The controversy surrounding the upcoming DC film Joker hasn't hurt the movie, but instead ensured that it will be a major success. The film has been positioned by Warner Bros. as its own entity separate from the DCEU franchise, and focuses on the story of Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, and his gradual transformation into Gotham City's Clown Prince of Crime. Joker won the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival, with Phoenix earning glowing praise for his performance
Despite the acclaim, with Joker even mooted as an Oscars contender, the movie has also seen an equal amount of criticism and trepidation ahead of its wide release this weekend, with some expressing concern that Fleck's story could inspire acts of violence in the real world. In particular, the proximity of the release of the film to recent mass shootings in the United States has left its detractors concerned that the movie lionizes its title character, and that it could effectively give license to segments of its audience to repeat such tragic acts of violence in the future.
Ultimately, the controversy surrounding Joker has made the film one of the year's most heavily discussed movies, and the debate over whether it could lead to further tragedies in the real world is only likely to continue throughout its theatrical run. However, looking at the overall situation in the months leading up to the release of Joker, it is undeniable that the controversy that has accompanied the movie as it heads into theaters has been entirely to its benefit.
Joker's Controversy Explained
While the beginning of the Joker controversy cannot be pinned down to any singular point in time, the debate around the content of the film began to noticeably ramp up after the script was leaked. However, feelings of uneasiness had been circling the film previously, specifically regarding the perceived sympathy afforded to Arthur Fleck's actions amid his deteriorating sanity. With the film arriving in theaters on the heels of several particularly horrendous mass shootings earlier this summer, Joker has been viewed by its detractors as effectively providing segments of the population prone to violence with something of a big-screen folk hero.
The movie has only become that much more of a lightning rod as its release has neared, with director Todd Phillips devoting much of the Joker press tour to defending the film against the charges of social irresponsibility it has faced. The issue would prove to be enough of a heated topic for Joaquin Phoenix to walk out of an interview when confronted with questions on the potential negative impact the film could have, while the U.S. military has even issued safety warnings in the event of theater violence to service members.
As the discussion of the film has raged on, family members of the 2012 Aurora theater shooting would also enter the picture. While not calling for the release of the film to be halted, some family members of the victims killed in the tragedy have expressed concern that the movie carries the potential to inspire the next mass shooter with its depiction of Arthur Fleck, and the theater where the shooting took place would elect not to screen the movie upon its release. Ultimately, the situation has come to dominate headlines about the film enough for Warner Bros. to release an official statement on the matter assuring those concerned that the film is not intended as an endorsement of violence in the real world.
Joker's Box Office Predictions Are Extremely High
Amid all the back-and-forth on what impact Joker may have upon society, it's become increasingly clear that it has done little to harm the box office potential of the movie. If anything, Joker has been set up to become more of a hit than it may otherwise have been. As of early August, Joker was already tracking to see a bigger opening weekend than Aquaman. While the R-rated character study is highly unlikely to outdo Aquaman's $1.1 billion final gross, that fact that its opening weekend is tracking ahead of the movie that became DC's box office champion last year can only bode well for its overall financial prospects. However, the estimates for Joker's opening weekend would only continue to grow from there.
By early September, Joker was tracking to set a new opening weekend record for the month of October, a threshold previously set by the $80.2 million opening of Venom last year. Additionally, early ticket sales for Joker on Atom Tickets have been significant, outpacing those of Venom and IT: Chapter Two, and second only to May's John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum among R-rated movies in 2019. All the data points to Joker not only seeing a huge opening weekend but being a major hit overall for the fall movie season. The acclaim Phoenix's performance has seen ahead of its release is sure to drive attendance among both DC fans and casual moviegoers, while the ongoing discussion surrounding the film is likely to boost its theatrical longevity. However, what is also clear at this point is that the success that Joker is now destined to enjoy is at least partly a result of the controversy it has been subject to.
How Joker's Controversy Has Helped The Movie
Regardless of where one may stand on the toxic impact that Joker is accused of leaving upon society by its detractors, it is abundantly clear at this point that the controversy the movie has experienced has been advantageous to the film. Joker has been arguably the most debated, polarizing movie of the year, with the concern about its representation of Arthur Fleck's violent deeds beginning well in advance of its release. As the debut of Joker has neared, that conversation has only intensified, with Landmark Theaters forbidding Joker costumes during showings of the movie. Furthermore, the New York City Police Department will also reportedly assign officers to patrol theaters showing the film. All of these are factors not experienced by most major films heading into general release, but it has also only further enticed moviegoers to see Joker for themselves to a much greater degree than had the controversy never been present at all.
To be sure, Joker certainly isn't the first movie to arrive in theaters on a wave of intense debate and consternation about the perceived negative influence it carries with it. 2004's The Passion of the Christ and 2014's The Interview come to mind as films whose release came with heated external discussion. While a majority of theater chains declined to screen the latter due to the response from the North Korean government, it only magnified the impact of the film well beyond what it likely would have otherwise been, with the movie performing impressively upon its subsequent digital release. Likewise, Joker has been kept front and center in the minds of moviegoers as a direct result of the contentious conversation about whether or not it glorifies the actions of its title character, and that has solidified the movie as one that audiences will doubtlessly flock to in great numbers simply to see what the commotion is all about.
By all accounts from early reviews of Joker, Joaquin Phoenix's performance is one that critics and audiences will be raving about for years to come. Meanwhile, how one judges the film overall seemingly rests upon where one falls on whether it grants undeserved sympathy to such a notorious villain, or of what negative influence it could have upon certain demographics seeing it. However, the only thing seemingly not up for debate is that Joker will be one of the biggest hits arriving in theaters this fall, and that its now inevitable success is not despite the controversy it has experienced, but at least partially because of it.
- Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
- Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) release date: Feb 07, 2020
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
- The Batman (2021) release date: Jun 25, 2021
- The Suicide Squad (2021) release date: Aug 06, 2021
- DC Super Pets (2022) release date: May 20, 2022
- Aquaman 2 (2022) release date: Dec 16, 2022