This past week, Kyle Buchanan wrote an insightful, mostly spot-on piece for the Vulture about this summer’s box-office, and the overall takeaway is that, because of the “belly-flops” incurred by several original titles, combined with the highly profitable success of numerous sequels and franchise entries, studios will only be driven to make bigger budgeted films, almost all of them sequels, leaving little to no room for any kind of original, non-franchise venture. While Buchanan’s logic with regard to the summer tent pole is sound, there’s one glaring omission from his article: the outstanding box-office performances of The Purge and The Conjuring, two original works, both horror films. Not only did they debut at number one, each blazed past a $30 million opening. Several high-profile films failed to achieve such an opening this summer, including After Earth, The Internship, This Is the End, White House Down, The Lone Ranger, 2 Guns, and Elysium. Furthermore, The Conjuring is on pace to have a higher domestic gross than The Wolverine! Compare The Conjuring’s $20 million budget to The Wolverine’s $120 million, and suddenly sequelitis seems an equally dangerous proposition for Hollywood.
Of course, domestic box office is no longer the sole determiner of a film’s financial success. Take Pacific Rim, which has made $384 million worldwide, but only $98 million, or 25% percent, has come from North American ticket buyers. Likewise, if one considers the $121 million domestic take by The Wolverine, it looks like it barely recouped its budget, much less marketing costs. However, add on another $214 million from international receipts, and suddenly the Fox property is in the black. Thus, studios aren’t coming out nearly as wounded as North American box-office actuals would lead one to believe. Even The Lone Ranger, which has been treated as a catastrophic financial disaster by just about every commentator online, in print, on cable, etc., has made $217 million worldwide, so studios are unlikely to be in the dire crisis mode suggested by such rhetoric.
One takeaway is certain: Social media outlets have afforded the horror film an “event” status among younger moviegoers, as both The Purge and The Conjuring shattered Twitter records for the number of tweets in the days leading up to each film’s release. For The Conjuring, Twitter has become such a part of the horror film’s marketing strategy that Warner Bros. released a TV spot featuring tweets of frightened viewers rather than critical raves. On the whole, 2013 has been an incredible box-office year for mainstream horror; of the five wide releases, all five opened at number one and all five grossed more than $20 million on their opening weekends. These include Texas Chainsaw 3D, Mama, and Evil Dead, in addition to the two discussed above. While the quality of these films could certainly be up for debate, it’s clear that audiences are as willing to shell out money to see horror films as ever before.
That undefeated streak goes on the line this weekend as You’re Next opens, which is perhaps the most unlikely wide release of 2013. Its director, Adam Wingard, who has five feature films under his belt, has never had any of them see a wide release. In fact, as far as I can surmise, none of them have even received a theatrical release in North America! Nevertheless, media outlet Reel Source has forecasted a whopping $25 million opening to keep the horror streak alive. If You’re Next really can pull off another $20+ million opening, there’s likely to be a new horror release every week in 2014 (huzzah!). More likely, however, is a more modest, though still encouraging, opening just shy of $10 million. The streak looks to start again in three weeks time, however, with the probable $30M+ opening of Insidious 2. Hollywood horror is once again a box-office force to be reckoned with.
Box Office Weekend Predictions
1. Lee Daniels’ The Butler: $13.8 -44%
2. We’re-the-Millers: $12.8 -29%
3. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones: $11.1 NEW
4. You’re Next: $9.5 NEW
5. Planes: $8.6 -35%
6. The World’s End: $8.4 NEW
7. Elysium: $7 -49%
8. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters: $5.8 -44%
9. Kick-Ass 2: $5.1 -62%
10. Jobs: $3.1 -53%