It's opening weekend for the latest Hollywood thriller, Joker. But parents are being warned not to fall into the trap of thinking that it's just the latest in the relatively tame Batman franchise.
The "Batman" series on television in the 1960s had cartoon violence – but Joker (rated R), which is hitting theaters this weekend, is a whole different genre of film. The Parents Television Council is warning parents: this is not a movie for your kids.
"Based on everything that I've seen written about the movie so far – even Hollywood press, which is usually leading the cheering section for everything Hollywood does – has been critical of the level of violence and the intensity of violence in this movie," says PTC's Melissa Henson.
The movie is so dark it has generated a number of violent threats surrounding its opening. Henson says even the FBI and Department of Homeland security issued warnings to be extra cautious.
"At the center of all this violence is sort of a criminal protagonist," Henson explains. "We're being encouraged to feel sympathy for the bad guy and to identify with the bad guy."
Henson's group has issued its strongest possible warning to parents about bringing children to see the movie.
"With Joker, Hollywood continues its war on kids by turning a comic book-themed franchise into violence-porn," says PTC president Tim Winter. "Hollywood cannot have it both ways – they cannot herald the entertainment they produce and distribute for its ability to change the world for good, while refuting the harmful impact it can have when the content is violent, sexually explicit, or profane."
According to IMDB.com, the storyline of Joker explores the life of "Arthur Fleck" (played by Joaquin Phoenix) – "a man disregarded by society." Henson says that's a struggle for many in today's environment.
"We're increasingly aware of mental health struggles that people may be dealing with," she shares. "We know, for example, that bullying is on the rise in the schools. We know that kids who feel sort of pushed to the margins or socially isolated may react in bad ways."
The movie by Warner Bros. had an estimated $55 million budget. Actor Robert DeNiro stars alongside Phoenix in the film.