The first four months tends to be the busiest time of the year for genre stuff, mostly by default - the summer months focus on big budget blockbusters, and after the brief September/October period that is capitalizing on Halloween, Hollywood tends to assume we are sick of such things and often leave us starved until January. That said, the pickings were slimmer than usual this time around; in fact, a number of the films below aren't traditional horror ones - they're "horror adjacent", if you will. But the biggest grosser of them all WAS horror (its director even said so, specifically, after tiring of "more of a psychological thriller" kind of nonsense), so I guess it evens out. Let's dig in, shall we?
Since the time of the dinosaurs, the first weekend of the year gave us a new genre film, and 2019 did this tradition proud with Escape Room, a sort of Saw-like take on the popular activity, albeit with a PG-13 rating to ensure it was more about puzzles and thrills than violence and gore. The $9m film opened to an impressive $18m and positive word of mouth kept it chugging along all month, ultimately earning $57m domestic, with an even more admirable $97m overseas take. I enjoyed the movie for the most part, though it kind of lost steam in its third act - especially when it basically started showing us Escape Room 2 instead of letting us go home. Thankfully, there will be a sequel, so this overloaded setup wasn't for naught, but hopefully they won't drag it out again to set up a third film - send us out on a high note!
Speaking of setting up sequels, we finally got the Unbreakable followup we were promised in 2000, thanks to the smash success of 2017's Split, which appeared to be an unrelated film until its closing shot revealed that the villainous Kevin/Dennis/etc was sharing a world (a city, in fact!) with Bruce Willis' David Dunn. So Glass functioned as a sequel to both films where the two faced off (with Sam Jackson's "Mr. Glass" pulling the strings), and as you might expect it was a bit overstuffed and perhaps felt more like Split 2 than a true balancing act, but I was still mostly satisfied with the film as a whole. And on a $20m budget, I'm sure everyone is happy with their $111m domestic gross (and another $130m or so overseas), but it's worth noting that the film sold fewer tickets than either of the other movies, which is not the hoped for outcome for a cinematic teamup such as this (in fact, Unbreakable's worldwide total is a bit higher even before factoring inflation). The ending set up a potential new adventure, but I hope M. Night Shyamalan is ready to move on from this particular universe - he always works better when expectations are lowered and we don't know what he's up to.
It's a shame some of Night's "creepy kid" mojo couldn't have rubbed off on The Prodigy, from director Nicholas McCarthy in his first wide release after some well-received indies like The Pact. Despite minimal competition for its audience (it opened against Lego Movie 2 and Cold Pursuit, two films that also underperformed), it only opened to a paltry $5.8m and limped its way to a little under $15m. On a $6m budget, this isn't exactly a disaster, but as an evil child movie fan I would have loved to have seen it score big and encourage some knockoffs. As for the film itself, it scratched my itch for such things, but inexplicably gave the audience the answers to its mysteries in the first 40 minutes or so, handicapping its ability to be engaging. But I still recommend it to fans of the sub-genre, if only for the big scene with Colm Feore, where the kid says such vile things even my beloved Cathy might blush.
But even though it grossed more, Happy Death Day 2U was a bigger disappointment, I think; it's harder to get people to buy tickets to an original R-rated horror movie like Prodigy than it is to get them to buy tickets to a PG-13 sequel to a movie they loved. And yet, no one seemed to want another go around with Jessica Rothe's Tree - after opening to an anemic $9m, it ultimately ended up with around $28m - only slightly more than the 2017 original scored on its opening weekend. Overseas audiences were a bit more interested, adding another $36m to its coffers - it was still a success, naturally (it only cost around $9m), but far from the windfall they were probably expecting. To be fair, the slasher element was reduced to the point of almost feeling like an afterthought (even when the killer is unmasked, no one seems particularly interested), so I'm sure horror fans simply had no interest in what was basically a sci-fi comedy with an occasional chase scene, but it's a shame that they denied themselves another winning performance from Rothe and another enjoyable time at the movies. Oh well.
Jordan Peele also hit big in 2017, but luckily for him and Universal, he didn't suffer the same sophomore slump. Us opened to an insane $71m and added another $100m and counting; with another $75m from overseas sales it's actually going to outgross Get Out by this time next week (since it cost nearly 4x as much, I assume this must be a relief to the bean counters). I quite liked the film, though I don't think it's perfect by any means - Peele's decision to explain some of how the Tethered work (largely unnecessary, in my opinion) only opened the film up to further questions with no satisfying answers. If he just sprung the doubles on us and let us draw our own conclusions entirely (i.e. no classroom scene) I think I would have liked it even more; it's an odd film in that chewing on its meaning is part of the point, but that extra time in your brain starts making its flaws more apparent. But it's still within spitting distance of great, and proved Peele is someone we want making horror for as long as we can have him.
