Horror Is Dominating the 2017 Box Office So Far

Today is April 10th. We’re exactly three weeks into spring and eight days before taxes are due (personal note: I really need to get on that). More importantly, we’re already 1/4 of the way through 2017, and that allows us to look at the box office and see how horror has been doing. And you know what? It’s been kicking ass.

To be more clear, horror accounts for 9 of the top 25 grossing films of the year so far. The closest genres to this number are action and family, each with 6 of the top 25. If we look at Q1 2016 through Box Office Mojo, horror only had 4 titles in the top 25: 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Boy, The Forest, and The Witch.

This begs the question: What does it all mean? There must be factors at play, reasons why this is the case. Now, I’m no expert in the business side of things; however, I’m going to try to explain what I think from the perspective of an entertainment writer as well as a horror fan.

First things first… we know that horror releases are usually relegated to what is known as “dump months,” or times of the year when studios release films that they don’t have the highest of hopes for. These times are January/February and August/September. In the former two months, it’s cold, snowy, and generally rather miserable. As a result, people seldom leave their homes. Why venture into the cold when you can stay in and load something on Netflix and curl up under a blanket? In the latter period, that’s when students are getting ready to go back to school or have just started it. According to the 2014 MPAA Theatrical Market Statistics paper, people aged 12 to 24 made up 24% of moviegoers, and those are the exact ages of high school, college undergraduates, and college graduate students, each of whom are entering a new school year or semester. Genre films sometimes perform well here because they are marketed towards people in these age groups, which can draw them out but is no certainty.

These dump months don’t necessarily mean a film won’t be successful; it just often works out that way. Films like The Mothman Prophecies, Queen of the Damned, Alone in the Dark, The Jacket, BloodRayne, The Hitcher, Hannibal Rising, The Abandoned, One Missed Call, and more were all, quality aside, commercial failures, even if some of them grossed more than the budget. What one must remember is that theaters retain a cut of ticket sales, and marketing costs aren’t factored into the budget of a film. So a film that cost $20 million and earned $40 million at the box office didn’t earn back $20 million. In all actuality, it’ll be lucky if it earned back anything at all. Hell, just look at Return of the Jedi.

However, we’ve seen some films generate a lot of success from these times. The first three Final Destination films were released towards the beginning of the year while the last two came out in August, both dump month periods. However, each film has been financially successful. Additionally, there were movies like White Noise, Valentine, Cloverfield, Hostel, and others that brought in huge returns. Again, this is not a comment on whether or not the films are any good; it’s just saying that they were successful.

But if we come back to now, with the first quarter of 2017 behind us, what else stands out? It might be the fact that more horror titles have been released during this time frame than in recent years. So while we can, and should, celebrate the impact that horror has had on the box office so far, we should still recognize that there have been great, varied titles out there for us to enjoy. In the top 25 highest-grossing films of Q1 2017, we’ve got Get Out (#4), Kong: Skull Island (#5), Split (#6), The Great Wall (#13), Underworld: Blood Wars (#18), Rings (#19), Life (#20), Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (#21), and The Bye Bye Man (#22).

Looking at that list, we’ve got giant beasts, zombies, vampires, werewolves, psychological horror, sequels, and supernatural baddies. The films range in budget from very low to very high, allowing filmgoers to decide if they want something that is grounded in reality or a movie that takes them out of this world and into places fantastic and impossible. Such variety only helps the movie industry, and it obviously excites audiences. Even The Void killed it with a limited release.

So let’s take the time to celebrate these 9 films and all that they’ve brought to the horror genre. Some didn’t meet expectations (Resident Evil: The Final Chapter) and some exceeded them beyond anyone’s hopes (Get Out) but they all expanded the horror library and kept fear and terror in theaters. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go check my local theater’s showtimes and help keep this trend going.

Get Out

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Jonathan Barkan

Lifelong horror fan with a love of music on the side.

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