It’s been an interesting few weeks for Todd Phillips’ Joker. Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, the movie took home the Golden Lion award, which is typically reserved for films that will be big players during awards season, like previous winners The Shape of Water, Roma, and Brokeback Mountain. The film was met most immediately with rave reviews, but critics who have seen it subsequently have been more critical. Meanwhile, controversy has followed director Todd Phillips around on the press circuit and Joaquin Phoenix even walked out of an interview. The Hollywood premiere of the film was quiet amid beefed-up security, and there has been a heavy police presence at Joker screenings all weekend.
Despite it all, however, Joker performed as comic-book movies are expected to perform at the box office, earning an eye-popping $93.5 million in its debut weekend, and around $240 million worldwide after posting $140 million overseas. The $93.5 million domestic opening is the best ever for director Todd Phillips, lead actor Joaquin Phoenix, and even Robert DeNiro. It’s also the best October opening of all time. In the end, reviews averaged out to a solid 70 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and the film has also scored well with audiences (B+ Cinemascore, in addition to a 92 percent audience score on the Tomatometer, although with fan-driven movies like this — especially those from DC — that audience meter can’t always be trusted).
It’s an interesting success story, to say the least. It comes from director Todd Phillips, best known for raunchy comedies like Old School and The Hangover, but it’s based on the most popular comic-villain of all time, and yet it very much owes much of its look and feel to Martin Scorsese, in particular his King of Comedy. Joaquin Phoenix, meanwhile, is no stranger to big hits (Gladiator, The Village), but in more recent years, he’s more associated with high-brow, awards-worthy fare. Ironically, Joker may ultimately fall into that category despite being based on a comic-book character and earning comic-book movie numbers (in fact, its debut puts it slightly head of Justice League’s opening weekend and not too far behind the $103 million of Wonder Woman). Somehow, it also managed to do all of this on $55 million, the sort of mid-budget movie that we seldom see anymore.
Does this mean we’ll see more gritty, R-rated character-driven comic-book movies? It’s too early to tell, although the way Hollywood operates, don’t rule out The Riddler starring Daniel Day Lewis and directed by Judd Apatow in 2022.
Beyond Joker, however, this weekend’s box office doesn’t have much to say for itself. Last week’s number one film, Abominable, fell to number two, although it managed a decent hold falling only 42 percent and earning $12 million to bring its 10-day total to $37.8 million. Downton Abbey, in its third weekend, also continues to put up impressive numbers, earning $8 million to bring its total to $73 million.
Hustlers crossed the $90 million mark ($91 million) with $6.3 million in its fourth week. In its fifth week, IT: Chapter 2 added another $5 million to the cash register to bring it over $200 million ($201 million). Brad Pitt’s Ad Astra is fading in its third weekend, earning $4.5 million to bring its total to only $43 million on a budget well over that of Joker ($80-$100 million).
Renee Zellweger’s Judy is also doing very well after adding 1,000 theaters, adding $4.1 million to its total to bring its 10-day earnings to $8.6 million. It bested Rambo: First Blood, which came in eighth place with $3.55 million and$39.8 million overall.
Rounding out the top ten is the Hindu-language action film, War, which earned $1.6 million, and the Chinese seven-part anthology drama film My People, My Country, which earned $1 million.