‘Joker’ Just Surpassed Every Other Comic Book Movie in Another Major Way

This Oscar season is shaping up to be all about Joker. Todd Phillips’ DC Comics adaptation has become a force to be reckoned with. The film — which stars Joaquin Phoenix as the iconic supervillain — caused a stir even before it hit theaters. Some worried Joker would lead audiences to empathize with its title character and perhaps even inspire violence.

Of course, the film thankfully didn’t lead to any real-life tragedies. However, it did attract an extraordinary crowd upon its Oct. 2019 release. The suits at Warner Bros. likely never expected Joker to leave such a cultural impact. And no one ever thought it would break as much ground for comic book movies as it has.

Joaquin Phoenix at the Golden Globe Awards
Joaquin Phoenix at the Golden Globe Awards | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The unstoppable box office run of ‘Joker’

Comic book movies ruled the box office in 2019. But Joker isn’t just another addition to the genre. Marvel Studios may have had three huge hits in 2019 — including Avengers: Endgame — but those movies share a similar tone to aesthetic. Joker, on the other hand, isn’t concerned with action-heavy spectacle.

Unlike just about every major comic book movie out there, Phillips’ movie wasn’t chasing family audiences. Instead, it presented a comic book origin story without any of the trappings the source material is known for. This is a bloody, R-rated character study, a comic book movie told through the prism of early Martin Scorsese films.

And audiences loved Joker‘s alternative approach to comic book cinema. On a reported $55 million production budget, the movie has earned $1.1 billion worldwide. Warner Bros. may have been reticent at first to give Joker the green light. But the studio is now hungry for more stories told in a similar fashion.

Todd Phillips’ film led the 2020 Oscar nominations

Riding that monstrous commercial success and critical praise, many considered Joker to be a potential awards contender. After all, the movie earned the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. And Phoenix as a performer has been underappreciated for his work on-screen. Perhaps Joker could get him at least another step closer to his eventual Oscar win.

Then the Oscars announced their 2020 nominees. Not only was Phoenix up for Best Actor, but the film altogether earned 11 Acadamy Award nods. These include Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and several other technical categories. Joker earned the same number of nominations as films like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Just as impressively, Joker blew past The Dark Knight to become the most Oscar-nominated comic book movie of all time. That 2008 Christopher Nolan release landed eight nominations. And its lack of a Best Picture nod inspired the Academy Awards to expand the category to as many as 10 slots. Perhaps Black Panther‘s ground-breaking 2019 Best Picture nomination was indeed a sign of things to come.

How many Academy Awards will ‘Joker’ actually win?

Joker‘s impressive showing at the Oscar nominations is one thing. But how many of its 11 categories is it likely to win? Right now, it’s hard to tell. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 1917, and Parasite appear to be the frontrunners vying for Best Picture right now. And Phillips’ directing nod feels far-fetched in a category that includes three past Oscar winners.

Its most likely triumph will be in Best Actor, as Phoenix has consistently performed well throughout awards season. Marriage Story‘s Adam Driver could sneak in there as a dark horse, but many pundits consider Phoenix’s win a lock. Beyond that, Hildur Guðnadóttir will probably win for Best Original Score, given how integral her music is to Phillips’ movie.

Could Joker get the last laugh? Well, an unexpected Oscar sweep would be just the kind of chaos Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) would relish. We’ll be watching to see how the film does. But right now, Joker fans definitely have reason to smile.