‘This is real life, not a movie’ – backlash after stairs from Joker are overrun by influencers

Joaquin Phoenix stars as the Joker
Joaquin Phoenix stars as the Joker Credit: Warner Bros Entertainment

A set of stairs in the Bronx has become overrun with tourists and social media ‘influencers’ after it featured in the DC blockbuster film Joker, prompting a backlash from locals.

In one of the most memorable scenes from the film, the protagonist Arthur Fleck (played by Joaquin Phoenix) struts menacingly down a set of stairs in a murky corner of Gotham City.

But the true location of the scene soon got out. Now the set of stairs, located in the Highbridge neighbourhood of the Bronx, have captured the imagination of fans of the film.

The 132 steps, which join Shakespeare and Anderson Avenues, used to be known as Step Street but now have their own Instagram location ‘Joker Stairs’. The hashtag #jokerstairs has been used 850 times. 

The hype could be put down to one @propeller.pete, who on October 9 posted the location of the stairs for the first time on Instagram. Since then New York influencer @kiariladyboss posted a photograph of herself in full joker outfit, gaining more than 2,400 likes on Instagram, while Youtuber @junkyjanker topped 100,000 likes for his Instagram post on the stairs. 

However, residents of Highbridge don’t seem so amused by the attention. A flyer posted near the stairs reads: “It is disrespectful to treat our community and residents as a photo opportunity for your social media and ‘it’ moment. This is real life, not a movie and we’re not jokin’.”

Speaking to , a website dedicated to New York news, 29-year-old resident Jonathan Francis said: “We hope it ends soon because we don’t need this. We feel disrespected.”

The Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr encouraged visitors to spend longer in the neighbourhood, Tweeting: "When you visit, check out ilovethebronx.com and @TheBronxTourism and learn about some of our borough’s many fine attractions and restaurants... and spend some $$$ in The Bronx!"

Joker is the origins story of the Batman antagonist. Set in Eighties Gotham City, it follows the life of failed comedian Arthur Fleck who turns to a life of crime, inadvertently sparking a city-wide uprising against the wealthy.

Following its release, some expressed concerns that it might influence copycat violence. Telegraph’s Robbie Collin wrote: “Arthur’s plight also recalls a very modern dark phenomenon: the incel, or involuntary celibate, internet subculture, a racist and misogynist hate movement which has been linked to recent mass shootings in California, Texas and New Zealand.”

“When I first saw the film, that resonance made me deeply uncomfortable. The new Joker is hardly held up as a hero, but there is an unquestionable blood-curdling glamour to the character’s journey from being a downtrodden nobody to the extolled figurehead of an anarchist movement.”

But the controversy hasn’t stopped the film from being a box office hit. To date it has taken $741.3 million (£575m) worldwide, making it the eighth-highest-grossing film of 2019 and the fourth-highest R-rated film of all time.

These are of course not the first set of stairs to have gained international fame after appearing in a movie. The 72 steps leading up to the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art became known as the ‘Rocky Steps’ after appearing in the 1976 movie.

Tourists frequently mimic Rocky’s famous jog to the top of the steps, and a bronze statue of Rocky has been erected at the bottom. Some 43 years after the film’s release they remain popular; the hashtag #RockySteps has been used more than 88,000 times on Instagram.

The Exorcist Steps in Georgetown, Washington DC have also become a tourist attraction after featuring in the 1973 film. In 2015 the steps were recognised as an official tourist attraction and a plaque was unveiled at the base recognising its significance in film history. #ExorcistStairs and #ExorcistSteps have together amassed 5,651 posts on Instagram.

Then, of course, there is Dubrovnik, the filming location for the HBO hit Game of Thrones, which attracts thousands of visitors per year looking to reenact scenes from the series – including the moment when Cersei Lannister takes the “walk of shame” down the stone Jesuit Stairs in series five.

Telegraph Travel’s Croatia expert Jane Foster wrote: “Undeniably, many visitors come here, not for the real Dubrovnik, but for something they've seen on TV. Countless Americans blithely refer to Dubrovnik as 'King's Landing', as if it was nothing but a set for Game of Thrones.”

Tour guide Ivan Vukovic told Telegraph Travel that the Game of Thrones experience is now the most popular tour you can do in Dubrovnik – more popular than the tours telling the story of the city’s medieval and modern history.