From the moment the concept was announced, it was all but guaranteed that The Purge was going to be a hit at the box office. Set in the not-too-distant future, the film promised to introduce a world wherein all crime, including murder, was made legal for 12-hours each year, and audiences came out in droves to witness all the madness. Made on a budget of just $3 million, the James DeMonaco-directed film pulled in 10x that in its first weekend alone, going on to gross a worldwide total of nearly $90 million.
Per Wikipedia, “It was the lowest budget film to hit the top of the box office charts since 1988.”
Impressive numbers aside, the reception from fans and critics alike was decidedly lukewarm. Those who didn’t love the movie all had their different reasons as to why, though the most common viewpoint was that The Purge just didn’t live up to its premise. And let’s be real here: it totally didn’t.
The film centers on the Sandin family, the most well-off residents in their town’s most well-off community. On the night of the annual Purge, 2022, an injured stranger is invited into the Sandin home by young son Charlie, setting off a chain of events that literally brings the chaos of the streets directly into their home. Masked maniacs are outside the door, and they want in.
When all is said and done, The Purge‘s high concept set-up turns out to be fancy packaging for what is ultimately, as the above synopsis suggests, a fairly traditional home invasion film. What promised to be a boldly original franchise was launched with a movie that didn’t really feel all that original, and it’s easy to see why that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way back in 2013. Mind you, it is my personal opinion that The Purge is a damn good home invasion film, but it’s a home invasion film all the same. We spend the whole movie locked inside a house with one family, provided only with very brief glimpses of the much larger universe established by the premise – mostly via news footage from Purges past.
But is that a problem? Or was that actually its smartest quality?
I realize that I’m probably praising the franchise for what is essentially a happy accident, as the reason why The Purge didn’t go for broke right out of the gate was likely because the budget just wasn’t there, but I’m of the mind that the film’s restraint is what makes it such a pitch perfect franchise-starter. Giving us the tiniest sampling of the concept, The Purge leaves you wanting so much more, and in doing so it brilliantly set the stage for bigger (and perhaps better) sequels. The appropriately titled The Purge: Anarchy, released in 2014, was made on a budget nearly four-times higher than the first one, allowing James DeMonaco to sell us on the same promise… but deliver everything we wanted the first time around.
And you better believe that tactic, whether or not it was the plan all along, worked like a charm. Worldwide, Anarchy pulled in even more money than The Purge, proving that audiences were only made hungrier by the first film’s perceived waste of the futuristic premise. The sequel managed to get us excited about the idea of the franchise all over again, and since it took us out into the streets and let us witness all the brutal chaos we hoped to see back in 2013, it was a hit both critically and financially.
Horror franchises, well, they just don’t get much smarter than this one.
So was the The Purge a let-down? If it was back when it was released, I’m fairly certain many people who felt that way would feel differently if they revisited it in the present. Armed with the knowledge that The Purge is merely an appetizer for the main courses that are The Purge: Anarchy, The Purge: Election Year, and The Purge: Whatever They Cook Up Next, it’s a whole lot easier to appreciate it for what it is rather than hold a grudge against it for not quite being what you wanted it to be.
My advice? Revisit The Purge. It’s a damn good movie and a brilliant franchise launching pad.