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Joker

Background and Overview

DC Films, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, produced Joker. The film will be distributed by the parent company. DC Films was founded in 2016 and has dedicated itself to make films based on characters from DC Entertainment. Warner Brothers was founded in 1923 and operates in film, television, and video games, and is one of the largest film studios of America. Joker was officially greenlit in July of 2018, immediately after director Todd Philips persuaded Joaquin Phoenix to accept the titular role after he tried for months. Ever since the get-go the film has been marketed in various ways. In the early stages, Todd Phillips, who was so heavily invested into the project to the point where we could call it his most special work yet, posted photos of the project on his personal Instagram page. Phillips’ first post about the film was a picture of Joaquin Phoenix in character (though without any clown makeup) and was titled “Arthur”. This was a revelation of the iconic villains’ first name and it garnered huge attention, it was also by far the most liked post by Todd Phillips to date. In the following weeks Phillips posted mini teasers of the film, including photos from on set. 

Our first look of the Joker movie, posted by director Todd Phillips on his Instagram.

Joker was green-lit partially because DC Films wanted to go in a different direction. After the massive failure of Justice League, and the expressed disappointment of the fans towards the Joker character in Suicide Squad, the studio wanted to do things differently in hopes of appeasing the fans. The film was described as “an exploration of a man disregarded by society [that] is not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale” by Warner Brothers. So in a way the main goal of this project’s campaign was to let moviegoers know that this would not be a typical DC flop, and that the filmmakers were working really hard to deliver something special. Official accounts for the movie were created on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Every post on every platform was accompanied by the hashtag “JokerMovie” to extend the reach of the film and connect the fans with each other and encourage engagement. A lot of artistic posters were shared, some made by independent agencies, namely “Works Advertising” and “Bond”, which are Los Angeles based companies that help studios with the marketing of their films. The social media marketing team of the movie even asked its followers to submit their own Joker inspired art. This was also a competition, as Warner Brothers announced that it will select five submitted works of art, with the promise that each artist would receive $2000 dollars and that their work might even be selected to be featured in the official marketing campaign leading up to the release of the movie, and of course that the artwork would gain exposure on multiple platforms. 

About a month before its official wide release, Warner Brothers uploaded the final trailer for Joker trailer on their official YouTube account, which currently sits at 45 million views. A few days later it debuted at the 76th Venice International Film Festival, and to the surprise of many, it won the Golden Lion, the highest prize a film can be awarded at this prestigious festival. The film received mostly positive reviews from critics, even several perfect scores, and was “Certified Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes. These assurances of course, presented the marketing team with golden opportunities, and ever since they have flaunted these impressive ratings across all platforms. Joaquin Phoenix, the star of the film, did not turn away the opportunity to personally promote this film as well. Phoenix actually has no presence on social media, but he has done several interviews with names such as GamesRadar and Fox 5. In these interviews Phoenix, director Phillips as well, talked about the process they went through while making this film, and even addressed concerns about the picture due to the violent nature of the titular character. They wanted to get more people interested in the film, but they also wanted to get the negative attention off of it, saying that the film did not want people to sympathize with the character of Joker, and that above all it is a piece of art that’s made for people to enjoy. Phoenix was also on Jimmy Kimmel Live this Wednesday where he answered questions and gave in depth details about his role. He will also appear on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Friday (Oct. 4) to further promote the film on. 

