Who’s Laughing Now? Joker Has Broken Box Office Records Despite the Backlash, No Release in China
‘Joker’ has proven itself to be the little engine that could.
Is This All A Joke To You?
This film didn’t have all that much going for it at first. It’s R rated [X], it’s a standalone film with no ties to any franchise [X], it’s directed by the guy that made The Hangover [X], it stars Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro; 2 of the best-ever actors, sure, but not exactly head turners for the masses [X]. According to IMDB, it had a modest budget of $55 million (estimated) before marketing[X]. And, worst of all in the ever-so greedy eyes of Hollywood, it still hasn’t been released in China: the world’s second-biggest (and soon to be first) box office leader.
But then the reviews started coming in. And then, people finally started to notice.
Yes, that was a reference. When the film debut at the Venice Film Festival, it won the Golden Lion: the highest achievement AKA the Best Picture Oscar of Venice. I’ve already gone into detail on that in another article. You can check that out right here if you’re interested in learning more.
But as the film came closer to its release date, more and more controversy started to get spun around it. People were worried about a repeat of the Aurora, Colorado shooting. The sense of fear that this movie brought out of the woodworks was astonishing, …especially considering that the general public hadn’t even seen Joker yet. People were scared of a repeat shooting, and you can’t entirely blame their fears; it’s only human. But it doesn’t change the fact that there were a lot of people out there who were scared that Joker would inspire ‘incles’ and ‘radical and lonely white men’ to go out and kill after being inspired by Arthur Fleck.
To the surprise of no one, that ended up not happening. Why? Well, because Todd Phillips, the producers, the writing team, Warner Bros. and Joaquin Phoenix aren’t idiots. I would go as far as to say that chances are they are all smarter than I am, or even you, you beautiful person. The movie is considered a masterpiece by some, and while it does tell a compelling story that makes you feel bad for the guy, it doesn’t make you go “Wow, now I understand why he’s evil. I understand psychopaths and murders now. I think I’ll join them!” like some news outlets would have you believe.
This movie isn’t a love note to fat neckbeards who live in their mothers’ basements (or the corner room, if you live in Florida like me). And it’s not a movie that even glorifies violence. The thing is, Joker is scary. I can watch horror films and gore-fests all night and day and be fine. But this was the first time that my girlfriend, my friends, and I have ever watched a movie and considered leaving because it made us feel so uncomfortable and tense. Rather than that being a bad thing, it means that the film has succeeded. It makes us take a good, if not at least a little exaggerated look at how a damaged person can crack. And to see his downfall is, well, it’s not easy to watch.
The Chinese Boogeyman
But that’s enough about that. The other side of this success story is perhaps even more surprising. Over the years, the international movie market has soared in value. While it once seemed that movies were an American pastime that Americans watched, now the entire globe is fully connected in this international industry. The biggest box office apart from the USA? China. And China is still young, it’s still growing, and soon enough, there will be a new box office king. So imagine how terrible it would be if your project was done and ready to be shown, and you find out that the 2nd biggest market in the world says they’re not interested because of the projects ‘content and tone’.
Well, that’s precisely what happened to Joker. Yet, despite that, the film is sitting at $849.1 million in sales right now (10/27/19). And its revenue? Well, Deadline is reporting that Joker can expect to make $500 million in profit. That puts it on par with Avengers: Infinity War. And as veteran film journalist John Campea discussed Joker in his review of it, the film is a game-changer for the genre.
I thought this is a comic book movie that transcended the genre …in a way that only one or two comic book movies ever have.
The film broke countless records: here is a list compiled by ScreenRant. It’s dethroned Deadpool as the biggest ever R rated movie, it’s the most successful film that Phonix, Phillips, and De Niro have ever been in, and it’s the biggest movie release in October. Again, this is from an R movie, with no other connections, which is a character study, that was being boycotted by some, and hasn’t been released in China. Yet, here we are. This should not have happened.
Hollywood, it’s time to listen up. If you didn’t already believe it, let Joker be a lesson to you. You can still make original, standalone films that will be successful. After this and Deadpool 1 and 2, you have seen that you can make an R rated movie that the public will want to see. And most of all…
You don’t need to pander to the oppressive Chinese government to make a killer profit. Put people before profit.
The failure of Joker being screened in Chinese theatres is just a tiny part of the broader American-Chinese scandals breaking out, and one of the few examples where the knee wasn’t bent to the Chinese Communist Party. The public has criticized companies like Activision-Blizzard, Apple, the NBA, and more for catering to the Communist Party so that they could make some more money than they would if they instead sided with human rights and the liberation of Hong-Kong. Consequently, fan protests and boycotts have affected their reputations and their revenues.
Yet: a standalone R rated character-study film that could almost be called art-house has proven that you don’t need to bend the knee to an oppressive regime to make money. Joker is on par for a profit with Infinity War. But Infinity War was a massive undertaking with years of buildup, an enormous cast, endless marketing, and it performed wonderfully in China. Joker is none of those things.
Like Arthur said: No one is laughing now.