A month ago, this looked like a weekend with one of the more interesting releases of the fall. That's still true, but not really for the same reason, and that month was three years ago, in internet time.
Weekend Forecast for October 4-6, 2019
By Reagen Sulewski
October 3, 2019
Has there been a movie with a stranger, rockier ride to release than this weekend's headliner, Joker? Originally announced as one of two, completely separate Joker projects at Warner Bros (the second, which was to feature Jared Leto's version of the character, was scrapped after everyone stopped ingesting peyote), went through stages of being perceived as a comically bad idea, to just pointless, to maybe intriguing, to critically acclaimed on first viewing, all the way over to internet pariah and public menace. Some of those things are just weeks apart.
As part of Warner Bros. "I dunno, try anything" strategy with their DC properties, they farmed out a solo version of The Joker to Todd Phillips (director of The Hangover, but more on him later), set in an alternate Gotham-1981 that looks a lot like New York City in that era. Joaquin Phoenix stars as the title character, a brain damaged rent-a-clown that wants to become a stand-up comic, with obvious barriers. Friendless and living with his emotionally abusive mother (Frances Conroy), he finds himself at the center of a movement after he's mocked on national TV by a late night talk show host (Robert DeNiro, playing the flip side of his King of Comedy role), engaging on a crime spree that seems to to be saying something more than just a willingness to buck normal behaviors and putting a fire under a city that's just waiting to boil over.
Owing a lot to Taxi Driver and its look at the margins of society, particularly the mentally ill and those discarded by polite and high society, it's an angry looking film, seemingly made for these times. But the violent characters seem to dwell and wallow in their terribleness, and between the greenlighting of this film and its release, a rise in toxic, violent young men, willing to act on their worst impulses and hatred of being left behind. It's wrong to blame the movie for this or hold it at fault but things haven't been helped by Phillips' confusion and hostility over the connection, as well as his petulant discussion about abandoning comedy for comic drama because of "woke culture". I mean, who are we to judge the director of Due Date!
Still, we should give the movie a fair shake on its terms - does it side with its outsiders, or merely present them as a "that's what you get!" cautionary tale, tinged with the heightened world of comic books? Reviews kind of cut down the middle on this, with some hailing its pastiche of Scorsese, while others saying that there's not enough there there for this to really be saying anything important. It is, ultimately a comic book movie, even if there's very little of people running around in rubber suits or FX work. Possibly the best analog for this movie is Logan, even though that film still had a lot of super-powered people. But it was a comic book film "for adults", dealing with serious subjects like age and regret and responsibility. The big concern would have to be if controversy will keep people away, as well as the vague warnings of possible violence associated with "incels" adopting the film as their siren song. It's a ridiculous thing that we have to talk about this, but it's a ridiculous time in general. Opening at a massive 4,300 venues, this should have a huge weekend to lead off October, with $85 million.
Last weekend was led by animated film Abominable, but with a modest $20 million start. The Yeti-based, China set family film has to be viewed as a bit of a missed shot, particularly in the wake of Smallfoot earning a little more last year with a weaker studio backing it. There doesn't seem to be a huge hope for legs, and its second weekend should be around $12 million.
Downton Abbey was a bit of a one-weekend-wonder, dropping by more than half after its surprising start, behaving much more like a TV franchise than a prestige drama. That trend should continue, and its third weekend should bring in about $8 million, with a final total looking more like $100 million now.
Hustlers had a strong hold on its third weekend, with the J.Lo stripper drama losing only a third of its business. Around $125 million seems like a good take for its final total, with $8 million coming this weekend.
It: Chapter Two should cross $200 million this weekend, as it looks to earn $5 million in its fourth weekend, while sci-fi film Ad Astra looks to earn about the same, but in just its third weekend, with $60 million being more likely as its landing spot. Limited release Judy, starring Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland, expands out to 1,400 venues, and should get up to $4 million this weekend.