Social Media Channels

To make good use of social media, Warner Brothers established a very active presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The Facebook page was created earlier this year in January and currently has more than 400 thousand likes. The Twitter page was created in September of last year and has about 180 thousand followers. The Instagram page was created on April and currently has over 750 thousand followers. Firstly, I have to start by saying that there were a lot of cross posts. There were a lot of exclusive posts for each social media channel, but nearly half of posts on Facebook could be found on Twitter or Instagram, and vice versa. It sort of feels like they used the popularity of the iconic character and the movie to flood social media channels with posts. But they did accompany their posts with the hashtag “JokerMovie”, and that’s a good thing, though they may have wanted to stick with the hashtag of just “Joker” since the word itself has become synonymous with the fictional villain. Facebook seems to be their most active account. They’ve posted there just about everyday leading up to the film’s release, and continue to do so still. A clever thing they did on Facebook was post a lot of videos, and their videos get significantly more reach compared to just picture posts or links to other websites. Facebook has this feature where they link a lot of videos together as if they were one playlist, even if they were published by different accounts, and aren’t even related. A user may watch a cat video for instance, and after the video ends they’ll scroll down and a video of Joker will start playing, usually because it is trending or it may be a sponsored post. Another great thing they did later on in the campaign was accompany nearly each post with a link to purchase tickets, which makes it super easy, the sheer convenience might even convince people to get tickets. A user might casually scroll across Facebook and if they see a post that interests them then they might just click on the link, even if they had seen the film before. Their Twitter account is dwarfed by Facebook and Instagram in terms of followers, but still very active. And content wise it shares similarities to Facebook, even when we disregard the cross posts. But one noticeable difference is that they’ve posted more shorter video clips, and a lot of retweets. Instagram is their most popular channel, despite that it seems to have the least amount of posts out of the three. This is probably because it’s not common to share external content to Instagram. But the Instagram account also reposted a lot of things from Todd Phillip’s personal Instagram account due to his intimate involvement, and this is where some of the exclusivity comes in. As Todd might share fan art or a video or even a behind the scenes pictures that won’t be available on their Twitter or Facebook page. Also the Instagram posts have significantly more amount of likes per post compared to the other two, though this is also because it’s much easier to like a post on Instagram. For YouTube, they didn’t actually have an account, but Warner Bros Pictures, who own the movie, posted two of the trailers for the movie on their channel, both which quickly went viral and have nearly 140 million views between them.

Threats and Controversy

Due to the thematic nature of the film, Joker was a controversial hot topic from the start. The news media expressed concerns about potential violence at the screenings, citing that the United States Army has issued a memo to its service members after the Federal Bureau of Investigation uncovered social media posts by extremists. There was another memo about an unidentified movie theater being targeted. However, according to Deadline Hollywood, the FBI eventually revealed that they found no credible threat of violence regarding the premiere of Joker. But the media was not yet done with this movie. Likely motivated by the popularity of the film, they then imposed the question of whether or not the film tried to have moviegoers sympathize with the villain and be inspired to commit acts of violence. Joaquin Phoenix was literally asked this by a film critic, he became baffled and walked out of the interview, and this also became a headline. There was so much coverage of Joker in the news for months that some fans on social media interpreted it as free marketing and wondered if the whole ordeal was actually started by Warner Brothers, though this would be unlikely, due to the possibility of a huge backfire. Warner Brothers themselves initially did not seem too keen on the project, due to the dark tone of the movie. Reportedly, the company allocated a small budget of 55 million dollars (for a comic book film) with hopes that it might not get made in the first place. However, director Todd Phillips made do and here we are. Joker took another hit when it was revealed that it will not get a release in China, a huge market for Hollywood blockbusters. But this wasn’t a surprise, China did not want its people to see a film that deals with themes like anarchy in the midst of Hong Kong Protests. 

A Colossus Unleashed

The release of Joker was a marvel. It broken dozens of box office records. Notably widest October release, highest domestic October opening day, and the highest worldwide launch of all time for October. Box office analysts initially estimated that Joker will debut in the $60-90 million range. It made $96 million. The movie was projected to open at around $155 million worldwide, it made $234 million. It was a lot more popular overseas than expected, and this was without the huge market in China. Joker simply exceeded all box office expectations. Fast forward a few weeks and Joker has become the highest R-rated movie of all time after it dethroned Deadpool 2 which sat at $785 million. Joker currently sits at $948 million and has made more than $500 in profit, Avengers: Infinity War made a similar profit, though the latter earned more than $2 billion in its total theatrical run.

Reactions: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. 

Joker has been overwhelmingly praised by audiences and even deemed as an instant classic. Many fans have hailed Joaquin’s Joker to be as good as Heath Ledger’s legendary performance in The Dark Knight. Ryan Reynholds posted a tweet that congratulated the film and Joaquin Phoenix, which has since become viral. Joker holds an audience score of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. It earned a very high rating of 8.8 on Internet Movie Database (IMDb), which placed it as the 16th highest rated film of all time, just below The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. 

Joker’s spot on IMDb Top 250.

However, it did not receive as much praise from movie critics, though it still earned mostly favorable reviews. Some critics argued that the movie borrowed far too many elements from films such as Taxi Driver and King of Comedy to be able to develop its own true identity. Many others incorporated sociopolitical issues into their reviews, some have even went as far as to call the film racist, notably with allusions to real life hate crimes. The news media also toned its negative views on the movie. Fortunately there were no mass shootings at screenings like so many news outlets feared there would be. And after the release the media hopped on the bandwagon and started to talk about the success of the film, and other nice things such as Joaquin Phoenix surprising moviegoers by attending screening and having conversations with his fans. They also shed more light on the topic of mental health, which was an important theme of the movie.

