2017: the year that horror saved Hollywood

Break out the balloons.
Break out the balloons.
Image: Warner Bros.
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Hollywood is facing crisis on multiple fronts: the allegations against Harvey Weinstein are shedding light on a trade plagued by sexual harassment and gender inequality, cord-cutting and streaming platforms are upsetting the regular order, and the movies are struggling through yet another dismal year at the box office.

If there’s a silver lining in any of that for America’s film industry, it’s that the horror genre is still plugging merrily along, seemingly immune to the financial troubles that have befallen most studios. As the rest of Hollywood flounders in 2017, horror is in the midst of its highest-grossing year ever.

On the backs of huge hits like It and Get Out, the horror genre has combined for a record $733.5 million in the US this year, according to box office data compiled by the New York Times (paywall). The year has proven that horror films are more than just cheaply made movies for niche audiences and can still cross into the mainstream to become bona fide successes.

Ticket sales during the 2017 summer movie season, billed by Variety as “The Summer of Hell,” were down nearly 11% from last year due to a series of epic flops, namely King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and The Dark Tower.

Arguably the only saving grace was It, the adaptation of the novel of the same name by Stephen King that became the highest-grossing horror film of all time in September (not adjusted for inflation). Today, it has made a very fitting $666.6 million (seriously) worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. Following a solid first half of 2017 with Dunkirk and Wonder WomanIt helped Warner Bros. rebound from the disastrous King Arthur and the disappointing Blade Runner 2049—to say nothing of this month’s box office catastropheGeostorm.

Universal, meanwhile, the studio responsible for the box office bomb The Mummy, was propped up early this year by the huge successes of horror films Get Out ($175 million US box office) and Split ($138 million), produced on the tiny budgets of $4.5 million and $9 million, respectively. The eye-popping return-on-investments of films like Get Out and Split are what allow studios like Universal to waste inordinate amounts of money on big franchise films that inevitably flop at the box office.

Annabelle: Creation, ($102 million US box office) and Happy Death Day ($26 million opening weekend) also contributed to horror’s 2017 total—and it’s not even Halloween yet. Things across Hollywood might be dire, but there’s at least one small but growing piece of the pie that’s got it figured out.