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Ordinary People, Theater Owners Really Like Horror Movies

Content Insider #805 – Movie Time

By Andy Marken – andy@markencom.com

“From that fateful day when stinking bits of slime first crawled from the sea and shouted to the cold stars, “I am man.”, our greatest dread has always been the knowledge of our mortality. But tonight, we shall hurl the gauntlet of science into the frightful face of death itself.” – Dr Frederick Frankenstein, “Young Frankenstein,” Disney, 1974 

We don’t suffer from coulrophobia (fear of clowns) or masklaphobia (masks/costumes) but when we hear that a movie is being shown that highlights them, we tend to avoid them.

We started thinking about horror movies a little more after Scream VI sliced its way past Creed 3. 

Michael Jordan and Jonathan Majors were in a lot better shape than some spook in a robe and a mask–an idea he had stolen from Edvard Munch’s famous painting.

Then someone pointed out that of all the horror films released, not one was among the nominees.

That’s okay with us because we tend to avoid about two-thirds of them even though they are one of the most profitable genres produced. 

If a project has a whiff of success, it’s certain to give birth to sequel after sequel until someone finally, mercilessly does it in.

We do make exceptions though…  

Jamie Lee Curtis had been through so much in Halloween. Because she’d been through so much with Michael Myer (and his mask), we really wanted to see her rip him a new one and get on with her life.

Academy voters wouldn’t even think about giving her a statue for that hard work but Everything Everywhere All at Once is different … it’s a “real” movie.  

We enjoyed The Silence of the Lambs, which was accidentally nominated for an Oscar. Dr. Lecter’s mask felt like fitting punishment for him. 

But with a few exceptions, the largely old white guy Academy tends to look down their noses at horror films because according to one of the folks with a vote, they’re just “popcorn movies.”

Yeah, that’s about it.

Horror flicks seldom get huge budgets – Scream IV had a reported budget of $33M and racked up ticket sales of about $200M while Creed 3 had a budget of $75M and took in about $125M.

Yum, Yum – Movie houses love their concessions and are even moving to expand the service with on-premise food preparation/delivery.  For them, the stuff is more profitable than the film and almost as good as you have at home.   

The slasher shows also sold a whole lot of popcorn and expensive other stuff!

Last year, 449 movies were released in the Americas.  That’s up from 406, according to Statista in 2020.

Tipped Scale – Notable horror films were released in the past year to an eager audience at the theater and at home. But when it comes to something scary, they tell all their friends everything but the slashing surprises.  

That’s a long way from the year before (56.7 percent less to be precise) and a lot of them were various types of horror films – comedy, drama, alien, blood/gore, zombie, sci-fi. And while they were still enjoyed by theater bosses and younger audiences, they were dismissed by the “professionals.”  

Despite the limited view of the Academy voters, there are 20 genre of films that suck folks into the theater or entices them to sign up for a specific streaming service.

They include Action, Adventure, Animation, Biography, Comedy, Crime, Drama, Family, Fantasy, History, Horror, Music, Musical, Mystery, Romance, Sci-Fi, Sport, Thriller, War and Western.

Big ROI – People sometimes can’t wait for their superhero to return and are increasingly disappointed but when it comes to something scary they tell all their friends everything but the slashing surprises.  

According to Stephen Follows, film industry analyst/educator, horror movies in the Americas have a better chance of making a profit than another genres.

He estimates that 53 percent of horror movies that have appeared in theaters the 10 years prior to the pandemic produced profit for everyone involved.

When he compared the results with other genre, performance tends to fluctuate but 80 percent of the horror flicks made a profit and even in the worst year, the number fell to only 22 percent.

The industry average for the same period was 37 percent across all genres.

When you compare horror project results to other genre, westerns – 16 percent might be profitable, black comedies – 28 percent might be profitable, drama – 31 percent could turn a profit and thrillers – 32 percent would be profitable.   

Which means you really have to s**** up a horror film to not turn a profit.   

Frankly, we think part of the award selection process should be that the film is making money so the profits can be used to create more films whether it’s in a theater or streamed.

Take Jordan Peele’s Nope.

They didn’t even give it a second look – simple repeated its title – even though it had a great storyline, cinematography, acting and post work.

More importantly, it brought in about $175M compared to a budget of $68M.

Back to Back – Jordon Peele’s fright night films were so good that people told their friends and enemies they had to see them (l-r) Get Out, Us, Nope.  

And Peele isn’t a one-film-wonder.

Get Out is one of the few horror genre projects that took home a statue for best screenplay.

