Unless you're Disney, or John Wick, this was not a particularly great summer for anyone. Not too many pricey outright flops (great swan song there, Dark Phoenix), but lots of movies just kinda hovered around their production budgets, which isn't what the studio is hoping for when they spend lots of money - getting roughly the same amount back just doesn't seem worth it. It's kind of amusing that one of the few exceptions - Far From Home - got overshadowed with a different kind of bad news (the sudden announcement that Spidey will no longer be part of the MCU, again), practically guaranteeing the next entry won't be able to make the same kind of money without the lucrative promise of other heroes we know stopping by to help him out.
But horror doesn't have to worry about blockbuster budgets (for the most part), so those movies came out looking OK, even great. There were no outright smash hits outside of Annabelle Comes Home, and (Annabelle excepted) the sequel fatigue that plagued so many of the tentpole releases infested our little corner of the box office world as well, but when all is said and done I don't think anyone will lose their jobs over the performances I'm about to break down.
In fact, at the start of the summer it seemed like literally anything could make good money, as the fairly lousy The Intruder managed to top its $8m budget on its opening weekend, and shockingly had legs after that, eventually earning an impressive $35m despite fighting for screens against The Avengers, John Wick 3, and Aladdin. This "sounds good on paper" return to the '90s style "Blank from Hell" sub-genre (in this case, an ex-home owner) allowed Dennis Quaid to do some psycho villain stuff that's eluded him for quite some time (in fact he was in theaters at the same time in one of his PG-rated dog movies), but the stupidity of the main characters kept the film from ever generating the suspense that the best of those older movies (i.e. Unlawful Entry and Hand That Rocks The Cradle) were able to deliver.
I was slightly more impressed with Brightburn, the "What if Superman turned into Michael Myers" movie starring Elizabeth Banks (as "Ma Kent", essentially) from director David Yarovesky. Unfortunately, the trailer spoiled every single one of the movie's surprises (including its closing scenes), which killed a lot of the fun since there wasn't much meat on the bone of the film's intriguing premise. Granted, the $6m budget meant there was only so much havoc the evil Kal-El could wreak, but I wouldn't have minded a few more twists in the narrative or more rounded characters to flesh things out (cheaply!) to make up for the marketing telling me everything that happened. It opened to $7m and ended up with more than double that (with another $15m from overseas), enough for the filmmakers to throw around ideas for a sequel - if one comes to pass, here's hoping they beef up the story to go along with the (admirably gory!) kills.
Naturally, the first really good genre film of the summer was the one that sort of flopped. Godzilla: King of the Monsters was a terrific followup to the underrated 2014 film, and should have been one of the season's biggest hits if quality translated to ticket sales. Alas, the continued indifference to giant monsters here in the US meant that the film opened soft ($47m) and only ended its run with $110m, selling only about half the tickets of its predecessor (which itself managed to sell fewer tickets than the much-hated 1998 film). Overseas came to the rescue with another $275m, but on a $170m budget I doubt anyone was thrilled at the return - especially when a sequel that pits G against King Kong is already in the can. Hopefully, the "VS" thrill that propelled Freddy vs Jason and Alien vs. Predator's grosses past most of their standalone sequels will turn things around, otherwise the "Monsterverse" will be in the graveyard with Dark Universe.
Released on the same weekend, Blumhouse's Ma fared much better thanks to its smaller expectations. On a mere $5m budget, it opened to an impressive 18 million and ultimately grossed $45m here with another $15m overseas - making twelve times the production costs is bound to make anyone happy (to compare, if King of the Monsters made 12 times its own budget, it would be the sixth highest-grossing film of all time instead of the 308th). I didn't care much for the movie outside of Octavia Spencer's unhinged performance; the kids were morons (even by movie teen standards) and it seemed like several scenes were either missing or swapped around in the narrative, keeping it from ever really coming to life.
The same kind of thing plagued the Child's Play remake, which started off much better than expected (the explanation for Chucky's "evil" nature this time was kind of hilarious) but got less and less interesting as it went on, with go-nowhere subplots piling up faster than bodies. Worse, the narrative kept building toward the release of an updated "Buddi" doll, promising mass carnage at a midnight big box store opening (which should have been set on Black Friday or something, considering the frenzy for the toy, but inexplicably took place in January), but the chaos lasted for about 90 seconds before switching to a haphazardly edited finale, featuring the most unbelievable "I'm not dead after all!" character revival since Ken Foree in the theatrical cut of Texas Chainsaw III. Overseas audiences weren't all that interested ($13m), and while its $29m take here in the US (on a $10m budget) isn't terrible, the fact that it only sold more tickets than one other entry (Seed) suggests people are waiting for the true Chucky to return in the upcoming TV series.
That or they were just waiting for Annabelle, which opened five days later. The third chapter in the spinoff series (which now has more entries than the mainline Conjuring branch) topped Chucky's final gross in about a week, and held on spectacularly well for a horror movie, ultimately earning 72 million, which was less than the first two entries, but also the only one released in the middle of the summer (the first came out in the fall, the second and highest-grossing one was an August release), so I doubt anyone's too broken up about it - especially when the additional $150m (!) from overseas territories is factored in. I thought it was the best of the three, personally, but outside of some Avengers-style entry where the Warrens face off against all of their monsters, I think they should go out on a high note and let Annabelle rest. The scare tricks are getting old and there are so many other options to continue the Conjuring brand (where's our Crooked Man movie?), so it seems silly to keep going to this well.
