It’s the week of February 13, 2009 and the hotly promoted FRIDAY THE 13th remake has opened number one at the U.S. box office. Its weekend take was a reported $45.2 million, which took seemingly everybody–including those apparently infallible Box Office Analysts the media is always quoting–by surprise. It was over twice what the film cost to make, and apparently the largest ever opening for a slasher movie.
What does this mean? For starters, it means horror is very much alive and well, contrary to what Hollywood studio executives over the past two years seemed to believe. This new FRIDAY THE 13th was even rated R, meaning audiences can handle something other than PG-13 rated scares, again contrary to what Hollywood likes to think. But perhaps the best explanation is William Goldman’s famous edict that in Hollywood “NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.”
Nobody knows anything. –William Goldman
Yet I believe FRIDAY’S box office take warrants further analysis.
It’s a known fact that horror movies tend to thrive in periods of intense oppression and/or uncertainty. Note the iconic Universal classics of the Great Depression (including FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA and THE MUMMY), the Hammer House of Horror films popular during the upheavals of the late sixties, the splatter cycle of the Reagan years, and the so-called torture porn flicks that flourished while Bush II was in office. And now, in the midst of a free-falling economy that many are predicting may be the start of a new depression, the FRIDAY THE 13th remake opens to huge numbers.
You might think that during hard times the last thing people would want to do is see a scary movie, yet no less an authority than Stephen King argues otherwise. In his landmark nonfiction study DANSE MACABRE King recalls a screening of the original AMITYVILLE HORROR in which he overheard a woman in the audience moan about “the bills.” King conjectured the woman was referring to her own bills and the ensuing real-life anxieties brought on by the film–but why would she see such a film if she was having such problems? For that matter, why would anyone want to see FRIDAY THE 13th in the midst of an economic meltdown?
For the record, I see scary flicks no matter the situation, so my own moviegoing preferences don’t figure into this equation.
I don’t have any hard and fast answers to that conundrum. I do have some theories, though (and for the record, I see scary flicks no matter the situation, so my own moviegoing preferences don’t figure into this equation). It seems to me that horror films offer the ultimate form of escapism, serving as both a conduit for our collective anxieties and a cathartic thrill ride that may not always end happily for the onscreen characters (certainly not those of FRIDAY THE 13th!), but which we the viewers will (hopefully) survive intact.
Bottom line: the opening of FRIDAY THE 13th proves horror movies are definitely back…not that they ever really went anywhere.
Whoops! It’s now the week of February 20, 2009 and FRIDAY THE 13th has dropped to number six at the box office. Its second weekend take was just $7.94 million, a whopping 81 percent drop. Yes, it’s customary for movies to post big drops in their second week of release, particularly horror movies, but 81 percent is a bit much!
All bets may be off. Maybe I was wrong with my above pronouncements (it certainly wouldn’t be the first time)–maybe the horror movie isn’t on the upswing after all. Ben then again, maybe, just maybe the new FRIDAY is a crappy movie that isn’t satisfying audiences.
A big problem with box office analyses like the one you’re currently reading is they concentrate overmuch on sweeping cultural trends rather than individual films. I don’t think this negates what I wrote above, but it does highlight a crucial component I left out. Sure, audiences may flock to horror films in times of stress, but moviegoers want above all to see GOOD films…and in that area FRIDAY THE 13th doesn’t deliver. Positive word of mouth and repeat viewings are requirements for any successful movie, and FRIDAY THE 13th is evidently attracting neither.
I’ve seen the film, BTW, and in my eyes it does indeed suck–and clearly I’m not the only one who thinks so!