Despite the overwhelming success of Todd Phillips' Joker film, there was a time where the Joaquin Phoenix-led comic flick was shrouded with controversy - but Joker 2 proves that the backlash didn't matter in the end. The R-rated film's depiction of violence and anti-social behavior, coupled with the unfortunate timing of the film's release in proximity to a number of mass shootings, generated a number of negative headlines. Even from the get-go, it was a huge risk – so much so that Warner Bros. decided to split Joker's production costs and profits with co-financiers in case the gritty crime drama struggled at the box office.
A month after its release, Joker has laid all of those concerns to rest, shattering box office records and becoming the first R-rated movie to cross the $1 billion mark. Additionally, there are already talks about Joker 2, even though the initial reports that a Joker sequel was already in the works may have been premature. Even so, the fact that there are discussions surrounding Joker 2 proves that not only did the controversy not matter, it might have even been beneficial to the film's success as well.
Much of Joker's controversy came from the idea that Phoenix's Arthur Fleck/Joker character was allegedly portrayed as a hero despite being a incel-esque loner prone to extreme bouts of violence. Some worried the film's depiction of violence would inspire mass shootings and lead to others trying to copy the Joker's behavior, so much so that New York City police officers were brought in to patrol outside theaters during early screenings. The noise got so loud that Warner Bros. had to release a statement, condemning gun violence while also saying "one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues."
A few weeks later, the studio was laughing its way to the bank. It is the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time and the 36th highest-grossing film. The statements, combined with some outlandish claims from director Todd Phillips, turned out to be a marketing trick that drummed up interest and word-of-mouth. And now, with sequel talks fully underway, it seems the studio could have a franchise on their hands. Ultimately, if anything, the Joker controversy helped boost the movie's box office.
It speaks to the old adage that "there is no such thing as bad publicity." Many people drummed up fears of incel violence before even seeing the film, and while it is violent, it turned out to be not much worse (if at all) than an average Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese film. The constant press brought eyeballs to the film's release, and likely brought more people in the door. Additionally, it might have masked the fact that many critics didn't think the film was particularly good – it got a mere 69% on Rotten Tomatoes. If Joker 2 does happen, there is likely to again be significant buzz around the film's release.