Horror is bloody good genre for H'wood

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Halloween horror: With "Saw III" opening Friday, "Grudge 2" and "Texas Chainsaw Beginning" still playing and the original "Halloween" returning Monday for a special two-night run, these are happy days for horror fans.

Indeed, the proliferation of horror genre product in recent years has given moviegoers who like to be scared easy access to films that will certainly get the job done. There's no question that horror's been a bloody good genre for Hollywood for many years now. As I pointed out in an interview about horror films that I taped recently for "Today" and that's airing Saturday morning on NBC, what really helps is that you can make these films for very little money because they're not driven by superstars or A-list filmmakers and they aren't based on expensive literary properties.

It also helps that there's a well-defined target audience to market them to. Although years ago that audience was predominantly younger males, in recent years younger women have become a big part of the horror films core group. Apparently the combination of younger women being scared by what's happening on the screen while being immediately comforted by the younger males accompanying them is a key to the genre's success. The availability of loveseat seating in today's multiplexes may have something to do with it, as well.

From a business point of view, not only do horror movies perform well theatrically, but they also enjoy an attractive afterlife in DVD -- especially if they opened in theaters with PG-13 ratings and are now able to offer an unrated DVD edition with explicit footage that's never been seen before. Horror films that become cult favorites can live on in theaters, as well. A case in point is the limited reissue of the original 1978 "Halloween" set for 8 p.m. this Monday and Tuesday at about 150 theaters. A new episode in the series, "Halloween 2007," directed by Rob Zombie, will explore the origins of the series villain Michael Myers. It's set for release via The Weinstein Co.'s Dimension Films label next Oct. 19.

Sony's 2004 film "The Grudge," which spawned a sequel that opened earlier this month, is a good example of how PG-13 rated horror films that are more accessible to younger moviegoers can outgross their R-rated siblings that under-17s can't buy tickets to. The original "Grudge" was rated PG-13 and opened Oct. 22, 2004 to a sizzling $39.1 million at 3,245 theaters ($12,058 per theater). It went on to gross $110.4 million domestically and another $76.9 million internationally for a global theatrical cume of $187.3 million. Considering that the picture reportedly cost only $10 million to make, it had to be one of Sony's most profitable films that year.

Lionsgate launched "Saw," which was R rated, Oct. 29, 2004 -- one week after "Grudge" kicked off -- to $18.3 million at 2,315 theaters ($7,894 per theater). "Saw" ended up doing $55.2 million domestically and $47.7 million abroad for a worldwide total of $102.9 million. It goes without saying that "Saw" was also highly profitable since it reportedly was made for only $1.2 million. Nonetheless, the PG-13 rating played a role in helping to get "Grudge" about $85 million more than the R-rated "Saw" in worldwide ticket sales.

Not surprisingly, both titles spawned franchises. "Saw's" first sequel, "Saw II," opened Oct. 28, 2005 to much stronger ticket sales than the original -- $31.7 million at 2,949 theaters ($10,758 per theater). It took in $87 million domestically and another $57.1 million internationally for a global theatrical cume of $144.1 million, about $41 million more than the original "Saw" did. We'll know early Saturday morning how well "Saw III," which reportedly cost $12 million to make, is following in the footsteps of its blockbuster predecessor. Insiders are expecting "Saw III" to slice off a sizable piece of boxoffice pie this weekend.

In the case of "Grudge 2," which reportedly cost $20 million to make, things haven't gone quite as well as they did the first time around. After arriving to $20.8 million (capturing first place but not coming close to the original's $39.1 million opening), "Grudge 2" dropped 63% in its second weekend to $7.7 million ($2,381 per theater). That brought its domestic cume to $31.3 million. Clearly, "Grudge 2" isn't heading to the same $110 million-plus boxoffice stratosphere that the original "Grudge" reached domestically. Nonetheless, it should still wind up being very profitable for Sony. One factor to consider is that the first "Grudge" had some very strong youth appeal star power in Sarah Michelle Gellar while the sequel has only a brief appearance by Gellar and actually stars the less well-known Amber Tamblyn.

What horror movies really have going for them is a combination of profitability and playability. They are easily turned into franchises that can play over a period of many years and that can be marketed to fans who frequently become infatuated with their signature villains and often dress like them for Halloween. It only takes a quick look at the impressive total grosses for some of the highest profile horror franchises to understand why Hollywood continues to embrace the genre.

The four films in Miramax and Dimension's "Scary Movie" franchise (the last of which was a Weinstein Co./Dimension release), for instance, have grossed an astounding $429 million-plus domestically. The franchise's strength clearly shows the advantages that can be achieved by combining humor with horror. The series original, which opened July 7, 2000 via the old Miramax to $42.3 million, is still the biggest of the bunch with a domestic cume of $157 million. It's followed by "Scary Movie 3" ($110 million in 2003), "Scary Movie 4" ($90.7 million in 2006) and "Scary Movie 2" ($71.3 million in 2001).

