How It’s big success could change horror
Box-office record-breaking adaptation may pave way for bigger-budget scary movies
LOS ANGELES— There are no sure things in Hollywood, but modestly budgeted horror movies come pretty close. Last weekend took that thinking to new heights as the big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s It shattered records and even the boldest predictions with its $123.4-million debut.
Until It, no horror movie had ever even opened over $55 million (all figures U.S.), let alone $100 million. It had a cast with no movie stars and it only cost $35 million to produce — on the high end for a modern horror movie, but minuscule compared to standard superhero budgets, which generally cost more than $100 million and often run north of $250 million.
Even as the industry continues to lament the year’s lagging box office, which is down around 5.5 per cent from 2016, 2017 has been good for horror with massive successes such as Get Out, Split, Annabelle: Creation and now the new bar set by It.
“If It had made $120 million total it would have been a huge hit,” Forbes contributor Scott Mendelson says. “This is so unprecedented.”
There is already a sequel in the works. It focuses on the children of Derry, Maine, while Part 2, expected in the third quarter of 2019, will focus on the adults.
Mendelson predicts It’s success could lead to more modestly budgeted Stephen King adaptations, but cautions against thinking that its results can be replicated.
“This was very much the Beauty and the Beast of horror movies,” Mendelson said, referring to the Walt Disney Company’s smash liveaction hit from earlier this year. “You have a movie that would have been an event by itself, but you also have the source material that captures several generations of interest and nostalgia.”
Beyond a newly energized appreci- ation for King’s box-office potential (excluding The Dark Tower), It has some wondering whether Hollywood’s horror strategy might shift.
“Everyone has been trying to mould themselves into this lowbudget model that sort of doesn’t work anymore,” said Kailey Marsh, who runs her own management company and founded the BloodList, which highlights unproduced “dark genre” scripts.
“There are only so many things you can do with a limited budget like that,” she said.
“What I liked about It was that it looked and felt really expensive. It felt as expensive as a $100-million movie.”
It hit a cultural nerve and became one of those rare must-see event movies that all studios long for, but the Warner Bros. and New Line production is also a solidly mid-budget film, which is its own kind of anomaly in the current moviemaking landscape that has relied heavily on “micro,” low-budget horror films in the $3-million to $15-million range in recent years.
It’s a strategy that has worked well for Blumhouse Productions, the company behind the Paranormal Activity series, Insidious, The Purge, Sinister and this year’s Split and Get Out — all of which cost less than $15 million and most less than $5 million — and something other studios have been latching on to as well.
Aside from It, only a handful of horror films the past five years have touted budgets over $20 million, like The Conjuring films, which are also from Warner Bros. and New Line. But even their Annabelle spinoffs have been made for $15 million or less.
Marsh expects some studios to take note of the added return on investment that is possible with a slightly bigger budget.
“Because Hollywood is reactionary, and rightfully so, I am excited about not having to develop screenplays that are supposed to be capped at $10 million,” Marsh said. “You can get such a better cast and such better quality in the long run.”