For all the controversy and mixed reviews surrounding Joker, Warner Bros. and DC Films are laughing all the way to the bank. By the end of today, the comic book drama will become the first R-rated movie ever to reach $1 billion at the worldwide box office.
Made on a relatively minimal $62.5 million, Joker is already the most profitable comic book movie of all time. Now, Forbes reports that the film will cross the billion-dollar marker as it enters its seventh weekend in cinemas.
In addition to this being the first time in history an R-rated film has reached the elusive mark, the milestone is significant for a number of other reasons. For one, Joker becomes the only one of the seven billion-dollar earners in 2019 to not come from the Disney/Marvel world (Spider-Man: Far from Home is technically Sony, but clearly a Marvel property).
Perhaps more interestingly, Joker is the only one of the seven not to screen in China. Current conventional wisdom says the Chinese market is too powerful to ignore, but neither Joker nor three of 2019’s other bank-breakers (Avengers: Endgame, The Lion King, and Toy Story 4) needed the Middle Kingdom to cash in. While it’s true Aladdin, Far from Home, and Captain Marvel indeed relied on Chinese audiences to push them over the edge, it seems many $1 billion successes didn’t.
Although no studio is likely to scoff at an extra $100 million or so, the fact that films can clearly be wildly profitable without entering the Chinese market is noteworthy. Studios have increasingly bowed to the whims of Chinese censors over the last few years, viewing the country as a gold mine of potential business. But if a controversial, R-rated character piece can rake in a billion bucks without kowtowing to a Chinese edit, perhaps the country’s audience isn’t as valuable as perceived.
Joker even looks impressive in global gross rankings when pitted against other solo comic book adaptations. Assuming it surpasses The Dark Knight’s $1.004 billion by the end of the weekend, the Clown Prince of Box Office Receipts will have outperformed every solo superhero movie’s China-less take except Iron Man 3 and Black Panther.
All this is to say two things. One, maybe China’s moviegoers aren’t as powerful as we all thought. And two, given the runaway financial success, Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips might want to start getting serious about that sequel.