2017: A Year in Horror (By the Numbers)
In an article I wrote at the beginning of the 2017 for HorrorHound Magazine, I mentioned how this could be the most significant year in the genre throughout our entire 10-plus years in business - and boy, was I right! Mostly thanks to Andy Muschietti's adaptation of Stephen King's IT, this was easily the most stand-out year the genre has witnessed in well over a decade. IT, by itself, not only became the highest-grossing horror film of all time, it was also one of the highest grossing films (of all genres) for the entire year – netting more money than summer tentpole films like Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League. (IT earned $327.5 million in the US box office alone – and an astounding $698 million worldwide). IT even holds numerous box office records, including largest opening weekend for a horror film, most money earned for a horror film, the most money earned on a Thursday for an R-rated film, most money earned on a Friday for an R-rated film, the largest September opening ever, the second-largest R-rated film opening ever (Deadpool still has that record) ... but what was most impressive was the fan and critic reaction. IT earned a "Certified Fresh" 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (oddly, its Audience Score was equally 85%) ... and the film also earned by top spot for best horror film of 2017. But IT wasn't the only significant release in the world of horror in 2017.
The year kicked off with a few surprise hits – and a few bombs. In January we saw M. Night Shyamalan return to form with SPLIT, which earned a monster $138 million at the box office (off a $9 million budget). That same month, however, also saw the release of new installments in the Underworld and Resident Evil franchises. Both bombed, only earning roughly $57 million combined (both films budgets equalled $75 million, not counting PR) – significantly less than any of the films' nine-combined prior releases. While big budget films like Resident Evil failed to make a profit, it was small-budget cinema that really impressed. January's The Bye Bye Man may not have knocked the socks off the industry – but the $7.4 million budgeted horror indie still netted $22.4 million at the box office. As February rolled in, established franchises continued to bomb. Rings netted a break-even $28 million (yet was universally hated), while Jordan Peele's GET OUT broke the internet with its massive $175 million take (and the film only cost $4.5 million to produce). In fact, the big take-away this year? Milking dated franchises has been bad business – but spending mass amounts of cash can be worse (Gore Verbenski's A Cure for Wellness cost a whopping $40 million to produce, and only earned $8 million).
Low budget means low risk. So, even when a solid film fails to hit with audiences (The Belko Experiment opened in March to a mere $10 million), at least the studio didn't lose money (the film cost only $5m to produce). Whereas Sony dropped $58 million to produce Life, yet the film only garnered $30 million in receipts. And while Kong: Skull Island may have seemingly done well with $168 million at the box office, the sad fact is, the movie cost $185m to produce (thankfully, foreign markets helped push the film to a $566m worldwide total). Alien: Covenant's massive $97 million budget overshadowed the film's depressing $74 million US take. And should we even mention Universal's stab at relaunching their monster brand with Tom Cruise's The Mummy? (the $125 million production only pulled in $80 million in the US, and devastating reviews from fans and critics alike). Much like Kong, Mummy benefitted from foreign markets (the film broke $400 million worldwide, which we are sure softened the blow to Universal's failed launch of the "Dark Universe." Speaking of Dark ... Stephen King's Dark Tower ... interpretation ... managed to lose $10 million and the potential of a multitude of sequels and spin-offs. Tanking financially is one thing – but tanking possibility of a brand? That's a sting and a half.
Indie and low-budget fare (with solid scripts and scares) did well as the fall came closer. It Comes at Night did a respectable $14 million before 47 Meters Down drenched audiences with an incredible $44 million draw (off a $5.5m budget). But the real wind-up prior to IT's release was the surprise that was Annabelle: Creation. A prequel to a spin-off ... everything about this David F. Sandberg film should have resulted in an epic failure, but thanks to stunning editing – and brilliant scares – Annabelle shined and became a hit, even surpassing its predecessor's draw (the film made $102 million off a $15m budget). While Flatliners and Friend Request both ... flatlined at the box office, one surprise of the Haunting season was the quirky horror slasher-meets-Groundhog's Day – Happy Death Day. The $5m budgeted film surprised everyone with an impressive $55m gross. In the only truly surprise of the fall, Jigsaw bucked expectations (of failure) and somehow managed a profit - pulling $38m off a reasonable $10m budget (the film pulled $100m worldwide). It still isn't anywhere near the highs of the series – but with a truncated budget, you can't help but be impressed with the franchise's ability to draw attention 13 years after its initial launch.
The season ended with one of the most significant genre films to hit theaters, from an artistic standpoint, in some time. Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water. Still slowly making its way through limited release, the ode to Creature from the Black Lagoon has managed to knock everyone off their feet – even earning del Toro Oscar buzz, after the film received 7 Golden Globe nominations (including best film (drama), director, and screenplay. It has been nominated for two Screen Actor Guild Awards, and won AFI's Movie of the Year. In fact, it has won 24 awards (to date) with the award season just now picking up, with over 150 nominations under its belt (so far).
All in all? Not a bad year for horror. Not bad at all. *And this only covers theatrically-released fare. Limited, DTV, and Netflix also bore amazing cinema, including films like Colossal, The Devil's Candy, Super Dark Times, Raw, The Babysitter, Gerald's Game, 1922, Better Watch Out, and Mayhem. What's really exciting is that 2018 looks to have some fun surprises in store – thanks to titles like Winchester, The Meg, The Nun, and new installments in the Insidious, Predator, Pacific Rim, Goosebumps, and The Purge franchises. Oh yeah ... and a lil film called Halloween.