Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Frighteningly Successful: Box Office Grosses of Horror Movies in 2016

2016 was a strong year for horror movies. Many received praise from critics as well as audiences (for example, The Witch, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and Don't Breathe all received Rotten Tomatoes averages of 85% or higher). While artistic and subjective success are important, the health of cinematic horror can also be measured by box office success. (After all, if horror movies are financially unsuccessful, critical acclaim itself won't  justify the financing and distributing of new horror movies.) How well did horror movies fare at the U.S. box office in 2016?

The answer is pretty damn well. The 16 horror movies in wide U.S. theatrical release in 2016 grossed over $639 million.

The graph below shows theatrical gross for these 16 horror movies, ranked from highest grossing to lowest grossing. The Conjuring 2 was the most successful horror movie of 2016, grossing over $102 million, but it was followed fairly closely by the smaller movies Don't Breathe ($89 million), The Purge: Election Year ($79 million), 10 Cloverfield Lane ($72 million), and Lights Out ($67 million). Only three horror movies grossed less than $10 million: Incarnate, Morgan, and The Disappointments Room.

Of course, gross revenues are only a part of a movie's financial success. The Conjuring 2, after all, cost an estimated $40 million, while the average budget of these 16 movies was about $12 million. Profitability needs to be accounted for to get a better picture of financial health.

The graph below shows U.S. total theatrical gross minus estimated budget. This is a clumsy estimate of profitability because it ignores the significant costs of prints and advertising, but it allows for some comparisons between movies.

While the graph above shows The Conjuring 2, Don't Breathe, The Purge: Election Year, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and Lights Out to be the highest grossing horror movies of 2016, the graph below shows a slightly different picture. When accounting for budget, Don't Breathe and The Purge: Election Year topped the Conjuring 2 in terms of (probable) profitablity, and Lights Out topped 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Another clear point of the second graph is that most horror movies that received wide theatrical releases in the U.S. were, most likely, profitable. Even Blair Witch, considered a theatrical flop, grossed almost $16 million more than its estimated budget; unless the costs of prints and advertising were over $16 million, Blair Witch was profitable even ignoring international box office and non-theatrical revenues such as streaming and home video.

Four movies grossed less than their reported budgets. The least successful horror movie in wide release in 2016 was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which grossed under $11 million on a budget of $28 million. Similarly disappointing was The Disappointments Room, which grossed $2.4 million on a budget of $15 million. Morgan and Incarnate appear to have lost smaller amounts, but they also grossed less than their estimated budgets.

The graph below is another way of looking at the same data, with all three data points (budget, gross, and budget minus gross) on the same graph. Gross minus budget is shown in green, while gross is shown as a blue bar and budget is shown as an orange bar. This graph makes it easy to see which movies had similar budgets (e.g., The Shallows and 10 Cloverfield Lane), and to compare their estimated profitability. It also makes it easy to find unusual movies such as The Conjuring 2, with its large budget and massive grosses, and Lights Out, with its tiny budget and high grosses.

All of this just shows that horror movies released theatrically in the U.S. tended to be quite successful in 2016. If we ignore costs other than production budget, 12 out of the 16 horror movies with wide releases were profitable. If we could take other costs into account, it is likely that 10 or 11 of these movies were profitable. At least five were massively profitable by any measure. If nothing else, these numbers bode well for at least the near future of the theatrical horror movie.

I plan to continue with more analyses of horror movie box office results in 2016. The next post on this topic will look at horror movies with relatively low budgets that had wide releases in 2016, and the post after that will look at horror movies with relatively high budgets. Post #4 in this series will look at the relationship between box office revenues and critical reception. I hope you find these posts interesting. Please let me know in the comments, and also let me know if I've overlooked anything important or otherwise interesting.