It cost a mind-boggling $4.5M and grossed more than $255 million, which is a whole lotta popcorn.

His other spine tingler, Us, also showed great numbers with the thrill me/chill me crowd.

With three solid theatrical and streaming films to his credit, you can be certain Universal will greenlight whatever his next horror flick is.  

The other film in the genre that didn’t even get a mention was M3GAN.

The film cost pocket change – $14M, brought in more than $175M, racked up 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, was seen by more people than many of the Oscar nominations and a sequel is already on the books.

As much as we liked it, we can tell you our daughter won’t be getting any more companions/dolls!

There have been some great/memorable performances by folks in the genre and superb storylines – Prey and the Commanche portrayal scared us and made us appreciate the history of the native American like never before.

Dark Rooms – Big city megaplexes and regional art theaters find there’s a lot of money in showing the fast-turn-around, short window horror films.  

In other words, the entertainment “establishment” needs to have a greater appreciation for the horror film category because the lower budgets enabled more projects to be done. That meant more employment for production/post folks and kept the sweet spot of the audience – 15-39 years – putting their seats in seats to help the theater industry slowly recover.  

Yes, they are also the content the streamers need to expand and retain their subscription base.

Sure, everyone loves to be involved in and enjoy blockbusters and tentpoles like Top Gun, Avatar and thrilling stuff like the Marvel extravaganzas, but we can’t forget that it’s still called the entertainment business. especially when folks are talking about minor industry subjects like Hollywood contract negotiations.

Big Profit – Horror films don’t appeal to the film industry voters (unless they’re watched in their massive home theater), but the chances of producing record profits definitely lies with horror films.  

More importantly, when a film catches the audience’s fancy, you can be certain a sequel and spin-off won’t be far behind.

Cocaine Bear cost about $30M to make and has snorted up more than $70M in ticket sales while breeding some mind-boggling offspring like Attack of the Meth Gator and yes, Cocaine Shark which will probably be so bad it will be good.

Next to the widely separated/anticipated sequels like John Wick 4, nothing makes the industry’s prime target market jump into/out of their seats like an even modestly good horror film. 

Big ROI – People sometimes can’t wait for their superhero to return and are increasingly disappointed but when it comes to something scary, they tell all their friends everything but the slashing surprises.  

Stephen Follows, and other folks who are enamored with horror films, have done an excellent job of gathering/analyzing industry data to give filmmakers a great set of guidelines on the story ideas they have and their chances of turning a profit.

His Horror Report, tinyurl.com/2dw65ash, is practically a roadmap to ensuring you’ll not only produce a film people will like but will also provide a great ROI for your second and third big projects.

One of the things we’ve noticed about horror films is that they seem to be a lot less gory and mentally disturbing but rather a mild shock/surprise to keep you watching to see what you might miss.

As you might expect, few of the more successful horror projects are written/produced with the arts and crafts audience in mind.

Follows found that the audiences that really enjoy horror movies are in the 15-35 year-old crowd and generally in the sweet spot of the world’s population–regular working class folks. You know, people like you, us and the billions of others on the planet.   

Most of the films have a short window in theaters or as Julia Alexander of Parrot Analytics said, “We see the most return in opening weekend box office revenue compared to production budgets.”

Or perhaps it’s the fact that they are a nice jolt back to ordinary life, getting out, enjoying themselves and forgetting about outside problems at least for a few hours.  

We don’t really care what label shrinks want to put on horror films or how they like to analyze their appeal to people,l Paranorma Activity,Blair Witch Project and Night of the Living Dead are great entertainment.  

As Dr. Frederick Frankenstein said in Young Frankenstein, “This is a nice boy. This is a good boy. This is a mother’s angel. And I want the world to know once and for all, and without any shame, that we love him.”

Even if the Academy doesn’t appreciate the boy as much as the audience, theaters certainly do and for the people in the entertainment creation, production and delivery industry, the horror film can pretty reliably turn out to be a movie folks want to see, even if you only have a modest budget.

Most important is the fact that there’s an excellent chance it will produce a nice profit for the backers and you.

If it really clicks with the audience and a few of the reviewers, you can think seriously about a sequel or six and maybe a spin-off or two.

In addition, if you use the right props, costumes and masks, there could be a long-term revenue stream for your retirement.

Andy Markenandy@markencom.com – is an author of more than 800 articles on management, marketing, communications, industry trends in media & entertainment, consumer electronics, software and applications. An internationally recognized marketing/communications consultant with a broad range of technical and industry expertise especially in storage, storage management and film/video production fields; he has an extended range of relationships with business, industry trade press, online media and industry analysts/consultants.

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