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‘Joker’ opens to heavy police presence at movie theaters. ‘It’s the times we live in’

Joaquin Phoenix as the “Joker”
Joaquin Phoenix as the “Joker.”
(Nikos Tavernise / Warner Bros.)

Huntington Beach resident Nick Blackner went to see “Joker” at the Century Huntington Beach and XD only to find “tons and tons of cops” at the complex because of a threat of violence.

Blackner said managers outside the theater told him he could get a refund for his ticket, and he returned Friday to see the movie.

“It’s the times we live in, I guess,” Blackner said.

He and other moviegoers trickling in for matinees Friday at the Century Huntington Beach and XD movie theater in the Bella Terra shopping center would have had a hard time missing the two marked police cruisers parked outside the shops that line the walkway to the multiplex.

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Two uniformed officers also were stationed outside the cinema’s ticketing area and entrance.

This was the scene across the country as police beefed up security amid worries of possible violence over the movie. The Los Angeles Police Department said it was increasing patrols during the 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. “While there are no credible threats in the Los Angeles area, the department will maintain high visibility around theaters when it opens.”

“Joker,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Todd Phillips, has sparked controversy over its violent portrayal of the man who would become known as one of Batman’s most twisted nemeses. It also has stirred fears of possible violence at theaters where it is screening.

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Showings of the film resumed Friday at Century Huntington Beach, though authorities said they will maintain a presence 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.

Police did not describe the nature of the threat or how it was reported.

Officers were sent to the theater at 7777 Edinger Ave. about 5 p.m. Thursday. The cinema stopped showing all films scheduled to run after 4:45 p.m., according to a schedule posted on its website.

Moviegoer Luis Cervantes of Fountain Valley said he was planning to see “Joker” at the theater late Thursday and was disappointed when he arrived to find it closed.

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

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.”

The families of the victims of the Aurora shooting issued a letter last week to Warner Bros. — the studio behind the new 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 contributions from the National Rifle Assn.

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“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 to the film’s release, the Los Angeles Police Department last week promised to increase its visibility around theaters showing the movie on opening weekend.

The announcement came after the FBI and the 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” 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.

Julia Sclafani is a Daily Pilot staff writer. Hannah Fry writes for the Los Angeles Times. Times staff writer Colleen Shalby and City News Service contributed to this report.


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