Joker is in theaters everywhere Friday

By Alexia Fernandez
October 03, 2019 10:07 PM

Joaquin Phoenix surprised fans when he arrived at a New York City movie theater for a screening of his new film Joker.

The actor, 44, arrived at the 4:45 p.m. showtime for his movie at the IMAX Lincoln Square 13 in New York City on Thursday night. The film’s director, Todd Phillips, accompanied the star as their film made its weekend debut.

While the film has received controversy for its violence, John DeVore, the editor in chief of Humungus who was present at the screening, tells PEOPLE the crowd stood and gave the two men a standing ovation after the film finished playing.

Phoenix looked happy as he and Phillips smiled and told the crowd it was their first screening of the night.

“The audience was thrilled to see both of them,” DeVore tells PEOPLE. “They seemed to love the movie, and I doubt Philips and Phoenix could have received a warmer welcome.”

DeVore tweeted about their presence, writing, “Todd Phillips and Jaoquin [sic] Phoenix were at my screening of Joker tonight and the nerds were PUMPED (fyi i am a jock).”

RELATED: Joaquin Phoenix Says Losing 52 Lbs. for Joker Made Him Develop a ‘Disorder’

The film won the Golden Lion award at the Venice International Film Festival in late August, while Phoenix was honored at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Critics have both praised the movie and criticized it for its strong language and graphic scenes of violence, which have caused some families of mass shooting victims to express worry about the Joker‘s content.

Phoenix addressed those concerns in a September press conference, telling reporters, “I think that, for most of us, you’re able to tell the difference between right and wrong.”

“And those that aren’t are capable of interpreting anything in the way that they may want to,” he continued. “People misinterpret lyrics from songs. They misinterpret passages from books. So I don’t think it’s the responsibility of a filmmaker to teach the audience morality or the difference between right or wrong. I mean, to me, I think that that’s obvious.”

Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips
Stephane Cardinale/Getty Images

RELATED: Joaquin Phoenix Leaves Interview After Being Asked If Joker Will ‘Inspire’ Violence: Report

After the film’s Toronto International Film Festival premiere, Collider’s Perri Nemiroff wrote, “#Joker is one of the most unnerving movies I’ve seen in years. Joaquin Phoenix is astounding – the physicality of his work is especially impressive. It’s very well made across the board but I also found it very upsetting & right now I can’t shake that. Need to sit with this more.”

“I saw #Joker — and it is unlike anything before it,” Brandon Davis of tweeted. “The movie is dark, thrilling, and chilling. An insane masterpiece. The movie absolutely transcends being a comic book film and acts as a character study which, at times, will make audiences uncomfortable in wild ways.”

Joker has a nasty, oppressive power, and it never falters in its grim, purposeful momentum,” PEOPLE’s Tom Gliatto writes. “It feels like two hours spent locked in the trunk of a moving vehicle.”

Joker is in theaters on Friday.