Despite all the controversy (or perhaps because of it?) Joker just wrapped up a $234 million global opening weekend, $95 million of which was made domestically, stealing the highest October opening ever from last year’s Venom. Now we get to talk about what lessons the studios will take from this – if any.
I’ve seen several commenters already speculating on what Warners and/or other studios will take from this huge win for Todd Phillips and co. Of course, the most common wish among film fans seems to be that studios will observe that smaller budget, character-focused, R-rated genre films can be an economically viable alternative to the mega budget blockbuster genre films that currently dominate cinemas. And, admittedly, I find myself in this camp.
My reaction to the Joker trailer was positive. I wasn’t asking for a stand-alone Joker film, nor had I put a lot of thought into how DC could maneuver their floundering connected film universe into less choppy waters, but when I saw Joaquin Phoenix mugging as the Joker I was sold, man.The film is far from being above criticism, but, from my vantage point as a pretty disillusioned blockbuster film fan, what I see is a reasonably budgeted, character-focused genre film that a large studio took a risk on it. I’ve been hoping for more of this kind of thing and I’ve written about it a few times. I don’t think genre films have to have enormous budgets and be so FX-centric to make money, which is, ultimately, what studios care about.
And that’s where my hope sort of flags.
Because studios are businesses and businesses have to make money. And in business, it’s often easier to find a model and piggyback off of it rather than reinvent the wheel. Is it possible studios could shift away from huge budgets and CGI and the mid budget film could experience a renaissance? Sure. Anything’s possible. But it’s probably much more likely studio execs all over Hollywood are already calling on their people to bring them their own Joker. Instead of concluding that story and character and the craft of filmmaking matter more than FX and gimmicks, it’s likely the studios will simply try to replicate a known success.
Personally, I’m hoping for the best. But I won’t be the least bit surprised if we get a slew of gritty, realistic depictions of our favorite pop culture icons over the next five years. Let’s hope we don’t get manufactured controversy as a new norm along with them.