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Divisive ‘Joker’ Shatters October Box-Office Opening Record, Women Drive Two Major Hits

Warner Bros. is laughing all the way to the bank as controversy turns 'Joker' into a must-see.




Bow down to “Joker.” Or at least credit Warner Bros. for scoring big on Todd Phillips’ dark, controversial showcase of the DC Comics character and Joaquin Phoenix’s attention- grabbing performance.

This superb opening follows a five-week rollercoaster launched with an unexpected top jury prize Venice win and initial strong reviews, followed by a more divisive Toronto reaction, with a backlash to the Golden Lion taking over the narrative. Concerns about audience response to the possibly incendiary “Joker” and dicey PR appearances yielded a fierce drop in critic support. No one was quite sure what to expect.

The estimated weekend gross of $93.5 million doesn’t reach the $100-million mark that some event films reach–but those films are rarely rated R. This box office is the best ever for October, besting Marvel’s PG-13 “Venom” last year by $13 million. And with initial international openings raising the initial “Joker” overseas take to close to $250 million, this $55-million Scorsese-inflected character study is already a success.

How will it hold? So far, so good.

Alas, this weekend the recurrent issue hurting the box office again took its toll. Because other studios stayed out of the way (unlike last year’s opening of “A Star Is Born”), total box office dropped about $30 million (about 15%). In fairness, last year’s numbers were boosted by the Columbus Day holiday, which falls next weekend.

That keeps the 2019 shortfall to around the half-billion mark where it has hovered around for some time, somewhere around 5.5%. With the calendar speeding toward the end of the year, the chances of making up the difference are falling close to zero.


Nico Tavernese/Warner Bros.

Curiously, October has long lagged in delivering record openers. But “Joker” is an R-rated film with far more appeal to men (64%) than women. It could have done even better.

The adjusted “Joker” tally ranks #114 all time among openings (fifth best for this year). Even more impressive are the impediments “Joker” overcame: mostly male appeal, R rating, and mixed reviews: Metascore: 58, below the recent “Ghostbusters,” which also earned a B+ Cinemascore. Potential safety concerns likely suppressed the turnout. With a modest $55-million budget, even with high-end worldwide marketing costs, “Joker” will be a global success for Warner Bros., whose DC titles haven’t always enjoyed Marvel’s consistent track record.

Everest, the Yeti, with Yi (Chloe Bennet) in DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio’s Abominable, written and directed by Jill Culton.


DreamWorks Animation LLC


Only “Abominable” (Universal) managed more than $10 million. Last year when “Venom” and “A Star Is Born” soared on their opening weekend, two other holdovers fared better than this year’s batch.

The DreamWorks Animation original dropped 42% to add another $12 million in its second weekend. It’s headed to a not-great $75 million domestic total, but is delivering worldwide with likely its biggest response in China.

Of the three films that opened wide two weeks ago, “Ad Astra” and “Rambo: Last Blood” plummeted while “Downton Abbey” (Focus) is the clear winner, falling a decent 45%, with a $73 million total. The movie could end up hitting $100 million domestic. That’s fantastic for Focus, which has only topped $100 million once ($114 million adjusted for “Brokeback Mountain”).

Meanwhile, “Hustlers” (STX) is holding steady. Still #4 in its fourth weekend, already up to $91 million and headed to a $115 million total. Women drove the success of these two lower-budget titles, which will return major profits. Theaters are grateful.

“It: Chapter Two” (Warner Bros.) has passed $200 million domestically, with $500 million or more worldwide in sight. It’s another mid-budget range hit for the studio, beating out “Ad Astra” (20th Century Fox) this weekend. Not surprisingly, James Gray’s well-reviewed but cerebral space story fell 54%. With Brad Pitt driving audiences, “Ad Astra” still might reach $150 million worldwide, but it won’t make back its $100-million cost. “Rambo: Last Blood” (Lionsgate) dipped 59% and won’t reach $50 million domestic.

Judy” (Roadside Attractions) tripled its theaters and increased its gross by 50% while staying at #7. So far the awards contender’s results are good. Two Indian films, “War” (Yash Raj) and “Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy” (Indican), impressively round out the Top Ten in around 300 theaters each. Even more notably, “My Dream, My Love” (China Media) in only 70 theaters placed #12.

More details in our specialized box office report.

The Top Ten

1. Joker (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 58; Est. budget: $65 million

$93,500,000 in 4,373 theaters; PTA: $21,376,000; Cumulative: $93,500,000

2. Abominable (Universal) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$12,000,000 (-42%) in 4,248 theaters (+6); PTA: $2,825; Cumulative: $37,833,000

3. Downton Abbey (Focus) Week 3; Last weekend #2

$8,000,000 (-45%) in 3,548 theaters (+158); PTA: $2,225; Cumulative: $73,626,000

4. Hustlers (STX) Week 4; Last weekend #3

$6,300,000 (-45%) in 3,030 theaters (-478); PTA: $2,079 Cumulative: $91,322,000

5. It: Chapter 2 (Warner Bros.) Week 5; Last weekend #5

$5,355,000 (-48%) in 3,163 theaters (-448); PTA: $1,693; Cumulative: $202,205,000

6. Ad Astra (20th Century Fox) Week 3; Last weekend #4

$4,557,000 (-54%) in 2,910 theaters (-550); PTA: $1,566; Cumulative: $43,663,000

7. Judy (Roadside Attractions) Week 2; Last weekend #7

$4,445,000 (+52%) in 1,458 theaters (+997); PTA: $3,049; Cumulative: $8,904,000

8. Rambo: Last Blood (Lionsgate) Week; Last weekend #6

$3,350,000 (-59%) in 2,900 theaters (-718); PTA: $1,224; Cumulative: $39,824,000

9. War (Yash Raj) NEW – ; Metacritic: 58; Est. budget: $20 million

$1,581,000 in 360 theaters; PTA: $5,184; Cumulative: $1,581,000

10. Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy (Indin) NEW –  Est. budget: $28 million

$932,000 in 310 theaters; PTA: $3,006; Cumulative: $932,000

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