Sun. Sep 27th, 2020

Box Office Estimates: ‘Joker’ laughs off competition; opens to new October record

Arthur he does as he pleases: Joker dances through the box office weekend (Photo: Niko Tavernise)

After weeks of controversy and conversation around the film, Joker was finally released this weekend to a record-breaking opening weekend. It was also an exciting weekend for some films in limited release, both for good (a slew of foreign language release) and for bad (one of the biggest flops in years from the most successful mini-major distributor). 

Opening in first place with a bullet, Warner Bros.’s Joker pulled in a massive $93.5 million, a new record for the month of October, topping last year’s Venom. It is also the fourth largest opening of all time for an R-rated film, behind only Deadpool 1 & 2, and It, and the eighth largest opening of all time for DC Comics adaptation – and it could move above Justice League ($93.8M) to seventh if it is underestimated. It is also a rare blockbuster for star Joaquin Phoenix. After its opening day gross of $39.7 million, it was already Phoenix’s highest grossing movie in 14 years, since 2005’s Walk the Line. After three days, it is already the sixth biggest movie of his 30 year career, and the third biggest film that he is the star of, behind only Walk the Line ($119.5 million) and The Village ($114.2 million) – movies that Joker should fly past by the end of the week. 

It is also the highest opening of all time on Box Office Mojo’s Controversy, a list that attempts to collect the grosses of movies hit by protests and/or widespread concern in the media. While that list is subjective and far from comprehensive, it does give an idea of how uniquely Joker has been positioned in the last few weeks. Concerns over potential violence at screenings got so rampant that theaters across the country, from New York to small cities in Illinois (like this writer’s own 1pm Friday matinee) had cops stationed in and outside of theaters in case anything got out of hand. It was truly an odd set of circumstances that led to up the release of the film, but judging from these numbers, it did not deter enough people to cut off the movie’s potential opening.

Where the movie’s grosses go after this is a larger question. Online polls for the film have been overwhelmingly positive, but considering that the film’s IMDb score was at 9.6 with tens of thousands of votes before the movie properly opened anywhere, it is likely that a lot of those ratings are goosed up by DC fanboys. The film’s Cinemascore of B+ paints a somewhat more complex picture. As tweeted Friday night, only 13 of the 76 movies to ever open above $90 million received a Cinemascore weaker than an A-, most of which are among the the mega-openers with the weakest legs, like Suicide SquadJustice League, and the 2014 Godzilla. There is a likely reason why movies that open higher tend to have higher Cinemascores: the more people that turn out for a movie’s opening weekend, the more likely it is that most of those patrons are already in the pocket for a movie and ready to love it (hence why every Marvel Studios release with a $90+ million opening has received an A or A+ Cinemascore). 

But Joker is a film that, for better or worse, is designed to deliberately unsettle its audience, a rarity among movies that open this high. Movies like that, like David Fincher’s darker works (Seven, Fight Club, Gone Girl), tend to score in the B/B- range while still enjoying good legs, because enough of the audiences that loved the film are so intrigued by the movie that they spread good word that brings out more curious viewers over the following weeks. Where will Joker fall? Well, like any comic book adaptation there will be some natural frontloading that should lead to a 55-65% drop next weekend, but competition is light enough for adults at the end of the month that it has potential for decent legs once that frontloading wears off. Legs similar to the first It and Venom (another anti-hero comic book adaptation that broke the October opening record) seems likely, which would pull the movie to a $250 million total.

Joker ended up opening high enough to cut into pretty much all of the holdovers with weekend, with every single wide release dropping at least 41% from last weekend. The best holds were by the top 3 holdovers, Abominable ($12 million), Downton Abbey ($8 million), and Hustlers ($6.3 million), movies with arguably the least overlap with Joker‘s audience. However, one holdover did have a successful expansion into wide release: Roadside’s Judy more than tripled its theater count to 1,458 theaters, and as a result rose +52.4% from last weekend’s opening, to $4.5 million. It’s a promising expansion, and makes a $20 million total more likely than not for the movie, assuming it can hold well from here.

In limited release, there were four new releases of note. The Indian action epic War had a $1.6 million opening 305 theaters, enough to place 9th for the weekend. That is the fifth largest opening weekend ever for distributor Yash Raj, adding nicely to the movie’s record-breaking run in India. In 11th place was another foreign blockbuster, the Chinese anthology film My People, My Country, which $865,000 from only 70 theaters, giving the film the third first per-theater-average ($12,357) of any movie this weekend. 

The best per-theater-average belongs to Pain and Glory, which opened to $160,087 in only four theaters, for a $40,022 per-theater-average. That is the fourth-biggest opening PTA ever for Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, behind only Broken EmbracesTalk to HerBad Education – all movies that made at least $5 million in America. Despite opening in 1/9 the amount of theaters, Pain and Glory made nearly three times as much money as Lucy in the Sky, which $55,000 from 37 theaters, for a paltry per-theatre-average of $1,486. Fox Searchlight has only had one movie in the last ten years make less than $250,000 in America, and that was 2011’s Margaret, a problem movie for the studio (and a masterpiece) that was deliberately dumped after years of issues with director Kenneth Lonergan. Barring an improbably good expansion next weekend, Lucy in the Sky could become the second.

1. Joker – $93.5 million (NEW)
2. Abominable – $12 million (-41.8%)
3. Downton Abbey – $8 million (-44.2%)
4. Hustlers – $6.3 million (-44.7%)
5. IT: Chapter Two – $5.4 million (-47.7%)
6. Ad Astra – $4.6 million (-54.5%)
7. Judy – $4.5 million (+52.4%)
8. Rambo: Last Blood – $3.55 million (-58.7%)
9. War – $1.6 million (NEW)
10. Good Boys – $900,000 (-56.5%)

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