Don't ever hire me as a box office forecast expert, as nearly every movie I am about to discuss either made a lot more than I expected, or came up short of my assumptions. Not that I've ever been 100% accurate with such things; I never would have guessed that last year's IT would end up in the top horror grossers of all time, and even now I'm kind of stunned that Blair Witch failed to even match the take of Book of Shadows. But I tend to have a decent guessing average, one that got wrecked by this summer's genre releases. Hereditary? Figured it'd make mother! money (which is to say, practically none). The Meg? I was sure it'd be a disaster that needed overseas grosses to save face. But The First Purge? "$100m, easy."
...none of these things came true.
At least I was correct that there was no audience whatsoever for Dean Devlin's Bad Samaritan, which had a decent idea (a burglar discovers the guy he's robbing is a serial killer, and the man proceeds to ruin his life) but seemed like a VOD or Netflix movie at best, not something that needed to be on 2,000 screens. Plus it was kind of lousy, so I'm not sure what Electric Entertainment was thinking by gambling on such a huge release when it didn't have any major stars (David Tennant has a fanbase from Doctor Who and such, but he's hardly a box office draw even in the UK) but had a restrictive R rating that would keep younger fans away. By the end of its run it couldn't even double its pitiful opening weekend (the 8th worst of all time, per BoxOfficeMojo), ending its run with $3.4m and proving once again that of the team that gave us Independence Day and Stargate, Roland Emmerich is the one that studios should be trusting with their junky B-movie thrills, not Devlin, who made his directorial debut on last fall's megaflop Geostorm.
Maybe Devlin can take some pointers from Leigh Whannell, who also delivered his sophomore effort behind the camera. Following his successful debut with Insidious 3, his original film Upgrade managed to score just under $12m on a budget of less than half that, becoming Blumhouse Tilt's highest grosser in the process. It's one of my favorite releases of the year; I saw it at Overlook in the spring and opted to go again just for the sheer enjoyment of re-experiencing the audience react to Logan Marshall Green's first big fight scene, and while it performed well I wish they had given it a bit more of a push, or a less competitive release window. The film sets up a refreshingly low-key future world in the Robocop vein, with trace elements of Hardware for good measure, and I'd like to see more of it in a sequel, but I'm not sure if Blumhouse sees its potential when they have so many other higher grossing franchises going.
After seeing Hereditary at a press screening, I was sure it would land an F Cinemascore, but it squeaked by with a D+. But that was enough to get people curious, and after a mild $13m opening it kept chugging along, ending up with $44m during the June and July (i.e. blockbuster) period, with another $35m from overseas audiences - good enough to be A24's highest grossing film worldwide. I was mixed on the film myself; I loved the first hour or so, but once the plot turned to Toni Collette discovering clues in old family photos (and then actually saying things like "I found this in my old family photos!" out loud) I lost interest, and found its climax far too similar to a genre classic for me to fully connect. That said, I encourage folks to see it (it might even play better at home), and then join me in angrily yelling at the Academy next year when they fail to give Ms. Collette the Oscar nomination she richly deserves - it's one of her best performances in a career that's already full of contenders, and I suspect it's her and her alone that gives the film much of its acclaim (though the sound and production design are no slouches either).
To no one's surprise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was one of the summer's biggest hits, though it didn't soar to the same heights as its predecessor, now that the novelty of the revival had worn off and, unlike the first Jurassic World, this one didn't really offer anything we hadn't seen before like an operating park. In fact, Fallen Kingdom was pretty much just a remake of The Lost World, right down to a third act on the mainland and seemingly having more human villains than dinosaurs, but it got the job done and thankfully toned down Chris Pratt's alpha male bullshit from the last one. At $413m domestic (plus almost $900m from overseas) it's the year's highest grossing film that isn't from Disney, and now the next one can chug along toward the release date they already planned before anyone even saw this one.
What WAS surprising was that The First Purge is the highest grossing of the series worldwide, but here in the US - where its messaging was most relevant - it became the first in the series that didn't outgross its predecessor. In fact, with inflation factored in, it's actually the lowest grosser of the four, which shocked me as I thought the not subtle marketing targeting you know who would inspire more curiosity (along with the prequel setting being of actual interest for once). I couldn't care less about this or that character's "origin", but ever since the series started I've been curious what the first Purge would be like: Did people have to dip their toes in the water, or did they dive right in? And did anyone ever consider committing non-murder crimes? But it came in at $68.9m in the US, down from the $79m earned by 2016's Election Year. Hopefully it's not a sign of franchise fatigue, as USA launches their TV show version next week and I'm sure it will play a part in where the series goes from here. There's still a lot of ground to cover, I think, but if they find that straying too far from "Frank Grillo killing bad guys" results in less interest, I fear future installments will just be more of the same.
