‘Joker’: Warner Bros. Chairman Admits the Company Never Thought the Movie Would Inspire Real-Life Violence

Pre-release buzz can go a long way toward making or breaking a movie. In the weeks leading up to Joker, the film earned a critical festival victory at the Venice Film Festival. But in keeping with the Clown Prince of Crime himself, Joker also caused quite a bit of controversy.

Joaquin Phoenix at the 'Joker' premiere | Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Joaquin Phoenix at the ‘Joker’ premiere | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

A controversy from day one

The reaction to Joker was partly due to the 2012 shooting in Aurora, Colorado at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. But the film’s bleak, relentless tone and social commentary on the class system and mental illness certainly didn’t help.

Set in fictional Gotham City in the early 1980s, Joker taps into a number of current concerns. As its release loomed, the United States military even issued security warnings to movie theaters. The anarchic title character — and his perceived emboldening of the “incel” community — stirred up worries Joker would inspire real-life violence.

In the midst of all this chaos, director Todd Phillip stood by his film. Star Joaquin Phoenix memorably walked out of an interview when asked about the security concerns surrounding Joker. The ongoing question of whether violent art could, in fact, be responsible for real-life violence was back with a vengeance.

Warner Bros. never thought ‘Joker’ would lead to copycats

Ultimately, all the hubbub surrounding Joker‘s release turned out to be a whole lot of smoke and mirrors. The film’s success didn’t come at the expense of some real-life tragedy. And in a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. Chairman Toby Emmerich revealed the studio never truly believed Joker held the power to invite copycats.

There were a lot of misunderstandings around the history of the tragic shooting in Aurora, [Colorado, in 2012,] which happened at a Batman film. And we were certainly super-sensitive to it [and the tragedy for the victims and their loved ones]. But that film and that shooting had no connection in any way to the Joker character. So we had to judge our film on its own merits. A lot of the social media comments around the film were by people who hadn’t seen the film and didn’t know what it was. We looked at the film really closely and did feel that it was a great film. That it was a piece of art. And we didn’t think it would inspire violence. We took it to Venice, where it won the Golden Lion. And we felt comfortable releasing the film.

As his comments indicate, Emmerich implies — as have others — the media’s role in stirring up a nonexistent security concern. While one can argue the rationale behind that coverage, we doubt Emmerich, Phillips, and the entire Joker team mind at this point. After all, they have one billion (and counting) reasons not to worry about all the fuss.

A billion-dollar accident

Whether Joker could have been a cause for concern is up for debate. But the film likely would not have achieved the same financial heights it has without all the controversy. For better or worse, both sides of the discussion surrounding Joker sparked curiosity among moviegoers.

All the mystique regarding its intense violence and shocking climax elevated Joker into a new kind of event film. Since then, it has shattered records, become the highest-grossing R-rated film ever, and earned more than $1 billion worldwide. Joker is even proving to be a major awards contender going into Oscar season.

The most notable fallout from Joker will lie in how it impacts the industry. Comic book movies will likely try taking riskier moves going forward, and of course, Joker 2 might happen. As of now, a sequel isn’t official, but if anyone thinks the project won’t come together, the joke will be on them.