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“The Grudge” is a perfect case study in Hollywood franchise rot

Adam Epstein
the grudge 2020 reboot

Audiences and critics are begging Hollywood producers to stop making more Grudge movies. If only they’d listen.

The Grudge, the reboot of the 2004 horror film of the same name (itself a remake of a Japanese movie), accomplished a rare cinematic feat: It earned an “F” grade from research firm CinemaScore, which polls opening-day audiences’ reactions to films. That was the first “F” grade since Mother! in 2017, and only the 20th ever.

An “F” grade from CinemaScore almost always dooms a film to fail critically and commercially. (Mother! received a lukewarm reception from critics after its F, as did Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 space drama Solaris.) And that’s exactly what happened with The Grudge. The film garnered a woeful 16% on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, while its box office take wasn’t much better. It opened with just $11 million in the United States—almost four times less than the opening for the 2004 original movie, even without accounting for inflation.

The Grudge epitomizes Hollywood’s commitment to franchises that have long since run their course. Each installment has performed worse than the last, and yet Sony Pictures, the franchise’s distributor, still saw fit to give the reboot a green light.

The 2004 film, an English remake of the underwhelming 2002 Japanese horror film Ju-On: The Grudge, was a big success in the United States, making $110 million in the country alone ($187 million total) on just a $10 million budget. With those numbers, it’s not hard to see why Sony would want a sequel.

But that’s where it should have stopped.

The sequel, The Grudge 2, made less than half as much as the original ($70 million worldwide) on a budget twice the size. Its CinemaScore dropped from a B- to a C-, while its Rotten Tomatoes rating fell from 39% to 12%. Sony made another sequel, The Grudge 3, but the company sent it straight to home release, sparing it from box office carnage.

Generally, horror movies are good investments for studios, as they’re capable of accumulating solid box office returns on very little investment. So Sony likely thought it had a chance to recapture some of that success for little financial risk. But while the reboot may not drastically impact the company’s bottom line, it’s still a symptom of a greater sickness plaguing Hollywood.

Universally panned films like The Grudge add to the perception that there isn’t much worth paying for to see in theaters other than blockbuster event films. Worse, when combined with those tentpole movies, they can crowd out much better films that have a harder time getting into mainstream theaters for audiences to access.

As so many other studios have done and will continue to do, Sony ignored the signs The Grudge should have been left to die and revived it anyway. Intellectual property runs Hollywood, and the major studios will do whatever they can to milk every last drop out of their franchises. They are often quick to forgive and even quicker to forget their failures, but audiences can hold a grudge.

 

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