Horror Movies Have Legs
This weekend, the remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” plummeted 72%, and nobody flinched. Such is the horror business nowadays. Freight flicks take the one-weekend-and-you’re-out approach to making money. “Friday the 13th” opened to a powerful $40.6M last February and then collapsed a staggering 80% in week two. It finished with $65M, solid for a slasher flick, but no box office legs at all. Today it’s a miracle if a horror movie falls less than 55% in its second weekend. However, if done well, horror movies can have amazing legs at the box office. “Scream” opened with a paltry $6.3M in 1996, but repeat business and great reviews carried it to $103M. Some of the most amazing, gravity-defying box office performances this decade were by scary movies.
Ten years ago, teen horror flick “Final Destination” opened to a decent $10M and a per-theater average under $4,000. Nothing to write home about. But in its second weekend, it only dipped 28% - a great hold for any film and a miracle for one in this genre. “Destination” stuck around in the top ten for seven weeks, never dropping more than 30% at a time. The film reached $53.3M, more than five times its opening.
The next year, Miramax released spooky ghost movie “The Others” at the end of August. It debuted at #4 with $14.1M from only 1,678 theaters. Backed by glowing reviews, an excellent marketing campaign, and one helluva twist ending, the film parked at #4 for a month, then went to #5, then shot back up to #2 in its seventh weekend despite shedding theaters. It spent eight weeks in the top five where it never declined more than 27% in a single weekend. “The Others” concluded its run with $96.5M, a record for star Nicole Kidman that she has yet to break.
Kidman’s friend and fellow Aussie Naomi Watts tried her hand at horror in 2002 with “The Ring” and was met with even greater success. The Dreamworks film opened at #1 with $15M from only 1,981 screens. The studio added 653 theaters the next weekend and its gross shot up 23% to $18.5M. Usually, when films expand, their per-theater average gets diluted the wider they go. But “The Ring” went from $7,580 to $7,019, a miniscule 7% decline, unheard of for a mainstream horror film. Dreamworks added another 174 theaters and the weekend gross dipped a negligible 2%, the PTA 8%. By its fourth weekend, “The Ring” was still pulling in more than it did on its first ($15.5M), its PTA still above $5,000. The film made it to $128.6M without ever reaching $19M in a single weekend.
Finally, “Paranormal Activity” shocked the entertainment industry last October – and not just onscreen. Thanks to a fresh concept, brilliant Demand It! viral marketing campaign, and word-of-mouth, the $15,000 film went from midnight screenings at a dozen theaters to hitting #1 and reaching $107.9M in two months. “Paranormal” managed to grow its per-theater average with each expansion, which just about never happens. It started with $6,489 PTA when it opened, then jumped to $16,129, then $49,379. The film earned $21.1M in its fifth weekend when it topped the box office and still maintained a $10,850 PTA.
When done right, horror can create electric word-of-mouth and keep fans coming back week after week. It’s the cheapest genre to produce giving it the most upside. The key is doing it right rather than just trying to make a quick buck.