Why Horror Films Are Dying at the Box Office

 Steve Wilke

Only a few years ago, a new horror movie was considered as close to a sure thing as anything Hollywood produced. From 2005 to 2009, studios like Lionsgate, Screen Gems, New Line and Dimension made millions releasing hit after hit, grossing north of $50 million at the domestic box office on low-budget slasher pics and remakes of such genre classics as Friday the 13th and The Amityville Horror. But this summer and fall, title after title has disappointed, capped by a weak $8.5 million opening for Universal's early Halloween entry The Thing, a prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 horror sci-fi pic of the same name. The likely culprit: The flight of younger moviegoers from the multiplex. Heading into the Oct. 14-16 weekend, The Thing was tracking to gross $11 million to $13 million, but the audience needed to achieve those numbers never materialized. Nearly 65 percent of those buying tickets to the movie were over the age of 25, whereas it used to be that moviegoers under 25 powered the genre. Other recent titles that have underperformed include the Guillermo del Toro-produced Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, which has only grossed $23.9 million domestic, Shark Night 3D ($18.7 million), Dream House ($18.4 million) Fright Night ($18. 1 million) and Apollo 18 ($17.5 million). "I don't know what's happening. The young people just aren't there," says Universal president of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco. Chris Aronson, senior vp domestic distribution at 20th Century Fox, was one of the first to notice the decline of younger moviegoers, a trend that began during Christmas 2010 and continues to worsen. "These are the kids who are the stable for this kind of fare," he says. The Paranormal Activity franchise and Insidious are the only horror movies to do big business of late. Despite the genre's overall weakness, many are counting on Paranormal Activity 3 (which is tracking well) to buck the trend when it opens Oct. 21, although last year's Paranormal sequel topped out at $84.8 million domestically compared with the $107.9 million earned by the first film in 2009. Still, the sequel cost just $3 million to produce (the upcoming threequel cost $5 million), a scream compared to most studio franchise pics.

TOP-GROSSING HALLOWEEN FRANCHISES IN RECENT YEARS

Saw (Lionsgate)

  • 7 Films
  • Combined Budget: $64 million
  • Domestic Total: $415.9 million
  • International Total: $457.4 million
  • Total Worldwide: $873.3 million

Paranormal Activity (Paramount)

  • 2 Films
  • Combined Budget: $3 million
  • Domestic Total: $192.7 million
  • International Total: $178.3 million
  • Total Worldwide: $371 million

The Grudge (Sony)

  • 2 Films
  • Combined Budget: $30 million
  • Domestic Total: $149.5 million
  • International Total: $108.5 million
  • Total Worldwide: $258 million

Source: BoxofficeMojo

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