Various outlets are reporting that the Warner Bros. adaptation of Stephen King’s novel IT has grossed a staggering 117 million dollars in its first weekend of release.
Now, just let the reality of that revelation waft over you for a few moments.
One month after the colossal disappointment of The Dark Tower, which was eviscerated critically and largely ignored by the general public, another King adaptation has just become the highest grossing September release of all time and is tracking to be the most commercially successfully horror movie ever made.
So why is this a big deal?
For one, horror films are traditionally regulated to the lower tier of the film industry. While often profitable because of their relatively low budgets, most horror films don’t enjoy anywhere near the resources or the promotion of other competing genres. Even larger horror films released by major studios tend to have much smaller production and advertising budgets and many of these films are given the Video-on-Demand treatment, which entails a limited theatrical run followed by streaming and physical media sales.
By contrast, Warner Bros. implemented an aggressive and clever advertising blitz that began nearly a year prior with strategical leaks of images and information leading to the reveal of the first official trailer, which dropped on March 28 of this year. The preview subsequently earned the record for the trailer with the most views in a single day. In the months since that preview was released, additional stories, pics and trailers have generated a considerable and ever-growing fervor, culminating in a debut that puts many of the movies earmarked for blockbuster status this year to shame.
To place this success in perspective, IT will enjoy the same initial weekend earnings as Spider-Man: Homecoming, and that was Marvel’s tentpole film of the summer.
But beyond the financial success, the deeper question is what the film industry can learn from the accomplishments of this film.
IT is a hard-R horror film; an unapologetically dark, mature movie that pulls no punches and doesn’t cater to the adolescent crowd. The film also has a modest production budget estimated at 35 million, which is a fraction of the budget of the typical blockbuster yet is relatively high for a horror film. IT also has garnered widespread critical acclaim and is being hailed as one of the best King adaptations ever made.
When you examine these elements both separately and collectively, what is clear is that the same message consumers and critics have been attempting to convey for years to the obtuse corporate culture within the film industry has been once again made readily apparent: Make quality films that don’t pander to the lowest common denominator and when adapting beloved source material, create and deliver a reasonable filmic approximation.
And above all else, know that a quality horror film with a decent budget can yield some of the healthiest profit margins within the industry.
With the success of IT on the heels of the impressive performance by Jordan Peele’s Get Out – which has grossed more than 200 million dollars from a production budget of less than five million – studios may want to start considering how to effectively produce and release more high-profile horror films over the next few years as clearly, there is a voracious and insatiable demand for quality movies within the genre that far outstrips the current output.
IT is the kind of seismic shift that can forever alter the topography of the film industry.
Let’s hope the studio heads and producers are learning the right lessons from IT’s success.