“You’ll float too.” The catchy tag line for the new film adaptation of Stephen King’s IT might also apply to the egos of those behind the record-shattering box office hit (which must be about as inflated as Pennywise’s balloon).

In its opening weekend, the R-rated horror film earned US$123.1mil (RM517mil) in North America. That’s the biggest opening ever during the month of September, and for a horror movie.

Jeff Goldstein, the distribution chief at Warner Bros, said he initially hoped for a launch around the film’s production budget – in the US$30mil to US$40mil (RM126mil to RM168mil) range. “That would have been a marvellous,” he told Variety.

“After we dropped the first trailer, we realised we had something special. It really took the zeitgeist by storm.”

Without discounting the marketing – which certainly played a key role in establishing a memorable image (the clown and its big, red balloon), and building buzz – there are many factors that contributed to IT’s box office success. For one, the month of August left audiences starved. Even King fans still had an appetite after watching The Dark Tower come and go.

Then, for the rest of the month, few releases posed a threat to medium-sized hits Annabelle: Creation and The Hitman’s Bodyguard.

The movie also centres on a well-known – yet seemingly universally terrifying – character, carries an R rating, and comes complete with King’s sign-off.

Split James McAvoy

James McAvoy (right) stars as a man with multiple personalities in Split.

Reaping major returns

For a film that cost an estimated US$35mil (RM147mil) to produce, IT’s domestic launch is already more than three times that. But it’s not just IT. Horror films – which often require less special effects, and don’t lean on well-known actors – are known for reaping major returns.

Earlier this year, Blumhouse made a major statement with two low-budget films, Split and Get Out, that did just that.

The first was redemption for director M. Night Shyamalan, who had struggled with big-budget flops The Last Airbender and After Earth. Split, even more so than 2015’s The Visit, played to the director’s strengths – a compelling, terrifying story (even while carrying a PG-13 rating), with twists and turns, made for very little.

The movie went on to earn US$138.2mil (RM580mil) domestically off a US$9mil (RM38mil) budget.

Then, Get Out, which was a different set-up with a similar outcome. From first-time director Jordan Peele, the R-rated horror film, with a dose of comedy, caught the zeitgeist and made US$175.5mil (RM736mil) off a US$4.5mil (RM19mil) budget. And that’s without even accounting for international appeal.

To be clear, a horror release in 2017 is far from a sure thing. The July release Wish Upon was a relatively low-risk US$12mil (RM50mil) movie, but only made back US$14mil (RM59mil). And who could forget the botched viral marketing campaign for A Cure For Wellness that left a US$40mil (RM168mil) production with only US$26.6mil (RM111mil) in receipts?

IT

IT earned US123.1mil (RM517mil) in North America, making it the biggest opening ever for a horror movie.

Jennifer Lawrence Mother!

Will the horror-tinged Mother!, starring Jennifer Lawrence, be a box office hit or flop?

Good storytelling

Coming up, the highly-polarising Mother! starring Jennifer Lawrence hits theatres, but its fate seems uncertain. That’s not to mention the myriad of indie horror pics that barely make a blip in the social consciousness. But the highs for horror this year have been so high, and frequent enough, that they are difficult to write off.

After a disastrous summer at the domestic box office, superhero movies came away looking like the most reliable subgenre the industry has. But even as some of the year’s highest-grossing movies, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 all have to balance massive budgets. They all made up for the price tags handily, but horror still presents a much lower risk.

What gets people into theatres? Talk to any studio chief and you get the same answer – good storytelling. Part of what makes a film successful, particularly in 2017, is the “event” factor, like the one Christopher Nolan created with his campaign that Dunkirk was meant to be seen on the big screen.

The horror films that have worked have tapped into that desire to be a part of something. If the genre continues to have that effect, expect to see more and more drift into theatres in the near future. – Reuters