The "Friday the 13th" series that Paramount originated and New Line later took over has done nearly $316 million domestically. The leader of that pack is "Freddy vs. Jason," which opened to $36.4 million Aug. 15, 2003 and wound up with a domestic cume of $82.6 million. The 10 other titles in the series and their domestic grosses are: "Friday the 13th" ($39.8 million in 1980), "Friday the 13th -- Part III" ($334.6 million in 1982), "Friday the 13th: Final Chapter" ($33 million in 1984), "Friday the 13th -- Part V" ($21.9 million in 1985), "Friday the 13th -- Part II" ($21.7 million in 1981), "Friday the 13th -- Part VI" ($19.5 million in 1986), "Friday the 13th -- Part VII" ($19.2 million in 1988 -- discussed below in today's Filmmaker flashbacks report), "Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday" ($15.9 million in 1993), "Friday the 13th -- Part VIII" ($14.3 million in 1989) and "Jason X" ($13.1 million in 2002).

New Line's "Nightmare on Elm Street" is another horror franchise that's done heroic business over the years with over $307 million in domestic ticket sales. The series' strongest episode "Freddy vs. Jason" opened Aug. 15, 2003 to $36.4 million and ended up doing $82.6 million domestically. Other titles include: "A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master" ($49.4 million in 1988), "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" ($44.8 million in 1987), "Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare" ($34.9 million in 1991), "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge" ($30 million in 1985), "A Nightmare on Elm Street" ($25.5 million in 1984), "A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child" ($22.2 million in 1989) and "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" ($18.1 million in 1994).

Dimension's "Scream" franchise is also something to shout about with nearly $294 million in domestic grosses over the years -- and from just three episodes. The original "Scream" is the biggest, opening Dec. 20, 1996 to $6.4 million and winding up with $103 million domestically. It's followed by "Scream 2" ($101.4 million in 1997) and "Scream 3" ($89.1 million in 2000).

The "Halloween" franchise, which has had a number of distributors since it was launched in 1978, has accumulated nearly $217 million in domestic grosses. The biggest of the episodes is "Halloween: H20," opening via Dimension Aug. 7, 1998 to $16.2 million and winding up with $55 million domestically. Others in the series include: "Halloween" ($47 million in 1978), "Halloween: Resurrection" ($30.4 million in 2002), "Halloween II" ($25.5 million in 1981), "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers" ($17.8 million in 1988), "Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers" ($15.1 million in 1995), "Halloween III" ($14.4 million in 1982) and "Halloween 5" ($11.6 million in 1989).

New Line's "Blade" franchise is another sizable success with nearly $205 million in domestic grosses from only three titles. The franchise's top grosser is "Blade II," which opened March 22, 2002 to $32.5 million and did $82.3 million domestically. It's followed by the original "Blade" ($70.1 million in 1998) and "Blade: Trinity" ($52.4 million in 2004).

The "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" series, which has had several distributors over the years, has done over $161 million in domestic theaters. The top grossing episode is "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake version, which opened Oct. 17, 2003 via New Line to $28.1 million and wound up doing $80.6 million domestically. Others in the franchise include: "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning" ($35.9 million in 2006 and still playing), "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" ($30.9 million in 1974), "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" ($8 million in 1986), "Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III" ($5.8 million in 1990), "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation" ($0.141 million in 1997) and "Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre" ($0.044 million in 1995).

Lionsgate's "Saw" franchise only includes three titles, one of which is just arriving in theaters Friday, but has done more than $142 million domestically. The first "Saw" episodes are: "Saw II," which opened to $31.7 million Oct. 28, 2005 and ended up grossing $87 million domestically; and "Saw," which did $55.2 million 2004. The franchise's total is likely to climb significantly thanks to "Saw III."

Filmmaker flashbacks:
From May 18, 1988's column: "Friday the 13th and 'Friday the 13th' have proven, once again, to be a winning combination at the boxoffice for Paramount Pictures.

"Last weekend's $8.2 million gross at 1,796 screens for 'Part VII' makes it the series' third most-successful opening weekend. The two sequels that outgrossed it also arrived on Friday the 13ths -- 'Part IV' on Friday, April 13, 1984 ($11.2 million at 1,594 screens) and 'Part III' on Friday, Aug. 13, 1982 ($9.4 million at 1,079 screens).

Filmmaker flashbacks: From May 18, 1988's column: "Friday the 13th and 'Friday the 13th' have proven, once again, to be a winning combination at the boxoffice for Paramount Pictures.

"'It's a lucky day for this series, there's no question about it,' a delighted Barry London, president of marketing and distribution for Paramount, told me. 'The people who follow the movie certainly relate to the title and the date it's released on, as evidenced by the numbers over the past weekend.'

"Being present to see a 'Friday' that opens on Friday the 13th has become an event to the series' fans. As a result of such front-loading at the boxoffice, this 'Friday's' opening weekend pattern was somewhat different from what Hollywood typically sees. 'Friday' showed such exceptional strength Friday that it appeared to be losing steam as the weekend progressed. Its gross went from $3.9 million Friday to $2.9 million Saturday to $1.5 million Sunday.

"This time around, Paramount not only was able to match 'Friday' up to a Friday the 13th, but also benefited from the fact that mid-May is a relatively quiet time at the boxoffice in terms of major openings. 'That was one of the advantages,' explains London. 'Historically, it's not been a period where you've had a number of major films opening. You may have had a few continuing, but nothing certainly major in the way of openings.'"

Martin Grove hosts movie coverage on the broadband television channel www.updatehollywood.com.
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