Smiles all round as Joker makes serious money

People | AGENCIES 8 Oct 2019

The filmmakers and studio behind Joker have reason to put on a happy face. Despite concerns over its violent themes and ramped up theater security, audiences flocked to cinemas to check out the R-rated movie, resulting in a record October opening.

And some moviegoers even had a better time after star Joaquin Phoenix surprised fans at a Los Angeles theater.

Dressed in a dark hoodie, Phoenix met with fans at the at the Alama Drafthouse, answered questions and even took a few selfies.

"I hope you liked it," Phoenix told the audience. "Don't tell me if you didn't but I feel like you did."

Warner Bros said Joker grossed an estimated US$93.5 million (HK$729.3 million) in ticket sales from 4,374 screens in North America.

The previous October record-holder was the Spider-Man spinoff Venom, which opened to US$80 million last year.

Internationally, Joker earned US$140.5 million from 73 markets, resulting in a stunning US$234 million global debut.

"This was a much larger result at the box office than we had ever anticipated globally,'' said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros' president of domestic distribution.

"Putting records aside, we're just thrilled that audiences are embracing the movie as strong as they are.''

Since debuting at the Venice Film Festival where it won the prestigious Golden Lion last month, Joker has been both praised and criticized for its dark spin on the classic Batman villain.

The film from director and co-writer Todd Phillips was always seen as a bit of a gamble with one of the studios' most valuable pieces of intellectual property, hence its modest-for-a-comic-book-film US$55 million budget.

But in the weeks leading up to its release, hype and uneasiness intensified beyond how audiences would react to placing this character in a realistic and unambiguously adult setting.

Responding to anxiety that the film might have the potential to inspire violence, multiple theater chains banned costumes or reaffirmed earlier policies regarding masks and authorities in numerous US cities said they were stepping police patrols around theaters.

Some relatives of the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting even asked Warner Bros to commit to gun control causes. The studio said it always has.

In the landscape of R-rated comic book films, Joker is nestled between Deadpool and its sequel, both of which opened over US$125 million, and Logan, which launched with US$88.4 million.

Joker was the only new wide release at the weekend. Holdovers Abominable landed in second with US$12 million in its second weekend and Downton Abbey took third in its third weekend with US$8 million.

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