I hope everyone enjoyed one hell of a scare on Halloween night. I spent the evening dressing up my four-month old twin daughters in ladybug costumes, taking them on their first trick-or-treat, and then carving a jack-o-lantern for them at home as I devoured the candy they were gifted door-to-door.
Since we just eclipsed the spookiest night of the year, I thought this article should focus on the history of distributing films near Halloween weekend. While studios have traditionally released horror, ghostly, and “fright-night” pictures on or near Halloween, this year’s Halloween box-office winner was an animated family film comedy. Scary, isn’t it? Are the studios changing their release strategies for Halloween weekend? Is it becoming just another weekend? These, and other questions about the “scariest” weekend of the year are about to be answered, so grab some leftover Halloween candy and join me as we uncover some truths about Halloween weekend at the movies.
Halloween Weekend Traditionally Spooks Studios and Major Distributors
One of the most surprising truths about Halloween is that it’s not a traditionally strong weekend. Most families (mine included) spend the evening taking their kids trick-or-treating, while a substantial number of others attend Halloween parties. Thus, the masses stay out of movie theaters. In fact, the only people that support releases over Halloween weekend are young men and college students. With such a traditionally limited target-market, it’s easy to see why studios are spooked about rolling the dice on major releases over Halloween weekend.
Puss In Boots Slices Its Way Into Halloween History
Puss In Boots (2011) purred into history this past weekend, when its $34 million at the box-office became the highest-grossing Halloween release ever, eclipsing Saw 3 (2006), which made $33.6 million. That’s right, and animated cat with a sword and a hat, has climbed to the top of the Halloween tree. The picture, which received an A- CinemaScore, reportedly appeals to 59% women, 55% of which are over 25 years old. These numbers clearly go against everything we have known about releasing films over Halloween – especially appealing to a majority of women, as opposed to relying on young men and college students to support the Halloween box-office.
A “Counter Release Culture” Could Creep Into Next Halloween
DreamWorks scored big on the release of Puss In Boots, when it used a “counter-release” strategy by distributing a family film during a traditionally un-family weekend. Doing so gave families a reason to attend the box-office over Halloween weekend, and millions of families endorsed the move. Furthermore, the success of Puss In Boots has also given all of the studios a precedence to release broad reaching films over future Halloween weekends.
Since “trends” in distribution tend to begin when an unconventional release shreds expectations, I would highly expect next Halloween to be infused with more kinder, gentler releases and a fewer R-rated, horror films.
Paranormal Activity 3 Follows Normal Halloween Release Expectations
Paranormal Activity 3 scared its way into second place at the box-office over Halloween weekend, with an estimated $18.5 million. The film has now made $81.305 million at the box-office in its fist 10 days of release. However, Paranormal Activity 3 experienced a 65% drop at the box-office from its opening weekend. This fact supports the belief that most of the “core-horror” young men/college student filmgoers already saw the picture on its opening weekend, and their word-of-mouth is not strong enough to entice people outside of their target market to see the film.
Halloween Releases, Like Horror Film Victims, Are Short On Time
One of the scariest truths about releasing a film around Halloween is that even if the film is a hit, it has a very short period of time to earn its box-office keep. While 75% of any feature film’s domestic box-office total is usually earned within the first two weeks of release, most films have the opportunity to grow “legs” and become a staple at the box-office for several weeks to (on rare occasion) several months. However, films released during Halloween simply don’t have the time to keep audience coming back week-after-week, because they’re released just before the Oscar contenders of November and December. Thus, films released over Halloween only have three to four weeks to make their money. This is why several distributors utilize mid to late September as an additional time frame to release films suited for the Halloween target audience.
With All Of These Headaches, Why Not Murder Halloween Releases All Together?
Because they’re cheap to make and when they work, they work big. For example, Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) cost $5 million to make, and it’s already earned $81.305 million. Furthermore, Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) cost $3 million to make, and it earned $84.752 million domestically and an additional $92.759 million internationally (totaling $177.512 worldwide). Lastly, the original Paranormal Activity (2009) had a production budget of only $15,000, and went on to earn $107.918 million domestically and a total of $196.81 million worldwide.
While most theatrically released horror/paranormal and related Halloween friendly pictures fail to reach the $100 million dollar mark at the domestic box-office, most of them are also void of expensive actors, so their financial risk is minor. Simply put, rolling the dice on productions that cost less than the catering budgets of some studio tent pole action films, is certainly smarter than opening the door and entering a dark room in a home where a killer is on the loose…
Thank you again for lending me you eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday. As Always, I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.
Side note: For those of you expecting to read the second article focused on opportunities for “Women’s Filmmakers,” fright not; that article will return at its regularly scheduled time next Tuesday, November 8.