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Credible threat targeting ‘Joker’ screening forces Huntington Beach theater to close

“Joker,” starring Joaquin Phoenix, has sparked controversy over its violence.
“Joker,” starring Joaquin Phoenix, has sparked controversy over its violence.
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

A movie theater in Huntington Beach showing the film “Joker” was closed late Thursday after a threat was reported to police, authorities said Friday.

Officers were sent about 5 p.m. to the Century Huntington Beach and XD theater in the Bella Terra shopping center at 7777 Edinger Ave. The theater stopped showing all films scheduled to run after 4:45 p.m., according to a schedule posted on its website.

Police did not describe the nature of the threat or how it was reported. Showings of the film are scheduled to resume Friday, and authorities said they will maintain a presence in the area around the theater throughout the weekend.

“We took the threat seriously, and we’re investigating,” said Officer Angela Bennett, spokeswoman for the Huntington Beach Police Department.

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Moviegoer Luis Cervantes of Fountain Valley was planning to see “Joker” at the theater late Thursday and was disappointed when he arrived to find the theater closed. He’s a fan of actor Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the Joker in the film, and had read good reviews of the movie leading up to opening day, he said.

“I was excited to see it, so I’m kind of bummed out right now,” Cervantes told a reporter outside the theater.

“Joker,” directed by Todd Phillips, has sparked controversy over its violent portrayal of the man who would become known as one of Gotham City’s most twisted villains.

The film’s release has stirred anxieties over possible threats of violence at theaters. Seven years ago, a gunman killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., during a screening of the 2012 Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.”

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The families of some of the victims of the Aurora shooting issued a letter last week to Warner Bros. — the studio behind the film — expressing concern over the movie’s violence while requesting that the studio help fund gun violence intervention programs, lobby for gun reform and end contributions to political candidates who accept funds from the National Rifle Assn.

“When we learned that Warner Bros. was releasing a movie called ‘Joker’ that presents the character as a protagonist with a sympathetic origin story, it gave us pause,” the letter said. “We want to be clear that we support your right to free speech and free expression. But as anyone who has ever seen a comic book can tell you: with great power comes great responsibility. That’s why we’re calling on you to use your massive platform and influence to join us in our fight to build safer communities with fewer guns.”

Though Warner Bros. tried to assuage fears leading up to the film’s release, the LAPD last week promised to increase its visibility around theaters showing the movie on opening weekend.

“The Los Angeles Police Department is aware of public concerns and the historical significance associated with the premiere of ‘Joker,’” the LAPD said in a statement last week. “While there are no credible threats in the Los Angeles area, the department will maintain high visibility around theaters when it opens.”

The announcement came after both the FBI and U.S. Army issued internal warnings about possible threats related to the movie. One of the warnings from the Army Criminal Investigation Command field office at Ft. Sill, Okla., which went public after a memo circulated online, flagged a “credible potential mass shooting” at an unknown movie theater during “Joker’s” Friday release.

“While our standard practice is to not comment on specific intelligence products, the FBI is in touch with our law enforcement and private sector partners about the online posts. As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activity to law enforcement,” the FBI said.

Times staff writer Colleen Shalby contributed to this report.


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