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The Real Reason Todd Phillips Stopped Making Comedies

Director Todd Phillips has had a surprising career. He is best known these days for "Joker," the Joaquin Phoenix-starring DC film about the origin story of its titular villain. On the other hand, if you'd asked someone a decade ago to name one of his movies, they'd probably talk about his raunchy comedy romp "The Hangover," which followed a group of friends struggling to piece their lives together in the aftermath of a wild night out in Las Vegas.

While "Joker" was incredibly celebrated by Hollywood, it was an unlikely project for a director who'd previously stayed mostly in the realm of comedy. The film won Phoenix an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and racked up 11 nominations in total, including for Best Picture (via IMDb), but such a dramatic film was a wild departure from the laugh-fests Phillips built his name on. "The Hangover" was a cultural touchstone, with fans still spouting references from the film to this day, and it spurred on the careers of its cast, which included Zach Galifianakis and Bradley Cooper.

Phillips isn't the only comedic director to successfully pivot to drama. Adam McKay, director of such hilarious movies as "Step Brothers" and "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," made a similar move, although his recent "Don't Look Up" still retains an element of comedy. And yet, however successful Phillips' transition into dramatic movies has been, however that transition was preceded by the careers of other filmmakers, his fans may wonder what prompted the sudden shift. As it turns out, Phillips has a clear reason for his decision to stop making comedies.

Donald Trump's presidency made Phillips reconsider his priorities

Todd Phillips, speaking to The Wrap in 2020, said of his turn away from directing comedy films, "It had everything to do with Donald Trump." The director elaborated: Looking around at the state of the world had filled him with the desire to "do something impactful" with the opportunities he's been given. He explained that he had made the "Hangover" trilogy during the presidency of Barack Obama, but noted, "The world has changed drastically." However, he quipped that if Democrat Bernie Sanders became president, he'd go back to comedy. (There's no word yet from Phillips regarding whether he's willing to make more comedies with Joe Biden in the White House.)

Given some of the reactions to "Joker," it's perhaps surprising that Phillips holds a left-of-center political viewpoint. As he put it, "Both sides see it as an indictment of the other side." Though neither Phillips nor "Joker" star Joaquin Phoenix have openly rejected the idea of a sequel to the DC film, Phillips has been clear that he pitched the original movie as a one-and-done deal. Regarding the prospect of "Joker 2," he told The Wrap, "We would need to find themes that resonate in a similar way."