For the kiddos, Hotel Transylvania 3 marked the first time the series opened an installment during the summer instead of the fall, but it didn't seem to hurt/help any - its $158m take was exactly on par for the franchise, despite severely downplaying the horror angle in favor of a bright and sunny cruise. It's worth noting that this was also the first one that the MPAA didn't feel the need to cite "scary images" in its rating, but that's OK - it meant I didn't have to worry about taking my kid to it! His first contribution to a Drawn & Quartered report! Hopefully the next one has more of the "haunted house" vibe; he'll be 6 or 7 by the time that one comes out, which is when I started watching R-rated live action horror, so if it's too "kid-friendly" I might just skip it and introduce him to the real versions of these monsters (he particularly liked Blobby, so maybe a certain Chuck Russell film will be in his future...).
The first Unfriended was released via Universal and scored an impressive $32m on a $1m budget, but Blumhouse opted to put the sequel, Dark Web, out via their Tilt banner, during the summer (the original was a spring release) and on fewer screens. And it's actually a better movie in my opinion, but again, the novelty has worn off, and despite having no relation to the first one (it's not even the same sub-genre; no supernatural elements at all here) most folks didn't bite - even with a Clue-style multiple ending gimmick to entice repeat views. It only eked out $8.7m and was gone from all theaters in a mere four weeks, likely ending the chance of further entries in this would-be anthology series of films. Twisting the knife, Sony had no faith in Slender Man and dumped it out, but it still managed to make 3x as much as that (and counting) despite being one of the worst wide release horror films in years. But it's kind of amusing to think about the fact that the studio didn't want the movie and now, with a relatively decent take on a budget of only $10m, they would traditionally be exploring sequel potentials.
Slender Man's take is even more impressive when you consider it was released the same weekend as The Meg, which was aiming for a lot of the same crowds. Thankfully, the shark still won the battle, scoring a huge $45m opening weekend (more than most of Jason Statham's movies have made in their entire runs) and not cratering like most B-movies in that vein. It's passed $100m domestic and will likely end up with around $150m in the US alone, to be added to the $306m and counting it's grossed overseas. Granted, it was an expensive film (estimates have run from $130m-200m) but I was sure the movie wouldn't even come close to entering "hit" territory, figuring horror fans would turn their noses up at the PG-13 rating and regular audiences wouldn't be enticed by its Syfy level script. But no, folks seem to love it, and while I haven't heard anything about a sequel yet, original author Steve Alten has written several follow-up novels, so they have something to work from if they decide to give us another Statham vs. Shark battle.
Oddly, there were not a lot of small release genre films compared to other periods, though that might be the result of BoxOfficeMojo and the other sites not reporting their takes. After a successful festival run, Neon's Revenge pulled in $102k on 37 screens ahead of its premiere on Shudder, and old-school alien beastie flick Gray Matter made $38k on a mere 12 screens. A re-release of 1973's classic Ganja & Hess made an impressive $17k on only THREE screens, a fine take for a revival of what is a somewhat obscure film (which was remade by Spike Lee as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus a few years back), and while it's going to go wide next weekend, the thriller Searching - another "all in a laptop screen" movie like Unfriended - crushed it with nearly $400k last weekend on only nine screens, which bodes well for its future.
All in all, a pretty successful summer for genre films; Bad Samaritan was the only full blown dud and the rest offered something for everyone - sharks, ghosts, monsters, vampires, witches... all accounted for in a single four month period. And that sort of diversity will continue as we head into the fall, with spooky family fare (Goosebumps 2 and House with a Clock in its Walls), monsters (The Predator and The Silence), and the Suspiria remake for fans of the supernatural. But all eyes will be on the pair of slashers: original Hell Fest and the much anticipated Halloween revival from Blumhouse - the success of these two films could mean a new wave of masked madmen for me to enjoy over the next couple years until people get tired of them again. Let's hope the news is good when I come back with another Drawn & Quartered installment at the end of the year... but just to be safe I won't make any predictions.