Horror films have always been industry outliers. A movie’s primary objective is to keep your eyes glued to the screen. But the best horror movies beg you to look away. This year, however, horror films stood out for a different reason.
While nearly every other genre flatlined at the box office — except comic book movies, which continued their Superman-like invincibility — horror movies thrived. According to comScore, a company that measures these kinds of numbers, films that fall under horror’s sprawling umbrella brought in over $1.1 billion at the domestic box office. That’s a staggering amount considering that most of these films cost a fraction of that to make.
In fact, one of the reasons behind the recent horror boom is how cheap they are to produce. Take Get Out, for example. Jordan Peele’s terrific social thriller about an unknowing black man who visits his girlfriend’s parent's house for a weekend-from-hell cost a paltry $4.5 million to make and went on to gross over $175 million, en route to becoming the profitable movie of the year.
Blumhouse — the boutique studio behind Get Out — has perfected the art of making small-scale, low-budget horror films that turn a massive profit, despite the absence of significant stars. Blumhouse’s latest hit built in that mold — the teen slasher romp Happy Death Day — could be singlehandedly responsible for breathing new life into a subgenre that hadn't felt exciting since the 1990s, when the Scream movies had a stranglehold on the teen demographic.
Today, that same demographic consumes most of their content on their mobile devices, which explains the overall lag in movie ticket sales. When you go to the theater you enter a social contract: turn off your phone, stop talking and give your undivided attention to a single screen for two hours. In our current fragmented media landscape, that can be more painful of an experience than a trip to the dentist.
But that’s not the case with horror movies. The communal experience of being frightened in a dark room with strangers is what makes them such an attractive — and addictive — proposition. When you watch something like It — which became the highest-grossing horror movie of all-time — traditional cinema etiquette goes out the window. Having an audible reaction to Pennywise’s reign of terror isn’t just permitted, it’s encouraged.
Watching movies like It, Split and Get Out harkens back to what it must have been like at the dawn of the blockbuster age when movies like Jaws and Star Wars had people lining up around the block.
This is all good news if you’re a horror fan. If there’s one thing Hollywood does well, it’s sticking with what works. So while 2017 may have been the most significant year for horror ever, something tells us 2018 will have something to say about that.