'Joker' smashes box office records despite controversy, security concerns

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Warner Bros.' R-rated thriller film "Joker" dominated the North American box office in its opening weekend with a huge 93.5 million U.S. dollars, becoming the all-time box-office champ for the month of October in North America.

Based on DC Comics characters, "Joker" is directed by Todd Phillips and stars Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role. The film follows the devolution of Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill failed stand-up comedian who turns into the killer-clown Joker.

The film has been a subject of significant controversy in the United States since it premiered at the Venice and Toronto film festivals earlier this year. Critics have raised concerns that the film could encourage copycat attacks in the country.

A theater in Southern California was forced to close temporarily due to a "credible" threat on Thursday and a teenager was arrested on Friday after he allegedly threatened to shoot up a theater in North Carolina.

Theaters across the United States are on alert following online threats of mass shootings connected to the film being reportedly planned on its opening day. Los Angeles and New York City police departments have increased police visibility near theaters showing the film.

Warner Bros. issued a response last week to a letter from the families of the victims of the 2012 Aurora shooting, who were asking the Hollywood studio to advocate for gun safety ahead of the film's opening.

"Neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind. It is not the intention of the film," explained the studio in a statement.

"Gun violence in our society is a critical issue, and we extend our deepest sympathy to all victims and families impacted by these tragedies. Our company has a long history of donating to victims of violence, including Aurora, and in recent weeks, our parent company joined other business leaders to call on policymakers to enact bi-partisan legislation to address this epidemic," said the statement.

The film received a modest "B+" rating from moviegoers on CinemaScore and a 69-percent certified fresh rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes to date.

Debuting in 73 international markets this weekend, "Joker" took in a phenomenal 140.5 million dollars for a global cume of 234 million dollars through Sunday, according to studio figures collected by measurement firm Comscore.

A U.S.-China co-production, "Abominable," came in second with 12 million dollars in its second weekend, pushing its North American total to 37.8 million dollars for a worldwide total of 76.3 million dollars.

The animated family film is the co-production between the California-based DreamWorks Animation, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, and the Shanghai-based Pearl Studios, formerly known as Oriental DreamWorks. The film has been released worldwide by Universal Pictures, but in China it will be solely distributed by Pearl Studios.

Written and directed by Jill Culton and co-directed by Todd Wilderman, the film stars the voices of Chloe Bennet, Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, Eddie Izzard, Sarah Paulson, Tsai Chin and Michelle Wong.

The animated adventure, with a reported 75 million dollars budget, follows a Chinese teenage girl who encounters a Yeti on the rooftop of her Shanghai apartment building and embarks on an epic quest to reunite the magical creature with his family at the highest point on Earth, the majestic Himalayas.

Focus Features and Carnival Films' "Downton Abbey" landed in third with 8 million dollars in its third weekend for a North American total of 73.6 million dollars.

Directed by Michael Engler and starring the original cast, the film is a big screen adaptation of the British historical period drama television series of the same name. The film follows the lives of the Crawley family and their intrepid staff preparing for the most important moment of their lives. A royal visit from the King and Queen of England will unleash scandal, romance and intrigue that will leave the future of Downton hanging in the balance.

STX's crime drama film "Hustlers" moved to fourth with 6.3 million dollars in its fourth weekend for a North American cume of 91.32 million dollars. Inspired by New York Magazine's 2015 article "The Hustlers at Scores" and directed by Lorene Scafaria, the film follows a crew of savvy former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients.

Warner Bros. and New Line's horror film "It: Chapter Two" finished fifth with 5.35 million dollars in its fifth weekend for a North American total of 202.2 million dollars. The film directed by Andy Muschietti is the sequel to the 2017's "It," based on the novel of the same name by American best-selling writer Stephen King.

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