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The critical response to Todd Phillips’ Joker has been nothing if not divisive. The origin story for Batman’s greatest foe has been called everything from a masterpiece and the best movie of the year, to pernicious garbage and the year’s biggest disappointment, ultimately resulting in a tepid critical response. Well, Joker finally opened in theaters on Thursday night and the last laugh is on the critics, because Joker’s Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score is way higher than the critical one.
As of now, Joker sits at a 69% on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer based on 330 critical reviews. Joker is “Certified Fresh”by the review aggregation site, but that percentage is pretty low among films with that designation (only 9% separates it from being rotten). In contrast, the Audience Score is a stellar 93%, based on 2,770 verified ratings under Rotten Tomatoes’ new policy that doesn’t allow audience ratings prior to a film’s release and requires ticket verification.
This 24% gulf between the critical consensus and the Audience Score indicates that audiences didn’t have nearly as many problems with the Joaquin Phoenix film as critics did and they enjoyed it overall. So in a way, the last laugh is on the critics who did so much handwringing about this film, because audiences seem to like it and the negative critical notices don’t look like they will damper the film at the box office at all this weekend.
Now it should be noted that the Rotten Tomatoes scores, both critical and audience, are notoriously the subject of controversy, and although the tickets were verified for audience ratings, some of those who took the time to rate the movie may have done so to push back on the critics that didn’t like it. So although the Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score seems to indicate that audiences like Joker much more than the critics, it is an imperfect metric.
We’ll find out more over the weekend once the film’s CinemaScore is revealed, but even that, though more scientific, still favors opening night audiences, which are generally comprised of excited fans. Once more people see it and the word of mouth, positive or negative, begins to develop, we’ll get a real sense of how much audiences like Joker overall. It certainly wouldn’t be the first movie that audiences liked more than critics, as last month’s Rambo: Last Blood illustrated.
What’s interesting is that beyond being about a comic book villain, Joker doesn’t seem like the kind of movie general audiences would usually take to. It’s a slow burn character study that is dark and contains none of the fun, light-heartedness of most comic book films, nor the action in something like Venom or even Logan. So it will be interesting if audiences really take to Joker.
Critics seemed to take to Joker at first. When it premiered at the Venice Film Festival, the early reviews were largely of the rave variety, praising the film and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in it. There were some naysayers, but a month out from release, Joker sat at 87% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 39 reviews. It even won the Golden Lion, Venice’s top prize. It then screened at TIFF and its score has basically gone down since then, just as the controversies surrounding the film have rose.