Even if Hollywood abandoned horror entirely for the last four months of 2017, it would still be a remarkably impressive year, with Get Out and Split both hitting blockbuster grosses on single digit production budgets, Annabelle: Creation outgrossing its predecessor (and very close to topping Conjuring 2, as well), and even a would-be VOD movie (47 Meters Down) scaring up $44m in the middle of summer, topping mega-budget competition like King Arthur and Valerian and giving genre stalwart Johannes Roberts his first real box office hit. There were some duds, of course, but the highs were impressively high, and mostly originals too - the sort of thing that can only help the genre in the long run.
But thanks to a certain sewer-dwelling clown, it's almost easy to forget about some of those, as the monster smash It broke countless records for an R-rated horror film (and September/fall releases in general) after kicking off the season with an insane $123m opening weekend on its way to a whopping $327m domestic gross, with even more overseas as it topped out just under $700m. We've beaten up on Justice League enough so I don't have to point out that more people wanted to see a killer clown than six iconic comic characters coming together on screen for the first time, but did you know it also topped the worldwide grosses of Transformers 5 and Logan? Or that it came within spitting distance of outgrossing Spider-Man: Homecoming in the US? I highly doubt anyone, even the most optimistic WB exec, could have predicted just how big this movie would be, and it will be mighty interesting to see how the sequel fares both as a production (don't cast A-listers, please!*) and as a box office contender. Can this kind of lightning possibly strike twice? Any miniseries fan can tell you that the first half is better than the second - will that happen again here? We have two years to speculate!
Over the next few weeks, the competition fared no better than Georgie against the Pennywise behemoth. The first victim was mother!, though I suspect that would have flopped even if no other films were playing. Darren Aronofsky's highly polarizing allegory about how creative types like Darren Aronofsky chew up and spit out muses like Jennifer Lawrence was simply not what audiences wanted to see, and if anything it's amazing that it managed to sell any tickets at all after its initial $7m/F Cinemascore earning weekend. When all was said and done, it made $44m worldwide (overseas audiences were a bit more willing to see it for themselves, thankfully), adding to Paramount's woeful year in which they released not one bonafide hit outside of Daddy's Home 2 (which cost more/grossed less than the original, so it's not exactly something to celebrate). I liked the movie, for what it's worth; I won't pretend to understand everything in it, but it offered enough of the kind of crazy I admire to make up for my occasional confusion. And we can argue all day about whether or not it counts as a legit "horror" film, but nothing in It or whatever else upset/unnerved me as much as the scene where the newborn baby is passed around the house by Javier Bardem's adoring fans, with mortifying results. Watch at your own risk, for more reasons than one.
The other September horror movies fared even worse, shockingly enough. The idiotic Friend Request managed to secure the worst opening weekend gross of all time for a film playing on 2500+ screens, so congrats to them on that one. It ultimately grossed a pitiful $3.7m on 2,573 screens, proving once again that unless there's an obvious gimmick (i.e. Unfriended's desktop presentation) audiences do not want horror movies that revolve around the internet. Mildly improving on that film's performance was Flatliners, a remake literally no one was asking for - which also got stripped of its only interesting element at the 11th hour. See, it's not really a remake, but a stealth sequel to the original, as Kiefer Sutherland's character of Nelson was brought back, now a chief of staff and overseeing a group of medical students who go through the same "dying for 5 minutes" thing he and his pals did almost thirty years ago. Originally, he would have revealed his past to the students at the end of the film, but after test audiences found the twist confusing, it was jettisoned and his character no longer had any connection to his original one, retroactively turning his casting into the common remake gimmick of giving a small role to an original cast member (see also: Andrea Martin as the new house mother in Black Xmas). For Sony's sake, let's assume that the film's pitiful $16m gross in the US - selling fewer tickets than the original did in its first weekend - would have been even worse if they didn't trust in the randoms who saw the movie for free.
A few limited releases also popped up, of course, but with all the focus on It even I missed a few of them (let the record show that I am so committed to big-screen viewings of horror films that a few years ago I managed to see Haunting in Connecticut 2 in theaters). The incredibly dark Better Watch Out was inexplicably released in October despite its Christmas setting, but I guess $20k isn't too bad when it was only on a few screens. James Franco's The Vault, whatever that is, pulled in $5,700k on 11 screens, and the beleaguered Jeepers Creepers 3 scared up $2.3m across a scattered release - most of which came from a single night showing on September 26th. The film was met with the usual online ranting that accompanies every film from its director, but naturally the folks who were protesting the film's release (inadvertently spreading word of its very existence, as the film didn't have much marketing for obvious reasons) didn't bother to take their movement beyond Twitter - there wasn't a single report of protests at any of the 600+ theaters that showed the film to largely full audiences.
