I've been doing these "Drawn & Quartered" articles for almost seven years now, and I always look forward to writing them, because it gives me a chance to throw around box office numbers and trivia without it being a diversion - it's the point! Some folks like to look at old baseball stats or something; I kill time/procrastinate real work by looking at weekend charts from fifteen years ago ("Hey, a David Spade movie opened at #1!"). But this is the most special installment yet, because it finally allows me to combine my *other* love: babbling about the Halloween movies! In all this time, there hasn't been a new installment of my favorite horror franchise (or Friday the 13th or Elm Street, for that matter), so it's a treat (a sad, sad treat) to get to ramble about one of them in a D&Q piece. That the news is good - very good, in fact - is just icing on the cake.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The "quarter" (yes, the name is inaccurate since I only do three a year; I can't remember why it worked out that way - just go with it) kicked off with a new installment of one of the new franchises, in this case James Wan's Conjuring-verse. After finding success with Annabelle (and MORE success with its sequel) Wan and his team struck gold again with The Nun, based on the popular villain from the second Conjuring film. It was a riskier move for a few reasons, one being that Annabelle was based on a true story whereas the Nun had no real world connection to pique interest. Another is that the evil doll was introduced in the first Conjuring, whereas the Nun debuted in its less popular sequel, suggesting that there wouldn't be as big of a hook for this entry. But against all odds, not only did it perform quite well, it actually outgrossed every other entry in the series worldwide (here at home it settled for second place, behind the original Conjuring), with a whopping $365m worldwide, with $117m coming from the US - not bad for a $22m budget (and, for what it's worth, the series' lowest Rotten Tomatoes score). I have no explanation for its success; I myself agree with the critics that it was the weakest of the five films in this spinoff-heavy franchise, and the opening night audience I saw it with didn't seem particularly excited by it either. But people kept buying tickets, so we can expect The Nun II and probably another spinoff in the near future, and as long as they keep those budgets in check I'm sure they'll keep being profitable.
The same can't be said about the Predator franchise, which I suspect might be dead for good in the wake of The Predator's woeful $51m take on a reported $88m budget. While its overseas numbers helped it get closer to breaking even, barring the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger I can't imagine anyone at Fox (or, uh, Disney) will ever want to think about this franchise again. It actually sold fewer tickets than the horrible AVP: Requiem, which is just plain embarrassing. Of course, the much publicized 11th hour edits to the film to remove an actor who was accused of sexual assault didn't help, nor did massive reshoots that gave the film a very disjointed, at times even confusing feel (a major character is killed off in a literal blink or miss it moment; most I talked to fell into the "missed it" group). Personally, I've never found much attraction to this series; I don't even really love the original all that much. But I AM a big fan of Shane Black, and found the film to be pretty fun when it was clearly his (and Fred Dekker's) voice - not that of nervous execs - coming through, though I am obviously in the minority there.
I'm also a fan of Eli Roth, though I assume it wasn't just fellow Hostel devotees that propelled The House With A Clock In Its Walls to an impressive $68m when it got an early start on the Halloween season by opening in late September. As a kiddie horror flick in the vein of Goosebumps (right down to star Jack Black), I'm not sure why Roth was hired to bring a beloved children's book to the screen, but he proved to be well suited for the gig - it's a charming and inventive flick that I'll happily show to my own kid in a couple years. It did about the same business overseas, and at a relatively low $42m budget and the usual home video appeal it proved to be a nice little moneymaker for Universal - not to mention a comeback for Roth, whose previous departure was the woeful Death Wish remake from earlier in the year. How crazy was 2018? Eli Roth made an R-rated Bruce Willis action flick and a kids' movie with Jack Black and I preferred the latter.
