‘Joker’ gets last laugh

Warner Bros.’ “Joker” survived the intense controversy over its violent themes to take in $96.2 million in North American theaters at the weekend, setting a record for an October release, industry watcher Exhibitor Relations said Monday.

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker” provides the backstory for the rise of Batman’s maniacal nemesis, painting a dark and disturbing portrayal of a would-be stand-up comedian’s descent into madness.

Amid fears that it might inspire violence — a shooting at a 2012 screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado claimed 12 lives — some theaters provided extra security for the opening of “Joker.”

The film, directed by Todd Phillips (maker of “The Hangover” trilogy), has polarized critics. The Washington Post called it “grim, shallow (and) distractingly derivative,” but Empire magazine deemed the Venice film festival prize-winner “bold, devastating and utterly beautiful.”

Universal’s family-friendly “Abominable” placed a distant second at the box office, earning $11.9 million in its second weekend. It tells the story of a teen and her friends trying to help a young Yeti reunite with its family as a wealthy man seeks to capture it as a prize.

In third, at $8 million, was Focus Features’ “Downton Abbey,” the cinematic follow-up to the hit TV series about an upper-class family and their stately home in a changing Britain. The movie has the Crawleys and their earnest staff scrambling to prepare for an unexpected visit by the British royals.

“Hustlers” from STX Films placed fourth, at $6.4 million. The Jennifer Lopez movie is based on a true story about strippers who plot to steal from their wealthy clients in recession-hit New York.

And in fifth was horror film “IT: Chapter Two,” at $5.3 million. The Warner Bros. movie features the grown-up versions of the kids who battled the terrifying clown Pennywise 27 years earlier, as they are forced to do it again.

Rounding out the weekend’s top 10 were:

“Judy” ($4.6 million)

“Ad Astra” ($4.2 million)

“Rambo: Last Blood” ($3.6 million)

“War” ($1.6 million)

“Good Boys” ($900,000)


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