Why horror movies are having their best box office year ever
This year’s horror movies are doing so well, it’s scary.
Frightening flicks such as “Get Out,” “It” and most recently “Happy Death Day” have made $733 million in ticket sales this year, the New York Times and Box Office Mojo reported. That’s the biggest box office year for horror ever, without adjusting for inflation. And there are still two months left in 2017, plus another “Saw” movie (“Jigsaw”) opening Friday that will scare up even more sales.
What’s interesting is that “Get Out” (which made $175 million) opened in February and “It” (more than $300 million and counting) floated in early September – well ahead of Halloween, when audiences are especially in the mood for psychological thrillers and creature features.
So why have viewers been so drawn to the dark side this year?
Dr. Margee Kerr, a sociologist specializing in fear and author of “Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear,” told Moneyish that “fun-scary” activities like horror movies and haunted houses reprioritize the day-to-day stresses that freak us out. And this year’s many natural disasters, national tragedies and political controversies have been especially distressing.
“Horror and startle can distract us from the everyday thoughts and concerns,” said Dr. Kerr. “We’re not thinking about our bills, about the future of the economy, about health insurance – we’re completely in the moment and feeling powerful thanks to the cascade of chemicals released in times of threat.”
Robert Thompson, Syracuse University professor and pop cultural historian, agreed. “Evolution happens about more slowly than civilization does, so human beings are still wired for fear at a time when many of us, if we’re lucky, live daily lives now where we don’t have a lot of actual physical fear,” he told Moneyish. “So giving yourself a dose of artificial fear in a safe environment [like a movie theater] can be a fulfilling thrill.”
“Even better, we’re with our friends, the people we care about and that care about us,” Dr. Kerr added, “and research shows that people bond more closely when frightened.” Like snuggling up to your date during a scary part in a movie, or holding your best friend’s hand in a haunted house.
Horror movies have been a box office draw for decades and franchises like “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” have reeled in $380.6 million and $370.5 million total, respectively.
But most of 2017’s fright shows have been critically-acclaimed films with broad appeal.
“These aren’t generic slasher or horror films, they are really compelling films that are well acted and well written and so people are talking about them and the good word of mouth is drawing more people to see them,” said Thompson.
And the scares have been particularly timely. “It” encourages viewers to confront the dangers of growing up while looking back at their childhood fears with nostalgia. And “Get Out” mined the racial divide the country is still mired in today.
“Horror movies have always been a way for us to talk about, share, educate and shine light on society’s biggest fears and ‘Get Out’ mirrored the very real, lived sentiment of many: This horrific, abusive, inhumane treatment of black Americans that it is not only condoned by whites, but approached with such an air of entitlement, arrogance and levity that seems invisible to everyone but those on the receiving end,” said Dr. Kerr.
She said “Get Out” has also tapped into the collective uncertainty of knowing what to believe anymore during an epidemic of fake news and politicians changing their stories every day.
“Horror movies give us a sense of closure and certainty that we just can’t always get in the real world … and that feels really good,” she said.