Horror films have jolted the post-pandemic box office, thanks to the success of movies like Paramount (PARA)’s surprise blockbuster “Smile” and Jamie Lee Curtis’s final bout as Laurie Strode in “Halloween Ends.”
The genre, which has made a comeback over the past decade thanks to production studios like Blumhouse and A24, has helped theaters recover after COVID-19 forced the industry to a screeching halt.
“Horror movies tend to be driven by a middle-adult to young-adult audience, who were the first to come back to theaters over the past year and a half,” Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Box Office Pro, told Yahoo Finance, emphasizing that younger viewers are the ones who will drive the theatrical business in the long term.
When analyzing the theatrical returns of the 13 horror films that debuted post-pandemic, 53% of the audience was under the age of 35 with audiences skewing mostly male (52% male versus 48% female), according box office analytics platform Enttelligence.
Robbins added that originality has played a huge factor as well, explaining: “So many of these original films have clicked with fans of the genre. ‘Smile,’ ‘Barbarian,’ ‘The Black Phone.’ That’s a terrific set of movies just within the last few months that have done really well.”
“Smile,” which had a production budget of just $17 million, went on to secure a higher-than-expected domestic debut of $22 million. To date, the film has surpassed a worldwide gross of $168.5 million.
Similarly, “Barbarian” and “The Black Phone” quickly surpassed their respective production budgets with the former securing more than $10 million in its domestic opener (versus a $2 million budget) while the latter nabbed $23.6 million (versus a $16 million budget.)
“Horror films maintain a low risk,” Robbins said. “They aren’t expensive to make and they have a very low threshold to success. And when a film like ‘Smile’ can just break out, it’s just the cherry on top for a studio like Paramount to spend as little as they did, relatively speaking, and for that film to become such a massive hit.”
One of the first major tests for the industry in a post-pandemic world was “A Quiet Place Part II,” which helped to underscore the genre’s resilience.
“‘A Quiet Place’ was that test of, ‘How does a high-profile movie that doesn’t rely on action and explosions start to bring back audiences as vaccines are just rolling out?'” Robbins said. “Because it didn’t appeal to just young audiences — it also appealed to adults.”
The film, which debuted exclusively in theaters on May 28, 2021, passed that test with flying colors, delivering a three-day domestic opener of $48 million before securing nearly $341 million globally.
Its budget? A mere $17 million.
“‘A Quiet Place Part II’ cemented its place in the history of the theatrical industry forever with how well it performed when it came out — its performance proved that this was going to be a genre that would be among the quickest to resurrect attendance at theaters,” Robbins said.
The analyst also credited the psychological component of horror films to luring in viewers.
“There’s a psychological element to it because it comes down to fear,” he said. “Everybody feels fear, but everybody reacts to fear and relates to fear in a different way. That’s why we have so many different kinds of horror movies and why so many of them can be successful.”
Alexandra is a Senior Media and Entertainment Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193 and email her at email@example.com
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