While I understand that my friend wouldn’t want another film where an old dude finds elaborate ways to gruesomely kill people, making a “Saw” movie is wildly different from making a Marvel or “Fast & Furious” movie. For starters, “Saw X” only cost $13 million, a mere pittance compared to the millions and millions of dollars the average Marvel or “Fast & Furious” film cost. Since its opening a month ago, it has already grossed $78.7 million.
“Horror movies are almost bulletproof,” says Scott Wampler, who writes about scary movies for Fangoria and co-hostsa podcast on all things Stephen King. In a time when people can’t stop lamenting the death of cinema, the horror movie genre continues to thrive at the box office. Just look at all the horror that’s currently playing in theaters: “The Nun II,” the latest installment in the ever-expanding “The Conjuring” universe, has so far grossed $263.6 million worldwide. “The Exorcist: Believer” has grossed $109 million. Even the conventional, Agatha Christie-based thriller “A Haunting in Venice” has made $113 million, inching its way to making twice its budget. And the just-released “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” based on the jumpscare-crazy video game, and the movie is also streaming on Peacock.
Of course, we could chalk up the success of these films to the fact that it’s October—aka Halloween time. But horror films have been killing it (pardon the pun) all through this year. It all started with “M3GAN,” the killer-doll movie that launched a million TikToks, which made $181 million against a $12 million budget. “The Pope’s Exorcist,” which had Russell Crowe going all supernatural, cost $18 million and made $76.7 million. In the land of sequels, “Scream VI,” budgeted somewhere between $33-$35 million and made $169 million, and “Insidious: The Red Door” made $188.8 million against a $16 million budget. “The Boogeyman,” the latest big-screen adaptation of something Stephen King wrote, was supposed to go straight to Hulu. But a positive test screening prompted 20th Century Studios to release it in theaters, where the $35 million film grossed $82 million. Even art-house horror has been raking in dough. The Canadian horror flick “Skinamarink” was made for $15,000 and has made $5.1 million. A24 also came with the Aussie chiller “Talk to Me,” budgeted at $4.5 million and has already made $90 million.
As successful as horror films can get, studios still aren’t keen on giving them a hefty budget. In this age of astronomical movie budgets (even Martin Scorsese’s latest “Killers of the Flower Moon” cost $200 million, mostly provided by Apple), those are usually reserved movies that could attract a wider, mainstream audience. While there is an audience for bloody, violent movies, studios usually keep the budgets low. “I think studios are reluctant to spend, say, $100 million making a horror movie because horror is a riskier proposition, much like a big-screen comedy these days,” says Wampler. “You don’t really know what’s gonna hit and, so, it’s a far safer bet to keep the budget moderate, if not low, and then hope for a word-of-mouth hit.”