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October 23, 2019

What Studios Can Learn from "Joker"

Joker, the newest film in the DC Universe directed by Todd Phillips, has been out for a couple weeks now, and to say that the film is a financial success would be an enormous understatement. Despite being surrounded by controversy, including claims that Joker is a “dangerous film” likely to inspire those suffering from a mental illness to commit violent crimes, Joker has consistently been in first place at the box office. It has earned about $750 million worldwide, is receiving Oscar buzz for Best Picture and Best Actor, and has shown that Todd Phillips is more than just the guy who makes mediocre comedies like The Hangover trilogy.

While I could talk about the film itself or whether the controversy surrounding Joker is valid, I instead want to focus on something that has not been discussed enough: the impact that Joker will have on future film production. Today, there are two kinds of films. The first are “blockbuster” films, which usually come out in the summer and can be characterized as loud, special effects–driven, action-packed and/or comedic movies that are usually based on some kind of well-known source material. Examples of these are Avengers: Endgame, Toy Story 4, The Lion King, and Spider-Man: Far From Home. The second kind is the “arthouse” film. These films usually come out in the fall or winter and are characterized as thought-provoking, low-budget, artistically made, and often a bit pretentious. Examples of these are Midsommar, Booksmart, Us, and The Farewell.

Joker, strangely, does not fall wholly into either category. It certainly has a lower budget than most modern superhero movies and is more of a character study than an action film, but it also has certain aspects of a blockbuster—it is based on a comic book character, and has very well-designed sets. Joker is certainly not the kind of blockbuster that a studio would normally finance, but it is not the type of film they would present as an Oscar contender either. The fact that this film is making so much money and receiving major Oscar buzz shows that studios do not need to make every blockbuster film so formulaic. Joker proves that you can make a film that is artsy and thought-provoking, and still attain financial success.

In fact, Joker made more money in three weekends than a more standard blockbuster, Justice League, did in its entire showing. This proves that audiences are ready for more thoughtful and creative content.

Many have complained that Hollywood has become lazy and unoriginal as it favors big-budget franchises consisting of reboots or sequels. However, with Joker’s profitability, there is a chance that this can change. There is certainly nothing wrong with making traditional blockbusters—for example, I very much enjoy all the Marvel movies. But if studios continue to make movies like Joker, then both audiences and studios will have something to look forward to: a unique, creative, enthralling film that will make a lot of money.   

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