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‘Joker’ Tops U.K. List of Most Complained About Films in 2019, but Can’t Beat ‘The Dark Knight’

"Joker" follows in the footsteps of Jennifer Lawrence's "Red Sparrow" as the reigning champion.



Warner Bros.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has confirmed Todd Phillips’ R-rated comic book drama “Joker” was the most complained about movie in the United Kingdom last year. The BBFC’s annual report has “Joker” topping the list of most complained about films with 20 complaints filed in regards to the movie’s age 15 classification.

The majority of complaints against “Joker” argued the film should’ve received an age 18 rating due to “violence and tone,” while a select few said the BBFC should’ve banned the movie altogether. The BBFC defended the age 15 rating for “Joker” because the film “doesn’t dwell on the infliction of pain or injury in a manner that requires an 18.”

While “Joker” received the most complaints in 2019, its total number is far less than the amount of complaints the spy thriller “Red Sparrow” received in 2018. The Jennifer Lawrence-starring movie was the BBFC’s most complained about movie in 2018 with 64 complaints. Similar to “Joker,” the majority of complaints against “Red Sparrow” argued that its age 15 rating was too low due to the level of violence. The total number of complaints filed to the BBFC dropped by nearly half from 2018 to 2019. There were only 149 total complaints filed in 2019.

The decrease in complaints suggests U.K. audiences are getting less bothered by movie violence and darker tones. Just look at Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” which received a grand total of 364 complaints back in 2008. Those complaints slammed the BBFC for giving “The Dark Knight” an age 12 rating. Perhaps moviegoers are becoming more accustomed to violence, or maybe it’s just that Heath Ledger’s Joker is far more terrifying than Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker.

Complaints against “Joker” were not exclusive to the United Kingdom. The film generated backlash in North America as well over its depiction of violence, while several film critics slammed the film for sympathizing with its villainous title character. Some critics even wondered prior to the movie’s October 2019 theatrical release whether or not “Joker” might encourage moviegoers to commit violent acts. Phillips defended the movie’s depiction of violence in several interviews, arguing the film showcases the real-world effects of violence and not the cartoonish PG-13 mass murder seen in films like “The Avengers” and “John Wick.”

“Isn’t it a good thing to put real-world implications on violence?” Phillips asked the audience at last year’s New York Film Festival. “Isn’t that a good thing to take away the cartoon element of violence that we’ve become so immune to? So I was a little surprised when it turns into that direction, that it seems irresponsible because to me it seems actually very responsible to make it feel real and make it that weight.”

Click here to read the BBFC’s annual report in its entirety.

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