Photo: Joker/Warner Bros.
DC Films and Warner Bros. have a hefty reason to celebrate; Joker, 2019’s incarnation of the anti-caped crusader, has become the most profitable comic book film to date. The worldwide box office success of the R-rated psychological thriller has catapulted the film to a record-breaking $1.047 billion in ticket sales to date, balanced by a $62.5 million budget. After just weeks in theaters, Joker has earned roughly 16.7 times its production budget worldwide. 2016’s Suicide Squad portrayed Mr. J as a misfit gangbanger with a psychopathic desire to watch the world burn, contrary to his vulnerable depiction in this latest manifestation. This outlying film in an extensive library of Joker tales is unique, logical, and relevant in today’s society, despite being set nearly 40 years ago. In any era, the studios involved in production have achieved box office gold. Every studio in Hollywood aims to produce the most profitable film possible, and Warner Bros. is celebrating this feat with a massive smile that would certainly make Arthur Fleck jealous. This highly-coveted achievement had previously been untouched until Joker danced its way through the silver screen- eerie cello music and all.
Joker – Welcome to Gotham, Population: 1
What is the crux of the latest glimpse into the mind of comic’s most notorious villain? Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), presumably the Joker’s birth name, is afflicted with mental health issues heavy enough to shatter a diamond. Set in 1981, the titular character is plagued by a disorder causing him to laugh uncontrollably. He carries cards explaining his vacillating condition and passes them to bystanders as needed. Although surrounded by an urban metropolis of ten million people, Arthur is chronically alone. His only consistent interaction lies within the feeble hands of his homebound mother, who is ailing, both physically and psychologically. Serving as his mother’s caregiver, Arthur is seemingly unphased by his responsibilities, most notably giving his mother a sponge bath.
A glimpse into Arthur’s emotional instability is on display during his nightly viewing of “Live with Murray Franklin.” Longing for connection, Arthur visualizes a scenario in which Murray Franklin plucks him from the studio audience, bringing him on stage to say “There’s something special about you Arthur. I could tell.” This delusion ignites the fuse in a series of narratives which create the bulk of the movie. While some scenes are intentionally funny, such as quips between his motley crew of clown coworkers, Arthur’s condition is no laughing matter. Despite this, his career of choice is apropos. An entertainer at the clown-for-hire agency ‘Haha’s’, Arthur is one of several jaded men who fill odd gigs around the city. Camouflaged in full face paint, Arthur dances his way through his shifts, dodging sign-snatching teenagers and judgmental hecklers. Luckily for Arthur, he has high hopes for his future as an aspiring stand-up comedian. Chaos ensues after the clown personification permeates Arthur’s existence, an embodiment that births the most formidable miscreant of the DC universe. His oddly coordinated victory dance down the now-infamous staircase solidified the transition from an invisible plebian to Gotham’s resident leader of the Injustice League.
Epitome of Hollywood Success
The unique approach by director Todd Phillips has audiences engaged with the character and his backstory. Albeit intrigued, viewers are left questioning previous incarnations of the Joker, wondering if the events of this film were all a delusion spun by the unreliable narrator, the antihero himself. Confused viewers or not, the production laughed its way into becoming the most profitable comic book film of all time (to date). Comic book films have dominated the box office over the past several years, and this year was no exception. 2019 saw the release of several comic book films. Spider Man: Far From Home was released in June, following the trajectory of the shooting star known as Avengers: Endgame. Endgame is now the world’s highest grossing film of all time. The Marvel Studios produced film, distributed by Disney, concluded 11 years of comic based films and over 20 individual character story lines. Grossing $2.8 billion, the superhero film was produced on a budget of $356 million. At face value, these figures sound strong enough to blow Joker off the funny pages, but that is simply not the case. Since Joker is uniquely focused on one main character, Joaquin Phoenix was able to single-handedly carry this instant classic to the top of the profit tier and beyond. Having one headlining star contributed to the disparity between the two film’s budgets, as Endgame had 13 actors receiving top billing placement. To quote Mr. Fleck himself, “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” Joker, 2019’s record-breaking depiction of Gotham’s harlequin nemesis, will be released on streaming services on November 29, 2019.
By Raquel Kokkoros
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