Box Office Special - The Year the Violence Died
In the interest of some more prolonged horror discussion, I'm going to pass on this week's top 5. Bang it here if you want to see the box office numbers for the week. My brief assessment:
Winners: "HSM3," for maintaining the top spot; "Changeling," for widening with moderate success; "Chihuahuas," for straying relevant in week 5 of release; "Secret Life of Bees," for staying relevant in week 3, and "Max Payne" and "Eagle Eye" for making their investment back domestically.
Losers: "Zack and Miri," for losing to "HSM3;" and horror, for making a poor showing with "Saw V" and "Molly Hartley" during Halloween weekend.
As for horror, it was not a very pleasant weekend. Sure, "Saw V" held tough at number 3 — and it even won Friday night pretty handily — but in the grand scheme of Halloween horror performances, 2008 was not a very good year. Now if you're like me, the first question you're likely asking yourself is: how bad was it? And for the answer, we need to take a little peek back in time.
Below is a little chart I'm calling Halloween Horrors. See what I did there with the orange and whatnot? What can I say, I'm a fucking artist. But let's move beyond the chart's beauty and talk about its content. The data that you see incorporates all the horror or Halloween themed movie releases that could be found at the theater either on Halloween (if the 31st fell on a weekend) or the weekend that preceded it. You'll notice that I had to make some tough calls about what constituted a horror release, so something like "Flightplan" makes the cut, but something like "The Prestige," from 2006, doesn't. I made these decisions based entirely on my own gut (if it's good enough for our president, it's good enough for me), but my rule of thumb was that if something was marketed as "scary," then I put it in. You'll also notice "The Nightmare Before Christmas" re-release, as well as something called "The Little Vampire." For these, my thinking was that studios intentionally released these films as Halloween films to try to get some traction from the season, so they were also added. In all cases, the films had to be among the top 12 in revenue for the weekend to be included.
The first thing that jumps out here is that in some years, horror at Halloween can mean big bucks at the box. With a highly anticipated sequel in "Saw IV," a well regarded comic adaptation in "30 Days of Night," and a family friendly re-release in "Nightmare Before X-Mas," 2007 had the highest total revenue of any Halloween weekend. That also translated to the share of the revenue of the top 12 films at that weekend's box office. Even more interesting is the fact that this was actually "30 Days" second week in the theater, and it had already spent a weekend at number one. So in 2007, two R-rated horror films took the box office title in back to back weeks leading up to Halloween.
In the decade covered by the chart, Halloween films accounted for between 28% and 49% of the top 12 films' revenue. This year however, horror's share of the box office fell dramatically — almost 60% all told. And it's not entirely clear why. Movie goers had options: not only "Saw V" and "Molly Hartley," but also more than 1,200 screens still showing "Quarantine." It's also not likely that fans were burned out, as during the previous weekend horror only accounted for a marginally better 27% of the top 12's revenue.
My guess, which I feel is supported pretty well by what we can see on the ever growing Horrors of 2008 spreadsheet, is that we're just starting to see the horror community's tolerance-level for crap being reached. While "Saw V" was by no means without merit, it is still a "V," and diminishing returns are to be expected. Similarly, "Molly Hartley," looks to be nearly indistinguishable from a number of PG-13 horrors that have been promoted recently, and it's quite possible that "Hartley" is either A) the least of the pile, or B) being overshadowed by more anticipated (ahem, "Twilight") films. Of the now 14 horrors films to receive a wide release this year, only three have received a score above 5 here at BloodyGoodHorror. So it's not exactly like distributors are working hard for that horror-fan dollar. This Halloween, it would seem, the horror-fan found better things to do with her dollar than show up at the local movie theater.