How Will the Joker Controversy Affect the Box Office, Compared to Other Controversial Films

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BY October 5, 2019

Joker has finally arrived in theatres. Along with plenty of hype, the film also carries a decent amount of controversy. There has already been praise for the DC Comics film, especially in regards to Joaquin Pheonix’s transformative role as Arthur Fleck. But, along with the good, there’s plenty of bad press. With so many new controversies and negative discussions surrounding the film, some of you may be wondering how this controversy will affect the box office performance of Joker. So, let’s take a look at how other films turned out following controversy.

Poster from 'Joker'. Image via Warner Bros.

Let’s Explore The Joker Controversy First

Joker has been collecting a mixed bag of reviews. Plenty of audience members have been praising the score, cinematography, and near-flawless acting. But, along with the praise, there’s lots of bad press surrounding the film. One of the biggest news stories in cinema over the past few weeks has been about comments coming from Todd Phillips. The Joker director spoke about his departure from comedy, blaming a current “woke culture” ruining his ability to produce the type of humor that he wants. This comment has caused quite an uproar online, with many claiming that he’s just upset that his brand of humor may not be as funny as he thinks it is. Others seem to think that he’s upset that he cannot be offensive, though plenty of shows thrive off of their offensive humor (*cough* South Park *cough*).

Another important cause for concern regarding Joker is the worry that it’s glorifying violence. Plenty of movies include heavy violence, but few have a protagonist that is the one inciting said violence. With so many tragic real-life mass shootings and other acts of terrorism, some worry that it gives excuses to the people who feel compelled to act violently. In 2012, a mass shooting occurred at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. Naturally, security has increased at plenty of movie theatres in the U.S. showing Joker.


What Was Controversial Before Joker

Joker is certainly not the first film to have plenty of controversy surrounding its release. So, what else is on the list?

The Hunt (2019)

The Hunt was supposed to be released this year. The film follows a group of conservative-leaning U.S. residents who are kidnapped and meant to be hunted for sport. The kidnappees then find a way to turn against their kidnappers, and the hunt gets real. Universal ended up halting its marketing campaign and canceling the film entirely. Some believe that its cancellation was related to recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio. Others think that Donald Trump’s criticism of the film may have had an influence. Sadly, because it was outright canceled, it’s hard to say how its controversy would have impacted any box office or viewer numbers. Though, we wouldn’t be surprised if it’s eventually released.

the hunt

Image via Universal Pictures.

Death Wish (2018)

Another film effected by a mass shooting, Death Wish was released in 2018. The film was originally slated to be released in November of 2017. Only a month before its planned release, studios announced that it was being pushed back to March of 2018. Due to the violent content in the film, many speculated that its release was delayed because of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. The film received overwhelmingly negative reviews. Its critics’ consensus on Rotten Tomatoes even states the “spectacularly bad timing” of the film due to the mass shooting.

On top of the bad reviews, Death Wish didn’t do very well at the box office. Their production budget was a modest $30 million. They barely surpassed this in the U.S. and had a worldwide total of only $48.5 million. Considering that it was up against Black Panther, it’s no surprise that this film was so unforgettable that few have even heard of it. Despite starring Bruce Willis, this film never really had a chance.

The Interview (2014)

The Interview is both incredibly forgettable and a film that had major worldwide controversies. The film, led by Seth Rogen and James Franco, saw two journalists being dragged into a plan to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The topic was so controversial, especially to North Korean hackers. Sony even received significant threats not to show the film. While the film didn’t get canceled like The Hunt, it was given a largely digital release.

Rogen, Franco, The Interview

Image via Sony.

Now, The Interview isn’t bad. It’s just not very good. Considering how big the controversy was, plenty of movie-watchers downloaded or streamed the film just to see if it was worth all of the hype. Reviews were mixed, with largely mediocre ratings. Because of its limited release options, the film tanked at the box office. Its box office ticket sales only brought in $12.3 million dollars after its $44 million budget. Fortunately for the studio, the film made $40 million in digital rentals, proving that people still wanted to see the movie. If only it was worth remembering.

So, How Will Joker Hold Up Against Controversy?

I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying that all publicity is good publicity. With so many controversial statements and general controversy surrounding the film, it’s clear that everybody has heard about it by now. And, considering how much money superhero and comic book films tend to make, we think that Joker will be okay. In fact, many box office analysts expect Joker to earn over $80 million domestic over its first weekend. If the film makes more than $80.25 million, it will beat the October domestic record that is currently being held by Venom.

So, readers – Do you have plans to watch Joker this weekend? And what do you think about all of the Joker controversies? Let us know!

Featured image via Warner Bros. Pictures.


Meghan Hale is a graduate student living right outside of Toronto, Canada. She has always been the go-to gal for talking about anything film related and has a frustratingly long list of movie trivia up her sleeve. She is currently working on her first screenplay, as well as a horror novel, with the goal of publishing it while Stephen King is still around to read it.

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