It wasn’t just major U.S. cities that saw an increased police presence at theaters across the country as the new comic book film “Joker” broke box office records over the weekend.
Based on the film’s controversial portrayal of violence, armed uniformed police officers were stationed at theaters across the nation. Locally, the Chubbuck Police Department were dispatched to the Pine Ridge 11 near the Pine Ridge Mall Thursday at the request of staff at the theater, according to Chubbuck Police Chief Bill Guiberson.
The police presence at the local Pine Ridge 11 was not the result of any threat of violence upon the theater and was a precautionary response, said Guiberson, adding that no threats or other incidents occurred Thursday or over the weekend during showings of the R-rated “Joker.”
Despite the increased law enforcement activity, CNN says the gritty film about the origins of the crazed Batman nemesis brought in $96 million in North America this weekend. That makes “Joker” the highest-grossing opening in the history of October. The film shattered the record held by Sony Pictures’ “Venom,” which made $80 million last October, according to CNN.
The Chubbuck theater was among many across the country to beef up security after the FBI and Department of Homeland Security last week warned law enforcement about a number of non-specific threats to theatergoers that had been posted online since as early as May.
The warning from federal officials may have put many national movie chains and individual theaters on alert, evidenced by the request from the Pine Ridge 11 for an increased presence from the Chubbuck Police Department.
A spokesman for the Kansas-based AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., which operates AMC Theatres, the national theater chain that operates the Pine Ridge 11, did not immediately return a phone call from the Journal seeking comment.
According to Newsweek, heavily armed uniformed police officers in New York were stationed outside multiple early screenings of the film. Officers wearing helmets and armed with assault rifles stood outside a screening at the New York Film Festival on Wednesday night, where audiences had their bags searched and K9 officers were on duty, video footage showed.
Plainclothes officers were also said to be hidden in among the crowds in New York as similar scenes played out across the country in cities including Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle.
No specific threats were reported in any of the cities.
The Associated Press reports extra layers of security, intense on-screen action and a frightening incident inside a New York theater combined to create an unsettling experience for some moviegoers who went to see “Joker” on its opening weekend.
A young man who was loudly cheering and applauding on-screen murders sent some people heading toward the exits in a crowded theater in Manhattan’s Times Square on Friday night. Other patrons yelled at the man, who spit on them as they left early, said Nathanael Hood, who was in the theater.
“I was scared. I’m sure a lot of other people were,” Hood said in an interview conducted by private messages.
Social media users posted photos of police, security sweeps and safety notices at theaters in California and Florida. And in Tennessee, a drive-in theater banned moviegoers from wearing costumes to a screening of “Joker.”
The Warner Bros. film, directed by Todd Phillips, presents the backstory of the man who becomes Batman’s classic foe.
Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix as the title character, in an origin story which is believed to feature a more sympathetic take on the character, according to Newsweek. 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.”
While Phillips has said he hopes the film inspires discussions about guns, violence and the treatment of people with mental illness, some feared the movie could inspire violence, particularly after a mass shooting killed 12 at a Colorado theater during a screening of another Batman movie in 2012.