For the past few years, the horror genre has proven to be the most reliable and consistent box office success in the post-pandemic theatrical movie release landscape. Many of these movies have been new entries in existing franchises, with these familiar frights drawing several moviegoers to the cinema for a scary good time. This success has made horror the main draw at theaters, all the while seemingly debunking a major point of view concerning the performance of recent movies.
2023 and even the prior year saw several major movies perform disappointingly or outright poorly, with many of these being parts of pre-existing franchises. Among the purported downward trend in interest for superhero movies, there’s also a similar sentiment for other “old” brands. Nevertheless, said disinterest hasn’t affected horror movies at all, though there’s one major reason for this.
Horror Franchises Are Some of 2023’s Biggest Box Office Successes
The year 2022 already had several major hits in the horror genre, especially as things started to “normalize” following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This included original movies like Smile, which became a viral sensation. These trends continued at the very beginning of 2023, with M3GAN dancing its way to box office stardom. Even amid these completely new movies and concepts, there were several horror classics that also saw newfound success. Starting in 2018, the David Gordon Green Halloween trilogy successfully revived the old slasher series, namely the first entry. Evil Dead Rise was the most successful entry in the entire franchise, and Scream VI likewise saw major growth and hype.
This continued as the summer wound down, with The Nun II unleashing unholy terror on audiences and their wallets. Already making almost $200 million more than its base production budget, it’s the second in the highly profitable Conjuring Universe movies. Now, Saw X and The Exorcist: Believer are primed to do the same, especially with the former’s positive critical reception. It seems that audiences can’t get enough of horror movies, including ones that are based on properties they might be familiar with already. There are only a scant few horror movies that have failed to gain much excitement, and they’re largely not parts of existing franchises. Thus, it’s hard to argue that “franchise fatigue” is truly as prevalent as some believe it is.
Major Blockbusters are Seemingly Suffering from “Franchise Fatigue”
A noticeable trend among the biggest movies in the past two years has been that even the most hyped projects are falling through the box office cracks. This is particularly the case with superhero movies, with the declining performance of this genre making some suggest the cyclical idea of “superhero fatigue.” Examples include the sharp box office disappointments for Warner Bros. Discovery’s DC Comics movies, especially the much-advertised Black Adam and The Flash. These were some of the biggest pieces of evidence toward the genre’s supposedly running its course, but these weren’t the only brands to suffer.
For instance, Fast X didn’t quite reach the same heights as previous movies, despite its uproarious content being largely seen as an improvement over Fast 9. Perhaps the most jarring financial shocker, however, was the performance of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. Meant to be (at least initially) the penultimate entry in the fan-favorite franchise, the movie released to rave reviews yet a sluggish box office crawl. In the end, it didn’t even score over $600 million at the box office, with some laying the blame at the cultural event that was “Barbenheimer.”
While Barbie and Oppenheimer were respectively based on a popular doll and a historical event, they weren’t a part of established cinematic properties in the same vein as other movies. Thus, even something as well-received as Mission: Impossible simply looked blase in comparison, as audiences had long since grown familiar with the brand. Add in the economic downturns across the globe, and audiences simply might not have the money to support several films at the same level as years before. Even if that’s the case, however, the success of the horror genre (including franchises) seemingly counters this argument. This discrepancy can be reconciled, however, by simply looking at the costs of each movie.
The Horror Movie Genre Is Succeeding In Part Due to Lower Budgets
With the aforementioned superhero and action movies, they were almost all known for having particularly steep production budgets. These ranged from around $200 million to over $300 million, making them some of the most expensive movies ever made. Part of the reason for these costs involved the protocols and other stipulations surrounding movie production in the COVID-19 era. Thus, movies that might have been only a little over $100 million beforehand were now closer to $200 million. Thus, these movies have to make triple the production budget at the box office in order to become profitable and truly successful.
On other hand, horror movies have remained reasonably budgeted, with some of the biggest hits having production costs that were outright microscopic compared to bigger movies. For instance, M3GAN made about $181 million worldwide on a budget of only $12 million, while Evil Dead Rise saw a similar result: $146.7 million on a $15-19 million budget. This is the main reason these movies are deemed successes. For instance, the total box office haul for Evil Dead Rise was only about $10 million more than the final tally for Shazam! Fury of the Gods. That movie was lambasted for its box office losses, as its budget was $125 million.
Given that Fury of the Gods is a superhero movie in a post-COVID landscape, said budget was actually very reasonable. Still, it didn’t stave off box office collapse, as there simply wasn’t much interest from moviegoers in seeing the movie. With horror movies, their low budgets are a built-in defense that almost guarantee some sort of profit, no matter how marginal. Still, it’s worth noting that these movies are “tapping out” at box office ranges around or lower than the hauls that larger movies are flopping with.
While this is again an issue of budget, it does draw into question how much interest there really is in these movies. At the same time, even this has to be tempered with the fact that horror movies are far more niche than action blockbusters and superhero movies. Add in that horror movies are usually rated R, and it becomes more obvious that there truly is an abundant amount of interest in horror movies (including franchises) relative to their financial performance. Such niche projects would never achieve the heights that they do unless this was the case, so the true question is what keeps audiences coming back for more horror.
After all, these are no less “old-hat” than superhero movies, and even poorly-received horror seems to maintain a sense of fun entertainment value in ways that middling comic book and blockbuster movies don’t. The best explanation is that the visceral thrill of being scared is stronger than the excitement from epic action sequences or even the joy of humor from more comedic movies. Thus, audiences are willing to sit through something that by all accounts looks awful, so long as there’s at least one good fright involved. Add in the automatic interest in the genre for movies released around Halloween, and it’s no surprise why horror movies can always scare up a lot of money.
Saw X and The Exorcist: Believer are making a killing at the box office in 2023, making it questionable if franchise fatigue is real among moviegoers. Read More