‘Joker’ Set to Drown ‘Aquaman’…And No One Should Be Laughing

Early box-office tracking is like picking the NCAA football champion two weeks after the previous bowl season has ended. It’s like looking at a horse race and betting on the cutest jockey. Or even choosing one of the Kardashians to win at a regional Spelling Bee.

There’s no science or statistics to it; just a shell game of previous expectations and current buzz creating an algorithm that means x+y=who the hell knows.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about the much-ballyhooed Todd Phillips’ predestined triumph Joker. Although DC Comics and Warner Bros. have enjoyed this on-again, off-again relationship with its stans…eh, fans, it seems that James Wan has set the profitable standard for what a CBM from someone other than Marvel can be.

With Aquaman defying all the odds and becoming the first DC movie to surpass $1 billion since The Dark Knight Rises, fans are drooling for the next CBM they want to pay to see more than twice. Shazam! was adored by most fans, but not enough to make a dent in the nine-zeroes section. This November, the wait is allegedly over. 

The Joke’s On Who?

joker change

Forecasts are already in, and to say Phillips’ origin of Arthur Fleck will be a success is quite the understatement.

Box Office Pro is estimating the R-rated Joker is slated to draw between $60 and $90 million during its first weekend in theaters, which will outdraw the King of Atlantis who forked in $67.8 million during the first three days of its U.S. release.

MEMO to any haters: This should not surprise one single nerd out there. Not one.

Think about all the modern DC movies — DCEU or otherwise — to hit the big screen. From Burton’s inaugural vision of what a mysterious man in the shadows would be like to Wan’s psychedelia under water, it was pretty much understood what was coming.

Sure, the storytelling journey was a surprising encounter for some, but the destination was a given. With Joker, no one has any idea what to expect. No one even knew the Clown Prince of Crime had a name until Todd Phillips gave him one.

Take the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). This organization will make Joker the first comic book movie screened as a “Gala Presentation.” And why? Joaquin Phoenix. 

Why So Serious?

joker banner

He lends credibility to this event unlike any CBM before it — Marvel or DC. With “typical” CBMs, the critics get a snoot full of CGI and immediately assume you don’t need an education to buy a ticket. With Joaquin, we get a preface of praise from Cameron Bailey, co-head and artistic director of the TIFF. 

“Todd Phillips’ Joker is a cinematic achievement on a high level,” said Bailey to the Toronto Sun. “But it’s a really original take on comic book movies and on the Joker character in particular. It’s not based on an existing story, it has one of the greatest actors in modern cinema, Joaquin Phoenix, in the lead, and Robert De Niro is in it as well, one of the best actors that has ever lived.”

That’s a serious, almost stuffy, cinephile loading heaps of praise on a comic book movie. Like, huh?! We have seen good to great acting in CBMs before (i.e., Hugh Jackman in Logan, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, RDJ in Avengers: Endgame), but this is easily one of the top five actors of this generation (yes, he’s that gifted).

And even the prissy parvenu types have to respect that guy…in that role. Take a few more lines of reference from the Box Office Pro story to help build the expectations:

  • Trailer activity has been very strong, trending ahead of Logan at the same point before release.
  • Thanks to films like the Deadpool movies and Logan, audiences have shown their appetite for well-made, adult-driven, R-rated comic book movies. Through that lens, this isn’t perceived as the major risk it may have been just a few years ago.
  • If the film manages to inspire the kind of awards season conversation Logan enjoyed in early 2017, it could develop staying power with a presumably weaker October/November slate to contend with relative to last year’s record period in that corridor.

If trends continue the way they are, we aren’t just looking at an origin movie that makes its way to the Promised Land, but also an actor who may take a stage thanking his mama during award season.

Again, Joaquin is that good. Box Office Pro is also forecasting a smaller lion share of a domestic take, set at $175 million. To wit, think about this: If this movie is that good to strike close to $90 million in its first week, there are a few dozen nerds that will visit the theater once or twice more to see Joaquin do the unthinkable — dethrone Ledger and become the king of DC.

It just may happen this October. And that may not be any laughing matter at all.

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