Tuesday, August 9, 2022
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Box Office: As Blockbusters Bomb, Horror Films Thrive In A Covid-Stricken Summer

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at January 1, 1970

With $195 million worldwide after two months in theaters, Warner Bros. and New Line’s The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is unquestionably a hit. Yes, that’s below the $228 million cume of Annabelle Comes Home and well below the $301-$366 million likes of Conjuring, Conjuring 2, Annabelle: Creation and The Nun, but a hit is a hit. Franchise-specific expectations notwithstanding, earning five times your production budget amid a global pandemic and while the film is available (in North America for the first 31 days) on HBO Max is the current definition of success.

Yes, the core reason Conjuring 3 was a hit with its $24 million domestic debut while The Suicide Squad is likely a flop with its $26 million debut is because one film cost $185 million and the other cost $39 million. As I wrote first in April of 2020 and then in May of 2021, it makes sense that most of the films offered up in the first “chapter” of what will be a long and complicated theatrical recovery are installments of popular/well-liked horror franchises. And as we see a slew of expensive, franchise-friendly tentpoles struggle or outright tank by pre-Covid standards (fair or not, lost money is lost money), we should remember that most of the biggies left in summer 2021 were commercially questionable franchise flicks.

LeBron James’ Space Jam: A New Legacy was never a surefire hit, especially not with a $150 million budget. The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard earning $61 million worldwide (versus $171 million for The Hitmans Bodyguard) could have been business as usual, as we saw with Red 2 or Another Stakeout. Jungle Cruise’s $35 million launch is considered solid by Covid standards, but A) it’s still a $200 million-budgeted flick that earned $90 million in global box office and Disney+ transactions and B) it’s not far off from the over/under $35 million debuts of Central Intelligence, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Rampage. Snake Eyes was always a bad commercial play while the (well-reviewed) likes of Free Guy (opening next week) and The Suicide Squad were coin tosses.

Other than F9 and Marvel’s Black Widow, most of the big-budget preordained (in pre-Covid times) tentpoles stayed far away. Paramount swapped Snake Eyes for Top Gun: Maverick. Sony pushed Hotel Transylvania: Transformania to October. Universal sent both Jurassic World: Dominion and Minions: The Rise of Gru to next summer. As such, most of the big franchise titles have been horror films. That makes sense since horror movies are cheap enough to still be profitable sans best-case-scenario box office, still qualify as a “you should see this in theaters” sub-genre and might have broken out amid a traumatic year. And so far, that thesis seems to be holding up, if not on a zero sum basis (R.I.P. Spiral), then for the horror sub-genre on the whole.

Spiral earned $36 million on a $20 million budget, a commercial whiff for the once-popular Saw series but probably a “profitable in the long-run” title for Lionsgate. Escape Room: Tournament of Champions has earned $32 million worldwide, double its $15 million budget but 75% below the $155 million cume of the first Escape Room. I don’t expect Don’t Breathe 2 to get anywhere near the first film’s $156 million cume, but it’s presumably cheap enough that it doesn’t have to. Paramount’s A Quiet Place part II will earned/has earned 86% of the film’s $188 million domestic cume and $341 million worldwide cume while nearly quadrupling its $61 million budget. With $159 million domestic from a $57 million Fri-Mon launch, it’s among the leggiest “big” Memorial Day weekend openers in recent memory.

One week after A Quiet Place part II, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It opened with $24 million domestic on its way to a $65 million domestic and $197 million worldwide finish. That’s slightly below Annabelle Comes Home ($72 million/$228 million on a $28 million budget). It was still enough to A) quadruple its $39 million budget and B) make The Conjuring Universe the first-ever $2 billion-plus grossing wholly R-rated franchise. Universal, Blumhouse and Platinum Dunes’ The Forever Purge has earned $68 million worldwide, half of The First Purge’s $137 million cume but close to triple the film’s $25 million budget. Ditto Old, which is playing low for M. Night Shyamalan but (with $65 million worldwide) will soon quadruple its $18 million budget.

Presuming Nia DaCosta’s Candyman sequel still opens on August 27, there’s little reason to assume the much-hyped chiller won’t perform at least well enough to justify its (guestimated) $15 million budget. Would it have been a much bigger hit had it opened in non-Covid times? Yup, and it and the equally cheap Halloween Kills in October may still break out. Both are cheap horror flick means that can gross much less than Split ($276 million) or Halloween ($255 million) and still be quite profitable over the long haul. Even if (big “if”) James Wan’s Malignant underperforms on September 10 and loses money in relation to its over/under (rough guestimate) $40 million budget, the “one for me” horror original is at-worst a down payment on Wan returning for DC Films’ Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.

We can debate whether Godzilla Vs. Kong ($460 million on a $165 million budget), David Lowery’s The Green Knight ($12.2 million in ten days) and/or Guy Ritchie’s relentlessly grim “action movie as slasher flick” heist thriller Wrath of Man ($104 million worldwide) count as horror/scary movies, but let’s assume they don’t. The summer is, give or take potential false hope from Godzilla Vs. Kong’s comparative over-performance last Spring, operating pretty much as expected. F9 ($661 million worldwide after a $7 million debut in Japan) and Black Widow ($360 million thus far with China still on the horizon) are tops so far, while the horror films are making enough to get by and the commercially perilous franchise titles (which remained in summer partially due to their non-surefire status) are indeed underperforming in terms of budget.

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