I touched upon this trend extensively last week, the notion that — despite what many of us would like to believe — genre movies still have a fairly limited audience. The Goths and the Geeks are still just as marginalized at the box office as they are in society. They may run 80 percent of all movie websites, but their readership is obviously not a representative cross-section of America.
Below, I looked at two of the most popular trends in studio filmmaking — horror movie remakes and adaptations of graphic novels — to further my point. That point still stands: It’s not that there’s not an audience for these films, it’s simply that the audience is limited. The studios behind horror movies seem to understand this a little better than those behind graphic novels. But the reality is this: Where the studios constrain their production budgets to match the make-up of their audience, success is far more likely. Big-budget risks aren’t worth it. Watchmen, The Surrogates, and, especially, The Wolfman, are the prime examples of this.
Here are the last five movies in each category; their box-office; their budgets; and their profit. Note: Marketing and promotion is not taken into account, nor is eventual DVD profit and international box office.
The Losers: $24 million (est) box office. Budget: $25 million. Profit: ($1 million)
Kick-Ass: $45 million (est) box office. Budget: $30 million. Profit: $15 million.
The Surrogates: $38 million box office. Budget: $80 million. Profit: ($42 million).
Whiteout: $10 million box office. Budget: $35 million. Profit: ($15 million).
Watchmen: $107 million box office. Budget: $130 million. Profit: ($23 million).
Total Profit: - $66 million
The Crazies $38 million box office. Budget : $20 million. Profit: $18 million.
The Wolfman: $61 million box office. Budget: $150 million. Profit: ($89 million).
The Stepfather: $29 million box office. Budget: $20 million. Profit: $9 million.
Sorority Row: $12 million box office. Budget: $12 million. Profit: $0
Friday the 13th: $65 million. Budget: $19 million. Profit: $46 million
Total Profit: - $16 million
The lesson here is not a bad one. It’s simple: Keep your budgets within the $20 to $30 million range and you are almost guaranteed profitability once international box office and DVD sales are taken into account. If you go over a $50 million budget, that likelihood is significantly lower. The good news is, you don’t need a huge budget to make an entertaining film. (The inverse is also true: Smaller budgets don’t guarantee a better film.)
Budget stats are not available yet for the next two graphic novel adaptations, Jonah Hex and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but my guess is that the former is overinflated, while the latter is closer to $30 million (and thus more likely to eek out a profit).