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Box Office Records for Horror Movies Are Important Because…


A couple of weeks ago, the recent remake of Friday the 13th made history. Not by being any good or bringing innovation to the genre — the movie scored a lousy 26 percent on Rotten Tomatoes while earning pans from mainstream and genre critics alike — but by putting people in seats while raking in a record weekend take of $42.2 million.

Why is that impressive when The Dark Knight earned $60 million in a single day, you ask? Well, Friday the 13th achieved its record Valentine’s Day weekend, traditionally a soft time for ticket sales. Sure, these records are beaten all the time. The previous record for that weekend was The Grudge (2004) with $39.1 million while Cloverfield (2008) broke the record for MLK Day weekend with $46 million and Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007) on Labor Day weekend with $31 million. The real question is what do all these expectation-defying horror movies have in common?

A few things. 1. Low budgets. 2. A lack of A-list stars. (Sorry, Buffy fans, Sarah Michelle Gellar is no Angelina Jolie.) and 3. They were all released when moviegoing attendance is at its lowest. When a movie defies expectations by breaking ticket sale records on a weekend when you are scientifically proven not to want to see a movie, it gets attention.

Timing Is Everything
How’d they do that? Well, none of these films was scheduled in the Fall (Oscar bait season). Only one was released during the Summer (blockbuster time). These movies strategically came out (with one exception) during the Spring, which lasts from January 1 to April 31 according to Hollywood. This section of the calendar is traditionally reserved for movies not quite bad enough for straight to DVD or that were contractually obligated to be released in theaters. Indeed, non-horror movies released in January have sent more than one director into a fit of hysterics.

The Summer of Snakes
And then there are movies that are relegated to January for safety’s sake. Everyone was talking about Cloverfield for months before its release. It had a huge viral marketing campaign and horror fans around the world were positively vibrating with their need to find out just what the monster would look like. It sounded like a sure-fire hit, so why not release it in the summer? The answer: Snakes on a Plane (2006). That Samuel L. Jackson movie flopped hard despite equally huge Internet buzz and no one knew whether Cloverfield could compete (beforehand) or survive (afterwards). Therefore, it was shoved into January’s movie graveyard and given one chance to sink or swim.

Halloween.jpg

I mentioned above there was one exception to the Spring releases.  That one exception worth mentioning is Rob Zombie’s Halloween. Instead of relegating it to Spring, this one came out Labor Day weekend. A compliment to the picture, right? Actually, no. Turns out that Labor Day is yet another brown spot on the box office banana. At the end of blockbuster season, moviegoers tend to be jaded and ready to spend more time with their families. I guess people weren’t feeling so good about their parents or children that year. 

Who Wins and Why
For horror fans, these record box office takes aren’t just good news; it’s a reason to hope again. Horror is in the midst of a slo-mo renaissance. After nearly disappearing at the end of the ’80s, the genre is making a serious resurgence, and these record-setting weekends are the proof. Variety and the online blogs might claim sub-genres like “torture porn” or zombies as over, but it’s clear from the success of Friday the 13th that fright flick fans are here to stay… in large numbers. Money talks. That means more horror movies will be greenlit this year. That means the mainstream media is going to have to devote pages to reviewing them. That might even mean horror will get the respect it deserves. Oh, who are we kidding?

David Wellington is the author of six horror novels, including his latest, Vampire Zero. He lives in New York City. You can read some of his books online for free at www.davidwellington.net.

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