‘Joker’ Box Office: Laughing All the Way to the Record Books

Warner Bros. has a reason to put on a happy face.
Joker Standup
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on October 6th, 2019

Don’t be surprised if one day all movies are superhero movies. Specifically either Marvel- or DC-based superhero movies. Every genre can be turned into a superhero movie. Who needs original Westerns or heist capers or body swap comedies or spy thrillers or crime films when you can spin them through comic book characters and make big money via products such as, respectively, Logan, Ant-ManShazam!, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Joker.

The last of those proved the point by breaking October’s all-time opening-weekend box office record. Joker sold an estimated 10.7 million tickets in North America (gross: $96.2 million), topping the previous record-holder, Venom, by almost 2 million. The gritty crime drama as supervillain origin story is also had the best opening attendance for Joaquin Phoenix (beating Signs by just around 300,000 people) and Robert De Niro (easily) and director Todd Phillips (beating The Hangover Part II by only about 14,000 people).

As for the title character, Joker only placed third for movies featuring the Clown Prince of Crime. His best is The Dark Knight, in which he’s played by Heath Ledger, with his second-best being Suicide Squad, in which Jared Leto portrays the iconic villain. There’s no comparison for movies focused on the Joker and not really featuring the hero Batman at all (Joker may have a young Bruce Wayne but technically no Caped Crusader). Joker did have the best R-rated DC movie opening ever.

Here’s how Joker‘s domestic ticket sales compare to other live-action DC movies’ opening weekends (only top 20 ranked):

1. The Dark Knight (2008): 22.1 million
2. The Dark Knight Rises (2012): 20.7 million
3. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016): 19.3 million
4. Suicide Squad (2016): 15.7 million
5. Man of Steel (2013): 13.9 million
6. Batman Forever (1995): 12.1 million
7. Wonder Woman (2017): 11.5 million
8. Batman Returns (1992): 11 million
9. Joker (2019): 10.7 million
10. Justice League (2017): 10.2 million
11. Batman (1989): 10.2 million
12. Batman and Robin (1997): 9.3 million
13. Superman Returns (2006): 8 million
14. Batman Begins (2005): 7.6 million
15. Aquaman (2018): 7.5 million
16. Watchmen (2009): 7.4 million
17. Green Lantern (2011): 6.6 million
18. Shazam! (2019): 5.9 million
19. Superman II (1980): 5.1 million
20. Constantine (2005): 4.6 million

For all R-rated movie openings, Joker comes in seventh place. Interestingly enough, it’s the third R-rated movie involving Bradley Cooper, who produced Joker, produced and stars in American Sniper (sixth place), and stars in Phillips’ The Hangover Part II (eighth place). Joker fell short of fellow Warner Bros. clown-themed villain movie IT but drew a bigger crowd than that movie’s recent sequel, IT: Chapter Two. Deadpool still reigns as the best R-rated superhero movie.

For those who like to pit DC against Marvel, though, here are some of the latter’s movies (not just MCU titles) that Joker outsold: Logan, X-Men, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Apocalypse, Spider-Man: Far From Home, The Amazing Spider-Man, Venom, Doctor Strange, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, Hulk, The Incredible Hulk. And many others that you probably can be sure of as lesser releases.

There was some uncertainty regarding the appeal of a comic book movie that’s more of a drama than action- and special-effects-driven blockbuster. Back in early August, Box Office Pro’s long-range forecast showed Joker tracking for maybe $77 million (8.5 million tickets). Last week, the same site played it safe by predicting the opening-weekend gross at an even $90 million (just under 10 million tickets).

How will the movie fare in the long run? With a B+ grade from first-night fans via Cinemascore polling, the legs aren’t likely to be super strong. That’s the same grade that both Justice League and Suicide Squad received, and it’s lower than Aquaman and Shazam! were graded over the past year. And while its reviews still lean mostly positive, Joker‘s Rotten Tomatoes score has only fallen since being stamped Certified Fresh. In fact, with 69%, it should be losing that status per RT’s rules.

User scores are keeping the movie’s relevance high, however, with Joker currently beating The Dark Knight as the best-rated DC Comics movie on IMDb. Similarly, the movie’s Audience Score on RT is pretty high from confirmed ticket buyers. If Joker can keep up the momentum through the end of the year, and maintain more positive buzz for at least Phoenix’s performance, it could also become a legitimate awards contender and its legacy will stay golden.

In other box office news, the Indian action movie War debuted in 10th place, the biopic Judy expanded into wider release and jumped to sixth place, and Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice remained the top-selling documentary of the weekend in its fifth week of release. Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain & Glory, which stars Antonio Banderas giving a performance that could go up against Phoenix’s at the Oscars, had the best per-screen average of all titles, grossing a total of $153,000 from just four locations.

Here are the weekend’s top 12 domestic release titles by the estimated number of tickets sold with new and newly wide titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. Joker – 10.7 million (10.7 million)
2. Abominable – 1.3 million (4.2 million)
3. Downton Abbey – 0.9 million (8.2 million)
4. Hustlers – 0.7 million (10.1 million)
5. IT: Chapter Two – 0.6 million (22.4 million)
6. Judy – 0.51 million (1 million)
7. Ad Astra – 0.47 million (4.8 million)
8. Rambo: Last Blood – 0.4 million (4.4 million)
9. War – 0.2 million (0.2 million)
10. Good Boys – 0.099 million (9.1 million)
11. My People, My Country – 0.097 million (0.1 million)
12.The Lion King – 0.08 million (60.1 million)

All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.