Box Office Guy

Patrick Reardon

Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer?
Losing my timing this late in my career
But where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns
Well, maybe next year

-"Send in the Clowns," Stephen Sondheim (1973)

Do you think Stephen Sondheim had any idea his show tune would be used in a marketing campaign over forty-five years later for an edgy, R-rated film about the clown prince of crime? Probably not, but regardless the clowns are here.

In box office history there are only two months on the calendar that have yet to feature a $100m opener. January (aka the studio dumping grounds) and October. With the release of "Joker" this weekend there is a chance that January will be alone on this list come Sunday evening.

When I first heard that Warner Bros. was doing a standalone Joker movie, I groaned. I'm a little super-hero'd out and I was underwhelmed with Jared Leto's Joker take in "Suicide Squad." Plus, why do an origin story about a character whose appeal largely lies in his lack of a true origin story? But then I heard that Leto was out and Joaquin Phoenix would be playing the role. My feelings went from dismissive to mildly intrigued. Phoenix has turned down a slew of big roles over the years, so there must have been something about this project that made it stand out from the typical superhero fare. And once I saw the first trailer for the film, I was completely hooked. This definitely didn't appear to be another Zack Snyder-ized D.C. movie.

Buzz has been building over the last several months (including winning the top prize at the Venice Film Festival) and I sense I'm not alone in my enthusiasm. But there are a few hurdles the film has to deal with.

The Bad (?) Publicity

The film wowed audiences in Venice, reviews have been mostly positive and Joaquin Phoenix has firmly established himself in the Best Actor race. But over the last few weeks, there's been a dark cloud surrounding the project. The film tells the story of Arthur Fleck, a lonely mentally unstable man (who still lives with his mother) who gradually descends into full-blown madness and morphs into a violent criminal. There is a sense that by glorifying Fleck/Joker, it might incite other mentally ill young men to turn to violence.

This feeling was strong enough to get Warner Bros. to ban red carpet interviews at the films premiere this past weekend. To which I say, "Bravo, Warner Bros.!" Has anything useful/interesting/insightful/helpful ever come out of a red carpet interview? Not even close. If they cancelled all red carpet interviews going forward the world would be a better place. But regardless, this interview ban became a "story" for a day and kept "Joker" in the headlines.

A few days later writer-director-producer Todd Phillips enraged the Twitter-sphere when he was quoted as saying that he chose to develop "Joker" instead of another comedy because it was too hard to be funny in our currently "woke" society. People had a field day attempting to dunk on Phillips, but do you know what this really did (besides prove Phillips' point)? It kept people talking about "Joker."

And then news broke that there could be undercover NYPD officers in "Joker" screenings in the New York City area (despite zero credible threats). Once again "Joker" managed to work its way into the news without having to shell out any additional ad buys.

This is truly a case of the only bad publicity being…no publicity. By attacking the content of the film (before most people have even seen it) our outrage culture has turned "Joker" into an event movie. For every moviegoer turned off by these stories there are two moviegoers who are even more anxious to see the movie because of these stories and surrounding controversies.

The R-Rating

Most comic book films are rated PG-13 to appeal to a wider audience. However, an R-Rating didn't slow down "Deadpool" ($363.1m domestically), "Deadpool 2" ($324.6m domestically) or "Logan" ($226.3m domestically). When the demand is high (as it is with "Joker",) I don't think the rating matters all that much. And there will also be a lot of 11-year-olds buying tickets to "Abominable" and sneaking into "Joker" this weekend.

October is a Lonely Month

Historically speaking October is usually one of the sleepiest box office months of the year. But that tide changed a year ago. "Venom" set an October record on this same weekend last year with an $80.3m opening weekend. And just two weeks later the "Halloween" reboot scored a $76.2m opening. "Halloween" was rated-R and "Venom" was right on the cusp of an R-rating. If a cinematic mess like "Venom" can clear $80m, I see no reason why "Joker" can't top this number. It's opening in an ultra-wide 4,300+ theaters and there are no other new wide releases this weekend.

Most of the tracking I've seen has "Joker" in the $80m range, but my gut tells me it's going to be bigger (hence the daily FML pricing). Although I think it's going to be front-loaded on Friday, the Saturday and Sunday options should provide better FML value. Right now I'm leaning toward a 2x Saturday or a 1x Saturday/1x Sunday with a heavy dose of my bonus pick (see below) to fill out the rest of my Cineplex.

Weekend Picks

My picks for this weekend's top 5 in total box office (this week's cost in FML Bux in parentheses):

  1. Joker - Friday (FB$444)
  2. Joker - Saturday (FB$371)
  3. Joker - Sunday (FB$261)
  4. Abominable (FB$167)
  5. Downton Abbey (FB$123)

Bonus Pick of the Week: "Judy" (FB$61) The Judy Garland biopic easily snagged the bonus last week with a $2.9m weekend (on just 461 screens) and I think it will be in the hunt once again. It's adding nearly a thousand new theaters this weekend, which should easily be enough to justify the FB$61 price tag (which will fit nicely with combos of "Joker").

Coming Attractions

They're creepy and they're kooky….something something something. Give me a break, it's been twenty-six years since there was a new "Addams Family" movie (which gets the big screen animated treatment next weekend). Elsewhere young Will Smith squares off against not quite as young (but still looks damn good) Will Smith in the long gestating sci-fi action film "Gemini Man." And finally Adam Devine gets a little too close to his digital assistant in the comedy "Jexi." It's for people who enjoyed "Her" but wish it had a lot more broad comedy.

And to the people out there who are blasting "Joker" on social media, the marketing teams behind "Gemini Man," "The Addams Family," and "Jexi" have requested you find something to complain about with their respective films. They could all desperately use some "Joker"-esque free publicity.

Follow me on Twitter @TheBoxOfficeGuy