By Jay Hunter – As the Halloween season draws in, studios will complete dissecting their achievements for the busy movie season. Of course, it goes without saying that the cinema is big business, in North America alone box-office sales are on course to hit a thunderous $4.5 billion, second only behind 2013’s $4.8 billion offering. However statistics suggest that Disney and horror movies have become improbable partners in keeping the cinema afloat in a turbulent year.
On the surface, modern movie-goers saying they’re sick of sequels and remakes doesn’t seem to be affecting studios negatively in terms of revenue. Think about how many sequels you have managed to check out this summer, Captain America: Civil War? Finding Dory? They both done fantastic business and struck a chord with critics. In fact, they were both Disney’s highest grossing movies of the summer, earning $1.15 billion and $929 million to their name respectively.
But on closer inspection, whilst cinephiles throughout the world turned out in droves to see those two movies, the wider spectrum of sequels didn’t receive quite so much love. In fact, despite a rise in revenue the actual number of people visiting the cinema in the U.S this Summer was down 3% from last year. Around 518 million, compared to 539 million in 2012.
Respecting the audience pays off
Movies are streamed so freely (both in terms of finance and ease) now that it would be effortless to cast piracy as the economic scapegoat. No longer is cinema a magical place where we see our heroes come to life, its a mecca of rowdy faces being illuminated by their iPhones and faceless cinema chains shifting their expensive popcorn. Even ticket prices have vastly inflated throughout the years, my local cinema charges a extortionate £27.25 for an IMAX ticket (roughly $35). But numbers suggest that if you listen to your audience and craft your movies with love and care, they are willing to pay.
Hollywood seems to think that releasing another franchise entry is the safest bet when so much money is on the line. However it’s not without it’s pitfalls as Wall Street analyst Doug Cruetz discusses:
“I’ve talked to people at these companies, and they all seem to think the problem is they are putting out bad movies, as opposed to the consumers are demanding change,” he says. “I think they are in denial about what’s going on. I don’t know what they can do other than shut down a studio or two.” Cruetz continued: “Just days after Lights Out or a Secret Life of Pets opens, a sequel is announced. They greenlight these movies without a script and say we need this movie in two or three years. It’s bad for the creative process. I don’t know that they have any other good options. In the old days, studios would have bad times and go bankrupt. Now they are owned by big conglomerates. They can lose money as far as they eye can see, but they are not going to go away.”
Franchises shoot, but horror saves
Disney may be the strongest studio, with a cool $2.56 billion amassed and four top grossing movies of the year. But whilst it’s comic-book movies draw billions of dollars, they’re also an incredibly dicey genre that can fall flat without the proper care. It seems that horror is the triumphant genre when it comes to high-profit and low-risk.
In fact The Shallows (see above), with a humble budget of just $17 million managed to beat the mighty Steven Spielberg’s BFG at the domestic box-office by $300,000. Now that may be peanuts in the film industry but bare in mind that the BFG had roughly $123 million more tacked onto it’s budget than The Shallows.
Suicide Squad had the highest August opening of all time, but it was the $10 million Don’t Breathe that finally knocked it off the top spot this past weekend, with a hearty $26 million return.
The surprise hit of the season went to Lights Out, which was a success with audiences and critics alike, costing less than $5 million to create, it went on to make a staggering $125 million. And of course the big horror movie of the summer went to Warner Bro’s The Conjuring 2, which shattered horror box-office records by making $319.5 million off a $40 million budget.
But horror movies toppling conglomerate Goliath’s aren’t just a flash in the preverbal pan. Remember Alice Through the Looking Glass? Believe it or not that movie has actually already been released in North America. The $170 million sequel earned a measly $77 million in the United States. Whilst Purge: Election Year, with it’s modest budget of $10 million managed to break $79 million in the U.S alone.
Now The Purge may have an interesting premise, and it’s release alongside the U.S election race was a stroke of genius, but the fact that a critically panned horror threequel managed to pulverise Johnny Depp and Tim Burton at the box-office has made Hollywood stand up and take notice.
Box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian said the matter has;
“created a negative perception of what Hollywood has to offer.”
Which he said, despite solid overall revenues and what will likely be the second-biggest summer on record, could create a trend that;
“could erode goodwill and consumer enthusiasm over time.”
Although Through the Looking Glass may be the most alarming in terms of how much money it lost, it ranks comfortably alongside the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Ghostbusters, Ben-Hur, and Warcraft in a disappointing summer.
Perhaps Doug Cruetz put it best though, saying:
“We’ve never had such a big concentration of big franchise titles. The problem is, the people going to see movies are all going to the same movies, like Finding Dory. The same thing happened with video games. But if I want to see Ben-Hur, I’m going to pop in the old movie.”
Most recently, Boo! A Madea Halloween grossed $27.6 million topping the box-office this weekend, a movie created from a Chris Rock joke. Whilst similar numbers resonated with Ouija: Origin of Evil, gaining critical success from a seemingly dead franchise, created on a $6 million budget making it’s budget back four times over before Halloween weekend. Whilst Train to Busan‘s strong word-of-mouth campaign puts it in a strong position ahead of it’s 28th October western release.
Meanwhile Disney are set to finish the year strong with Doctor Strange and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, who’s combined box-office will easily pass the coveted $1 billion mark.
The trend coursing through 2016 is becoming ever clearer that meticulous planning from Disney and thoughtful original horror is masking the billion dollar elephant in the room that cinema audiences are now forcing Hollywood to listen and conveyor belt movies just won’t cut it any more.
[Source: Hollywood Reporter]