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Joker’s wild ride to success

Nick Major
October 7, 2019

The Joker may very well be the most recognizable and beloved villain of the comic book world.

While his unmistakable green hair and painted face gives him a consistent trademarked look, through the years he’s had numerous fantastic portrayals from some great names.

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Heath Ledger in 'The Dark Knight' (2008)

Jack Nicholson teamed up with Tim Burton in the 1989’s Batman, Mark Hamil voiced him in Batman: The Animated Series and the most widely beloved Joker has to be the late Heath Ledger’s Academy Award winning performance in 2008’s The Dark Knight.

Yes, I must also mention Jared Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad, which was - unfortunately - met with a less than praising response.

And now we have Joaquin Phoenix taking on the role in the simply titled Joker.

From the moment the first trailer dropped earlier this year, it seemed everyone was buzzing with excitement.

It looked dark and creepy - a departure from the recent DCEU films. The appeal even looked to extend beyond the typical superhero movie going audience and it’s been a long time coming but it’s finally here.

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Joaquin Phoenix in 'Joker' (2019)

The incredibly dark film follows failed comedian Arthur Fleck, an outcast in Gotham City in the 1980’s, who has endured lifelong abuse, being bullied and lives in isolation. A mixture of mental illness and lack of options for real help to better himself, he turns to a life of crime in the already violent, run-down city.

An interesting choice in writer/director was also attached to the psychological thriller with Todd Phillips - who’s best known for comedies like Old School and The Hangover trilogy. If anything, this news only added to the excitement as we’ve seen just how wonderfully those associated with comedy can do in bringing much darker projects to life; think Jordan Peele with Get Out and Us.

Side note: Todd Phillips says he does not plan to make a comedy film again due to recent comedians and filmmakers having their careers virtually ended over “comedic” comments that didn’t age well.

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After screening at the Venice International Film Festival this past August, where it won the Golden Lion (the festival’s most coveted award) and received an 8 minute standing ovation, things were looking very good for the film.

But then, in the blink of an eye, it all seemed to change.

Critics began to see early screenings and the reviews were very mixed. Some praising it, many others were critical of the dark nature and social commentary depicted; concerned it sympathized with an unstable killer.

Then came the safety concerns.

Back in 2012, there was a devastating massacre in an Aurora, CO movie theater during a showing of The Dark Knight Rises. 12 people were killed by a gunman who dyed his hair to resemble the Joker.

Leading up Joker’s release were online postings referencing the 2012 shooting and people claiming they would follow in his steps during screenings of the new film. This put authorities on high alert and many theaters across the country saw an increased presence of police over the weekend.

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After all the initial hype, the backlash from critics and threats of violence made many wonder if the new film was destined to fail at the box-office.

And, if this were the case, the financial blow to Warner Bros would have been less significant as they brought on two co-financiers for the project, Bron Studios & Village Roadshow. The two latter companies split 50% of the production cost while Warner Bros took the other 50%, they’ll be splitting the profits.

Early on, they (Warner Bros) were concerned an R-Rated film of this nature may not perform well so while bringing on these other companies to co-finance would help them if it did flop, it also risked them losing a big chunk of profits if the film did succeed.

It cost around $55m to make. A relatively low budget when compared to recent superhero films that cost well into the hundreds of millions.

Leading up to the release, movie theaters banned people from coming in costumes and several theaters, including the one involved in the 2012 incident, opted to not show the movie.

Then, this past Thursday, it hit theaters.

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Joker earned $13.3m during its late night showings, breaking the previous October Thursday screening that was held by last years Venom.

And, unlike many critics, the response from moviegoers was immediate acclaim. Word of mouth began to spread like wildfire and it was hard to find an empty seat over the weekend.

By the time the weekend came to an end, it made a record-breaking $93.5m. Far exceeding initial expectations and leaving it being not only the highest opening weekend for an October release but also the largest career opening weekend for Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro and director Todd Phillips.

It also did extremely well around the world where it brought it an additional $140.5m for a worldwide total of $234m against its $55m budget.

There was controversy, bad reviews and safety concerns… all terrible elements when trying to release a new movie. But, at the end of the day, it didn’t stop audiences from filling theaters and supporting what will likely be looked back at as an important film for many reasons.

The dark tones that many critics held against it are the very elements audiences found important to address on screen and the success of this release has really shown the power of the people.

Whether you loved it or hated it, you can’t deny that what Joker did this past weekend was monumental in the film world.

Congrats to the cast and crew involved, a well-deserved #1 move in the world.

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