Joker writer-director Todd Phillips earned an estimated $70-plus million payday after his origin story for the infamous Batman villain became the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time, laughing its way to a $1.07 billion global box office on a reported budget of $70 million. Warner Bros. — who "reluctantly" greenlit Joker with a modest budget that some at the studio hoped would discourage Phillips from making his dark-toned DC Comics movie, according to The Hollywood Reporter — co-financed the standalone with Bron Studios and Village Roadshow, each putting up 25% towards the budget.
According to a breakdown of the Joker movie profits conducted by Deadline, Joker's $1.07 billion box office haul translated into an $830 million global revenue after counting for theatrical rentals, the movie's home entertainment release, and television. The analysis revealed a total cost of $393 million, breaking that number down to budget ($70m), worldwide print and advertising costs ($120m), video costs ($54m), participations ($105m), residuals and off-the-tops ($33m), and interest ($11m).
Warner Bros. was left with a net profit of $437 million, taking home 50% of that, the rest being split by Bron and Village Roadshow. According to Deadline, "Phillips bet on himself here, taking little upfront for an enormous backend, which some estimate is well north of $70M." The same report says star Joaquin Phoenix, who plays failed standup comedian Arthur Fleck, received a more standard deal, taking home a bigger upfront portion and a single percent of profits after cash breakeven.
"I just was thinking about, really, quite frankly, the state of the movie business, and how movies that do cut through the noise. We all make movies and they're far too difficult and expensive to be a hobby," Phillips said in a November interview when explaining why he wanted to make Joker, pitched as the first film in a villains-centric label Phillips called DC Black. "The reason you do them is to get people to see them, and it's hard to deny that comic book movies have kind of taken over, as far as the theatrical experience has gone. So I just thought, maybe there's a way to use that, and do something a little bit different."
Inspired by such 1970s and 1980s character studies as Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver and King of Comedy, Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Sidney Lumet's Serpico, Phillips was "going for an unsettling tone, for sure."
"It's not a movie for everybody, and that was one of the things I said to [Warner Bros.] in the beginning. Comic book films are generally PG-13, kind of aiming at four quadrant, so to speak, but we were very specific in that this is not necessarily a movie for everybody," the director said. "If it ends up attracting everybody, great, if it crosses over, and people discover it the way they seem to have with Joker now, but we made it in mind, very specifically, narrow focus, if that makes sense."