After last year's success of Happy Death Day and what was already promising to be record-breaking box office for Halloween, I really thought Hell Fest would benefit from the minor slasher resurgence and make a nice chunk of change from folks who wanted to whet their appetite for Michael Myers' big return a few weeks later. But alas, CBS Films really dropped the ball with the marketing; in addition to the hook-free trailer, some people didn't even realize it was a theatrical release! It ultimately only scared up $11m domestic, and barely half that overseas. At a budget of $5.5m (clearly not too much more on marketing) it's not going to end the studio or anything, but plans for a sequel will likely be kiboshed unless it's a huge hit on video. Luckily, it's not an impossible scenario - the film's old-school, simplistic slasher stylings should make it an attractive Redbox option, at least, but I wouldn't bet money on seeing another one. I can't say I'm devastated that there probably won't be a followup, but for what it's worth I did enjoy the film and look forward to adding it to my collection of masked maniac fare.
Venom, on the other hand, doesn't need to be saved by its OK-but-curiously-underwhelming Blu-ray - the damn thing is still selling tickets. After nabbing the biggest opening weekend in October history ($80m, blowing Gravity's $55m into, well, outer space) it kept chugging along to the tune of $213m - good enough to place 10th on the charts for the entire year. And it was even more monstrous overseas, adding an insane $640m and counting, pushing it over the likes of the Deadpool movies and, uh, Spider-Man (2002). OK, yeah, that's not inflated, but the point is, Venom proved that he doesn't need ol' webhead around to sell tickets, and thus Sony's "kind of but not really connected to the MCU" version of these characters might actually work out after all. I just hope they don't overthink a sequel - the film works because it's just a goofy action/horror thing with thankfully low stakes (something that also makes the Deadpool films work - no giant energy columns threatening the entire world here). Let Tom Hardy just do his thing and we'll come back for more; I don't need to see Venom saving the planet from Galactus or whatever the hell.
Sony also gave us Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, though those numbers weren't nearly as impressive. They spent less this time around (Jack Black didn't require a big paycheck for his quick cameo, one can assume) and... well, they made less in turn: the first film grossed $80m a couple years back, but this one could only scrounge up $46m, and a little less than that overseas. Granted, with the first film's big star headlining a similar movie that came out a few weeks earlier, they could have flopped hard, but I'm sure they were hoping the brand would put it above the competition, not more than $20m below it. The Halloween setting will make it a staple for kids though, and I hope the studios keep providing these options for budding horror fans - I would love to be able to take my kid to an age-appropriate "horror" movie one or two Octobers from now.
Of course, it'll be a long time before he knows who Michael Myers is beyond "the guy in all of Daddy's posters", so he wasn't able to add to Halloween's mind-blowing $76m opening weekend or $159m total domestic gross (overseas gave it another $94m). I'm still in shock about this; I remember when they were talking about erasing Halloween II (in particular, the "Laurie is Michael's sister" angle) from the history and thinking to myself "The other sequels, fine, but H2 was too big to ignore, and they're insane if they think their film will sell more tickets than that one", as the 1981 sequel's gross equals about $83m in today's numbers. Well, smartass, it only took them four days to do that, so I guess it wasn't a big deal after all. I know some fans still can't get over the retcon, but I along with many others realized long ago that a good movie is more important than keeping everything connected, and that's what we got. I didn't love all of its narrative choices (Sartain...), and it bugged me that Myers acted more like the Rob Zombie version than Carpenter's in the kill scenes (the ones that are actually on-screen, anyway), but overall I walked out quite happy with the film, as did many others. The seasonal timing and Jamie Lee Curtis' tireless promotion got butts in seats, and as a result I highly doubt it'll take another nine years to see the Shatner mask on the big screen again.
Speaking of erratic franchises, Overlord was rumored to be part of Bad Robot's Cloverfield universe when it was in production, and now that the film has come and gone, I can't help but wonder if they wish they HAD retrofitted it to be another entry, if only to eke out a little more interest. After a soft opening it only managed to scrape together $21m, the lowest gross for any Bad Robot wide release. Hard to know if it's marketing's fault; the movie they sold was a crazy action horror blend that looked like a perfect counter to all of the Oscar-bait kind of stuff that was starting to clog theaters in November, but in actuality all of that material was confined to the film's third act - it's a straight up war movie for the first 45 minutes or so before taking a turn (kind of like From Dusk Till Dawn). So audiences might have been disappointed that they were duped, but that doesn't explain why they didn't show up in the first place. At any rate, after this and the critical failure of The Cloverfield Paradox (dumped to Netflix after Paramount realized it'd be a box office dud), JJ Abrams' company needs to hit one out of the park next time if they want to retain their brand-name appeal. Perhaps an actual Cloverfield sequel instead of another loosely related anthology installment?
