What a weekend!
New Line Cinema’s adaptation of Stephen King’s “IT” has just had the best opening weekend for a horror film ever. But, let’s be honest here, it doesn’t matter how good the movie is, no film makes an estimated $117m (!) on opening weekend without an equally strong marketing campaign and IT had one of horror’s best in recent years.
Let’s start with the record-crushing teaser trailer. Released in March, the two-and-a-half-minute promo clocked up 197 million views in the first 24 hours, more than any other film trailer in history. It’s a tightly edited teaser that does a great job of selling the film. As Brad noted in his box office report, budgets for studio horror films usually hover at around the $5m mark. If there’s any genre that can do more with less, it’s horror; but that does make it all the more special when a relatively big budget genre film comes along.
IT’s reported $35m budget puts it in the range of The Conjuring 2 and A Cure for Wellness, and the trailer makes sure all of that is on the screen. The gorgeous sweeping cameras and the biting rain make the film feel big and impressive, and in a different league to the smaller budget horror films that general audiences have become accustomed to. Also commendable is the fact that, unlike some other recent remakes, reboots and sequels, the trailers make little of the fact that King’s book has already been adapted as the very successful 1990 ABC miniseries. The teaser feels like something new and director Andy Muschietti brings a grandeur to the shared scenes that make this version feel like its own beast.
The teaser and all the following trailers and clips also did a great job of setting up scenes without spoiling them. As John brought up on Twitter, we were only given the bare bones of sequences. Beats are skipped, big final scares avoided: but without ever making the trailer moments feel disjointed or lacking. Even the preview of the storm drain sequence that played in front of Annabelle: Creation clipped the end of the scene.
The efficiency of the teaser ensured there was plenty of new footage to intrigue and excite in the eventual first full trailer. Trailer 1, below, introduces more of the mystery element and keeps the focus firmly on the Losers’ Club. As many people have pointed out, this bike-riding young gang looks very “Stranger Things”. However, IT was already midway through shooting when “Stranger Things” was released, so we can only presume that each production developed most of the shared elements concurrently, as opposed to copying directly.
That being said, it is worth discussing how the marketing team dealt with the similarities. Rather than advertising IT as “Stranger Things” on the big screen, the promotional materials harnessed the goodwill towards the show. The circular nature of inspiration means that it’s totally fair game for New Line and Warner Brothers to use “Stranger Things”, in the same way the Duffer Brothers used King as one of their primary reference points.
Like “Stranger Things”, the marketing campaign for IT played on nostalgia, which led to some really great tie-ins. Immersive screenings and the Neibolt House experience may be gimmicky, but they make for great little news stories. Promo footage of audience members shrieking at the special screenings or raving about how scary the Hollywood haunted house attraction is builds up a sense of danger around the film. Horror fans may find the finished film to be relatively mild, but the general discourse around IT has casual audiences wanting to test themselves to see if they can handle “one of the 5 scariest films ever made” (Joe Hill, King’s son). New Line didn’t leave it at that, though. I can’t remember the last time I played an 8-bit tie-in game, but I was first online to check out “Enter the Sewer”. And, as well as looking back, New Line also looked to the future with a VR Experience YouTube video: “IT: Float”.
But, most notably, IT was never advertised as IT: Chapter One. In a world of cinematic universes and Tetris trilogies, and even though they must have known they had a huge hit on their hands, New Line avoided making any big sequel announcements beforehand. Yes, film fans likely knew that was the plan. But, as far as I can tell, general audiences weren’t aware that there is a sequel on the way. Unlike something like The Mummy with its preordained “Dark Universe”, most viewers sat down to watch the full story. Now, had the movie been less satisfying than it is, maybe that would have backfired and left paying customers feeling short-changed. But, if the encouraging B+ CinemaScore is anything to go by, most viewers will have got a kick from the end title’s promise of Chapter Two.
Imagine going in and watching this epic horror film, complete with wonderful characters you care about and finding out you’ll get to spend even more time with them in a couple of years. New Line has the excitement of a self-contained hit, without the desperate scramble to churn out a sequel. IT: Chapter Two may still be two years away, but it’s obviously been on their minds and this film was structured to fit perfectly with a follow-up.
In the end, though, this does all go back to the fact that Muschietti made one hell of a horror movie, with enough brilliant scenes, ideas, and visuals for the New Line marketing department to do their thing. But thank god they delivered, because they’ve contributed to one of the defining box office weekends in horror history.