Opening a two and a half hour folk horror movie against Spider-Man probably made sense as counter-programming, but unfortunately... well, everyone loves Spider-Man and there's not a lot of people who'd want an alternative to Tom Holland's perfect incarnation of the character. That said, Midsommar's $26m take is pretty impressive for such a niche kind of genre film (hell it outgrossed Nic Cage's much pricier Wicker Man, which got a direct nod in the form of a bear suit), and proves Ari Aster's Hereditary wasn't a one-off for the filmmaker - he's marching to the beat of his own drum and genre-blending in quite intriguing (if imperfect) ways, while also taking the art of head-smashing to levels unseen since the glory of the 1980s. The newly released (and superior) director's cut added a few bucks to its coffers, but as it's only playing once a day on most of its screens I can't see it making much difference when it finishes its run.
It's been a long time since Alex Aja had a film in wide release, so as a fan of his work I was happy to be able to head into whatever multiplex I wanted in order to see Crawl, a "B+ movie" that pitted two people against hungry alligators in their rapidly flooding Florida home. There's a jump scare around thirty minutes in that I'd comfortably put in my personal top five experiences with such things, and hero Kaya Scodelario has a bit with a handgun that might have been the most crowd-pleasing moment all summer (OK, tied with Cap wielding the hammer at least). Its $12m opening wasn't particularly promising, but for whatever reason this summer's horror films have had better legs than the genre average, and it's currently just under $40m with another $35m or so from overseas - pretty great for a $13m budget (not to mention an original R rated horror).
With a slightly "hefty for horror" budget of 25 million, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark had to open impressively to avoid being instantly written off, and luckily it did just that. It came in just under 21m when it opened a few weeks ago and has held up fairly well, currently a little over $57m here and a respectable $26m overseas. It's probably going to lose most of its screens to It Chapter 2 this weekend, but given the film's Halloween setting (well, its first act anyway) there's a chance it continues to play well on secondary theaters and could end up hitting that magic $100m worldwide, a nice win for director André Øvredal as his previous films barely got released theatrically.
I felt the success of 47 Meters Down was a fluke when it scared up $44m two summers ago (for a film that was originally slated to go direct to VOD), and knew that the producers were shooting themselves in the foot by not going with the way funnier "48 Meters Down" title that was originally promised for the sequel. Alas, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged opened to a limp $8.4m and is scraping its way to $20m (again, It is gonna curb the chances of anything going much higher), despite actually being a slightly better movie. They only spent $12m to make it, but it's gonna take a lot of VOD and Blu-ray sales to get this one into a truly profitable place, and we can practically guarantee there won't be a "49 Meters Down" unless they return to their roots and turn it into a (much cheaper) DTV brand.
The summer's last hurrah for genre fare was Ready or Not, which was essentially a survival horror film mixed with a splatter comedy (from Fox Searchlight no less), and of all the movies recounted here, possibly my favorite. Watching Samara Weaving fight back against a family of rich assholes (including Adam Brody, who steals every scene he's in) was a blast, and the ending was a bonkers delight that will be gif'd to hell once the film hits Blu-ray. Unfortunately, that might not be too far away; it opened to a mild $8m and while it held up nicely on its second weekend, has almost zero chance of holding on when Pennywise arrives. Hopefully I'm wrong and it can turn into a nice sleeper hit.
As time goes by, fewer and fewer indie releases hit theaters, especially during the summer (or, at least, fewer distributors are reporting their grosses). The widest of the lot was The Dead Don't Die (which was technically a wide release as it opened on 690 screens, but that's less than half of anything else on this list so I'm including it here), a zombie comedy from Jim Jarmusch that featured an all-star cast. Since his Only Lovers Left Alive is one of the best vampire movies of the past 20 years I was hoping he'd conjure similar magic with the undead, but man oh man, I really did not like this one. The zombie stuff was pretty weak, which I could forgive if the movie was funny enough, but a lot of the comedy fell flat too - I think I only laughed twice. Thankfully I don't have to look like some grump - the film's $6.5m gross suggest only a few were amused.
Not a lot to report on the other indies; the Charles Manson thriller Charlie Says beat Once Upon A Time In Hollywood to theaters by two months and earned $40k on 38 screens, and while I don't know what Clinton Road is, I can tell you that earning $50k in only 10 theaters is pretty good for this sort of thing (equally impressive: something called Killer Unicorn scoring $34k on a mere 5 screens - and keep in mind these releases tend to only have one or two showings a day.). And after an impressive festival run, the terrific Tigers Are Not Afraid finally hit a handful of screens thanks to the good folks at Shudder, where it's earned $75k and counting on less than 10 screens. If it's playing near you, do not miss your chance to see it on the big screen!
The next installment of this column will be pretty short, I guess - no one wants to compete with Bill Hader fighting a monstrous clown, so after that, there's nothing for seven weeks until Zombieland 2 finally hits, a decade after the smash original. November and December - traditionally pretty slim pickings for horror fans - actually have the bulk of this "season's" big guns: Doctor Sleep, the Black Christmas remake, and (YES!) The Boy II, where my boy Brahms is gonna face off against Katie Holmes. Guess it's a good thing It is already breaking records for pre-sales, because that's all we're getting in our multiplexes until it's almost Halloween time. Good excuse to check out Ready or Not though?