Of all the movies based off DC Comics properties on the way, Joker is arguably the strangest. Aside from being unconnected to the DC Extended Universe franchise, the movie feels less like a comic book adaptation and more similar to dramas like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. There’s a good reason why producer Michael Uslan said last month that Joker is “unlike any comic book movie you’ve ever seen.”
Strangeness aside though, with approximately two months to go until Joker’s release, long-range tracking predicts that the movie will get off to a great commercial start this fall. Box Office Pro estimates that the R-rated Joker could make anywhere between $60-90 million on its opening weekend. Considering that Joker was made off a mere $55 million budget, even accounting for marketing and other costs, needless to say that would be an excellent opening.
Assuming Joker does fall within this range, it would outperform Shazam!’s opening weekend of $53.5 million earlier this year. There’s even the potential for Joker to surpass Aquaman’s debut of $67.8 million late last year. However, the prospect of Joker exceeding Aquaman’s total gross of $1.1 billion (making it the highest grossing DC movie ever) seems slim.
Speaking of which, Box Office Pro also forecasts that Joker could end its domestic run with around $175 million. We’ll have to wait and see what the estimates for the international numbers are, but the outlet notes that among the things the movie has going for it are The Joker’s popularity, some positive early praise and the success of fellow R-rated comic book movies like Deadpool and Logan, although the latter could potentially be a turn-off for some folks used to DC’s PG-13 cinematic content.
As far as competition goes, the only movie opening the same weekend as Joker is Lucy in the Sky, which stars Natalie Portman and Jon Hamm, but is definitely the smaller of the two films. The following week brings Gemini Man as a new offering for adult moviegoers, but it’s hard to say if the Will Smith-led, Ang Lee-directed movie will majorly disrupt Joker’s run or barely affect it. The Addams Family is also opening that following weekend, but you can be sure the target audience for that animated movie isn’t the same as Joker’s.
Of course, the big question going into Joker is how Joaquin Phoenix will do bringing the Clown Prince of Crime to life. Plenty of actors have put their own stamp on the character over the decades, including Jack Nicholson in 1989’s Batman, Heath Ledger in 2008’s The Dark Knight and Jared Leto in 2016’s Suicide Squad, so it will be interesting to see how Phoenix’s portrayal of the clownish killer stands out from the pack.
The difference with Joker, though, is that this is the first time the eponymous character is taking the spotlight for himself and not fighting his arch-nemesis, Batman. A young Bruce Wayne will appear, but the story is centered around stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck being disregarded by society and turning to a life of crime and chaos.
A Joker movie without Batman involved is notable on its own, but the fact that it’s an origin story is also interesting. Longtime DC Comics fans know Joker’s past, i.e. who he was before he became a mass murderer, is rarely explored in-depth, with writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke being one of the main exceptions.
In fact, it was decided not to follow anything from the comics at all, with the Joker filmmakers instead deciding to tell an original story about the villain. That may not matter much to the average moviegoer unfamiliar with the comics who’s just looking for a good time at the theater, but you can be sure hardcore comics fans will be eager to see how this origin story compares to the few that have come before, especially when taking into account that the source material was ignored.
If Joker is successful, the plan is for Warner Bros to launch a ‘Black’ label that will make other DC movies that exist outside of the DCEU and are more experimental, similar to the Elseworlds comic book line back in the day. Just don’t expect Joker to be sequel-ized. However much money it makes and however critics react to it, it will be a standalone tale.
Earlier this decade, Joaquin Phoenix was being eyed to play Doctor Strange in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a role that would eventually go to Benedict Cumberbatch. Phoenix turned down playing the Master of the Mystic Arts because he was more interested in doing a lower-budget, ‘character study’-type movie about a comic book villain. Joker afforded him that opportunity, and if it earns critical acclaim, perhaps Phoenix could end up being the second actor who gets awards buzz for playing this antagonist.
Along with Joaquin Phoenix, Joker’s cast includes Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro (who was sent a pipe bomb right when he started working on the movie), Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Douglas Hodge, Dante Pereira-Olson, Marc Maron, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, Bryan Callen, Brian Tyree Henry and Josh Pais. Behind the camera, The Hangover’s Todd Phillips directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Todd Silver.
Todd Phillips pitched his idea for a Joker movie to Warner Bros after the release of his 2016 movie War Dogs, and the studio was game for this unusual approach to the character. By August 2017, the studio officially announced the project was in development, and before Joaquin Phoenix was cast as The Joker, Leonardo DiCaprio was being considered for the role. Principal photography took place from September to December of 2018.