Joker released last week, and has become one of the largest opening weekends for a R rated film in history. Despite having more mixed reviews from critics, it has received stellar support from fans, so there is no question that the film is a tremendous success for Warner Brothers. It has already crossed over 280 million dollars, and shouldn’t slow down with the month of October providing little in the form of big name competition outside of Gemini Man and yet another crack at The Adams Family. Sequels for Maleficent and Zombieland the following will both make a dent, but Joker should continue to see widespread box office success, and will likely have enough public support to at least earn critical award nominations if not a handful of wins.
And all of this is coming off of a film which has a production budget of under 60 million dollars. In a year which has seen Disney stack up the wins, and dominate the top of the box office (five of the top six highest grossing films of the year, domestically, at the time of writing with the sixth being Spider-Man, so five and a half), Warner Brothers now has a case that it has the greatest success story. Sure Endgame became the highest grossing film of all time…eventually… but that film was destined to make a ton of money, and it would have taken a complete travesty of a film for it to even approach flop-territory – even with a budget over 350 million before advertising is even taken into account. Joker will surely crack the top ten by the time it completes its theatrical run, and even if it can’t remain there with more Disney titans still to come, it should be considered a great success for both DC and Warner Brothers.
With all that said, it is time to turn my focus to those companies and address this to them directly: Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please keep making films like Joker and throw the DCEU in the garbage.
The unprecedented financial success of the MCU has caused seemingly other major film publisher to at least consider their own shared universe of some kind- heck, Warner Brothers has three different franchises which could be considered some form of shared universe. In spite of all the others doing what we can assume to be their best, no other studio has been able to match the success of Marvel, and it is time for some of them to stop trying.
First among that group should be DC. What we have seen this past week with Joker is that not only is there an audience for more stripped down- character driven films, but that those films can be a tremendous financial success. Joker is far from perfect, but it is still a film with a captivating main character, and enough of a message to engage with wider audiences in a more critical level. Above all else, it is a film that is about as far from safe as possible, which is the true antithesis to everything Disney has been producing for a number of years.
When DC first got into the shared universe game, they wanted to differentiate their heroes from Marvel’s by going with a different tone for their films. DC was countering the more lighthearted feel of Marvel films with a darker and more grounded tone. This worked for about five minutes before DC began the first of many pivots which now sees their films in some ways taking cues from what Marvel is doing and has found success with.
This is where DC has been stumbling, as it has been a follower before it was even able to start production on its first film. But now it has Joker, and with it, a new way for it to find success with their super hero’s cast, and, most importantly, be a leader in a way that Marvel and Disney have failed to be. Imagine a new future in which DC has opened its doors to all manner of different writers and directors, and are moving forward with the production of different super hero films that have nothing to do with one another. We could begin the year with a lighter take on Batman and follow it up with a noire version of the Flash before ending the year with a big time animated version of Green Lantern. Imagine rolling the clock back to the 80’s and 90’s where franchises weren’t the defacto form of every superhero film, and where Batman and Superman could exist in films without needing to share anything at all what-so-ever. We could get films by up and coming filmmakers and writers, or we could be bonkers and off the wall entries from big names who simply had an idea they wanted to tinker with.
This superhero-film-anthology, previously known as films, would be able to be everything that Disney films are not. They would have the chance to be bold, to be ambitious, to be different, to be critical, to be shocking and to be risky. Disney films have been retreating into a shell of safety for years now, and their recent turnout of films have exemplified this. Marvel films outside of Infinity War and Endgame, their animated fare which are pretty fresh, but not groundbreaking in any real way, and their “live action” remakes of older animated films which are in some cases just shot for shot remakes of other films. These types of films are lacking in risk or chance, and it can be felt in the final product. They are sterile, plastic and overall lacking in the kind of umph which makes for an experience that sticks to the viewer. There is no way that Joker will be able to bring in more money than most of the Disney films this year, but it will be more memorable than all of them with the exception of Endgame.
Even if you are not as fond of the film, there is no denying that it takes more chances and is more of an experimental experience than most other spectacle-driven films to come out this year or in recent years. If Warner Brothers were to embrace this style of film, and produce more of them, they would likely still be behind Disney in terms of finances, but they would be able to surge forward in the battle for social currency. Currently, Joker is dominating the cultural zeitgeist in a way that Disney films rarely manage, and this is something that could easily be replicated by Warner Brothers, or any other studio that is willing to step out of its comfort zone, and actually take damn chance on something with some integrity and a vision.