'Joker' Opening Inspires Increased Armed Security at Movie Theaters Across U.S.

Movie theaters across the United States have ramped up security as the new film Joker opens to the public, seven years after the premiere of a different movie in the Batman franchise was the site of a notorious mass shooting.

In New York, heavily armed uniformed police officers were stationed outside multiple early screenings of the film. Plainclothes officers were also said to be hidden in among the crowds. Similar scenes played out in cities including Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle. No specific threats were reported in any of the cities.

"We just remind people to remain vigilant and if you see anything that seems out of place and suspicious, call 911 and don't hesitate," said King County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Sgt. Ryan Abbott to Seattle's KOMO.

Fears of violence at screenings of the film have been sparked by memories of the 2012 mass shooting at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. That shooting killed 12 people and injured 70 others. The man convicted of the murders is believed to have been obsessed with the Joker character.

The ‘Joker’ Trailer is Here and Joaquin Phoenix is Already Generating Oscar Buzz
Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck in Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures and BRON Creative’s tragedy “Joker,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. The film will be released October 4. Warner Bros./Niko Tavernise

Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix as the title character, in an origin story which is believed to feature a more sympathetic take on the character. The "loner" Joker is said to become a vigilante hero after committing acts of violence, often using a gun. In the official synopsis from Warner Bros., the character is described as "a clown-for-hire by day, he aspires to be a stand-up comic at night... but finds the joke always seems to be on him."

Critics have expressed fears that the sympathetic portrayal of the character could glorify violence or inspire acts of violence similar to the Aurora shooter. In a September open letter addressed to Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff, family and friends of the Aurora shooting victims said that the film's sympathetic portrayal of the character "gave us pause."

Warner Bros. reacted with a statement disavowing gun violence and rejecting any notion that the film intended to portray the character as hero.

"Make no mistake: 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, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero," read the statement.

In addition to the increased security presence, several theaters, including national chains AMC and Landmark, have banned face paint and masks at screenings of the film.

Media watchdogs, critics and the makers of the film have also warned that despite featuring characters originating in comic books, the film is not intended for children.

"We wrote it and pitched it and conceived of it as a stripped down R-rated character study of one of the great villains of all time. This movie is not for 11 or 12-year-olds," Director Todd Phillips told KABC.

Joker opens to a wide release Friday. Experts expect the film to earn $80 million or more in North America during the opening weekend.