‘Joker’ Beats ‘Deadpool’ and More R-Rated Blockbusters Through Box Office Earnings

We officially live in a post-Joker world. For all its criticisms, director Todd Phillips’ divisive film achieved a level of box office success that no one expected. In less than a month, Joker has become the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time.

The film, of course, stars Joaquin Phoenix as the DC Comics supervillain. Phoenix is heavily expected to get awards recognition for his role. But few industry pundits predicted that the film would achieve the level of mainstream success that it has enjoyed.

Joaquin Phoenix at the premiere of 'Joker'
Joaquin Phoenix at the premiere of ‘Joker’ | Amy Sussman/WireImage

The mother of all jokes

From the beginning, Joker had the odds stacked against it. After all, Jared Leto had just delivered a poorly received performance as the character in Suicide Squad. Warner Bros. only gave Phillips — best known for the studio’s Hangover trilogy — the green light under a modest $55 million budget.

Leto was reportedly less than pleased with this turn of events and tried to prevent Joker from happening. Meanwhile, the DC Extended Universe had reached something of an impasse, with Justice League falling flat. Without these circumstances, Warner Bros. would likely have never rolled the dice on a film like Joker at all.

Even so, Phillip’s take on the character’s origin has polarized moviegoers with its disturbing, bleak tone. It also leaves viewers with many unanswered questions about the reality of Arthur Fleck’s life. How could such a dark film — bearing an R rating, no less — possibly compete with Heath Ledger’s iconic performance in The Dark Knight?

‘Deadpool’ and other blockbusters defeated

In the end, Phillips must have tapped into what audiences were looking for. The film shattered the October opening record set just last year by Venom and then stair-danced its way past every other R-rated film in the record books. Joker has already surpassed $800 million worldwide, putting it ahead of other fan-favorite releases.

Most notably, Joker shot ahead of previous record holders Deadpool 2 ($785 million) and Deadpool ($783 million). That milestone got the attention of star Ryan Reynolds, who playfully congratulated Joker on this accomplishment (see below). The only other superhero film in the current top ten is 2017’s Logan ($619 million).

Other films that Joker triumphed over include 2003 sequel The Matrix Reloaded ($742 million), Stephen King adaptation It ($700 million), erotic thriller Fifty Shades of Grey ($571 million), and Seth MacFarlane comedy Ted ($549 million). Joker even beat Phillips’ own The Hangover Part II ($587 million) on its way to the top.

Although it now sits atop the worldwide list — unadjusted for inflation, of course — Joker is still only at number 10 domestically. There, Mel Gibson’s 2004 Biblical epic The Passion of the Christ ($612 million) still reigns with $370 million in North America.

Bear in mind that Joker is still midway through its theatrical run, however. So, while it currently sits at $280 million domestic and $854 million worldwide (as of this writing), that number can only go up.

So what comes next for ‘Joker’?

Since the film has been such a financial success, Joker fans shouldn’t be surprised to know that Warner Bros. is looking to the future. The studio is reportedly in early development on a sequel that will chronicle the character’s rise to becoming Gotham’s most infamous criminal. No word just yet on whether Phoenix’s Joker will pop up anywhere else in the meantime, such as Matt Reeves’ 2021 release The Batman.

No official announcements have been made, but Phoenix has expressed openness to returning to the role. So fans can bet that they haven’t seen the last of Arthur Fleck, even though Joker arguably works better as a one-off. In Hollywood, nothing speaks louder than a pile of money. And Joker certainly delivered on that front.