After surviving six horror movies in wide release since September 15th, it would be understandable if the seventh suffered from genre fatigue. As it turns out, Hollywood was saving the best for last, at least from a box office perspective.
Universal and Blumhouse’s FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S far surpassed pre-release expectations by earning $78M in the first three days, lifting the pre-Halloween weekend to $123.2M for all titles. By comparison, the same weekend last year generated $69.9M, led by the second weekend of BLACK ADAM with $27.4M. FREDDY’S had the best opening of any horror movie since Stephen King’s IT CHAPTER 2 with $91.1M from 9/6/19 – 9/8/19.
What helped FREDDY’S breakthrough? It starts with a familiar storyline. Most everyone is aware of Chuck E. Cheese, the budget-friendly kids’ birthday spot known for its greasy pizza and oddly frightening animatronic robots. Add to that a popular video game of the same name with its story set in the fictional family pizzeria.
After its 2014 release, the original video game became so popular that it morphed into a media franchise, with a number of follow-on games and a spin-off book series. Universal tamed FREDDY’S horror enough to secure a PG-13 rating, making the movie accessible to a wider audience. Finally, they timed its release for the weekend before Halloween, when the public is gearing up for the holiday.
The movie’s success this weekend did not happen overnight. In April 2015, Warner Bros. announced that it had acquired the film rights to the FREDDY’S video game. In March 2017, Blumhouse purchased these rights from Warner Bros. after WB decided not to proceed with the project.
The COVID pandemic derailed progress, stretching out its production to six years. By the time that filming began on March 1st this year, the pace of production had accelerated to warp speed with the target of releasing the movie only seven months later, in time for Halloween. Filming lasted only five weeks and the compressed production schedule held down costs to only $20M.
The Universal-Blumhouse team has (M3GAN, THE BLACK PHONE) produced yet another hit that is both profitable and well-positioned for sequels. Even though critics are sour on the movie, with a 27% score on Rotten Tomatoes, audiences are enthusiastic with an 89% score. Of all genres, the box office of a horror movie is relatively unaffected by opinions from critics.
The movie tells the story of a security guard trying to survive five nights watching over Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza parlor and family entertainment center. Even though the movie had its online debut simultaneously on Peacock, it will be tough for exhibitors to complain that the box office was held down by its availability on streaming. In fact, this may be the rare case when all parties benefit from a surge in interest.
TAYLOR SWIFT: THE ERAS TOUR finished in second by earning $14.7M on its third weekend. This was 56% lower than last weekend, a marked improvement compared with the 64% decline it suffered from its opening to its second weekend.
Over seventeen days, the concert movie has earned $149.3M and is projected to wind up with $180M domestic and $280M worldwide by the time it finishes its run. This week Forbes announced that Taylor Swift has become the world’s newest billionaire and exhibitors are tickled to have been able to work with her directly on the terms of her movie release.
Martin Scorsese’s KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON wound up in third, selling an additional $9.0M in its second weekend. This is a disappointing 61% drop from its opening, which was itself lower than expected. After ten days FLOWER MOON has earned $40.7M domestic and $71.5M worldwide.
Martin Scorsese is well-known for making movies with intricately crafted stories. Unfortunately, creativity does not always translate into success at the box office. THE DEPARTED from 2006 was his most successful film, earning $132M domestically and $291M worldwide while FLOWER MOON is on track to earn approximately $75M domestically and $167M worldwide.
Its production cost has been estimated at $200M, which should translate to a break-even point of $500M of worldwide gross. Fortunately, Apple is behind this effort and the studio can also benefit from online views on Apple TV+. When Apple announced last year its intention to spend $1 billion annually on theatrical productions, it was expected that this would be spread across ten movies. Hopefully, some of those movies will be box-office hits.
Angel Studios AFTER DEATH opened with $5.1M, placing it fourth for the weekend. A polar opposite to Apple, Angel uses crowdfunding and guerrilla marketing to drive interest in their movies. This summer’s SOUND OF FREEDOM is Angel’s most successful title to date, having grossed an amazing $239.4M worldwide after spending only $14.5M to make the film.
AFTER DEATH is an even smaller project, created for a mere $1.2M. The documentary features interviews with best-selling authors, doctors, scientists, and those who have had near-death experiences. It is guaranteed to be profitable and keep the studio active in the market while waiting for its next major release, THE SHIFT on December 1st.
THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER came in fifth place with a gross of $3.1M, a decline of 46% from last weekend. The total gross after 23 days for this high-profile sequel is $59.4M domestically and $120M worldwide. Many had expected it to be the top-grossing movie of the Halloween season, but it has been eclipsed by FREDDY’S success this weekend.
WHERE ARE WE AS OF 10/26
After 42 weeks, 2023 year-to-date totals stand at 125% compared with earnings at this same point in 2022, and 83% of the amount earned in 2019.