×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Box Office: ‘Joker’ Eyes Hefty $80 Million-Plus Debut

Warner Bros.’ “The Joker,” an origin story about the notorious Batman villain, is shaping up to be a big hit despite being one of the darkest mainstream movies to hit screens in years.

The film is on pace to debut to a sizable $76 million to $88 million when it hits theaters on Oct. 4, according to early tracking. Some executives believe those numbers are very inflated because the film is so unconventional and has characteristics that could alienate fanboys and fangirls as well as more mainstream crowds. Warner Bros. believes the dark thriller could launch in the $50 million to $55 million range.

Even if “Joker” opens well below that bullish tracking, a start above $50 million-plus would be a success. While those figures would rank on the lower side when it comes to comic-book adaptations, “Joker” is not a typical superhero tentpole — it’s a violent R-rated character study that’s closer to “Taxi Driver” than “Aquaman” or “Shazam.” It unfolds in a 1980s urban landscape pockmarked by burnt out buildings and graffiti, unstintingly documenting one character’s descent into madness as the social structures around him crumble.

Because the movie is so different from standard comic book fare, Warner Bros. kept costs low. Most Batman adaptations cost more than $150 million to produce, but “Joker” reportedly totaled $55 million in production costs. That means that an opening above $50 million would position the film to make back that money, as well as recoup its marketing and distribution costs.

“Joker” was directed by Todd Phillips (“The Hangover,” “Old School”) and stars Joaquin Phoenix as an aspiring stand-up comedian whose dead-end existence ultimately results in a life of crime and chaos. The movie generated mostly positive sentiment out of the Venice Film Festival, where “Joker” had its world premiere and won the festival’s top prize. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman offered high praise out of the festival, writing “Joaquin Phoenix is astonishing as a mentally ill geek who becomes the killer-clown Joker in Todd Phillips’ neo-‘Taxi Driver’ knockout: the rare comic-book movie that expresses what’s happening in the real world.”

Audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival were more reserved, however. Some complained that the movie was too slow and depressing, while others worried it sent out a disturbing message by humanizing a psychopathic killer as mass shootings are on the rise and society is increasingly alarmed by gun violence. That brewing controversy could depress box office receipts and lead to backlash.

Because the movie is more interested in the Joker’s neurosis than it is in staging elaborate fight scenes, some Batman fans could feel shortchanged. In fact, the Caped Crusader never makes an appearance in full vigilante form.

After a tepid summer season at the box office, “Joker” should continue a robust fall for Warner Bros. Since launching last weekend, the studio’s “It: Chapter Two” has racked up nearly $200 million worldwide. Warner Bros.’ upcoming slate includes Edward Norton’s “Motherless Brooklyn,” Stephen King adaptation “Doctor Sleep” and Michael B. Jordan’s legal drama “Just Mercy.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Joaquin Phoenix'Joker' film premiere, Arrivals, 57th

    Film News Roundup: Joaquin Phoenix Honored by Palm Springs Film Festival

    In today’s film news roundup, Joaquin Phoenix is honored for “Joker”; Legion M backs Joe Manganiello’s “Archenemy”; sales have launched on “Lev Yashin: The Dream Goalkeeper”; and Universal launches a first-of-its-kind animation writing program. HONOR Joaquin Phoenix has been selected as the recipient of the Palm Springs International Film Festival’s chairman’s award for his performance [...]

  • Danny Huston

    Danny Huston Discusses the Significance of 'Last Photograph'

    In the decades since Danny Huston made his feature directing debut with “Mr. North,” his 1988 film adaptation of the Thornton Wilder novel “Theophilus North,” he has kept busy in front of the cameras as one of film and television’s most versatile and sophisticated character players. In just the past year, small-screen viewers have been [...]

  • Rocketman

    'Rocketman': Chris Dickens Discusses the Inside Story of Editing 'I'm Still Standing'

    Endings are so important and how the viewer leaves the cinema is crucial. For editor Chris Dickens, finding the perfect ending for “Rocketman” was paramount, but it was also a challenge. Elton John’s hit “I’m Still Standing” was going to end the film with the original idea of going to Cannes to recreate the video [...]

  • A general view of the skyline

    United Media Asia Strikes Deal With Indonesian Giant Kompas Gramedia

    Newly-formed content finance, production and distribution company United Media Asia has struck a first look deal, brokered by Hollywood talent agency CAA, with Indonesian media giant Kompas Gramedia. United has also unveiled its first two feature films. The partnership provides UMA with access to Kompas Gramedia’s media network and its 100,000 pieces of intellectual property, [...]

  • Taron Egerton Fashion

    Taron Egerton's Stylist Used Elton John as Inspiration on Press Tour

    Showstopping looks: For Taron Egerton’s “Rocketman” tour, stylist Gareth Scourfield nodded to Elton John’s iconic wardrobe with bold colors, patterns and silhouettes: “We got a bit more eccentric.” May 16 “Elton is the real original showman,” says Scourfield, who met Egerton through another client, Egerton’s “Rocketman” co-star Richard Madden. “Part of Taron as a man [...]

  • Lupita Nyong'o Us Best Actress

    Looking to Indie and Genre Performances in the Best Actress Oscar Race

    This year’s race for lead actress could yield some surprising nominations, outside of some clear front-runners including Renee Zellweger (“Judy”), Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”), and Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story”). It’s been a terrific year for female performances, with a wide selection of talent taking on challenging roles spread over various genres. The recent societal demand toward [...]

  • Stephen Sondheim's 'Follies' in the Works

    Stephen Sondheim's 'Follies' in the Works as a Movie From Heyday, BBC Films

    David Heyman’s Heyday Films, whose credits include “Gravity,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Marriage Story” and the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts franchises, and BBC Films have secured the film rights to Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s musical “Follies.” “Follies” will be adapted for the screen and directed by Dominic Cooke, a four-time Olivier [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content