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Horror continues to be a beacon of hope for the box office.
Universal’s M3GAN proved another win for the genre upon opening to a better-than-expected $30.4 million domestically over the Jan. 6-8 weekend (that’s more than any wide release launching over the high-profile year-end holidays, excluding Avatar: The Way of Water).
One of the secrets of its success? Whereas many non-franchise horror movies were rated R, M3GAN sports a more audience-friendly PG-13.
The horror film landing the biggest opening of the pandemic era was Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II, which was also rated PG-13. That film — which had the advantage of being part of a known franchise — launched to $47.5 million over Memorial Day in 2021, when COVID-19 was far more of an issue.
“Let’s not forget the importance of the decision to position M3GAN in the demographic sweet spot that is the very social media-active audience who were granted permission to see the film via its advantageous PG-13 rating. This opened an extended footprint for the film to be exposed to an even bigger FOMO-sensitive audience that took the film from a $20 million opener to a $30 million opener, no small feat,” says box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore.
Females made up 54 percent of all tickets bought, while 77 percent of M3GAN‘s audience was between the ages of 13 and 34.
In 2022, the biggest horror starts belonged to R-rated fare. Universal’s Nope led the way with a $44.5 million start. That movie is directed by Jordan Peele, a brand unto himself. Likewise, Universal’s Halloween Ends — which debuted to $40.1 million last year — was also a well-known brand.
M3GAN out-performed fellow original films and box office success stories The Black Phone (Universal) and Smile (Paramount). Those two films, both rated R, opened to $23.6 million and $22.6 million, respectively, in 2022.
“Certainly for many of the wide horror releases in 2022, the R rating was a benefit and a badge of honor,” says Dergarabedian. “In the case of M3GAN though, the subject matter was perfectly suited for the teen-friendly PG-13 and the results speak for themselves.”
Directed by Gerard Johnstone, M3GAN is also the first horror film released in January to open to more than $30 million since 2012, when Devil Inside started off with $33.7 million. Critics raved about the movie, resulting in a Rotten Tomatoes score of 94 percent. Audiences gave the film a B, which is a good grade for a horror release.
Overseas, the sci-fi horror title opened to $14.8 million for a global start north of $45 million against a production budget of just $12 million before marketing.
“Creepy doll type characters seemingly never fall out of favor, from Talking Tina in TZ’s Living Doll to Chucky to Annabelle. Even 1978’s Magic had Anthony Hopkins in a psychological battle with ventriloquist dummy a la The Twilight Zone episode with Cliff Robertson in an episode called The Dummy,” says Dergarabedian.
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival