Horror movies bring good news for global box office

The genre generated 20 per cent of overall theatrical revenue in North America during the pandemic

Los Angeles: Movie theaters have been struggling to maintain a reopening momentum after being shuttered throughout 2020 due to the coronavirus. The problem has been magnified because many high-profile franchise films have been released in theatres and on streaming services at the same time. However, this hasn’t been the case across the board with Hollywood’s 2021 horror films, which are being shown in theatres exclusively or with delayed streaming access. 

Horror is turning out to be good news for the box office as it is now estimated that the horror genre has generated 20 per cent of the overall theatrical revenue in North America during the pandemic. Furthermore, studies indicate that horror flicks may actually better prepare people for unsettling true-life events like a pandemic.

While expensive, franchise-friendly tentpoles such as "Black Widow" have fallen short of expectations, the recently released, smaller $25 million budget, horror-flick "Candyman" had a solid debut earning $22 million at the US box office in its opening weekend. “Horror movies are an accountant’s and studio executive’s dream with a huge upside of profit potential due to their inherent cost-effectiveness," said Comscore's senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "You don’t need to break the bank to make a killer scary movie and the box-office results for the genre, particularly during the pandemic, have been most impressive."

"A Quiet Place Part II" opened in May with $47.5 million and has earned $160 million domestically and nearly $300 million worldwide against its $60 million budget. "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It" debuted in June with $24 million domestically and went on to earn $65.5 million domestically and $201 million globally while also streaming on HBO Max. It had a budget of $40 million.

By comparison, "Black Widow" had a production budget of $200 million and a marketing budget estimated to be around $100 million. With a worldwide box office of $370 million since its July release, which the studio splits with cinemas, the Marvel film likely won’t break even. Disney has reported some of its streaming grosses for the title, which includes an estimated $60 million opening weekend in digital sales.

Likewise, "The Suicide Squad", which opened in theaters in August, had a budget of $185 million and has currently collected an estimated $154.5 million in box office receipts. This film was also made available for free on HBO Max to subscribers.

Just as horror flicks are faring better at the box office during the pandemic, a recent study out of the University of Chicago suggests fans of this genre may also cope better. According to the research team, fans of horror films are more psychologically resilient during frightening world events like the pandemic. Likewise, people who tend to watch so-called 'prepper' films about preparing for zombie invasions or the apocalypse reported feeling more prepared for life during the pandemic. These people also are more likely to watch pandemic-themed films during this time.

According to Hartford HealthCare, the University of Chicago research team studied the answers of 322 American adult participants to questions related to movies, mental health, and the pandemic. Topics included film genre preferences, interest in pandemic films, their preparedness for the pandemic, and their mental health during the pandemic. They were asked if they have felt more depressed than usual, have been sleeping well, and whether they watch the news. They also had to report on their reaction to the pandemic, if they felt they knew what to buy to hunker down at home and if the pandemic itself surprised them.

According to the team, horror fans were not necessarily more prepared or resilient in the face of the pandemic, but they were far less distressed psychologically. Fans of prepper genres were much more prepared for the pandemic and noted fewer disruptions to their day-to-day life. They were no more likely to exhibit positive resilience, however. Participants with a moderate or greater interest in watching horror films during the COVID-19 pandemic were found to have greater positive resilience in real life than those with no interest.

“Scary movies allow viewers to practice coping with distressing emotions, such as fear, in a safe and controlled environment” said the director of the Anxiety Disorders Center, part of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network, Dr David Tolin. “As we gain a sense of mastery over fear, real-world concerns such as the COVID pandemic become less scary to us as well.”

The researchers concluded that while people generally watch horror films as entertainment, there are subtle lessons being delivered. Horror fiction allows its audience to practice emotion regulation skills and hone strategies for dealing with fear which may help in effective coping strategies in unusual true-world situations.

The horror genre has helped buoy film theatres and possibly better prepared its fans to cope with the pandemic. Who would have known in early 2020 as COVID-19 began its deadly spread that watching a good horror flick might prove effective against this real-world enemy?

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