The filmmakers and studio behind "Joker" have reason to put on a happy face. Despite concerns over its violent themes and ramped-up theater security, audiences flocked to multiplexes to check out the R-rated film this weekend, resulting in a record October opening.
Warner Bros. said Sunday that "Joker" grossed an estimated $93.5 million in ticket sales from 4,374 screens in North America. The previous October record-holder was the Spider-Man spinoff "Venom," which opened to $80 million last year. Internationally, "Joker" earned $140.5 million from 73 markets, resulting in a stunning $234 million global debut.
"This was a much larger result at the box office than we had ever anticipated globally," said Jeff Goldstein, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros. Since debuting at the Venice Film Festival where it won the prestigious Golden Lion last month, "Joker" has been both praised and criticized for its dark spin on the classic Batman villain played by Joaquin Phoenix. The film from director and co-writer Todd Phillips was always seen as a bit of a gamble with one of the studio's most valuable pieces of intellectual property, hence its modest-for-a-comic-book-film $55 million budget.
But in the weeks leading up to its release, hype and uneasiness intensified beyond how audiences would react to placing this character in a realistic adult setting with "Taxi Driver" undertones. Responding to anxiety that the film might have the potential to inspire violence, multiple theater chains banned costumes, and authorities in numerous cities said they were stepping up police patrols around theaters.
While some worried this would impact the box office, it did not detract audiences from turning out opening weekend; the box office surpassed industry expectations and may rise even higher when weekend actuals are reported Monday.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters:
1. "Joker," $93.5 million.
2. "Abominable," $12 million.
3. "Downton Abbey," $8 million.
4. "Hustlers," $6.3 million.
5. "It Chapter Two," $5.4 million.
6. "Ad Astra," $4.6 million.
7. "Judy," $4.4 million.
8. "Rambo: Last Blood," $3.6 million.
9. "War," $1.5 million.
10. "Good Boys," $900,000.