Go grab your flashlight, blanket, and stuffed animal. We’ve reached the doldrums of winter, and on the box office calendar, that means its time for our annual onslaught of horror films. What was once merely regarded as a tough time to release a movie, has in recent years become a veritable dumping ground for studios to release cheaply produced horror films. If people were afraid to the officially label the trend before, there’s simply no denying it in 2009. In the next six weekends, five horror films are coming out. On the docket we have The Unborn, My Bloody Valentine 3-D, Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans, The Uninvited, and Friday The 13th.
We all know that Hollywood never makes bad decisions, so if all these films are being released in the next few weeks, it must be a well documented fact that horror titles in January and February make lots of money, right? To answer that, let’s look at January/February horror releases over the last decade of box office history. Here’s the horrific box office retrospective:
Feb. 4 – Scream 3 – $84 million
Feb. 18 – Pitch Black – $39 million
Feb. 2 – Valentine – $20 million
Feb. 16 – Hannibal – $165 million
Jan. 25 – The Mothman Prophecies – $35 million
Feb. 22 – Queen Of The Damned – $30 million
Jan. 24 – Darkness Falls – $32 million
Jan. 31 – Final Destination 2 – $47 million
Interestingly enough, none.
Jan. 7 – White Noise – $56 million
Jan. 28 – Hide And Seek – $51 million
Feb. 4 – Boogeyman – $46 million
Jan. 6 – Hostel – $47 million
Jan. 20 – Underworld: Evolution – $62 million
Feb. 3 – When A Stranger Calls – $47 million
Feb. 10 – Final Destination 3 – $54 million
Jan. 12 – Primeval – $10 million
Jan. 19 – The Hitcher – $16 million
Feb. 2 – The Messengers – $35 million
Feb. 9 – Hannibal Rising – $27 million
Jan. 4 – One Missed Call – $27 million
Feb. 1 – The Eye – $31 million
Jan. 9 – The Unborn
Jan. 16 – My Bloody Valentine 3-D
Jan. 23 – Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans
Jan. 30 – The Uninvited
Feb. 13 – Friday The 13th (Gimmicky? Yes. But The Omen did make $12 million on 06/06/06…)
There are a couple of trends that I see in these figures. First off, movie titles are getting worse. According to current horror movie titles, if I really wanted to scare you, I should have just named this entry “The Blog Post.” Second, the horror pattern doesn’t really start until 2005. Until the successful debut of White Noise, the early weeks of January seemed off limits to a studio with a horror film. They stuck mostly with family-friendly affair, instead. Third, people were very tired of horror in 2007 and 2008. After years of Japanese remakes and torture-porn flicks, the genre felt stale. Fourth, these movies suck!
Sometimes I wonder why Hollywood is so obsessed with establishing patterns. If 300 can open to $70 million on a random weekend in March, a Hannah Montana concert can earn $30 million over three days in February, and Cloverfield can debut to $40 million in January, doesn’t that do anything to prove that people will go see what they want to see, regardless of its release date? I don’t know why studios feel the need to pigeonhole bad horror movies into these first two months of the year. By consistently releasing sub-par, only-somewhat-scary movies in January and February, Hollywood is conditioning film goers to stay at home. At a certain point, people wise up to the lack of quality. It took them a while with the “____ Movie” movies, and according to the above results, the horror genre is now seeing similar diminishing returns in January and February.
The reason that studios haven’t minded settling with the smallish figures is that these movies are ridiculously cheap to make. They usually make up their small production budgets by the end of their theatrical runs, and it’s pretty much the DVD revenue that earns the studio money. But, oh you foolish movie executives- you could make so much more!
How can the problem be fixed? Start by getting someone to make a really good horror movie, and/or do something truly innovative. Then, release that film whenever you want. It really doesn’t matter. Actually, at this point, it’s probably a little bit better to not release it in January, because people are starting to realize how bad January horror movies usually are. Bottom line: If the movie is good n’ scary and has a solid advertising campaign behind it, people will go see it. (Ex: The Ring)
As far as the 2009 films go, Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans has a small legion of fanboys, Friday The 13th‘s release date plan will probably generate some business, and both films will get a boost since they are part of franchises. As far as the rest of the films go, they’ve all had surprisingly strong advertising campaigns, but 3-D is becoming kind of cliche, and The Uninvited‘s psycho woman plot isn’t as flashy as The Unborn‘s evil dead twin story. Because it’s coming out before the horror glut, I’m giving the slight edge to The Unborn, but I don’t really see any of them breaking out. If they fail, I blame the scheduling completely.
Here’s a good comment question: If you were to combine the RottenTomatoes T-Meter for all five of the horror films debuting in the next two months, what do you predict the total score would be? Will they collectively break 100%? Let me know what you think.