Sun. Oct 20th, 2019

Box Office Preview and Predictions: Can ‘Joker’ steal the October opening record this weekend?

(Photo: Nick Tavernise)

One year ago, Venom and A Star is Born both opened against each other and each over-performed, with the former film breaking the record for an opening weekend in October. This year, the month starts with only one release, almost a combination of the two movies: a darker take on a comic book anti-hero starring one of the most praised actors of the decade, in an R-rated Warner Bros. release that has Bradley Cooper and Todd Phillips as producers.

That movie is Joker, and it is angling to take that October opening record. The first tracking to come out a month ago had the movie opening to $80 million, a number that has stayed steady since then as the the film has evolved into a sort of perpetual motion machine of controversy and discourse. From the Venice premiere and its shocking Golden Lion win, to growing concerns over the movie’s potential to inspire violence and whether that should even be preemptively discussed, to Todd Phillips’ dismissal of any concerns regarding the film, the film has been a talking point on several fronts for weeks, and will truly test the old adage “all publicity is good publicity.”

But even outside of the clouds of discourse, the film’s potential has been evident for a while. The Joker is arguably one of the most famous and recognizable of all fictional characters, and the three times that he has been brought to the big screen before (1989’s Batman, 2008’s The Dark Knight, even 2016’s Suicide Squad in a near-cameo) were massive financial successes. A film centered on the character and its origins would always have blockbuster potential, no matter the interpretation, but all of the buzz around the Taxi Driver-esque direction of the film, and whether or not the movie is glamorizing the character too much, has only piqued interest. It also helps that the movie had two fantastic trailers that showcase the film’s grimy style and Joaquin Phoenix’s transformative performance, the most praised aspect of the film.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle the film faces in taking the October record is the film’s R rating, still a hindrance for any film hoping for a truly blockbuster opening. Of the 95 films to open above $80 million, only 10 were rated R. However, Joker does share some DNA with eight of those movies: five were released by Warner Bros. (including Todd Phillips’s own The Hangover Part II), and three were comic book adaptations that used their R rating to their advantage in selling the movies to audiences as a unique experience different from the usual comic book movie tentpole. Most of those ten movies also opened in quieter months outside of the summer and holiday seasons, as Joker is at the top of October. With all of this in mind, Joker should be good to take the October opening record, and go even further with a $95 million opening weekend.

Joker is the only new wide release, but there are three movies opening in limited release worth taking a look at. Yash Raj will be releasing the Indian film War, which broke the box office record in India for biggest opening day of all time. Unfortunately there is no theater count estimate for the film, but the studio has a history of releasing films in 200-400 theaters and pulling opening in the $1-3 million range, so if hype spreads, expect the movie to shot up in this weekend’s top 10.

Fox Searchlight will open Lucy in the Sky in 38 theaters, an unusual amount of theaters for the studio. But then, the film is an unusual one for the studio, with a disastrous critical reception that may be impossible to overcome (it is currently at 28% on Rotten Tomatoes and 38 on Metacritic – the latter is the worst score for the studio since Baggage Claim in 2013). Expect a weak opening in the $200,000 range, followed by a couple more expansions before the movie burns into nothing in the box office atmosphere.

The last major limited release this weekend is Pain and Glory, which Sony Pictures Classics will be releasing in four theaters. It is the newest film from Pedro Almodóvar, a director that stands as one of the only international directors that can consistently bring in an art house audience, even for a less-than-acclaimed work like 2013’s I’m So Excited!. But with the strongest reviews for the director since Volver, and star Antonio Banderas giving what has widely been praised as the performance of his career, Pain and Glory has serious potential to become of Almodóvar’s biggest hits ever in America. It might take a while to reach those heights since his last three films have dimmed enthusiasm for the director since his peak in the 2000s, but an opening of $140,000 (a $35,000 per-theater-average) would be a healthy start for the movie as it begins its slow expansion over the coming months.

Holdovers: Judy will be entering into proper wide release this weekend, with an estimated theater count of over 1,400 theaters. That should give the movie an increase from last weekend’s successful opening and keep it in the top 10, as the non-R rated holdovers enjoy softer-than-usual drops thanks to the lack of competition.

1. Joker – $95 million (NEW)
2. Abominable – $13 million (-37%)
3. Downton Abbey – $9.3 million (-35%)
4. Hustlers – $7.1 million (-38%)
5. Ad Astra – $5.7 million (-43%)
6. IT: Chapter Two – $5.5 million (-46%)
7. Rambo: Last Blood – $4.5 million (-48%)
8. Judy – $3.9 million (+35%)
9. War – $2 million (NEW)
10. Good Boys – $1.4 million (-33%)

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