Every. Single. Year. I see journalists slamming the genre and/or declaring horror “dead” by the end of summer. It’s become an annual event where these websites puff out their chests and throw the hammer down on our beloved genre. I have no idea why everyone is so desperate to see the death of horror, but the truth of the matter is that it’s not only more popular than ever, but it’s also one of the most profitable of studio films. Shit, proof is in the popularity of Halloween, which has become booming business for retailers.
But we’re here to briefly talk about the box office, and how horror films have dominated since the beginning of summer. Having to compete with big studio blockbusters, it’s rare to see so much genre fare put into competition, but James Wan’s The Conjuring changed the studio’s perception back in 2013. Since then, we’ve seen more and more horror taking a dip in the pool. 2016 was out of control.
With Blair Witch (read our review) only two weeks out, summer closed out with Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe (read our review), which just took the top spot in the box office for the second week in a row. That’s unprecedented for the genre. From Ghost House and Sony Pictures, Don’t Breathe has a reported budget of only $10 million, which means marketing was around $10-15 million, for a total cost of $25 million. As of this writing, it’s at $60 million worldwide, which means its net take is approximately $30 million, putting it well into the profit zone. It’s a booming success that still has weeks left in theaters, international releases locked, and a massive home video release looming this holiday season.
But this is just one example from a summer blistering with hits, which included two genre films from James Wan. David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out (read our review), produced by Wan and released by New Line Cinema, hit a whopping $135 million on a reported budget of, get this, $5 million. With a $5-10 million marketing spend, and adjusting for net profits, Lights Out looks to have made an estimated $55 million for the studio, which also has its home video release to look forward to. The Conjuring 2 (read our review), which Wan directed, cost more to make ($40 million), has banked $320 million worldwide, which nets the studio $160 million. After the $80 million cost, that’s a disgusting $80 million profit. Shit, is it me or did James Wan’s films literally save Warner Bros.’ ass from their massive DC mistakes (Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad)?
Back in June, Sony released the Blake Lively shark thriller The Shallows (read our review) wide and found early genre success with a $100 million worldwide take ($50 million net) on a cost of $17 million (plus $15-20 million marketing). Universal Pictures’ July 1 release of The Purge: Election Year (read our review) has also taken in a bit over $100 million on a cost of only $10 million, which broken down looks like a $30 million surplus for the studio.
If you exclude Ghostbusters from the list (Sony was adamant this was a “comedy”), all of the major genre releases by studios were fireworks. All of the aforementioned films were hugely successful, and so profitable that all I can do is picture the filmmakers swimming in hundred dollar bills like Scrooge McDuck.
There’s obviously other factors at play (such as the quality of each film), so it’s hard to know the exact science here, but there’s one major lesson to be learned: not all moviegoers want to see tentpole films. There’s a market that goes beyond parents and children filling theaters to watch Captain American team up with Spider-Man. Studios need to acknowledge this and take advantage of the holes in the release schedule. Obviously, they appear to be taking note as we’re now finding horror infiltrating every season. So, every time you read an article by a “journalist” calling for the death of horror, remember, our genre is slowly infecting the box office year round. The biggest reason? Fans of superhero films aren’t superheroes. Fans of horror are horror. The end.