Warner Bros.’ “Joker” — despite controversy surrounding the film for weeks — is laughing all the way to the bank with a stellar $93.5-million opening, replacing “Venom” as the best-ever October debut and the fourth-best R-rated opener ever, according to estimates from measurement firm Comscore. Analysts initially projected the film to earn about $80 million.
The movie grossed $140.5 million in 73 international territories, far exceeding analyst projections of $75 million, for a global cumulative total of $234 million, easily topping “Venom’s” $205 million last year. Despite the success of “Joker,” the overall box office was down -17.6% from the same weekend in 2018 — in part, because there was nothing to match “A Star Is Born,” which opened in second place a year ago with $42.9 million. The year-to-date box office now trails last year by 5%.
Written and directed by Todd Phillips, the latest DC Comics entry is a relentlessly dark origin story about a man who goes on to become one of the most infamous comic-book villains in history.
In “Joker,” which draws distinct inspiration from Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy,” Joaquin Phoenix plays a failed stand-up comedian named Arthur Fleck who is as much a product of Gotham as his frequent nemesis Batman.
The picture and its star are already considered to be awards contenders despite the controversy surrounding the film’s tone and its graphic depictions of violence. When it premiered at the Venice Film Festival a month ago, it won the top honor, the Golden Lion.
Fear that the movie could inspire an Aurora, Colo.-style mass shooting led the L.A. Police Department to say it would increase “visibility” of law enforcement during the picture’s opening weekend.
“The controversy and concern raging around the film clearly enhanced and did not detract from its appeal to film fans and movie buffs around the world who made this the ultimate water-cooler movie,” Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore, said Sunday. “The massive global performance was the result of a perfect storm of factors that made it an unmissable cinematic event and a spark for a cultural debate that only served to fuel interest in the film.”
The $60-million movie divided critics but was received well overall with a B-plus CinemaScore (a rarity for a film so dark in tone) and a 70% “fresh” rating on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.
This is a career-best opening for both Phoenix and Phillips. Phillips’ previous best opening was for 2011’s “The Hangover Part II,” with $85.9 million, while Phoenix’s previous record was for 2002’s “Signs.” The actor had not been in a film that opened in wide release since 2007’s “We Own the Night.” The majority of his movies since then have finished under $5 million total at the domestic box office.
Moviegoers have consistently proved that there is an appetite for R-rated comics-inspired pictures. The comedy-inflected “Deadpool” opened with $132.4 million in 2016 on its way to $783.1 million globally, while 2017’s “Logan” opened with $88.4 million before earning $619 million globally during its theatrical run.
The film’s great debut is a much-needed boost for Warner Bros., which has struggled with a spate of commercial disappointments this year, including “The Sun Is Also a Star,” “Shaft,” “The Kitchen,” “Blinded by the Light” and “The Goldfinch.” Only “Shazam,” “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” and the September release “It Chapter Two” have seen box office success.
“Warner Bros. has hit its stride in the post-summer period by mapping out a perfect release calendar strategy that has made the studio a powerhouse this fall,” said Dergarabedian.
In second place, Universal’s “Abominable” added $12 million in its second weekend (a 42% drop) for a cumulative $37.8 million.
At No. 3, Focus Features’ “Downton Abbey” added $8 million in its third weekend for a cumulative $73.6 million.
In fourth place, STX Entertainment’s “Hustlers” added $6.3 million in its fourth weekend for a cumulative $91.3 million.
Rounding out the top five, Warner Bros.’ “It Chapter Two” added $5.4 million in its fifth weekend for a cumulative $202.2 million.
In sixth place, Fox’s “Ad Astra” added $4.6 million in its third weekend for a cumulative $43.7 million.
At No. 7, LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions’ “Judy” added 997 locations and $4.4 million in its second weekend (a 52% increase) for a cumulative $8.9 million.
In eighth place, Lionsgate’s “Rambo: Last Blood” added $3.6 million in its third weekend for a cumulative $39.8 million.
At No. 9, Yash Raj’s action thriller “War” opened with $1.5 million across 304 screens over the weekend for a cumulative $2 million since its debut Wednesday. The film, which stars Hrithik Roshan, set an opening day record for a Bollywood title in India.
Rounding out the top 10, Universal’s “Good Boys” added $900,000 in its eighth weekend for a cumulative $82 million.
In limited release, Fox Searchlight opened “Lucy in the Sky” in 37 theaters to $55,000 for a per-screen average of $1,486. It earned an abysmal 28% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Netflix opened the Eddie Murphy comedy “Dolomite Is My Name” theatrically ahead of its Oct. 25 launch on the streaming service, but the company does not release opening-week grosses. It earned a 98% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Sony Classics released Pedro Almodóvar’s drama “Pain and Glory” in four locations to $160,087 for a strong per-screen average of $40,022. It earned a 96% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
This week, United Artists Releasing unveils the animated “The Addams Family,” Paramount opens the Will Smith-led “Gemini Man” and Lionsgate debuts the comedy “Jexi.” Neon premieres the drama “Parasite” in limited release.