America sure does love clowns.
It: Chapter Two raked in $91 million at the US box office this weekend, the second-biggest opening total ever for a horror film. The biggest, of course, was for the first It movie, which took in $123 million in its debut weekend two years ago.
Based on the 1986 novel by Stephen King, It: Chapter Two takes place 27 years after the events of It, as the now adult members of the “Losers’ Club” return to their fictional hometown of Derry, Maine, to defeat the evil clown Pennywise once and for all.
Despite an unspectacular 64% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (22 points lower than its predecessor) and a nearly three-hour runtime, It: Chapter Two was able to cement the It horror franchise as one of the most successful of all time.
Horror is in the midst of a box-office renaissance. The genre’s five biggest movie openings ever have come in only the last three years, while all of the top 10 have come in the past decade.
Horror films generally can be made on the cheap (at least, cheaper than much of their competition at the box office), leading to high returns on investment. Crucially, horror movies draw younger, more diverse audiences, while the rest of the film industry (outside of Disney) struggles to lure viewers off their couches and into theaters. The communal aspect of horror filmgoing—watching something like It in a room full of giddy, anxious teens is a very different experience than doing so alone at home—is part of what makes the genre successful at the box office.
In fact, the two biggest openings of 2019 that are not either a Disney film or a superhero movie are both horror films: It: Chapter Two and Jordan Peele’s Us (the only non-franchise film in the top 10).
If a film is not made by the prolific and preternaturally successful Disney (or with Disney’s help, in the case of Spider-Man: Far From Home), then its best chance of turning a quick profit for its studio is to be a horror movie.
It’s worth noting that the genre’s relatively low budgets allow studios to take more risks on original filmmakers, like Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar), the aforementioned Peele, and Jennifer Kent (The Babadook). It: Chapter Two‘s reported budget of $70 million is less than half that of 2019 superhero movie Dark Phoenix, which still made $60 million less in its opening weekend than the scary clown movie.
When it comes to horror, the audiences might be scared, but Hollywood increasingly is not.
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