Warner Bros. reportedly "considered" forgoing a theatrical release and making Joker available on streaming platforms because of controversies surrounding the Todd Phillips-directed origin story for the infamous Batman villain. Amid worries Joker would trigger instances of real-world violence inspired by Joaquin Phoenix's mentally disturbed loner Arthur Fleck, who descends into madness and sparks a violent uprising in early 1980s Gotham City, U.S. military service members were advised to stay alert for potential violence carried out at Joker screenings. This came after early reviews from critics stirred controversy when Joker was accused by some of sympathizing with a "homicidal loner" while the world is plagued by gun violence.
According to an insider speaking to TheWrap, Warner "considered" releasing Joker straight to streaming amid initial public outcry. Another insider claimed the studio was mulling over releasing the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984, sequel to 2017 blockbuster Wonder Woman, straight to digital as result of an expected delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Warner's domestic distribution head Jeff Goldstein told TheWrap Warner intends to release 1984 theatrically, with producer Charles Roven calling the claim "ludicrous."
Warner Bros. subsequently told ComicBook.com the Patty Jenkins-directed Wonder Woman 1984 will be released theatrically, whether or not it meets its planned June 5 release date.
Despite early controversy, Joker went on to earn more than $1 billion worldwide, making it the third highest-grossing DC Comics film of all time, behind only Aquaman ($1.148 billion) and The Dark Knight Rises ($1.084 billion). Joker also won two Academy Awards, giving Phoenix his first Best Actor Oscar.
"Warner Bros. believes that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues. Make no mistake: neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind," Warner Bros. said in a statement in September, before Joker released in most theaters October 4. "It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero."
Joker is "not a movie for everybody," Phillips previously told Deadline, where the director said he was "going for an unsettling tone, for sure."
In a separate interview, cinematographer Lawrence Sher said Joker filmmakers "never believed" the film was dangerous or that it might incite violence.
Sher said the lead up to Joker was fraught with headlines and some reviewers who were saying "the movie was dangerous and was gonna incite violence, and all these things that we never believed would happen or believed was true in spite of being, obviously, very sensitive to the reality of certainly gun violence in America and all the issues the movie provokes." He added Joker is "intense, and it's dark, and it's risky, and it's not an easy movie."