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The horror boom at the box office has leapt from the multiplex to the art house.
Over the weekend, acclaimed filmmaker Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria posted an opening theater average of $89,903 from two theaters, by far the best average of 2018 to date, and the top showing since Guadagnino’s own Call Me by Your Name, a best picture nominee, opened to a per-theater average of $103,233 in four theaters in November 2017.
From Amazon Studios, the gruesome and sometimes shocking horror film even beat the opening average of Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning The Shape of Water ($83,282), which debuted in two cinemas in early December of last year.
Suspiria, a remake of Dario Argento’s classic 1977 Italian film, opened at ArcLight Hollywood in Los Angeles and Regal Union Square in New York City, both hot spots for specialty titles (both locations play more commercial movies as well).
The terrifying story follows a young American dancer (Dakota Johnson) who wins a coveted spot at an elite Berlin dance academy, only to learn that its real purpose is far darker and more sinister than she realized. Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth and Chloe Grace Moretz also star.
Before Suspiria launched, the top average of 2018 belonged to the documentary Free Solo ($73,572), now in theaters. A24’s coming-of-age dramedy Eighth Grade, debuting in July, follows ($65,949).
Horror has become a shining star at the box office of late. This year’s hits include A Quiet Place, The Nun, The First Purge and, most recently, Halloween. And in 2017, Get Out and It both shattered records. Box-office analysts say watching a scary pic in a theater is a communal experience that can’t be replicated in the living room. The genre also attracts younger audiences, a prized demo, who are apt to show up at theaters when a movie excites them.
“The continued power and allure of horror is no fluke, given the factor of being collectively scared in a theater,” says box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of comScore.
Suspiria‘s opening screen average is a best for Amazon Studios, surpassing 2016’s Manchester by the Sea ($64,125) and its current Beautiful Boy ($54,722), both of which also launched in limited runs.
Amazon has awards ambitions for Beautiful Boy and Suspiria, which had its world premiere at the 2018 Venice Film Festival. Critics haven’t wholeheartedly embraced Guadagnino’s latest outing — it has a 69 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes — but that doesn’t worry Amazon Studios president of marketing and distribution Bob Berney.
“It’s either a masterpiece to some, or not. Even the mixed reviews are such that people have to see it,” says Berney. “And it is taking part in the horror boom.”
Last year, Darren Aronofsky’s prestige horror film, mother!, bombed badly at the box office after receiving an F CinemaScore. One big difference was that movie, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, launched nationwide (only wide releases receive a CinemaScore).
Suspiria faces a crucial test this week when it will expand into roughly 250 theaters. Many cinemas picking up the film will offer sneak previews Wednesday, which is Halloween.
“I really wanted to make a big splash and make it an event,” says Berney of the decision to open in only two theaters. “It’s such an out-there movie, and I wanted to start slow.”
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