Box Office Special: Trends for 2009

As the resident "guy who talks about the movie business," I have felt a little slack in my duties for not getting a 2008 year in review post up. But, with several factors conspiring against me, I'm taking a pass on the whole issue. Besides, it's already the middle of January, and around BGH, we look forward, not backward (and always, twirling, twirling, twirling toward freedom). So in that effort, I'd instead like to look at several box office trends related to horror that I'll be keeping an eye on throughout 2009.

And for those still demanding a conclusion to the climatic Box Office Specials of 2008, check out the final version of the Horrors of 2008 spreadsheet. 14 movies were distributed very wide last year, 7 PG-13, 7 rated R. "Cloverfield" was the leader in the clubhouse by the end of January, and nothing ever supplanted its dominance. "The Strangers" was the big winner from a ROI perspective, as it took in nearly six times its production budget domestically.

Now, on to 2009!

Trend: Invasion of the third dimension begins.
Discussion: It's been no secret that the movie industry -- and more specifically, the theatrical movie experience -- has been struggling as of late. While DVD sales have continued to climb and Blu-Ray has brought HD to the home theater, much consternation has been building about the value and longevity of the theater going experience. In an effort to differentiate themselves, theaters are stepping into a whole new dimension, and offering a 3D movie going experience that they hope can never (or at least not anytime soon) be duplicated in the home. Horror is coming a little late to the party, but will really be the second genre to get a slate of 3D movies in front of audiences. Tonight we'll get a look at the first, "My Bloody Valentine," but later this year we'll see Aja's "Piranha" and "Final Destination: Death Trip 3D."
Prognosis: Positive. Look for solid performances out of all three of these movies if only because the technology should draw a crowd. Whether or not they'll actually be any good, that's a different story.

Trend: Will the horror distribution overlords sate our bloodlust with quality releases?
Discussion: To listen to a fan tell it, distributors are willfully attempting to undercut their own potential horror profits by not releasing certain films, or failing to give films a chance. The poster boy for this in 2008 was "Midnight Meat Train" but other films like "The Signal" and "Teeth" got similarly lackluster releases where they got them at all. Will 2009 be the year that distributors realize the full potential of the horror market?
Prognosis: Mixed. The success of films like "The Strangers" and even moderate wins like "Quarantine" or "The Ruins" should send a signal that the demand will make most horror films profitable, but we should probably throw logic out the window as that's what seems to happen in most board rooms. So really, it's anybody's guess.

Trend: Will another PG-13 horror get the love?
Discussion: As I mentioned at the top, "Cloverfield" was the big winner last year with respect to domestic box office gross. This shouldn't surprise anyone as it was really the only PG-13 horror film of last year that drew nearly universal acclaim, which means it had cross-over potential with hardcore fans that other neutered horror releases didn't (*cough* "Prom Night," ahem). While the full slate of horror releases (not to mention their ratings) is unknown at this point, it will be interesting to see if any other director or producer can catch the same lightening in a bottle as Abrams did with "Cloverfield."
Prognosis: Negative. If the criteria are PG-13 rating and near universal acclaim, that's likely to be a pretty small crowd. It's certainly not out of the question for a PG-13 film to do big numbers, in fact it's more likely than an R-rated film, but hardcore fans are typically going to be hard to impress with the tighter censorship standards. Without digging through every potential 2009 release, Nic Cage's "Knowing" and the disaster film "2012" should be box office fodder.

Trend: Can Zombie deliver again, or will horror fans revolt en masse?
Discussion: I have conflicted emotions about the "Halloween" reboot directed by erstwhile rocker Rob Zombie. On the one hand it was a pretty poor return to a horror classic that lives in the fondest memories of most genre fans. On the other hand it put up some pretty impressive numbers and obviously resonated with lots of marginal horror aficionados (my sister being one) who might not show up to support a lot of horror releases, but genuinely enjoy themselves when they do. Now that we know that Zombie will be back behind the camera for "H2" I will admit that I'm very interested to see how this turns out. Personally, I like having Zombie around, even when I don't love his films. And I also feel that anytime a horror movie succeeds, even when hardcore fans generally dislike it, that's something that we should celebrate because it typically means more money in the future for horror projects.
Prognosis: Positive. Early word is that this joint is going to drop closer to the actual holiday of Halloween, and based solely on that fact, and past successes, not to mention a bunch of slashers throughout the year to warm audiences up, I'm feeling like Zombie will be back atop (or very near the top) of the horror box office heap come Dec. 31, 2009.

Jon Schnaars

Writer/Podcast Co-Host/Business Guy

If you have questions about doing business with BGH, this is the man to speak with. Jon also enjoys the fancier things, like monocles and silent-era horror films.

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