Joker's tremendous box office success is more incredible than people thought. This fall has featured more than its fair share of commercial bombs (with the Charlie's Angels reboot being the latest example), but Joker was the one true breakaway hit of the season. Opening in early October, the film shattered multiple records in its first weekend and continued to hold strong through the remainder of the month. Bolstered by Oscar buzz for Joaquin Phoenix, the polarizing word-of-mouth, and the fact it's based on one of the most iconic characters in pop culture, Joker was a must-see that continuously drew in large crowds.
It seems funny to think about now, but Warner Bros. was initially wary of Joker's box office viability - so much so they decided to split production costs (and profits) with co-financiers. They even intentionally limited Joker's budget in an effort to dissuade director Todd Phillips from making the film. Fortunately for them, Phillips and Phoenix still worked their magic, and the end result is one of the most amazing box office runs in history.
To be fair, the Joker box office projections long indicated the film would break Venom's October opening record. That Joker is a box office success isn't necessarily a big deal. What's astounding is how successful Joker was. It just made history by becoming the first R-rated movie to cross the $1 billion plateau, making it the 43rd highest-grossing film of all-time, unadjusted for inflation. Joker recently passed The Dark Knight, a blockbuster that was so huge, it sold 2 million more tickets than Avengers: Infinity War. Because of its small budget, Joker is now the most-profitable comic book movie of all-time. Again, people always thought it would do well, but few could have predicted this turn of events. Even into November, Joker was making headlines for its box office prowess.
What makes Joker's accomplishments all the more impressive is that the film did not play in China. Over the past handful of years, the Chinese marketplace has become a boon for Hollywood tentpoles, trailing only the U.S. in terms of scope. Comic book films do particularly well in China; last year, both Venom and Aquaman received rare extensions in the country due to high demand. It's worth mentioning the only Deadpool release to screen in China was the PG-13 rated Once Upon a Deadpool. Those two movies in their original, R-rated form didn't play in the Middle Kingdom. That Joker was able to earn that much more than the Deadpool films (which both brought in over $780 million worldwide) is eye-catching and speaks volumes to how much Joker resonated with the zeitgeist.
It'll be interesting to see what kind of impact Joker's run has on the business. This is a copycat industry, and surely other studios besides WB took notice about what happened. As always, the key thing is what lessons executives take away from Joker and how they implement them moving forward. Joker wasn't successful just because it was a gritty, R-rated character drama disguised as a comic book film. It became a hit because it offered audiences something different. For this genre, which is now synonymous with big-budget spectacle, it was refreshing to see something that was toned down. Fans will get a better idea of Joker's impact a couple of years from now (when projects have time to be green lit and produced), but Joker grossing over $1 billion indicates there's an audience for adaptations that think outside the box and do their own thing.