I just saw the trailer for the upcoming Sinister and thought to myself “Great, another horror movie that looks promising, probably make a respectable profit but will probably be treated indifferently/crucified by the critics.” The reason that there’s so many horror movies recently is due to the fact that they are so incredibly cheap to produce. Which is nothing new, look back to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (looking specifically at budget) which cost under $140,000 and grossed $26 million.
Most horror movies are unbeatable when it comes to CBA (That’s Cost Benefit Analysis for those of you that didn’t take & fail Accounting 101). If I were a movie producer, I would just roll out crappy horror movies all day. Let’s look at the Saw franchise. In the sideshow below you will find all the Saw movies along with their budget and gross. The first one seemed to take many critics and audiences by surprise due to its unique premise and it quickly developed a strong cult following. The movie cost only $1.2 million dollars to make and made $55 million dollars at the domestic box office. Clearly, a HUGE profit. So any movie studio with a film on their hands that makes 55 times its budget is going to start cranking out sequels,which may cost more than the original but are still exceptionally cheap, considering. Time and time again, however, we’ve seen that sequels are generally when movie franchises start to take a nose dive. Not on the financial side (usually), but definitely the quality side. Another perfect example of this phenomena, if you want to call it that, is by simply looking at the Paranormal Activity franchise as well.
Notice the dip in gross, yet the profit is still substantial, which would usually not be true of a franchise with far larger budgets. (Bourne Legacy, Men in Black III, Pirates of the Caribbean 4) Let’s just say Sinister has a very profitable opening weekend, there is an extremely high chance that by Monday morning a sequel will already be announced and/or in the works.
Now browse through the horror movies that have a massive budget and try to get real creative (You’ll know what they are because you probably went to see them thinking they would be good but probably left the theater highly disappointed). Titles like Van Helsing, The Haunting, and The Wolfman come to mind. A majority of these movies will not yield the same kind of profit as a found footage film. One of the reasons why the horror movie genre has thrived is because the total budget for films in this genre are so much smaller than even your average to mainstream summer blockbusters which can often prove to be costly mistakes (Battleship, John Carter, Expendables 2). One could argue that horror films actually benefit from low production values. Would Texas Chainsaw Massacre have been as completely terrifying if there had been an 8ft tall CGI Leatherface? The graininess, the palpable cheapness contributes to the aura of the film. You can almost feel the grime. THAT’s horror. Do 80% of the setup and let the viewer fill in that missing 20%.
Really, just look at the complete throw away of the Elizabeth Olsen starring Silent House. A movie with a microscopic budget of $2M and a gross of a mere $11M. Even though it did not overly impress at the box office, it grossed nearly 6 times its budget!So by the criteria I’ve laid out, a massive success! Compare this to the 2012 release of The Amazing Spiderman which cost $250M but grossed only $261M domestically. Essentially the same profit but it vividly illustrates how from an ROI perspective, horror films can be a very cost-effective genre and they’ll continue to be made as long as movies likes Sinister get decent buzz and have even marginally strong opening weekend.