“Joker” officially opened in box offices worldwide this weekend, shattering box office records despite its controversial reception with audiences.
The film grossed over $96 million this weekend, making it the biggest October movie debut ever, beating out last year’s Venom at $80 million. Overseas, Joker amassed $140 million, taking its total global debut to $236 million.
The film, directed by Todd Philips, stars Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a comedian with mental health issues who spirals out of control into violent rampages as his alter ego, The Joker. The film also stars Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, and Frances Conroy.
Although Joker made it big in the box office, many ticketholders never made it to the closing credits of the controversial film.
USC Annenberg professor Henry Jenkins, an expert in media and popular culture saw the film over the weekend. He says that his response to this question is a complicated one.
“It’s an important film because it gives us insight into the way some unhinged members of the alt-right have thought and what may have led to that…[the film] makes itself a resource, unintentionally or not, which will end up being used by those same people to harass and marginalize women and people of color. And that’s where the controversy of the film in my mind should rest," Jenkins said.
Jenkins said he found some of the reviews from critics over the weekend to be simplistic, and he said that is where the problem lies: “[people] are not ready to deal with the film itself.” He continued, “The most crucial part is the media coverage and the social media response to the film as much or more as the film itself.”
“[Joker] helps us to understand the divide in American culture by making us feel [the current issues] and not just pull back from them. But that only works if people see and engage with the film itself,” Jenkins said.
One USC student, Luc Daniels, a senior majoring in business and a longtime DC fan, saw the movie this weekend. He said it’s "not for everyone. It’s a little dark in certain places, but [he] really liked it.”
He spoke on the character itself, saying “Joker is one of Batman’s greatest villains…They wanted to do something with this movie that’s no one’s really done before, and that’s to explain the Joker and [his] origins, that’s been in circulation for around 80 years.”
“They kind of make [the Joker] a sympathetic figure at the beginning of the movie, but as I’ve been reading online, it’s a kind of a movie from the perspective of an actual lunatic, mentally deranged person, so I don’t think they’re inspiring violence,” Daniels said.
Both Jenkins and Daniels said they did not notice anyone leaving the film before the end.
Others are more concerned about the film’s portrayal of violence.
Many have said that the movie promotes gun violence, and others say it’s a depiction of real world issues and a way to express our fears through art.
According to CNN, Warner Bros. studio recognized gun violence as a “critical issue,” and released a statement before the debut of the film, saying, “Warner Bros. believes that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues.” The statement continued, “It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero.”
Security was tight for screenings over the weekend, and this is not the first time security issues have arisen for a Batman-themed movie. In July 2012, a shooting occurred in Aurora, Colorado during a midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises,” the sequel to the film where Heath Ledger gave his legendary and posthumous Oscar-winning performance. Twelve were killed and 70 injured at that midnight showing of “The Dark Night Rises.”
A mother of a victim in the Aurora shooting spoke to the New York Times ahead of the new Joker release, saying “Who are we to say that somebody in that audience isn’t a wannabe mass shooter and isn’t encouraged by what he’s seen onscreen?”
The movie will not be played at The Century Theater in Aurora where the shooting took place seven years ago.
Over the weekend Joaquin Phoenix made some surprise appearances to theaters where Joker was being screened, including a visit to Alamo Drafthouse in Downtown Los Angeles, where he joked with fans, “Enjoy the movie. Hope you like it. Don’t tell me if you didn’t…I don’t wanna know!” to which viewers laughed in response.
One quote in particular has stuck with viewers after the film:
“The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”
The character of The Joker, also now dubbed by many media outlets as “The Clown Prince of Crime,” first appeared in the comic book Batman, published by DC Comics.