U.S. Military Warns 'Joker' Screenings Could Be Targets of Incel Violence

Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix's new movie was issued a threat warning by the FBI and U.S. military as more controversy swirls around the DC/Warner Bros. film. 

After concerns raised by Aurora families who suffered loss during a mass shooting at a 2012 The Dark Knight Rises screening in Colorado, there is now a warning from the U.S. military to service members about a possible mass shooting at an unknown theater screening Joker.

iO9 reported Tuesday that the U.S. Army confirmed that the widely-distributed warning was issued due to dark web and social media activity from "incel" extremists. The incel chatter was discovered by intelligence officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (A separate memo, issued Monday by senior officials in the U.S. Army's criminal investigation division, stated that the Army obtained “credible” intelligence from Texas law enforcement officials pertaining to “disturbing and very specific chatter” on the dark web “regarding the targeting of an unknown movie theater during the release.”)

Service members were instructed in a September 18 email (which you can read in full here) to be aware of their surroundings if attending a screening of director Todd Phillips' new movie. They were also encouraged to "identify two escape routes" and, should a shooting occur, service members were instructed to "Run if you can. If you’re stuck, hide (also referred to as 'sheltering in place'), and stay quiet. If a shooter finds you, fight with whatever you can."

The Army said they are "unaware of any specific plots or suspects." The notice was released as a precautionary measure.  The notice, which was marked “For Official Use Only,” was relayed purely as a precautionary measure, it said.

Joker star Joaquin Phoenix recently walked out of an interview with the UK's The Guardian, refusing to answer a reporter's question regarding the film's risk of inciting violence.

The Master The Joker Mashup
Credit: WB
This latest safety concern pegged to the movie's release sparks further debate over the need to dramatize characters as divisive as Joker in a way that could come off as glorifying their violent/homicidal ways to more susceptible audience members like those among the incels' ranks. 

The very gritty, R-rated violent film features Phoenix as a more realistic and violent Clown Prince of Crime than his comic book counterpart. His origins are that of an aspiring comic who fails to find success in that field, so he eventually turns to crime (and murder) as a result of a life in Gotham subject to ridicule and a reported inability to "get the girl."

To shape a narrative like this around such a character, seven years after Aurora shooter James Holmes cited Joker as his inspiration for his crime, feels problematic at best and just plain wrong. Especially in light of the fact that Holmes is considered somewhat of a hero among incel circles. 

Mass shootings have unfortunately peaked this year, and movie theaters have been on various stages of alert ever since the 2012 shooting that added them to the list of places people are no longer safe to be in. We hope that Joker does not inspire or incite more violence. And we encourage Hollywood to reconsider adapting this particular piece of IP this way. Or at least put a stop to this particular take because there's no property worth so much potential trouble and definite worry. 

While filmmakers and movies cannot control how their content is interpreted by audiences, they can control the transmission of that message. How it is sent, not how it is received. While it is very unlikely Phillips and his filmmaking team had the intent for their movie to spark or cause any of this, their project does beget the questioning of its need to exist in the first place -- given the take put forth here. 

Do we really need a movie that risks creating a narrative that gets us to sympathize with a character that uses violence and murder to advance his ill-gotten gains?

That seems to be a question filmmakers and audiences will have to answer when Joker arrives in theaters October 4.


You Might Also Like

Your Comment


The Godfather. Scarface. Goodfellas. American Psycho. The Wolf of Wall Street. Pulp Fiction.

September 25, 2019 at 10:01AM


What a terrible ideal for a movie, shame on everyone involved. Hollywood proving yet again they only care about $$$

September 25, 2019 at 2:26PM


You’ve mistaken ‘story’ for ‘ideal’

September 25, 2019 at 3:23PM


What about computer games? You are getting trained to kill people and gamers play it every day for hours.
All throughout art history creators created anti-heros to explore human darkness.

September 25, 2019 at 2:51PM

Jan Becker
DP, Director, Producer

This baffles me. Phil hasn’t seen the movie and isn’t aware of how the film-makers have handled the material, but is suggesting the movie perhaps shouldn’t exist. Is there really something uniquely dangerous about this particular example of a common narrative? Are we likely to view the character’s journey with a mindless desire to be like him, or like adults?

Sorry to be so critical. I’d expect this approach in the Daily Mail, but in a cinema blog...? Truly baffling.

September 25, 2019 at 3:21PM


Yeah. Exactly. I guess we should stop watching films like Taxi Driver and Fight Club.

It's not the filmmaker's fault if someone chooses to act out what they see on screen. That shows a lack of morality on the part of the one carrying out the act. While I don't think violent content should be glorified, I doubt that was Philips' or Phoenix's intent. From what I understand, they're trying to capture a madman's decent into darkness. In other words, I would assume this is more of a cautionary tale rather than one where evil is glorified. In any case, I think it is a dangerous path to start blaming storytellers for the actions of cowards.

September 25, 2019 at 6:07PM

Dale Raphael Goldberg
Writer / Director

Indeed. Things people see and hear can certainly have an influence, but perhaps we should be more concerned about media commentary and midnight tweets than movies.

September 26, 2019 at 1:52AM


Blah blah blah. Why are you so defensive of Hollywood bozos exploiting a tired narrative, especially one that is offensive to all the people that died in Aurora?

It’s disrespectful, period. Grow up and act like a human being.

September 26, 2019 at 6:28AM

You voted '-1'.

None of us have seen the movie. I can’t recognise movies as a reason why people shoot each other. It’s a consistently discredited theory. And I don’t see why that makes me unlike a human being.

September 26, 2019 at 2:49PM, Edited September 26, 3:04PM


In response to Joker, families of those shot have written to the studio, asking them to support gun law reform.

September 26, 2019 at 4:27PM


This whole thing has fake psy-op written all over it.
Something the U.S. government has plenty of experience with.
Perhaps they'll unleash one of their programmed mass shooters, recently removed from his meds, to do the deed.

September 26, 2019 at 1:54AM

Matthew Stephens

The problem is not movies the problem is that it's easy to access to guns! In europe we see the same movies Americans see, we also have troubled individuals who have sociopathic tendencies, yet we don't have mass shootings. And these mass shootings don't happen because it's practically impossible to buy a gun. Gun stores don't exist, even if you try to get one in the black market is very difficult and if manage to find one is very expensive, probably it comes broken and with very limited ammo. THE PROBLEM IS NOT MOVIES OR COMPUTOR GAMES IT'S GUNS, AND GUNS CULTURE!

September 26, 2019 at 3:32AM, Edited September 26, 3:32AM

Tiago Carvalhas