Both Halloween 2 and The Final Destination open tomorrow, and you’d wonder if the last weekend in August — a typically slow weekend — could support two horror flicks. But the answer is yes. Yes it can. Studios have been dumping disposable horror movies into slow weekends for years. And it’s been a hugely successful strategy. Until I started crunching the numbers, it never even occurred to me how successful it is. The cinematic murders of nameless actors and actresses in otherwise throwaway horror flicks is a massively profitable enterprise. To paraphrase Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds, studios are in the killin’ bidness. And bidness is booming.
In fact, with minuscule budgets, usually in the $15 million-$25 million range, it’s difficult not to eke out a profit at the end of the day. Consider one of the least successful horror remakes of the past decade, last year’s Prom Night, a movie that opened with terrible reviews and essentially disappeared after its first week (50 percent of its domestic box office take came in that first weekend). It opened on April 11, against one movie starring Keanu Reeves (Street Kings) and another starring Ellen Page, just a couple of months after Juno made her a household name. And guess which movie was the more profitable one? Prom Night, of course. And by a healthy margin. After you account for worldwide box-office gross and DVD sales, Prom Night netted $47 million in profit. Compare that to Leatherheads — which opened the week before and starred two of the most popular actors in Hollywood in Renee Zellwegger and George Clooney (plus John Krasinski) — which lost $17 million. And keep in mind that the Prom Night example is a typical one, and it was a remake of a movie that few — especially among the target audience — were even aware of.
Moreover, do you know why there is a Saw movie every Halloween? Because after five years, the Saw franchise has grossed, before DVD sales are even accounted for, around $700 million against a total production budget on all five films of around $65 million, or less than half of what the typical summer blockbuster costs to make.
In fact, in future years, we can expect to see more and more disposable horror movies. Even the duds are profitable. Remember Eli Roth’s Hostel sequel, the movie that precipitated the downfall of the torture-porn subgenre? It made $25 million. In profit. What about Pulse, the infinitely forgettable Kristen Bell horror film? $10 million in profit. Turistas? $4 million in profit. And we’re talking about the least successful horror films of the decade, which means the downside to a bad horror movie is a minimal profit of $5 to $10 million. The upside is something like the Final Destination franchise, which has already netted around $250 million in profit, before the release of tomorrow’s movie.
Which begs the question: Why wouldn’t Hollywood continue producing a horror-movie of the week? Why plunk down $100 million for a Will Ferrell vehicle (Land of the Lost), which lost $38 million. Or $100 to produce The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, which so far has netted a profit less than what Turistas made. Eddie Murphy’s Imagine That — $30 million in the red. Sure, the upside in hugely budgeted films is a movie like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but you need one of those just to cover the losses on two or three other big budget disasters.
The point I’m getting to is this: Disposable horror movies aren’t going away. They’re cheap to make. They make a profit. And marketing them is as easy as sending a trailer and a movie poster to a few fans sites, which will pimp them for free. The Unborn, in fact, made $50 million in profit based almost exclusively on the image of Odette Yustman’s ass. It doesn’t mean we have to watch them. In fact, I doubt very many among our readership do. Their audience is populated largely by teenagers thrilled with the prospect of seeing their very first R-rated film without a parent accompanying them. It also doesn’t mean it has to be a bad thing because, every once in a while, one of these movies featuring a no-name cast and a $10 million budget forces a good filmmaker to dig deep, work harder, and come up with something like The Descent. Although, unfortunately, even the good ones that find success will be diluted by a series of sequels and, eventually, a remake. The Descent 2 will be out in the fall.
Before I sign off, however, here’s the seriously random list I promised: The ten most successful disposable horror movies of the decade, and by disposable, I mean: They didn’t feature a well-known star (Ryan Reynolds, when The Amityville Horror opened, was fairly unknown) or a name director, and they were produced to turn a profit without any regard to quality. Also, either you didn’t see the movie, or you completely forgot about it by the next week. I’ve even excluded The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which amassed $125 million in profit, because at least you know who Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson are, even if you don’t remember another damn thing about the movie.
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (remake)
Worldwide Box Office: $107 million. Production Costs: $10 million. Profit: $97 million.
2. The Omen (remake)
Worldwide Box Office: $ 119 million. Production Costs: $ 25million. Profit: $ 94million.
3. The Amityville Horror (remake)
Worldwide Box Office: $108 million. Production Costs: $19 million. Profit: $89 million.
4. My Bloody Valentine 3D
Worldwide Box Office: $93 million. Production Costs: $15 million. Profit: $78 million.
5. Friday the 13th (remake)
Worldwide Box Office: $90 million. Production Costs: $19 million. Profit: $71 million.
6. Urban Legend
Worldwide Box Office: $72 million. Production Costs: $14 million. Profit: $58 million.
7. The Hills Have Eyes
Worldwide Box Office: $70 million. Production Costs: $15 million. Profit: $55 million.
8. When a Stranger Calls
Worldwide Box Office: $66 million. Production Costs: $15 million. Profit: $51 million.
9. The Unborn
Worldwide Box Office: $76 million. Production Costs: $16 million. Profit: $50 million.
Worldwide Box Office: $67 million. Production Costs: $20 million. Profit: $47 million