Todd Phillips took a lot of risks making Joker for Warner Bros. The studio was reluctant to greenlight an R-rated comic book movie, but after the success of Deadpool and Logan, perhaps they saw financial potential. And that potential proved to be correct. Especially for Phillips.
According to Deadline, who did an extensive breakdown for the earnings of Joker, the director walked away with a significant portion of the profits.
“Phillips bet on himself here, taking little upfront for an enormous backend, which some estimate is well north of $70M,” writes Deadline.
Clearly, it’s all about the backend these days. It used to be, movie stars could make $20 million per film. Julia Roberts did it in the ‘90s, and so did Will Smith. But eventually, moviegoers began to care less and less about the names in these projects and went for the spectacle and the special effects instead.
As such, it’s now almost become a necessity for studios to have stars and directors take a backend deal as opposed to a massive upfront payday. It’s easier to make the movie that way and it puts risk versus reward back on the filmmakers rather than the studio.
Joker cost $70 million to produce, which is less than half of what a typical comic book movie costs these days. But it also means the margin for error is a lot smaller. Warner Bros. didn’t have complete faith that the movie would succeed, either, so they co-financed it with Bron Studios and Village Roadshow.
In total, the film earned $1.07 billion worldwide, becoming the most profitable R-rated comic book flick in history. And when you take away all of the costs, Warner Bros. reportedly took home a net profit of $437 million. But because they made it with Bron Studios and Village Roadshow, they had to split the profits 50/50. Still, not bad.
And as for Phillips, between The Hangover franchise and now Joker, he’s become sort of a king in making successful R-rated movies. The budget is always modest and with Joker, he had the benefit of telling a smaller, intimate story within the giant recognizable world that is DC. Not bad for a guy who told Warner Bros. that his vision for the film “wasn’t for everybody.” Apparently, it was, and Phillips is now reaping the profits.