Back in wide release land, Blumhouse gambled on a high concept slasher movie with a PG-13 rating with Happy Death Day, applying the Groundhog Day concept to a stuck up sorority girl who found herself trapped in a day where she was offed by a masked killer. But against all odds/historical logic it worked, with lead Jessica Rothe turning in a star-making performance and the restrictive rating never really being an issue. The film grossed over five times its production budget on its opening weekend and went on to gross $55m in the US alone, with another $60m in overseas grosses - the highest grossing slasher film in ages (not that it's had much competition) and a huge win for my ongoing cause to get the sub-genre revived. Audiences are clearly ready for college kids to be murdered by masked maniacs again! Hopefully any sequel they attempt will borrow from the Final Destination playbook and introduce new characters rather than continue Rothe's story (let's not stretch credulity THAT far), but I'd prefer they leave well enough alone and simply make more original slashers on budgets that are small enough to make them successful.
Luckily, the next two weeks seemed to prove the time for sequels has possibly passed. Tyler Perry's Boo 2 scored a #1 opening, but at $21m it was a drop from the first film's opening numbers, and it ultimately topped out at $47m - a $25m decline from the first Boo, and on a bigger budget, to boot. I didn't even bother to check it out after Perry expert Evan Saathoff was so disappointed by it, but since I didn't like the original all that much and it seems audiences were similarly less amused this time around (even its Cinemascore dipped!) I'm pretty sure I made the right call to save my (well, Moviepass') money. Lionsgate was probably equally disappointed that Jigsaw didn't restore the series to its former box office glory, opening at a mere $16m and limping its way to $38m - less than the 3D "finale" (even without inflation factored in). Overseas audiences were more receptive and put the film over $100m overall, so it's possible that they will continue the series (it was profitable, after all), but I think they'd be better off going limited/VOD and aiming at the hardcore fans for future installments. The type of horror this series offers is simply past its prime, and attempting crossover/mainstream success without fully starting over from scratch is an approach that will please no one.
Jigsaw was released the weekend before Halloween, but it turned out to be the last genre movie in wide release for the remainder of the year. In all the years I've been writing these articles I can't recall that ever happening before, as there's usually some attempt at counter-programming by releasing a horror film against all the family films and awards bait, but the one release on the schedule, Polaroid, was quietly shuffled off into 2018 (it's a Dimension release, so... let's just assume they had other things to worry about and leave it at that). To be fair, given the grosses of previous November releases like Shut In and Victor Frankenstein, I can see why the studios might want to give horror a break until January. But there were still a few smaller efforts, such as Tragedy Girls, which took in a respectable $62k on less than two dozen screens, and the import horror/sci-fi blend Thelma, which grossed an impressive $130k on 39 screens - an excellent number for a foreign language horror film. And we must pay our ironic respects to Amityville: The Awakening, which after several thousand delays (it was shot in 1997, I believe) finally got its big screen release and was rewarded with $742 for its trouble. Yes, you read that right; per Boxofficemojo, of the 15,284 films for which they have box office records for, only 65 of them have managed to make less money (though to be fair, none of those were probably released for free on Google Play before their theatrical debut). Another long-delayed franchise entry, Leatherface, was also released somewhere in there, but BOM isn't reporting any numbers (and IMDb has removed that category from its pages) so I'm not sure how that did, but there were like ten other people in the theater with me when I sighed my way through it, so there's something.
Luckily, the two month drought will end, as always, in the first weekend of January, which has housed a horror movie pretty much every year going back as far as I feel like checking. This year's offering is Insidious: The Last Key, which seems to be suggesting the end of the series but I doubt that will be the case if the film performs up to par. And we've got the intriguing Winchester starring Helen Mirren (how often do we get someone of her stature in a horror film?) and the long-awaited Strangers follow-up coming in February and March, respectively. Naturally, I do not care about a goddamn thing except the Halloween revival, but that's not until October so I'm happy there will be other things to tide me over until then. After this record breaking year for horror box office it will be interesting to see if there will be another out of nowhere phenomenon like Get Out, and I also dread the inevitable "Is Horror Dead?" articles from morons if none of these movies turn out to be $100m+ grossers. 2017 was one for the ages - let's hope it inspires films of the same quality for years to come.
*I would not complain about the all-but-locked Jessica Chastain, even though Amy Adams looks more like the young Beverly. But otherwise? Put the money on the screen, please. This film does not require "star power".