When The Last Exorcism Part II opened this weekend, it dawned on me that there has been a genre film released in theaters every week of 2013. After researching this article, I realized it was only eight out of nine weeks of 2013, but that’s still fantastic news for horror/thriller fans… right?
It certainly means we have a lot of new movies to see. But what has the quality of these movies been? And what does their box office success (or failure) mean for future genre releases?
Let’s look at the quality of the movies first. Using current approval scores from Rotten Tomatoes, only two of eight genre releases received a greater than 50% rating: Mama (62%) and Warm Bodies (78%). Half of the movies received a less than 20% rating: Texas Chainsaw 3D (19%), A Haunted House (6%), Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (15%) and The Last Exorcism Part II (13%). These ratings would indicate that quantity does not equal quality. Yes, there were a large number of genre movies released; however, they weren’t very good.
Let’s look at their box office next. Half of the genre releases opened at #1 for the weekends! That sounds incredible; however, what were the actual dollar grosses? Texas Chainsaw 3D, Mama, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and Warm Bodies averaged $22.5 million their first weekends. But that is actually a lower average than the non-genre films that opened in the #1 spot the other five weeks. For example, the comedy Identity Thief opened at nearly $35 million and this weekend’s Jack the Giant Slayer opened at over $28 million.
Which is more important for the long-term success of a movie and, consequently, the future of the genre: a #1 ranking or a $20 million opening weekend? To answer that question, we should look at the “legs” of the movies we’re talking about. How long do they stay at the top? In this case, none of the genre movies remained in #1 past their first weeks of release. In fact, they experienced an average 56% drop in box office dollars during their second weekends. (This makes sense when you factor in the approval ratings.)
So, a movie may open strong, but it doesn’t take long for word of mouth to spread. (In fact, it takes about a week.) The least a movie dropped in its second weekend was 44.2% for Warm Bodies. It should not surprise you then when you see that it has the highest approval ratings. Neither should it surprise you that the most a movie dropped was 75.9% for Texas Chainsaw 3D, which had one of the lowest approval ratings. (This also makes you question the wisdom of the executive who immediately greenlit a sequel.)
OK, OK… forget about weekends at the top of the charts. How have these movies performed over the long haul? How much money have they made in total and how much profit have they made based on their budgets? Three of the genre releases have been extremely profitable: A Haunted House, Mama, and Warm Bodies have made $30 to $50 million. But the others were barely break-even, if that. Only one genre release can be considered a failure: in its third weekend of release, Beautiful Creatures has lost nearly $41.5 million.
This is a lot of data to consider. Interpret it as you will. To me, it’s the classic good news/bad news scenario. I would personally prefer to see fewer genre movies of higher quality. However, I hope that cumulatively, the ranking and dollars show Hollywood that there is a constant audience for horror and thriller movies.
Unfortunately, there’s another scenario we haven’t discussed. Looking at the calendar for upcoming releases, the number of genre films is going to lessen. This reinforces the idea that the early part of each year is a dumping ground for bad movies. The scary thing is that we’ve come to expect that in January, but now it seems to be spreading like a cancer into February and March.