The ongoing controversy over Joker, the latest turn of Batman’s grinning nemesis—this time embodied by Joaquin Phoenix—has culminated in a record-breaking opening weekend. The villain origin-story grossed an estimated $93.5 million in ticket sales from 4,374 screens in North America this weekend, breaking the record for an October opening. That record was previously held by Venom, another superhero spinoff, which opened to $80 million last year. “This was a much larger result at the box office than we had ever anticipated globally,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution. “Putting records aside, we’re just thrilled that audiences are embracing the movie as strong as they are.”
Joker has been plagued by controversy since before it debuted at the Venice Film Festival last month, where it won the festival’s top honor: the Golden Lion. Critics have both praised and admonished the film, while observers worried the humanizing of a senseless villain was treacherous territory. Some theaters also chose to ramp-up security for the film, in part due to the tragic 2012 shooting in Aurora, Colorado, during an opening weekend screening of The Dark Knight Rises—the last time the Joker character was given center stage.