But wait, there’s more! Joker would once again dominate headlines when Jared Leto revealed that he was very angry that this film was made. Jared Leto portrayed Joker in the film Suicide Squad, which was overwhelmingly disliked by critics and audiences. Leto reportedly felt excluded and was angry that Warner Brothers did not push forward with his own Joker. Leto was apparently so angry that he tried to get the film cancelled, but with no success, obviously. Warner Brothers has declined to comment on the matter.

A Cultural Phenomenon

Thankfully, Joker ended up not inciting any violence, but what it did was, in a time of so much political unrest around the world, become a symbol of protest and resistance for many. Numerous protestors around the world, notably in Lebanon, Chile, and Hong Kong, have been spotted with masks or face paint we see in the film. Joker dance videos have been surfacing all over the internet. A staircase in the Bronx which appeared throughout the film has hence become an iconic tourist attraction. Some fans even listed the stairs as a “religious destination” on Google Maps. Some locals have expressed unhappiness with the crowds but people keep flocking to the site to dance and take pictures and videos.

Protesters in Santiago, Chile.

Other R-rated Films of the Season

Some other highly anticipated R-rated films with a release date this fall were It Chapter Two, Zombieland: Double Tap, and The Lighthouse. All three films have Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. Zombieland already had an Instagram and Facebook, but they made a new account for Twitter to promote the sequel. It already had accounts on all three platforms, but they changed their username on Twitter to promote the sequel. All three films are active on social media, though The Lighthouse is more engaged with its audiences. Nearly all of the content posted by The Lighthouse are in black and white, even if it’s emojis or fan content, to reflect the way the film was shot. Critically and commercially, all three films did well or are on track to do well. Joker however, did too well so in comparison it dwarves the competition. 

Reflection

The marketing campaign for Joker has performed well and continues to do so. The film was expected to do well commercially but such massive success was unexpected. The Golden Lion victory at the Venice Film Festival earlier in September also took show business by surprise. There was a lot of negative attention on this film, and Warner Brothers has done a great job by avoiding all of that and focusing strictly on the film. The company was smart not to jeopardize the project which could have resulted in a flop or limited success. Joker simply became a huge success and will only add more to that success going forward.

References 

Cameron, D. (2019, September 26). U.S. Military Issues Warning to Troops About Incel Violence at Joker Screenings [Updated]. Retrieved from https://io9.gizmodo.com/u-s-military-issues-warning-to-troops-about-incel-viol-1838412331

Jones, M. (2019, October 19). Joker Movie’s Small Budget Was Meant To Stop It Being Made. Retrieved from https://screenrant.com/joker-movie-small-budget-stop-made-todd-phillips/

Murray, T. (2019, September 25). Joaquin Phoenix walked out of an interview after a critic asked him whether ‘Joker’ would inspire mass shooters. Retrieved from https://www.insider.com/joker-joaquin-phoenix-walked-out-of-interview-2019-9

Robbins, S., & Robbins, S. (2019, August 15). Long Range Forecast: Joker. Retrieved from https://www.boxofficepro.com/long-range-forecast-joker/

Shaw, M., & Horan, T. (2019, November 7). The first $1 billion R-rated movie? Here’s all the ways ‘Joker’ is breaking records. Retrieved from https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-first-1-billion-r-rated-movie-heres-all-the-ways-joker-is-breaking-records-2019-11-06

Joker. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.boxofficemojo.com/release/rl252151297/

Joker (2019). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/joker_2019

Joker. (2019, October 1). Retrieved from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7286456/?pf_rd_m=A2FGELUUNOQJNL&pf_rd_p=e31d89dd-322d-4646-8962-327b42fe94b1&pf_rd_r=7YSEJZ2JB2G892EV25KC&pf_rd_s=center-1&pf_rd_t=15506&pf_rd_i=top&ref_=chttp_tt_16

Holmes, A. (2019, October 24). See How Crowded Joker’s Stairs Are Now That They’re A Tourist Trap. Retrieved from https://www.cinemablend.com/news/2482891/see-how-crowded-jokers-stairs-are-now-that-theyre-a-tourist-trapComicBook. (2019, October 11). Joker Stairs Named Religious Destination on Google Maps Retrieved from https://comicbook.com/dc/2019/10/11/joker-movie

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