Then again maybe after Halloween (and Halloween) people were just looking to take a break from horror. Nazi zombies/period horror isn't exactly a license to print money, but a supernaturally charged Screen Gems movie like The Possession of Hannah Grace can usually be depended on to rake in $25-30m, maybe even more if it's actually good. Alas, despite being the only new release for its weekend (November 30th-Dec 2nd) it opened at an embarrassing #7 with $6m, and will probably lose the last of its 99 screens this weekend, before even crossing the $15m mark. Like Hell Fest, the budget was in the single digits, so it's not in "notorious flop" territory, but it's kind of a bummer that it continued the season's streak of original horror movies (Hell Fest and Overlord being the others) disappearing fast while franchise entries like Halloween and The Nun break records.
Of course, most of the originals don't even get a chance to rake in huge piles of cash, because they play in limited release. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the season's biggest limited release for a genre film was the Suspiria remake, which seemed destined for big success after it took in $184k on just two screens in its first weekend, but couldn't catch on with its expansion. At its widest, it played on 311 screens, but ultimately grossed only $2.5m, a fitting total for a two and a half hour movie. Granted, something that off-kilter (and long, for a horror film) was never going to be a blockbuster, but with Luca Guadagnino coming off an Oscar winner and the intriguing cast he assembled, Amazon must have been disappointed with those numbers all the same.
On the other hand, RLJ Entertainment was ecstatic about Mandy's performance, even though it was only half that amount ($1.2m to be exact). RLJ rarely focuses on the theatrical portion of their films, focusing on the VOD and disc releases that usually follow within days (sometimes simultaneously) of their very limited screen debuts, but Nic Cage and his axe clicked with its limited audiences and led to them not only expanding the theatrical release, but delaying the home video dates by a few weeks. As a champion of big screen viewing (and, yes, this particular film) I couldn't be happier to see this sort of thing happen, and I hope it's not the last time. I was also charmed to see that Rialto's brief re-release of a 4K remaster of John Carpenter's The Fog was able to scrape up 70 grand while playing on a handful of theaters, despite its age and widely available home options - good to know folks will still show up for the classics they could watch at home.
Most of the others I still haven't seen (or saw at fests and thus didn't contribute to these numbers), but for what it's worth: Lizzie (as in Borden) scored a healthy $640k, and while it should have been higher, I'm glad $530k worth of audiences got to enjoy Anna and the Apocalypse on the big screen - a solid amount for something that never played on more than 138 locations (and during the competitive December period to boot). Lars Von Trier's dual release of his latest (last?) The House That Jack Built suggests the director's cut should have played longer: in one day it grossed $170k, compared to the $63k the shorter version managed in two full weeks. And I don't know what Realms is, but I do know that it played on three screens and grossed $147 (not a typo), making it the lowest grossing movie of all time among reported grosses for films that played on more than one screen. Were you one of its ticket buyers? Any good?
And so ends 2018, a miserable year in most respects but a pretty good one for horror, with big highs and relatively few lows (at least, financially). Yes, it's a shame garbage like Slender Man managed to sell more tickets than Hell Fest and Upgrade combined, but for every eye-roller like that we have something like A Quiet Place, which at $188m lands at 14th for the year's biggest earners and is the highest grossing original horror movie in who knows how long. In fact, six of the year's top 20 grossers are movies that landed in this column (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Venom, Halloween, Hotel Transylvania 3, Quiet Place, and - yes! - The Meg), which is a record (2016 didn't have any, for comparison) and a good sign as we head into 2019 to see if that momentum can stick. January is noticeably light on horror for a change (Escape Room seems to be it) but February gives us The Prodigy, the Jacob's Ladder remake, and (yay!) Happy Death Day 2U, and in March we get to see what Jordan Peele has cooked up with Us. Here's hoping they all give me something to say when D&Q returns in four months!