The world is finally in on the joke.
After a month of controversy and hand wringing, 'Joker' landed in theaters over the weekend, and Warner Brothers is laughing all the way to the bank. The Batman spinoff is now the highest-grossing October release of all time after beating expectations with a record $96 million debut.
'Joker' explores the origins of one of the most iconic supervillains in pop-culture history. Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill aspiring stand-up comedian whose isolation from society slowly turns him into The Caped Crusader's future archnemesis. After premiering at the Venice International Film Festival in September, 'Joker' instantly ignited a firestorm of controversy amid fears that its depiction of an anti-hero protagonist might strike the wrong chord in today's era of gun violence and mass shootings.
Those concerns led both the LAPD and NYPD to increase the police presence outside of movie theaters over opening weekend. It also inspired families of the victims of the mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater to pen an open letter to Warner Brothers, encouraging the studio to donate money to charities supporting gun control. Twelve people were killed in 2012 when a shooter opened fire during a screening of another Batman film, 'The Dark Knight Rises.' 'Joker's subject matter led the mother of one victim to call the movie a "slap in the face."
But the thriller's opening weekend went largely without incident. One audience member was escorted out of a New York City showing after audiences complained after he cheered the villain's on-screen murders. In Huntington Beach, California, another cinema canceled two screenings on Thursday night after fielding what it called "credible threats." Some theaters posted notices reminding audiences that 'Joker' is not a typical superhero movie and not appropriate for younger audiences.
But the controversial lead up to the premiere seems to have only helped the movie's bottom line. 'Joker' raked in an additional $151 million overseas, leading to a global debut of nearly $250 million: the fifth-largest debut of 2019 — a watershed year for movies that's seen six movies (and counting) join the billion-dollar club, including the highest-grossing film of all time, 'Avengers: Endgame.'
All six of those 10-figure earners come from the same studio: Disney, which also owns the superhero world's crowned cinematic jewel, Marvel. D.C. has long struggled to match the big-screen success of its chief rival, but after 'Joker's' massive opening weekend, Bob Iger, Kevin Feige, and company might not be laughing for much longer.