning and end of the movie. It’s funny what a bit of re-branding can do.
Two quick appearances from famous faces
There are two cameos from actors that you may have missed – one was advertised, one a surprise.
First, the surprise: Justin Theroux – perhaps best known as Kevin Garvey in HBO’s The Leftovers – played Ethan Chase (does that name sound familiar? More on him in a minute) during the talk show segment before Joker’s on Live! With Murray Franklin. He’s only shown on a television set, though, and has no spoken lines.
Brian Tyree Henry, meanwhile, also has a bit-part role as a clerk in Arkham State Hospital. It was just under a year ago where he played Miles’ father in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse which makes him the first actor to appear in a Marvel then a DC film in consecutive years.
An impossibly obscure Todd Phillips Easter egg
So, about Ethan Chase. Unless you’ve been swotting up on your Todd Phillips movies, you may not realise that the name of Justin Theroux’s character is a reference to his 2010 comedy, Due Date. Zach Galifianakis’ character’s real name is Ethan Chase – and Galifianakis also played Joker in the LEGO Batman movie. Time is a flat circle.
For more coverage, check out our breakdown of the Joker ending, as well as finding out where Joaquin Phoenix lands in our best Joker rankings.