When it comes to horror franchises, the promise of finality is too much for fans and studios alike to bear. Regardless of how many times we see horror sequels burdened with subtitles that claim “The Final Chapter,” “The End” or “The Last,” these properties have often clawed their way back. But recently, many of these franchises found themselves lying dormant for far longer than expected, leaving a void within the genre.
The Hollywood Reporter on Friday broke the news that New Line Cinema’s Final Destination series has managed to find its way out the shallow grave it was buried in back in 2011. The series, which began as a spec script for an episode of The X-Files TV show, grossed a total of just over $665 million worldwide over the course of its 11-year run, becoming one of horror’s highest-grossing franchises. In the seven years since the last installment, the well-received Final Destination 5, New Line’s merger with Warner Bros. has seen the studio become even more horror orientated with It (2017) and James Wan’s Atomic Monster Productions, which has given audiences the Conjuring Universe and Lights Out (2016). But the revival of Final Destination holds the promise of offering something different from New Line’s other horror properties, and diversifying the thrills found within the genre. The return of Final Destination, the success of last weekend’s Escape Room and the slow but steady re-emergence of the slasher film signals a possible return to form for serialized horror franchises of the popcorn entertainment variety.
The horror landscape has shifted since Final Destination’s heyday. Horror franchises haven’t gone anywhere, but the top money makers are played as events (It, Halloween) or part of a cinematic universe (Annabelle: Creation, The Nun). The Insidious (2010-2018) and Purge (2013-2018) franchises stand out from the pack as modestly budgeted, serialized horror franchises that don’t rewrite the rules, but offer clever thrills. But for the most part, the horror that gains much of our interest doesn’t stem from franchises at all, but one-offs like It Follows (2014), The Babadook (2014), The Witch (2015), Get Out (2017) and Hereditary (2018) that promise auteur craftsmanship and prestige horror. A Quiet Place (2018) will bend that one-and-done rule with a sequel in 2020, which will determine if that same prestige will be bestowed upon a franchise. We’re living in a heyday of original horror, but there will always be something appealing about horror franchises, encountering a known entity, and watching the rules we think we know play out with slight differences. As horror continues to delve deeper into contemporary examinations of fears concerning race, culture, parenthood, and sexuality, it’s becoming increasingly necessary to come back up for air and explore the horror that exists on the surface, the original terror in which all other fears swim within: death.
The five-film Final Destination series that began in 2000 has never been particularly deep, but creator Jefferey Reddick landed on a primal reason for paranoia, and discovered the concentrated form of the slasher movie in which death wasn’t a man in a mask but in an unstoppable force of nature. There was perhaps no better way to explore that fear than through teens with their whole lives supposedly in front of them. But can Final Destination once again succeed by being teen-focused? Horror has become less teen-centric overall, and more adult-focused. Teen horror films like Truth or Dare (2018) and Happy Death Day (2017) still have their market, but the post-Scream (1996) era of high-school/college horror that helped give rise to self-aware rule book horror like I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Urban Legend (1998), The Faculty (1998) and Final Destination has largely disappeared from movie screens. Instead, teen horror, with elements closely associated with the late 1990s and early 2000s horror market, have found their place within TV shows like Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars. Even if one were to make the argument that It and Stranger Things fall into the teen horror subgenre, their '80s nostalgia separates them as decidedly different from the market Final Destination was released into.
The Final Destination reboot may be entering a different cinematic landscape than the one it once dominated, but it’s also coming at a time where there’s a market ready to be cornered. In the absence of new Paranormal Activity and Saw films, and with Insidious and The Purge seemingly winding down, there’s room for new horror franchises to emerge and be revived as January palate cleansers and summer blockbuster alternatives. As much as we horror fans love to sit and bask in the emotional misery of films like Hereditary, contemplate the allegorical ramifications of Get Out and theorize over the relationship of characters in The Nun to those in The Conjuring, there’s a sense that we also want, and perhaps need, the fun of pure spectacle and low-consequence entertainment that isn’t bogged down by high expectations or the requirement of seeing every entry within a cinematic universe.
As entertaining as Final Destination can be as a whole franchise with callbacks to previous entries, it also has the luxury of being a series where viewers could jump in with any entry and still get the same thrills as everyone else. If we look at The Conjuring films as the equivalent of the MCU, then Final Destination has the potential to be Venom, a franchise that may not offer the same quality as the former but offers low stakes and a communal theatrical experience where everyone is in on the same page. Escape Room found success earlier this month for arguably that very same reason. Audiences showed up because the pic offered something for everyone, a broad calculation of fears spoken in a universal language. Undoubtedly that film’s success, testimonies of enthusiastic audience responses and comparisons to Final Destination helped New Line realize that now is the moment for a revival.
Not all horror franchise revivals go well. Jigsaw (2017) somehow managed to make $103 million worldwide without any buzz and seems to have already been forgotten about. The abysmal Rings (2017) landed with a thud and $83.1 million worldwide on a surprisingly pricey $25 million budget, scaring Paramount away from relaunching Friday the 13th. This year will see if The Grudge and Child’s Play can once again find an audience. But Final Destination has the beauty of simplicity going for it. Like Escape Room’s death traps, a series of compelling freak accidents could make all the difference when it comes to getting audiences in theaters. As much as supernatural specters, demons, masked serial killers and zombies have defined the genre, sometimes there’s nothing more gratifying than having the experience of watching a roller coaster go off track and plummet its passengers towards their demise. As far as franchise revivals go, Final Destination has never seemed safer.