Comic book films are dominating on an unprecedented scale, but folks will sample anything as long as it’s encased within a DC or Marvel movie.
Joker earned $2.4 million on Thursday, bringing its 21-day total to $258.675 million. Presuming it doesn’t drop dead today, it’ll pass Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($259 million in 2014), The Amazing Spider-Man ($262 million in 2012) by tonight. The film had $778 million worldwide as of Wednesday, and it has now earned $788.3 million worldwide. That’ll put it right above Deadpool ($782.6 million in 2016) and Deadpool 2 ($785.05 million in 2018). So, yes, Joker is now the biggest R-rated movie of all time, sans inflation.
Fun fact: Even if it needed a few more hours to pass Deadpool 2, it would already be the biggest R-rated grosser when it passes Deadpool. Why is that? $50 million of Deadpool 2’s global gross was courtesy of a PG-13 version of the movie. As you may recall, Fox put together a PG-13 version of Deadpool 2, with the R-rated content removed and a framing device involving Fred Savage riffing on his character from The Princess Bride, last Christmas. This wasn’t about appeasing Disney or seeing if a PG-13 Deadpool could fly in the MCU. It was about seeing whether there was any interest in the character, with his R-rated edges sanded off no less, in China.
And, sure enough, Once Upon a Deadpool earned $6 million in North America but $44 million overseas, with $24 million of that coming from China. That’s a lot better than the “edited for kids” cuts of The Godfather, Excalibur, Saturday Night Fever, The Passion of the Christ and The King’s Speech. So, sans Once Upon A Deadpool, the total gross of Deadpool 2 is $318 million domestic (on par with Iron Man) and $735 million worldwide. If we’re only counting the grosses that an R-rated movie earned while it was rated R, then Deadpool, which earned $783 million worldwide (including $363 million in North America) in 2016, is the biggest unadjusted R-rated movie for the next few hours.
Now that Joker has passed that, well, there’s a new proverbial sheriff in town. The four of the five biggest-grossing R-rated movies in the last three years have been violent comic book films featuring glorified anti-heroes. So, yes, superhero movies are ruling even the R-rated sandbox. Of course, Logan ($619 million in 2017), Deadpool and Deadpool 2 were comparatively conventional superhero flicks. Logan was an R-rated western that riffed on Shane, Children of Men and, well, The Wolverine. The Deadpool movies were gee-whiz/shaggy dog action comedies where (generally speaking) only the bad guys died. The Ryan Reynolds flicks were unapologetically violent and vulgar, but they were cheerful and crowd-pleasing comedies.
Hugh Jackman’s “one last ride” Wolverine story was explicitly grim and hyperviolent, where innocent people died badly while Logan did his thing as his dying body slowly betrayed him. Joker is even less conventional, as it’s an action-lite and occasionally violent supervillain origin story that plays like a mix of Taxi Driver, King of Comedy, Death Wish and Observe & Report. Heck, even American Sniper (whose $350 million domestic total Joker won’t touch) was a comparatively conventional superhero/action hero drama wrapped up in a nationalistic real-life biopic. It was essentially the Stephen King novel with the edges sanded down to make it palatable for fans of The Goonies and Stranger Things.
Even if I argue, and I do, that the violence in Joker isn’t so grotesque (or offensive) so as to scare off conventional moviegoers (it’s not like he brutalizes the women in his life, lashes out at minorities and/or goes on a shooting spree), we’re still talking about a two-hour drama with no real action and only a bare minimum of violence. Take away the IP, and this movie barely makes it out of the arthouse. This goes to the core conundrum of modern moviegoing.
On one hand, folks are flocking to Marvel and DC comic book movies at the relative exclusion of everything else. On the other hand, if there is a comic property attached, audiences are getting bits and pieces of almost every theatrical genre save for the musical within the confines of a comic book movie. They are getting war movies, sword-n-sandal fantasies, sci-fi flicks, “grounded” coming-of-age comedies, political thrillers, heist movies, etc., etc., etc. And now, mostly because it’s based on the most popular fictional villain of our times, a straight-up drama like Joker is going to eventually pass Bohemian Rhapsody ($905 million) to become the biggest straight-up drama of all time.
No, this doesn’t mean that Marvel should start making R-rated movies (aside from keeping Deadpool 3 as an R-rated release), or that Sony erred by making Venom PG-13. $262 million of its gross came from China and it opened here against a bunch of R-rated/adult-skewing pictures. It does mean that the rating is less of an impediment than it used to be. And it also means that, yes, the current global domination of the Marvel/DC movies even extends to what is technically supposed to be adult-skewing cinema. And, yeah, for a “damaged goods” brand, DC Films now has the biggest R-rated movie of all time. Your move, Illumination!