06 Oct âJokerâ Opens Strong at Box Office, Despite Controversy
With some cheering it on and others anxiously holding their breath, Hollywoodâs latest comic book movie, âJoker,â laughed its way to the bank this weekend, opening to robust ticket sales and signaling to Warner Bros. that a risky move had paid off.
âJokerâ sold about $93.5 million in domestic tickets this weekend. The movie made an additional $140.5 million overseas, according to Warner Bros.
âThis is a very strong opening,â David A. Gross, a movie consultant, wrote in a report this weekend.
Moviegoersâ embrace of âJokerâ came amid a heated debate over whether Warner Bros. was being irresponsible by releasing it.
The R-rated film starring Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker, the DC Comics villain, tells an origin story for the character, showing how his homicidal anger grew out of intense isolation and rejection. Some worried that the movie, rather than critiquing societal issues, might instead be painting an overly sympathetic portrait of a man whose descent into brutal villainy echoes the back stories of actual mass shooters.
The filmâs bleak tone and artsy look are pointedly atypical for a comic-book movie; its director, Todd Phillips, envisioned it as a gritty character study in the mold of âTaxi Driver.â (Phillips is best known for âThe Hangover.â) The film won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival last month, which helped lend it artistic legitimacy. Phoenix, better known for working with auteurs like Paul Thomas Anderson and Lynne Ramsay than for starring in superhero moneymakers, is widely anticipated to net an Oscar nomination for his performance.
But as the release date for âJokerâ inched closer, criticism intensified. Undergirding it was the memory of the 2012 shooting in Aurora, Colo., which occurred during a midnight showing of the Warner Bros. superhero movie âThe Dark Knight Rises,â also based on characters from DC Comics. Last month, relatives and friends of those killed in that shooting sent a letter to Warner Bros. expressing disquiet over âJoker.â
âWhen we learned that Warner Bros. was releasing a movie called âJokerâ that presents the character as a protagonist with a sympathetic origin story, it gave us pause,â the letter said.
In its own statement, Warner Bros. wrote that âit is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero.â
In the lead-up to the release of âJoker,â the F.B.I. warned of online threats, adding to fears that screenings of the movie might be targeted with violence. That prompted the police in cities including New York and Los Angeles to step up theater security.
The movie opened without incident, though signs of audiencesâ anxiety were apparent. According to The Associated Press, a number of moviegoers left a screening in midtown Manhattan on Friday night after a man cheered and applauded on-screen murders. Consuming what appeared to be alcohol, he reportedly spat on patrons as they left the theater.
âThis was most likely a harmless drunk guy, but all the nervousness built around the film made what happened (Friday) night really unsettling,â one moviegoer, Etai Benson, wrote in an online exchange with the news agency.
Warner Bros. made a bet that audiences would respond to an edgy, artsy, boundary-pushing movie â and this weekend proved them right.
While opening sales for âJokerâ were not as high as they were for âBatman v Superman: Dawn of Justiceâ ($166 million in 2016) or âThe Dark Knight Risesâ (about $161 million in 2012), Gross, the movie consultant, noted in his report that character spinoffs typically make less money than the original movies. âJokerâ was able to perform roughly in line with other spinoffs relative to their main series counterpart. âThe Batman franchise, including this spinoff, is playing at an extremely high level,â Gross added.
Reinforcing that success is the fact that âJokerâ cost $55 million to make, a modest amount for a major production. âThe Dark Knight Rises,â by comparison, cost an reported $250 million to bring to life.
âJokerâ didnât have much serious competition this weekend. The next-highest grossing movie on domestic screens was Universalâs âAbominable,â an animated family movie that opened last weekend and brought in an addition $12 million domestically this weekend. âDownton Abbey,â distributed by Focus Features, came in third place, selling $8 million in tickets during what was its third weekend in theaters.