In fact, Us kept performing well despite heavy competition from Pet Sematary, a new adaptation of Stephen King's classic, hitting almost 30 years to the day after the original drummed up $57m in 1989. The new one won't sell that many tickets (it translates to about $130m in today's dollars) but it's cleared $50m and will end up in (or at least in spitting distance of) the inflated list of top 10 grossing King adaptations ever, putting it with the likes of Dead Zone and Cujo. And it's performing just as well overseas, on an economical $21m budget, proving that - as long as they're done well, as this was - Hollywood can re-mine King's books as well as keep making ones based on his newer material. Hell, maybe someday they can even make a Dark Tower movie.
Oh, I kid the Dark Tower film! In fact, I think we're more likely to see Idris Elba strapping on the gunslinger's holsters again before we ever see another Hellboy movie on the big screen. After opting to reboot instead of make a third film in Guillermo del Toro's series, Millennium put together a good package on paper including director Neil Marshall, David Harbour as big red, and Milla Jovovich as the villain, and gave it an R rating, as well. Unfortunately, the film's producers seemed to have overruled Marshall on a number of key choices, adding in lots of (clearly ADR'd) jokes and re-editing it as well, killing interest from a number of fans who were already on the fence anyway after GdT was denied the opportunity to finish his trilogy. The $50m film opened to a mere $12m and is already sinking fast (and they're practically hiding overseas numbers) - there's a good chance that the film fails to sell as many tickets as the 2004 film did in its opening weekend, when it didn't have as much built-in audience awareness.
But perhaps genre fans were just waiting to get their R-rated fix with The Curse of La Llorona, which opened the following week, a.k.a. last weekend. Projections had it grossing somewhere in the mid-teens, but they apparently forgot that James Wan (who produced) has the Midas touch, so it ended up grossing $26m in its first three days, with another $29m from international territories. Yes, this is still lower than the other entries in the Conjuring-verse, though its connection is closer to Easter Egg than full blown "franchise entry" (a minor character mentions Annabelle - it's otherwise unrelated), so I don't think it should be held to the same par. With Endgame and the rest of the summer blockbusters coming in, I don't know how it'll end up, but $55-60m domestic seems reasonable. As with The Nun, I don't particularly have much interest in these scares first/story second kind of supernatural movies, but audiences can't get enough - and this summer's Annabelle Comes Home also doubles as Conjuring 2.5, as Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga show up for more than a quick cameo.
An alien invasion movie called Captive State also came out. Were you the one who saw it? Tell us about it below!
As for limited release stuff, there's nothing particularly noteworthy; the most successful of the lot was Knife + Heart, a gay-themed giallo that scored $30k (and counting) on a mere six screens. Festival fave The Wind also nabbed about that much, but on 30 screens it's less impressive, as was the $15k take for Piercing in 18 theaters. As is sadly often the case these days, I missed most of these; the only one I managed to contribute to was the killer Easter Bunny movie Rottentail, and I'm not proud of it - I truly wish my 12 dollars was not part of its $2,256 gross, as I even contemplated walking out at one point because I was so annoyed by it. Salt in the wound: on the same weekend, something called Made Me Do It opened and grossed around $6k - I suspect that would be more up my alley if the poster is any indication. As always, most of these were day & date with a VOD release, or close to it, so their theatrical runs are understandably less enticing to all but the old guard.
All in all, a good season where even most of the "flops" managed to at least break even and the successes exceeded expectations, with a lot of variety for genre fans to keep us happy. And despite what I said earlier, this May will seemingly be treating horror fans well, with the nutty looking Ma, intriguing "what if Superman was a psycho killer kid" Brightburn, and of course Godzilla: King of the Monsters all fighting for our attention alongside the other stuff, then a double dose of killer doll action in June with the Child's Play remake and aforementioned Annabelle entry. And even if they're all huge hits, their combined grosses won't eclipse Endgame, so it'll be hard for them to make themselves heard until that behemoth runs its course, so check back at the end of August for a rundown on how they fared! It: Chapter Two doesn't come out until September, so us horror folk need SOMETHING to talk about until then.